How art thou righteous before God?
Answer. Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me that I have grossly transgressed all the commands of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ hath accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.
The doctrine of justification, which now follows, is one of the chief articles of our faith, not only because it treats of those things which are fundamental, but also because it is most frequently called in question by heretics. The controversies between the church and heretics have respect principally to two points: the one is concerning God, and the other concerning the justification of man in the sight of God. And such is the importance of these doctrines that if either one of them be overthrown, the other parts of our faith easily fall to pieces. Hence it becomes necessary for us, to fortify and establish ourselves, especially in these doctrines, against all the assaults of heretics. Concerning the doctrine of justification (for we have already spoken of the doctrine concerning God) of which the above questions of the Catechism treat, the following things are to be considered:
What is righteousness in general?
How mani-fold is it?
In what does righteousness differ from justification?
What is our righteousness before God?
In what manner does it become ours, seeing it is without us?
Why is it made ours, or wherefore does God impute it unto us for righteousness?
I. WHAT IS RIGHTEOUSNESS IN GENERAL?
Righteousness is derived from right, which is the law, and is a conformity with the law, as sin or unrighteousness is the transgression of the law. It may be defined in general, as consisting in a conformity with God and the divine law; although a definition can hardly be given so general as to agree at the same time with God and creatures. Uncreated righteousness is God himself, the foundation, and rule or pattern of all righteousness. Created righteousness is an effect of uncreated or divine righteousness in rational creatures. Righteousness, therefore, in general, as far as it has respect to creatures, consists in fulfilling those laws which pertain to rational creatures; or, it is a conformity on the part of rational creatures with those laws which have respect to them. Finally, righteousness is the fulfillment of the law, and a conformity with the law is righteousness itself. This must be observed and held fast to, because our justification can only be effected by fulfilling the law. Evangelical righteousness is the fulfilling of the law, and does not conflict with it in the least. The gospel does not abolish the law, but establishes it.
II. HOW MANI-FOLD IS RIGHTEOUSNESS, OR JUSTICE?
Righteousness is in general either uncreated, as God himself is righteous, or it is created, as is the righteousness which belongs to rational creatures. Created righteousness is legal arid evangelical. By legal righteousness we mean the fulfilling of the law by one, who is thereby declared righteous; or it is such a fulfilling of the law as that which is accomplished by one s own obedience; or it is a conformity to the law which he has who is declared righteous. This legal righteousness was the righteousness of Adam before the fall, and is in the angels, and in Christ as far as he is man. Evangelical righteousness is the fulfilling of the law, performed, not by us, but by another in our stead, and imputed unto us of God by faith.