Defining the Terms: Alien Righteousness


Alien Righteousness

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that man has a serious problem. On the one hand, God is revealed as holy. On the other hand, man is revealed as sinful. What God is, we are not.

Yet we long to be with God eternally in heaven. How can sinful man ever reside in the presence of this holy God? It comes down to righteousness.

Yet the Bible tells us that nobody is righteous. Isaiah tells us that our righteousness is as a polluted garment or as filthy rags. Our righteousness will never suffice for righteous demands of God. The only remedy to this problem is what is called alien righteousness.

Before we define that term, let’s see how most folks try to remedy the above stated problem. First, some attempt to minimize the holiness of God and/or his demands for holiness. After all a loving God surely won’t exclude good people from heaven.

If we think that good people exist, go back to the third paragraph. Then surely a loving God won’t exclude any people from heaven, except for maybe the really unrighteous.

Whenever we make arguments such as this, we are really minimizing the person of God. We are attempting to trump his holiness with his love, and that won’t work. God is perfect in holiness. No matter how hard we try to pull God down to our level to bridge the chasm, it will not work.

Second, some attempt to maximize their own goodness. This can be attempted when we play the comparison game. We may not say it aloud, but we think that we are just as good or better than some people who are going to heaven. But remember that they are not going to heaven based on their goodness.

We can also attempt to maximize our goodness by working harder at god-things. If I just pray harder, give more, avoid the big sins and read my Bible more. We try to become righteous enough for God to accept us. The problem is that harder and more will still leave you far shy of the target.

So God is righteous and we are not. The only solution to this is to have the righteousness of one who is truly righteous be counted as our own. No, I’m not speaking about your grandmother’s righteousness. She may be sweet, but she is still like all other fallen humans.

Again, the only adequate answer is alien righteousness. This understanding sparked the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and is the only spark for true awakening of men who are dead in sin. Look at these statements to see how Martin Luther describes this.

Alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith.

Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say:  “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”

Everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also.

Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.

–Martin Luther

So alien righteousness is being credited with Christ’s righteousness as our own. It is outside of ourselves and outside of anything we could do. This is our only hope.