Defining the Terms: Alien Righteousness

terms

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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Anonymous

    Most of what you said is right on, however, your statement that thinking God’s love “trumps” his holiness means that we are trying to bring God down to our level is fraught with false assumptions. First of all, no attribute of God can trump his other attributes. Secondly, God DID come down to our level, in love (Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us). Now, back to the first point, love is, by definition, holy. Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, and love never fails. Jesus said to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. What did he mean by that? Love and mercy. The verses before that verse are about loving your enemies – how God loves his enemies (which includes all of us before he saves and redeems us), and we are to love our enemies. The “love vs. holiness” idea is a false dichotomy. God bless.

  • Sandra

    “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” means to love your enemies, as God has loved us, His enemies (that is the context of that verse). There is no conflict between God’s love and His holiness. God’s love IS holy. “Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices in the truth,” “love keeps no record of wrongs,” and “love never fails.” “God is love.” “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Case closed.

  • Sandra, I will address your comment plus the one under anonymous since I believe both are yours according to the IP address.
    First and most importantly, you imply that I have set up a dichotomy between two of God’s attributes. I hope you will reread the article because that is not at all what I have written.
    What I wrote was “let’s see how most folks try to remedy the above stated problem.” Then I set up the dichotomy. That is what people do. It is not my theology nor do I believe correct. That was the whole point of that section of my article.
    Second, interpreting the verse “Be perfect…” to mean to love your enemies is only part of the application. I am assuming that you are using Matthew 5. The wrap up statement of Jesus to be perfect applies not only to loving enemies, but also relates to anger, lust, divorce, oaths and resisting evil. All of these are part of the same pericope that begins with Jesus’ statement on the need for his hearers to have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees to enter heaven. That won’t happen. We need a righteousness greater than what we possess. So we strive for perfection but fall woefully short. Hence the need for a righteousness alien to ourselves. The point of the entire article.
    Third, since this discussion was about holiness (granted, a related word to perfect), why did you not consider the original command to “be holy…” in Leviticus 19. It is repeated throughout the Bible. The context there relates to the law given to Israel and immediately is applied to honoring our parents and keeping the Sabbath. So again, to define it as merely loving enemies is a bit short sighted.
    Finally, when you make your statement and end “case closed”, it makes it hard to have a healthy discussion. The one who closes cases is the judge. He/she has the final say and cuts off all other comments. I don’t think you intended that, but your words expressed that. This is why I have given a thorough response because your comments really don’t close the case. You begin with a misunderstanding of what I was saying and then give a partial application of the text as THE definitive interpretation. You chose a verse that is, in part, a restatement of an earlier statement that actually uses the word in question – holy.
    In no way, am I or would I minimize the beauty of God’s love. This perfect love is part of what characterizes our God…as does holiness.