"— that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." - Romans 3:22-24
Martin Luther preached: “Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh—so Christ and the church are one in spirit.” In this joyful exchange, our sin with its consequent death and damnation becomes Christ’s, while Christ’s righteousness becomes ours (1 Cor. 1:30). Righteousness is not something that we generate from within ourselves and then offer to God. Righteousness is something that God gives to us—and this is exactly why we may trust in and grow to love God.
Our faith begins with the Holy Spirit graciously coming to us. The Spirit’s work is to bring the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bear on our own biographies and circumstances, beyond all limitations of time and space. The Spirit says to you, to me, to everybody: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and so the Father promises to forgive us all our sins, grant us Christ’s own righteousness, and raise us up to new life in the heavenly kingdom.
How do I know that I really have faith in the promise? Thankfully, the answer lies with God. For it is Christ who does the believing in and for me, much as Paul says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ dwells in me, and so the Father judges me as righteous—not as a legal fiction but as a truth, because the Father has truly given me Christ’s own righteousness, and through the Spirit, I have received it. In a right understanding of justification, there is no competition between “the faith in Christ” and “the faith of Christ.” They are the same reality.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is the editor of Lutheran Forum and a visiting professor at the Institute of Ecumenical Research.