The Way of Righteousness: Why We Need It and How to Attain It
"John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" But Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him." Matt 3:14-15
How can we approach a holy God and be accepted into His glorious presence? The one thing required to approach God: a life of perfect righteousness, which means perfect conformity to the Law of God. God demands this of us because He is perfectly righteous, and all His ways are just and perfect, so He requires, and rightly expects, all creation to be the same. He demands of us, "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). If you truly know yourself, this is terrifying news.
Humans originally lost their original righteous standing before God when Adam rebelled against Him, which resulted in condemnation for all Adam's seed, including us (Romans 5:12, 18). Our new condition is one of estrangement from God, slavery, blindness, and hatred of the light (Ephesians 2:1-3). We are under God's holy and righteous condemnation (Romans 3:9-19), and apart from producing a life of sinless perfection (Romans 7:10), we are impotent to recover ourselves from our ruined estate since our natural inclinations are to rebel against God (Romans 7:18-20).
If we cannot produce perfect righteousness at the time of our death, we would be required to spend eternity under God's wrath as payment for our unrighteousness (Revelation 20:12-15, Romans 2:5-8). God cannot overlook even the least transgression as it would make him unjust (Exodus 34:7, Nahum 1:3, Romans 3:23-26). However, it is impossible for humans to produce perfect righteousness on their own, and so God's intent in giving His holy law is to first drive us to despair of any hope from ourselves that we can fulfill His requirement (Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:21-24). Any understanding of God that falls short of requiring perfection is an unscriptural caricature of the true God (Matthew 5:48, Leviticus 19:2).
The sum and substance of Christianity, however, is that the demand for holy perfection can be found in Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled the covenant from our side by obeying God's law perfectly (Romans 8:3-4) and died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of all who believe (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus attained righteousness for His people by being the only human being in history to fulfill all the requirements of God's holy Law (Galatians 4:4-5). For those who trust in Him, His righteousness is freely accredited to their account (Romans 3:22). God calls us to repent of trusting in our own good works and to believe in Jesus Christ for our righteousness (Acts 4:12). There is no other name under heaven by which one can meet God's requirements (John 14:6).
He voluntarily placed Himself under the law and became a willing subject to it in all things as a man (Philippians 2:7-8). By bearing the law's heavy yoke for us as our willing Substitute (Isaiah 53:5-6), He made an end of all our sin and fully satisfied God's justice (Romans 3:24-26). Being made free from the condemnation of sin in Christ (Romans 8:1-2), all believers are now free to delight in God's law, and their heart desires to keep it (Psalm 40:8). God's justice is fully satisfied in Christ, so when His people fail, God lovingly disciplines them so they might grow in grace in the holiness of God (Hebrews 12:5-11). This is the better news in the whole world.
In Sum, God's holy law and character requires perfect righteousness, and He will not accept anything less (Matt. 5:48). However, in the gospel, God freely gives us what he demands from us: the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) and our God-given faith in Christ (Gal. 2:16). The only way to be righteous and acceptable before God is, by grace, to recognize that we fall short of His holy standards (Rom. 3:23) and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Our faith does not satisfy the law's demands (Gal. 3:10), but Christ, the object of our faith, does (Rom. 10:4). It is not faith that saves, but faith in Christ that saves (Eph. 2:8-9). When sinners believe in Christ, the law's requirements are met on their behalf (Rom. 8:3-4), and Christ's righteousness is imputed to them (Phil. 3:9), making them fully acceptable in God's sight (Rom. 5:1) and adopted into His family (Gal. 4:4-7).
This is a summary of an much longer article I wrote many years ago.