Martin Luther on “Alien Righteousness”

AlienMartin Luther is often quoted as speaking of the imputed  righteousness of Christ in the justification of sinners as an “alien righteousness.”

Now that may sound like a rather odd phrase, but Luther here is not speaking of little green men. What he means is that such a righteousness is utterly foreign to us; it is not inherent or even infused in us, but is entirely from outside of us.

He says of this alien righteousness:

“[It] is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1[:30]: “Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”” (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, p.155)

He spells this out in more detail later in the same paragraph, where he writes,

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

Can you say those same things confidently? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can! For in your justification by faith in Christ, Christ’s own “living, doing, speaking, suffering and dying” are just as much yours as if you yourself “had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”

In justification, the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is imputed to you by faith. That includes what is often referred to as His “passive obedience” (i.e. His suffering and death on the cross), as well as His “active obedience” (i.e. His life of perfect, sinless obedience to the will of His Father).

Now that really is good news that is out of this world!

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