How does Jesus's resurrection make people righteous?


The thread on atonement has me asking lots of questions about Calvary. I used to subscribe to the penal substitution atonement model. In fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that I found out there are alternative explanations for how Jesus’s resurrection ‘works’. Penal substitution offers a coherent explanation of why God would become man and willingly die at the hands of violent men. The problem is, (as noted in my review of “Atonement, Justice, and Peace”), it’s contradicted by plain statements in the New Testament in which God freely forgave people their sins prior to Christ’s resurrection. Now I’m questioning how Jesus’s resurrection makes people righteous, in light of data from the Old Testament.

A core principle of the Christian faith is that no one could be righteous by works alone; faith in the resurrected messiah is needed. That was Paul’s main message.

Paul was quoting Psalm 14. But is his interpretation of Psalm 14 – that no one was righteous – consistent with the rest of the OT?

If you go through Psalms and the prophets, one of the major themes is the juxtaposition of the righteous and the wicked. That would imply that when these texts were written there were righteous people. But how could they be righteous if they didn’t have faith in Christ?

What if a man in Old Testament times sinned? It sounds like he would be forgiven if he repented.

Someone might say it was impossible for Jews to keep the law of Moses and for gentiles to keep the laws of Noah and so it was impossible prior to Christ for people to repent and be righteous. I have three things to say to that. (1) As the verses I quoted above indicate, people did keep the laws. If they didn’t, why would they be called righteous? (2) In many cases, the law of Christ is harder to keep than the law of Moses. The sermon on the mount is an intensification of the Ten Commandments. No longer is merely staying out of your neighbor’s bed good enough; the law of Christ prohibits us from even fantasizing about it. (3) What percent of Christians live sinless lives from the moment of their baptism until death? People in the atonement thread who don’t think faith alone can justify a person seemed to concede as much, saying salvation is a long, slow process. What does that mean if not that Christians imperfectly keep the law we’re under? People in OT went through cycles of sin, repent, sin, repent – how is that any different from the life of the Christian?



You nicely summarize some of the data and issues raised. Here’s what I perceive:

The OT often assumes we can be ‘righteous,’ even ‘blameless.’ I see this doesn’t mean sinless, but the integrity of a largely obedient pattern, which included offering sacrifices that assured cleansing of non-egregious guilt. Plus, as you say, forgiveness was offered to the repentant.

Still, Israel’s story overall portrays pervasive failure to live or be what God had called them to be. And as you add, Jesus promoted an even harder standard, such that the NT perceives no one is, in a fuller sense, righteous. For human nature means no one in himself is able to truly be.

But they also see the OT promises of a New Covenant time when God’s Spirit will be given to his people, and thus enable God’s ultimate law (which they see to be love) to be so internalized, that it’s as if they are written on their obedient hearts. And they conclude that Christ’s victory over death and sin has brought that day. Thus, that it’s now possible for those who put faith in that resurrection victory to experience the Spirit’s enablement, and become, not sinless or perfect, but more truly what God intended us to be (i.e. what the Old Testament writers saw as the genuine righteousness God had always frustratingly sought and pursued, e.g. the fruit of the Spirit).

For me, the catch here is not the process implied, or how we can know when we are good enough to pass judgment. For universalists needn’t worry, but can affirm that in His time, God will complete the necessary work that he has begun in each of us. We are in hands we can trust, even if the mercy that seeks our righteousness may sometimes need to be severe.

My problem is that I find it difficult to see the implication of this narrative, that we in Christ will evidence a more genuine righteousness than those who came before Christ’s victory and such a greater release of the Spirit. In honesty, it’s disappointing to recognize how untransformed I and the wider Body of Christ so often seem to remain. But as an exegete, none of that removes my impression that the NT apostles expected that Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension & Pentecost, brings a new era, which should enable us to attain a new and genuine righteousness.


Robert M Price has a different view. He believes that is why the Shepherd of Hermas came out. They thought the return of Christ would be VERY soon, so “You best not sin!” and then when the return took longer than they anticipated, they made allowances (but only one!) to repent from a backslidden state. Personally, I think that fits the data better. When the entirety of reality goes against what you think the NT says, then either the NT is wrong, or all of humanity is wrong. My bet is that the NT is all too idealistic and does just doesn’t represent the reality of the world we live in. Heck, even the sins of the flesh listed in Galatian’s seems to apply to every single human being, ever, “saved” or “not saved”. The only person I know who might beg to differ is Paidion, but that is due to past inferences that he has no sinful habits of any sort, or besetting issues. Personally, I never met a person who claimed that except for that guy Harold Camping, or some of the sinless perfection crew.

For this specifically

I’d say it is possible that this is because we have either misunderstood the NT, or the NT is incorrect, or the least likely option in my opinion: We are all just terrible people, a failed creation.


I am doubting that there is an afterlife at this point. But, I had the same questions about a year ago. I think the idea that the resurrection will make us sinless ultimately comes from a gnostic viewpoint. If you really think about it, the body is not bad at all, the body doesn’t cause us to “sin”. If God gave you a brand new body, do you suppose you would cease to sin? I don’t think so. The Resurrection itself cannot cure our sin nature, because the sin nature can’t be blamed on the body. If it was, then God is guilty of condemning us to live this way. Of course, some ancient Christian’s did believe some spirits were punished by being sent to manifest themselves in the flesh. So maybe us sinners are just fallen angels or angels that need to learn, so we were sent to this existance. Far out, right? So is all of this stuff. It didn’t stop people in the first century from believing all sorts of quacky things, kinda like today, eh?

Short of God wiping out the way we operate, I don’t see how the sin nature could be solved. I’d argue it can only be solved by education, by an unveiling of the truth. which, means we obviously don’t have the whole truth now, or we wouldn’t be sinners.


I guess we are reading the same New Testament? The one I’m reading strikes me as being the most realistic book about actual human nature that I’ve read, at least, or can imagine reading. Warts and all, there we are, shown for what we are by a perfect Mirror - unfortunately it appears to us as a funhouse mirror, all distorted - but that’s us we see. The mirror is just fine, it seems to me.

Oh come on, the ‘entirety of reality’ - overstated much?? Whose reality? And the ‘entirety’? And ‘too idealistic’ - compared to what other set of ideals? It’s a high honor to be a creature for whom the highest level of truth, faithfulness, love, mercy - ‘ideals’ -is demanded - by the One who ‘embodies’ those things perfectly. It looks like humanity, far from striving AT ALL towards the highest, is going lickety-split (that’s a philosophical term :wink: the other direction - as Pauls says, if we throw away the worship of the true God, we end up worshiping destructive forces, idols, fleshly creatures - he 's pretty hard on us - but more realistic than we want.

Ok, I’ve read skeptical arguments from bumpkins all the way to the most sophisticated thinkers, many books ranging from sheer vitriol to cold hard reasoning. And in between; there is nothing new under the sun; but we have it on good (to me) authority that Faith, Hope and Love will endure forever.

As for all the various little arguments that can be put forth - nothing new there; mankind has been making the same ones almost since the beginning. But they don’t stand up; except the Problem of Evil, so-called: a tough nut to crack.


Dave, I referencing the idea that we won’t sin. Sinless perfection. There are many phrases in the NT that people interpret to get sinless perfection. That is what I am specifically referring too. Many Christians have tried, I doubt any actually succeeded in ceasing to sin.


qaz… you may find this article by Andrew Perriman of some interest — Atonement, without the theoretical nonsense.


I thought you said much more than that, but so be it. I believe that the ideals come from a loving Father, but yes He is both Good and Severe. The demand for a sinless life - and there has been One! - keeps calling us upward, and I think that our DIRECTION - a process - is the important thing. We fall, we get up, dust ourselves off, get renewed in our ideals, ask for help, and strive to go higher. That’s being a human Christian.

Theoretical nonsense - oh that’s wonderful. Wonder if it’s true?


I guess we we’re raised different. The idea that God expects me to be perfect is discouraging to me, because I can’t attain it. After setting your goal high and failing to reach it, it causes discouragement in people like me. Eventually, all but the most stubborn get off the treadmill.

Once I got off the treadmill I started asking the questions. How do I know God expects this? I don’t. So maybe he didn’t. Maybe the whole idea is faulty. I just know that failing to meet a goal that is not obtainable creates insanity. It might affect you differently. We are all different. But I am very certain sinless perfect is completely bogus.


I too believe it is bogus, and a harmful demand. When I use the word ‘perfection’ in this context, it is of something asked of human beings, not supermen. Oh yeah, I was discouraged for years about this very thing. I found out I was not alone. I and others had been wrongly taught. Books like ‘Messy Spirituality’ and “Why Men Hate Church” (not all men of course, though I myself don’t like it much) - helped me to see a savior who knows our frailty, who has been tempted like us and knows what that is like; that understands that our feet get tangled in many ways in this Race, and that we need encouragement and love, love above all.
Hey I’m preaching to myself as well. :sunglasses:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.


Here is the Eastern Orthodox view - which I subscribe to:

How Are We Saved?
God’s “Righteousness”


, it’s contradicted by plain statements in the New Testament in which God freely forgave people their sins prior to Christ’s resurrection. Now I’m questioning how Jesus’s resurrection makes people righteous, in light of data from the Old Testament.

There are about half a dozen atonement theories and several may be true because they don’t all contradict each other. But to your point God could have forgiven people in the OT because the sacrifice of Jesus was determined before the foundation of the world so it could have been applied retroactively by God.



It sounds like you feel disillusioned. While I sympathize with your chagrin with reality, and a sense that the NT is idealistic, I think there is a less cynical or extreme middle ground here. I don’t agree that NT writers felt that they experienced sinless perfection. In doing my doctoral dissertation on Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification, I concluded that his exegetical case was the weakest, and admired his honest confession that he himself remained a sinner.

More centrally, I don’t find the “entirety of reality” contradicts the expectation that faith in Christ can be transforming. Sociological studies seem to show that many churchmen’s life and values are not transformed, but that a minority are deeply transformed by their faith. In my pastorate, I often found that those most conscious of remaining sinners were most deeply changed into being wonderfully loving people, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I know some, such as my wife, who experience that embracing Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, teaching and example, continues to produce one degree of growth after another in becoming those who practice the Great Commandment.

Thus, I think it would be too much to insist that the NT is incorrect about Jesus bringing a life-changing dynamic that offers a process of Spirit led sanctification that can transform lives. But the extent of the shortcoming of this in those who claim to embrace it, suggests to me that simply sharing intellectual beliefs does not ensure the kind of outcome Jesus appears to have proclaimed as possible, and that we need to give more consideration to what kind of approach and practices correlate with the lives of those who do exhibit a genuine growth in the fruit of the Spirit.


I appreciate the replies, but no one is answering my questions. Why does the OT say people were righteous if faith in Jesus’s resurrection is a requirement for righteousness? And if the overwhelming majority of Christians live in cycles of sin-repent rather than static perfection, and faith in Jesus’s resurrection alone doesn’t justify a person, then how does Jesus’s resurrection justify people? People have been living in sin-repent cycles post-Calvary just as they were pre-Calvary.


Why does the OT say people were righteous if faith in Jesus’s resurrection is a requirement for righteousness? And if the overwhelming majority of Christians live in cycles of sin-repent rather than static perfection, and faith in Jesus’s resurrection alone doesn’t justify a person, then how does Jesus’s resurrection justify people? People have been living in sin-repent cycles post-Calvary just as they were pre-Calvary.

As i said before the atonement was determined before the foundation of the world so in God’s purposes i think it was applied both forward and back since it always was a fait accompli.
Perfection as used in the bible means “maturity” to my understanding and i think God expects the effort from us to grow in Christ. As they say, “it is the process or journey.”



That’s an interesting solution, but I think it has a problem, which is this: Only some people in the OT are called righteous. If people in OT times were called righteous because Jesus’s resurrection was applied backwards for them, then what about the people in OT times who were called wicked? Was Jesus’s resurrection not applied backwards for them? If Jesus’s resurrection was only applied backwards for people who were righteous then we’re left wondering why Jesus had to die for them since they were already righteous.

If maturity is defined as “sinning less” then we’re left wondering the point of Calvary. Could a person not sin less over the course of his life in OT times?


The same can be said for ANY faith, or lack thereof. When people decide to change, they change. I decided to change and at the time I thought it was Christ, but I don’t think that anymore. I think it was my decision to change after analyzing the situation. The catalyst for the change could be many different things and isn’t exclusive to faith, nor Christianity. I don’t suppose you are willing to extend the possibility that an atheist or a muslim has, year after year, a similar growth as your wife towards goodness/maturity? What say you on that?

BTW, it is no wonder you found the most sinner conscious were the most changed. You know the old addage, right? “Admitting the problem is the 1st step”, or “you are halfway there after admitting the problem”. These people were already RIPE for the changing. They just picked a catalyst that happens to claim it is the only catalyst, thus, it reinforces and creates some sort of self fulfilling prophecy. It really is plain as day if you break it down.

Qaz’s question remains. What did Cavalry actually do? Because I see the same old patterns of human behavior, both past and present. Sin/Repent. And this isn’t exclusive to Christianity itself. If Christian’s are so awesomely transformed, I fail to see it.


That’s an interesting solution, but I think it has a problem, which is this: Only some people in the OT are called righteous

Only some people in the NT were called righteous too , those in Christ. Abraham was called righteous because of his faith in God. As to “maturity” I would see it more as “doing good” rather then sinning less.


**Righteousness and Sinfulness
What if we consider righteousness to be ‘in right relationship with a loving God,’ and sinfulness to be ‘out of right relationship with a loving God’?

Further, I might argue that in the Old Testament, a person who was called “righteous” by God, was someone who, although not permanently in right relationship with God, was usually more in that out, in God’s estimation. They were someone who chose to seek and trust God, in faith:

*“But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” * Hebrews 10:38 (and also Romans 1:17), referencing Habakkuk 2:4, a prophet in the Old Testament.

But that under the New Testament, a Christian is someone who, by receiving Christ, has received a permanent gift of righteousness, and therefore remains righteous—in a right relationship with God—even though they struggle with sin:

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21. (And yes, Christians are in Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:30, Colossians 3:3.)

As I said on another thread,



Well said bro.