You will agree that since the world began there have been lots of good people. But did you know that there has been only ONE righteous act ever performed on this planet? All other so-called "righteous acts" have been only reflections of that one. Only one was the Pioneer act of righteousness, done on a lone initiative--utterly alone: "As the issue of one misdeed was condemnation for all men, so the issue of one just act is acquittal and life for all men" (Rom. 5:18, NEB).
It's shocking to take a close look at what Paul said there, probably the most highly controversial verse of Scripture he ever wrote. Reading our King James Version glosses over a theological landmine lying just beneath the surface. And glossing over leaves us comparatively blah in our Christian experience.
The KJV merely says, "By the righteousness of one ... upon all men unto justification of life," leaving us wondering what it means. The "One" of course we know--Jesus Christ; but what is that "righteousness"? Lo and behold, it turns out that it's not the usual word for Christ's righteousness (dikaiosune, which is always only "imputed" to us sinful mortals). In other words, we don't have any of that kind of righteousness on our own.
But here in this verse is a different word for "righteousness"--a righteous "act" performed by One who no longer relied on His own innate righteousness (dikaiosune), but it is an act performed by Him who had been cast out, "forsaken," "cursed," by His own Father, "made to be sin for us who knew no sin"--it's dikaiomata. It's a "righteous act" performed by One who no longer has any hope of heaven for Himself. The last vestige of egocentric concern is gone forever. A blackness of despair has wiped out what He had said to the repentant thief. In that one "righteous act" there is a total emptying of self, for all eternity. Yes, He "tasted" our second death. Let the truth begin to sink in; let self be crucified with Him.
-Robert J. Wieland