The righteousness of God emphasizes the perfection of His divine character while exposing the fallen nature of man. Romans 3:10 says “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Verse 11 goes on to say that there is no one who understands, and no one who seeks God. Mankind is fallen, and doomed to eternal damnation if not for the righteousness of God. The thesis of this study will demonstrate that Paul’s epistle to the Romans ‘more than any other book of the Bible’provides profound insight into the free gift, and meaning of the righteousness of God.
God’s righteousness is attained by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. “Righteousness is a relationship word, and at the foundation of its meaning is the idea of being right with the other person; doing what is called for to preserve and continue the relationship.” God has placed us in right relationship to Him through Christ.
God’s righteousness demands He condemn sin, and judge sinners (1:18-3:20). In lieu of that condemnation and judgment, He has provided forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Christ Jesus (justification; 3:21,5:21), and power for living a holy life in right relationship to Himself (sanctification; 6:1, 8:39).
Righteousness is the position commanded by God, in which we put on the new self that is created to be like God (Eph. 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:9; 6:14). It’s conformity to all He commands or appoints. Since God Himself is the standard, the righteousness of God is the righteousness which belongs to God (Matt. 6:33; James 1:20). Righteousness is God’s standard for which people are expected to attain. “Righteousness” is what man should do, and “righteous” are those who do it.
What does righteousness mean? The righteousness of God is a righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11). A brief study of the word “righteousness” and “faith,” in their Greek and Hebrew form, will be necessary in order to fully comprehend the righteousness of God.
Greek: (dikaiosune); (1) Pauline thought of the divine action by which God puts a person right with himself, and which then becomes a dynamic power in the believer’s life making righteous, or a state of having been made righteous (Rom. 1:17).
Hebrew: (1) righteousness, justice, rightness, i.e., the state of doing what is required according to a standard (Ps 31:2); (2) justice (Is. 5:23); 3. innocence, i.e., the state of not having any sin or its associated guilt.
Greek: (pistis), (eos), (he): a state of certainty with regard to belief (Ac 17:31); the state of complete dependability (Ro 3:3); Christian faith, belief in the Gospel (Ro 1:8; Eph 2:8; Gal 1:23; Jude 3).
Hebrew: (’emuwnah); 49 occurrences; AV translates as ‘faithfulness’ 18 times, ‘truth’ 13 times, ‘faithfully’ five times; faithfulness, trustworthiness, steadiness, entrusted, i.e., a state or condition of being dependable to a person or standard.
The message of Romans essentially says, we are made righteous because God puts a person in right standing with Him through the faith of the believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Righteousness of God expressed in the Old and New Testaments
The idea of the righteousness of God is a fundamental biblical idea that encompasses both Testaments. In the Old Testament God says: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone from My mouth in righteousness, and will not turn back” (Isa. 45:22-23). “I bring near My righteousness, it’s not far off: my salvation will not delay” (Isa. 46:13; 51:5).
“In these passages the righteousness of God is conceived as ‘going forth,’ as projected from the Divine essence, and realizing itself among men. In Is. 54:17 it’s expressly said, ‘Their righteousness [which] is of Me’; and in Is. 45:25 the process is described as one of justification (‘in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified. In close attendance on the righteousness of God is His salvation; where the one is, the other immediately follows.”
Paul’s message to the Romans shines a new light on the righteousness of God. His righteousness flows forth and embraces man, when it’s met by faith. In Romans 3:21, Paul claims that this righteousness of God is attested to in the Old Testament. Paul makes clear that only those who believe will experience God’s righteousness. He reiterates the importance of faith with a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous will live by faith.? No other New Testament book exposits the righteousness of God as thoroughly, and precisely, as the book of Romans. From the opening introduction to Paul’s final exhortation, God’s righteousness is the pervasive topic.
The Righteousness of God by Faith
It’s unlikely that one can find a passage in Scripture that concisely summarizes the message of salvation more effectively than Romans 1:16-17. The word righteousness occurs ninety-two times in the New Testament, and thirty-six times in the book of Romans. Paul states “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (v. 17). It’s difficult to know exactly what Paul had in mind with this phrase. He may be saying it’s a faith from first to last, indicating that faith must govern our approach to God throughout our walk with him. We never outgrow our need for faith, and God never changes that requirement. My view is that Paul is describing the faith that God’s people had in Old Testament times (Old Covenant), and the faith that is in Christ Jesus in the New Testament times (New Covenant). It’s a continuation of faith from old to new, and first to last; from faith to faith.
Righteousness is doing that which is expected within the Covenant relationship. Under the Old Covenant God gave the Law, and thereby demonstrated that man is under obligation to meet with his approval. Under the New Covenant; God gave His Son Jesus, and promises to give his approval if man responds to Christ in faith. Christ is now the object of our faith.
Apart From the Law, the Righteousness of God is Manifested
In this section (Rom. 3:21-26), Paul shifts to a more positive approach to the gospel. This
passage restates the thesis of Romans 1:17, after elaborating its antithesis in 1:18-3:20. If 3:21-
26 is contrasted with all of 1:18-3:20, then it’s possible to say, “As the ‘wrath of God’
dominated the old era (1:18), so the ‘righteousness of God’ dominates the new.”
“Now but without Law rightness of God has been demonstrated having testified by the Law, and the spokesmen” (Rom. 3:21). This translation shows the challenge of bringing the full meaning of one language into another, but in this verse we see the changing of the guard, so to speak, in relation to God’s righteousness. The fulfillment of the Law is in Christ Jesus: it’s in Him, and through Him that we obtain righteousness. In other words, according to Paul, God gave the Law not only to regulate the conduct of his people, but more importantly, to reveal their sin until the fulfillment of the promises in Christ.
Righteousness came to man by way of proper behavior under the Old Testament Law. The Law reveals the righteousness of God, because the Law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). Through the Gospel righteousness comes by believing in the person, and work, of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God refers to the ‘manner’ in which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself. He does this apart from the Law, because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (v. 20). If it were possible to keep the Law perfectly, where is righteousness to be found? That encapsulates Paul’s theology of Justification.
Righteousness is attained through faith (3:22). The cost of Justification is free to us; for God, the price is His Son. God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus as a ransom in order to purchase us for Himself. Through the sacrifice of his Son, God has demonstrated, and satisfied His righteousness (3:25, 26).
It’s the righteousness which proceeds from God (gen. auctoris), which personally appeared in Christ, ‘who is our Righteousness,? and which is communicated to the believer for Christ’s sake in the act of justification by faith. This new method of acquiring righteousness does not rely upon works; but on faith, and devotion to Jesus Christ. It’s therefore no longer confined to any particular people, but is thrown open without distinction to all, on the sole condition of believing; Jew or Gentile.
As stated previously, Justification is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, it’s not enough to say, “I believe, and go to church.” Even demons have belief in God, yet they are not justified (James 2:19). A person must believe in the Person, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; the source of justification. Justification is for all people. It’s not what you have done or who you are, it’s what Jesus has done, and who He is.
What mankind could not do for himself, God has done for him through Jesus Christ. All have sinned, and become unacceptable to a holy and righteous God (v. 23). Paul reminds us that the universal invitation to believe is the flip side of the universal need for salvation. “There is no difference,” he affirms at the end of verse 22, continuing in verse 23 with the well-known summary of 1:18-3:20: “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Everyone stands condemned: in need of Justification. “There is none who seek God; all have turned aside….there is none who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:11-12).
Abraham Believed and Righteousness was Credited to Him
Romans chapter four is one of the key chapters relating to the righteousness of God. Continuing his discussion on justification by faith from chapter three, Paul presents Abraham in chapter four to establish his argument for the righteousness of God, to all who believe (Rom. 4:3-5). Paul refutes the assumption of 4:1 by arguing in 4:9-12 that Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews but “of all who believe” (4:11b). Abraham was not justified by his works but rather by faith (4:2-3).
Abraham; the father of us all, and the heir of the world, was credited with righteousness because he believed God through the righteousness of faith (4:13). No other chapter demonstrates God’s righteousness through faith as succinctly as chapter four of Romans because it ties together the old and the new Covenants. Jew is not superior to the Gentile because of their father Abraham. The faith of Abraham is the same faith that allows all nations to accept the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus (4:16-18). When we believe in Christ an exchange occurs, Christ allows our faith to be the incentive for forgiveness, and the bestowal of His righteousness on us. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn this new position in Christ; it’s a gift of grace. The remainder of chapter 4 is quickly explained. “Paul’s remark in 4:16 concerning ‘the faith of Abraham’ cues the description of Abraham’s faith in 4:17-22. Then Paul makes the present day application of the Abraham example in 4:23-25.”
The Free Gift of Righteousness
“Where Adam inaugurated a solidarity in sin and death, Christ is presented as the inaugurator of a new, and immeasurably more powerful solidarity in righteousness and life.”
There is nothing in man that would give cause for God to save him. No person seeks God on his own (Rom. 3:11). That is what makes Romans 5:8 so amazingly incomprehensible. God demonstrates His love for us while we were yet sinners, and died for us. Everyone deserves condemnation unto death. Through God’s perfect love, He chose to provide everyone with the opportunity of receiving His free gift of grace that leads to the righteousness of salvation (5:8-9).
Our righteousness is a gift from God, turning condemnation into justification (5:15-17). The disobedience of the one man, Adam, caused many to be made sinners, and the enemies of God (5:8;10). In contrast to the disobedience of Adam, the obedience of the one man, Jesus, made the free gift of righteousness possible through His atoning work on the cross (v. 16). Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul frequently uses the term “righteousness” in a paradoxical sense by showing how God offers righteousness to the unrighteous as a free gift by declaring them justified through Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24). In Romans 5:9, the ungodly of v.6, sinners of v.8, and enemies of God in v. 10 are now declared righteous. They become the recipients of the abundant provision of the gift of grace, and righteousness, through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).
There is mercy in God, there is sufficiency in the satisfaction of Christ: the promise is free, and universal. Nothing is or ever can be goodness in man except for the spirit of Christ revealed in his soul. Christ in us is our only goodness, as Christ in us is our hope of glory. Christ in us is the pure “free gift” of God to us because the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23).
There are many things we will never fully understand this side of heaven. God’s love is one of those things. How can we comprehend the love He has for us? He laid down His life for “His friends.” (John 15:12-14). We are His friend if we love each other as He loves us. The origin of God’s justification is His grace; the historical basis of this gift is the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.
Living Out the Righteousness of God
“The righteous requirements of the Law . . . fully met in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but of the spirit (Rom. 8:4).” When Paul said that the righteous requirements of the Law are ‘fully met’ in the believer, he was making an astonishing statement. Rightly understood, the Law does not just speak to what we do and say ‘outside,’ it calls for us to be changed ‘inside’ as well. Do not let sin reign in your body so that you obey its lusts (Rom. 6:12). Paul says we are to count ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
“The person once guilty, but now saved by grace, has been set right in relation to God.” Christ’s work fulfils the need for sanctification. He made allowance for this in His atonement, and in the abundance of His grace. It’s completed in Him, and must be accepted as the free and perfect gift through Christ alone. ‘You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God’that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30).
Does sanctification mean we are dead to the sinful self? That life has been crucified with Christ already, on the cross. We need only hand it over to Him. He will do away with it, and lay it to rest forever in His grave. Is sanctification a new life of purity, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit? “Christ Himself must be our life, our peace, our purity, and our full and overflowing joy.” We are to live as “living sacrifices” to Him, presenting our members to Him as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13). The word Instruments (opla): properly signifies arms, or implements of war; but it also denotes an instrument of any kind which we use for defense or aid. Here, it means that we should not devote our members; hands, tongue, etc., as if under the direction of sinful passions, and corrupt desires, to accomplish purposes of iniquity. We should not make the members of our bodies the slaves of sin reigning within us.
Christians must cultivate peace and harmony with each other. We are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), and “be of one mind; live in peace” (2 Cor. 3:11). The cultivation of unity and peace are derived from love. Love will lead us to bear one another’s burden, and so fulfill the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). That Law is freedom through grace, and faith in Christ Jesus. “The slaves of sin can have no part in this freedom from the Law since they are still subject to the penalties of the Law, which are the necessary results of sin.”
In Romans 6:16, Paul is saying the one who is our master is the one whom we obey. If you obey sin, then that is your master. Do not say Christ is your master if you are living in sin; sin is your master. ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36). Free to live for Him, and free to obey Him. Sin is our former master; grace through Christ is our new master. “You have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to God” (Rom. 6:22). As long as we are living on this earth, the flesh (the body) will cry out for attention, and that is the “instrument” by which Satan works to destroy our faith.
Platonists frequently use metaphors relating to warfare, imprisonment, rule, and slavery to explain the relationship between the soul’s parts. “Platonism is distinctive in appealing to a vision of the soul locked in a fierce struggle between reason and the emotions, the rational and irrational faculties, or the better and worse parts of the soul.” In Romans 6:12-14, Paul sees a mind that has been formerly enslaved to sin, now liberated by God’s intervention. Sins rule still threatens, as Paul eloquently points out in chapter 7 of Romans. Roman 7 presents an extended monologue about the struggle with sin. Sin does the exact opposite of what the soul knows is just and good. “The rule of sin, and the rule of God are developed as antithetical forms of enslavement.” “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God’ through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).
This paper has clearly shown that the epistle of Romans describes God’s righteousness more thoroughly than any other book of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Romans takes the reader on a journey that outlines the sinfulness of man, the Good News of the Gospel, and application of the righteousness of God to daily life. God does not judge us on the basis of who we are, or on the basis of how much we know about Him, but on the basis of what we do with what we know.
Paul begins in Romans 1:16 by stating he is “not ashamed of the gospel because it’s the power of God unto salvation.” It’s the power of God unto salvation because the righteousness of God is revealed in it from faithfulness unto faith. God’s righteousness is the righteousness that belongs to God, and more specifically, the righteousness God gives when a person trusts Christ (Rom. 10:3-4). God righteousness is the theme that flows from the beginning to the end of the letter to the Romans.