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Righteousness is who God is. “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ does what is right.”1 “God is a righteous judge.”2 “The Lord is righteous, he loves justice.”3 …
God is never wrong. He has never rendered a wrong decision, experienced the wrong attitude, taken the wrong path, said the wrong thing, or acted the wrong way. He is never too late or too early, too loud or too soft, too fast or too slow. He has always been and always will be right. He is righteous.
When it comes to righteousness, God runs the table without so much as a bank shot. And when it comes to righteousness, we don’t know which end of the cue stick to hold. Hence, our plight.
Will God who is righteous spend eternity with those who are not? Would Harvard admit a third-grade dropout? If it did, the act might be benevolent, but it wouldn’t be right. If God accepted the unrighteous, the invitation would be even nicer, but would he be right? Would he be right to overlook our sins? Lower his standards? No. He wouldn’t be right. And if God is anything, he is right…
[T]o use Paul’s analogy, “we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.”4 Then what are we to do?...
It was at once history’s most beautiful and most horrible moment. Jesus stood in the tribunal of heaven. Sweeping a hand over all creation, he pleaded, “Punish me for their mistakes. See the murderer? Give me his penalty. The adulteress? I’ll take her shame. The bigot, the liar, the thief? Do to me what you would do to them. Treat me as you would a sinner.”
And God did. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”5
Yes, righteousness is what God is, and yes, righteousness is what we are not, and yes, righteousness is what God requires. But “God has a way to make people right with him.”6
David said it like this: “He leads me in paths of righteousness.”7
The path of righteousness is a narrow winding trail up a steep hill. At the top of the hill is a cross.—Max Lucado8
Always good, right, and just
The righteousness of God means that His being, His nature and character, is always righteous—good, right, and just; He Himself is the ultimate standard as to what is right. In Him there is no wrongdoing. Because He is the standard of righteousness, without fail He does what is right. He is total integrity, goodness, and uprightness.
“The Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”9“He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”10
Because God is righteous in His nature, He is fair and equitable in all His ways, including in His interaction with humanity. Because God is holy, He can’t abide sin, and because He is righteous, it is necessary for Him to treat people according to what they deserve. God rewards the upright, those who live in alignment with God’s will, Word, and ways.11 By the same token, when one sins, there is punishment.12 If there were no rewards and punishment, then God would be unfair, and thus unrighteous—which He can’t be, as that would go against His nature and essence.
It’s difficult for many of us to think of God’s judgment on sinners as something that is good and right. We like to think of God as the God of love, and He most definitely is that. He loves us unconditionally, even when we sin. He even loves those who sin defiantly. Because His love is also His nature and character, He loves us inherently. However, He doesn’t love our sin. Our sin separates us from Him.
Because He is supremely holy, He can’t accept sin; and because He is righteous, sin must be punished or atoned for. But then, because He loves us, He made the way for our sins to be atoned for through Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that we are spared from having to be separated from God or punished for our sins.
In a sense you could say that the combination of God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice fully condemns humankind. Every human being sins, and thus offends God’s holiness—His very nature. As He is righteous and just, He must give everyone what they deserve; and what we all deserve, as sinners, is punishment for sin. Since God’s holiness requires His separation from sin, because of our sin we deserve permanent separation from Him. Some Christian thinkers believe that that’s what hell is—a permanent separation from God, living apart from God with no sense of His presence, an abandonment so that He is not present to communicate with or help in any way. Some see hell as the culmination and a continuation of the choices people have made to remove God from their lives in their present life, which then continues on, even more acutely, in the afterlife.
God’s righteousness and justice can seem frightening in some ways. To know that He hates sin, that He feels indignation every day, and that sin must be punished can be fearsome. At the same time, this is why salvation is so beautiful and important. God loves us and sent His Son to save us from the punishment that we, as sinners, deserve. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”13
Jesus suffered for us, He carried our sins to the cross, He was punished for our wrongdoing. This is the magnificence of God’s love for us. We don’t have to live in fear of judgment. He made the way for us to be connected to Him, to be His children, rather than be condemned to separation from Him. We have this wonderful assurance, and this also impresses upon us the importance of sharing salvation with others through witnessing to them.—Peter Amsterdam
Dictionaries define righteousness as “behavior that is morally justifiable or right.” Such behavior is characterized by accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness. The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word. Thus, God’s laws, as given in the Bible, both describe His own character and constitute the plumb line by which He measures human righteousness.
The Greek New Testament word for “righteousness” primarily describes conduct in relation to others, especially with regards to the rights of others in business, in legal matters, and beginning with relationship to God. It is contrasted with wickedness, the conduct of the one who, out of gross self-centeredness, neither reveres God nor respects man. The Bible describes the righteous person as just or right, holding to God and trusting in Him.14
The bad news is that true and perfect righteousness is not possible for man to attain on his own; the standard is simply too high. The good news is that true righteousness is possible for mankind, but only through the cleansing of sin by Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We have no ability to achieve righteousness in and of ourselves. But Christians possess the righteousness of Christ, because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”15 This is an amazing truth. On the cross, Jesus exchanged our sin for His perfect righteousness so that we can one day stand before God and He will see not our sin, but the holy righteousness of the Lord Jesus.—From gotquestions.org16
Published on Anchor April 2019. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
1 2 Peter 1:1 ICB.
2 Psalm 7:11 NIV.
3 Psalm 11:7 NIV.
4 Romans 3:19 MSG.
5 1 Peter 3:18 NIV.
6 Romans 3:21 ICB.
7 Psalm 23:3 NKJV.
8 Max Lucado, Traveling Light (2003).
9 Psalm 92:15.
10 Deuteronomy 32:4 NIV.
11 1 Corinthians 2:9; Matthew 25:34.
12 Romans 2:5–11.
13 1 John 4:10 NIV.
14 Psalm 33:18–22.
15 2 Corinthians 5:21.