Notes below based on sermon preached at One Church Home on September 25, 2022
Look up the term “righteousness” in a dictionary, and it will probably say something like: “the quality or state of being morally correct and justifiable; synonymous with ‘rightness’ or being ‘upright;’ being virtuous, honorable or morally right.”
Some definitions may go so far as to mention some nebulous standard against which behavior is measured or suggest the implications of not meeting it: “acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin.”
All definitions leave us facing one of the oldest philosophical questions known to man: Who decides? Who sets the standard for what is morally right or “righteous?”
The problem with man’s definition of righteousness is that it starts from man’s perspective. But there is a fundamental problem with that approach. No man is righteous in and of himself.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
We cannot understand righteousness apart from the One who is righteousness. So we focus this week on the only true source of righteousness: “Jehovah Tsidkenu,” the Lord our Righteousness.
Let’s start with a Biblical definition of righteousness. God’s righteousness means that He always acts in conformity with Himself—His character.
In ancient times, purchases were measured according to weight (an example today might be 5 pounds of flour or sugar). A merchant would pour the item being purchased onto one side of the scales and place a metal weight on the other. This weight became the “standard” by which an equivalent amount of product would be measured. The merchant would pour more product onto the scales until the two sides of the scales were perfectly balanced. Then the two sides of the scales were said to be “righteous,” meaning both sides perfectly conformed to each other.
God’s standard for righteousness is Himself. Bob Deffinbaugh writes, “God is not defined by the term ‘righteous,’ as much as the term ‘righteous’ is defined by God. God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.”
God’s standard of righteousness is the natural expression of who He is—His holiness. So to understand God’s righteousness, we must also understand God’s holiness.
The Hebrew word for “holy” is “qadosh” which means “to be set apart for a special purpose.”
There are two critical aspects of the definition.
The first is “set apart.” The obvious question is, “Set apart from what?” God is set apart from all that He created. Nothing in all creation can compare to God’s love, glory, grace, mercy, power, and purity.
Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
God is also set apart from all things contrary to His nature, from all that is impure, sinful, or evil.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing…
The second equally important aspect of God’s holiness is that it is dedicated (or consecrated) “for a purpose.” It is not just the setting apart from that which is contrary to His nature, but the complete dedication to Himself and all He loves, to all that is consistent with His nature and His will…ultimately, to His glory. All that God created and all that God does, He does to display His glory. And He does so perfectly.
Theologians have described God’s righteousness as “the ethical dimension of His holiness.” Ethics are the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. So God’s righteousness is God’s holiness in action.
With that foundation, let’s think about man’s righteousness. Going back to the analogy of a scale, because God is righteousness, the perfect standard by which He must measure our lives is His absolute holiness. The requirement to be righteous in the sight of God and acceptable in His sight is that we stand in perfect conformity to the morally pure holiness of God.
So now we understand the incredulous nature of Bildad’s question to Job.
How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?
He cannot. We cannot…but God.
And this is the beauty of the Gospel. That the God who Himself is righteousness chose to create a people He knew could never be righteous and then to provide for them (for us) a righteousness they could never obtain any other way. One commentary says, “Righteousness is the sum total of all God commands, demands, approves, and Himself provides.”
In his commentary entitled The Book of Romans, Roy Gingrich explains how Paul’s writing “reveals God’s three-fold provision for man’s three-fold need. Men need deliverance from sin’s penalty, power, and presence.”
First, in Romans 3:21-5:21, Paul describes our justification. This is God’s righteousness on me—His righteousness “imputed” to me through the finished work of His Son Jesus.
John Piper helps us understand how “imputation” differs from “impartation.”
“God does ‘impart’ to us gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit so that we have them and they are in us growing, and they are ours. But all of that gracious impartation through the Spirit is built on an even more firm foundation, namely, imputation – the work of God outside of us: God’s own righteousness, not imparted to us, but imputed to us, credited to us, as Romans 4:6 and 11 say. Put to our account. Reckoned to be ours.”
Not only was the righteousness of God imputed to us, but our sinfulness was also imputed to Jesus. Jesus took on Himself the penalty for our sin through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. And as a result, when we accept Christ by faith, we experience an immediate and permanent status change from condemned to righteous in the eyes of God.
…by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
II Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The phrase “righteousness of God” is better understood if we consider it “righteousness from God.” It is based on our faith and faith alone that God imputes His righteousness to us, giving us standing as righteous before Him.
In so doing, Jesus delivered us from the penalty of sin.
having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
But God didn’t stop there. If He had delivered us only from sin’s penalty, we would continue in this life to be slaves to its influence, subject to our fleshly whims and desires, as well as the world and the devil.
In Romans 6:1-8:17, Paul explains our sanctification—the process of becoming more holy once we have accepted Christ. Sanctification is the “impartation” of God’s righteousness in me through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because God has given us His Holy Spirit to live inside us, we are freed from the power of sin.
Romans 6:6-7, 11-14
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Paul goes on to say that we are now “slaves to righteousness.”
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
We need to be sure we understand what Paul means. The word translated as slave is the Greek word doulos: a “bond-servant.” In the Old Testament, when a slave had fulfilled the period of his obligation to his master yet desired to continue in the same relationship because of his love for the master, the slave would submit to a ritual and have his ear pierced, thereby identifying him as a “bond-slave.” This is a lifelong relationship that results not from being forced into slavery but rather a voluntary devotion and binding of oneself to a lord or master. It may help to go back and review week 1, the study on YHWH, the LORD.
When we choose to bind ourselves to Him, to submit to Him as our LORD, He gives us (“imputes” to us) His righteousness. We are righteous before God in Christ.
He also imparts His righteousness to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean that we will always behave righteously. But it does mean that as we submit more and more to the Spirit’s leading, we will begin to be more holy. It is not the righteousness that produces holiness but the righteousness that results from increasing holiness…dedication, and submission to God and His purposes. Holiness is not just about being set apart but about being dedicated or consecrated to Him.
This means that sanctification is not about behavior modification but heart transformation that happens only through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
If we simply try harder to behave better, we are like the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:28, Jesus said to them: “In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
And finally, in Romans 8:18-39, Paul explains our glorification. This is the completion or perfection of God’s righteousness in all of me.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
1 John 3:2
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
When Christ returns, we will be delivered once and for all from the presence of sin. And we will dwell with Him forever.
It is the covenant promise.
I will be your God.
You will be my children.
I will dwell with you forever.
It is the covenant promise of a covenant-keeping God of relationship: YHWH, Jehovah, The LORD.
Our covenant keeping LORD, who is Himself righteousness.
The LORD, who is righteousness, made Himself sin for us to become our righteousness. He delivered us from sin’s penalty and power, and someday He will deliver us from sin’s very presence.
And He who is righteousness has redefined righteousness for us to mean a right relationship with Him attained to by faith and faith alone that leads us through the power of His Holy Spirit to love and serve Him, to love others as ourselves, and to do good in order to lead others into the same right relationship with God for the glory of His name because He is the LORD our Righteousness, Jehovah Tsidkenu.
Note: all scripture references are from the New International Version. (2011) BibleGateway.com
Questions for reflection or discussion:
Have you received the gift of God’s righteousness through faith? If not, please let us pray with you about that decision. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What have you learned about God, His righteousness, or your righteousness in Him that you didn’t know or fully understand before?
How will that change your relationship with Him going forward?
As a believer, are you walking fully in the power over sin that is yours through His Holy Spirit in you? Say a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to lead you away from temptation and keep you from evil. You can recite the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.