Hi everyone!! Good to have you here with us again. We trust you thoroughly enjoyed the episode on Sin. If you haven’t read it, you know what to do. Today we move on to the next word in our VOS series; RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Righteousness is one of the words in the bible that is difficult to explain because it takes up a range of meanings depending on its context. It is often confused at the basic level with the word holiness which basically means to be set apart or to be different. In the bible the word is used in relation to God and man alike. What does it mean when we say God is righteous and what does it mean for man to be righteous and how does it all fit into the story of our salvation? Let’s jump right in.
The English word righteousness refers to the quality, state or characteristic of being in the right. It has strong connotations to Justness and Justice. It translates the Hebrew words Tsedeqah, tsdq and tsadiq. They mean to be innocent, just or blameless. The underlying root concepts have to do with adherence to a norm (or law) and right relationship. The Greek words translated righteousness are Dikaios and Dikaiosune. At the core they have the same range of meaning as their Hebrew counterparts. However in the Greek there is the added emphasis of judicial approval. When used in regards to God it refers to a divine attribute. It is God’s righteousness that makes Him best qualified as ruler and Judge of the universe. God’s righteousness is at the heart of everything he does. The book of psalms in chapter 89 verse 14 tells us that Righteousness and Justice form the very foundation of God’s throne. God being righteous tells us that whatever God does is right and when faced with a myriad of options God will do the right thing (isn’t that refreshing?). It is the righteousness of God that gives us confidence that no evil and wrongdoing will go unpunished. It is also the righteousness of God that gives us hope that doing the right thing will be rewarded. Remember the second self introduction of God from our first post? Although he promises to forgive sin, transgressions and iniquity, His righteousness will not allow him to leave evil unpunished. In Genesis 18:16-33 we see an interesting story play out. God had appeared to Abraham on his way to execute Judgement on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon finding this out Abraham began to plead with God on behalf of his nephew Lot. Of all the things Abraham could lay hold on to make his case he held onto the righteousness of God. In the verse 25 we read these words;
Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Abraham understood he was dealing with a righteous judge. We know how the story ends. Although Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed Lot and his daughters were saved because God will not punish the righteous with the wicked. The judge of all the earth will always do right. Beyond His innate ability to always do right, the Jewish people developed an added understanding of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness extended to his faithfulness to his covenant. So when they said God was righteous they understood that he would save humanity as he had promised in his covenant to Abraham.
But what do we mean when we use righteousness in relation to man? When used in relation to humanity, righteousness has relational, legal and ethical connotations. You see when God made us in His image and likeness it meant that we had whatever it took to represent God. Part of the package was that we had the innate ability to do right and as long as we maintained our relationship with God we maintained that ability. Along the line as you know by now sin entered into the fray. In one act of rebellion we lost our relationship with God and also as a result we lost the innate ability to do good. We lost our right standing with God and now whenever we’re faced with a plethora of choices we are more likely to do evil because of the absence of the principle of good in us. As the story of humanity unfolds God picks Abraham’s family and promises that through them all the families of the earth will be blessed (restored). In order for them (Abraham’s family) to have a relationship with God, he enters a covenant with them and gives them laws to obey. As long as they obey these laws they are in a right standing relationship with God. The problem however was that this family like all humanity also suffers from the problem of Sin. The absence of the principle of good plagues them too. It taints everything humanity does. This is what the prophet Isaiah means when he says our attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags before God.
We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind. ~ NLT
This presents God with a two fold problem. First how is he going to work with this family to bring about the restoration of all humanity? And secondly how is God going to forgive the sins, transgressions and iniquity of humanity and yet be a righteous God who is not just turning a blind eye to sin.
The Bible presents Jesus as the answer to both questions. In the gospel according to Matthew the apostle starts with a condensed genealogy before going further to expand it. In chapter 1:1 he says;
“This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah (Savior), a descendant of David and of Abraham:”
Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham. He was from the family through which God had promised to bring blessing and restoration to the world. As God in the flesh, he is not plagued by the propensity to sin as we all are. He is sinless and righteous. This Jesus goes about preaching the return of God’s rule and authority (Kingdom) and is eventually killed for it. But the Bible tells us that the death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection is good news. But how and why? It is good news because it precisely answers the second question. The gospel, the death of Jesus and his resurrection on the third day is how God forgives our sin, yet punished sin and still remains righteous. Let’s explore further.
In his letter to the church in Rome Paul explains this in detail. We see this in chapter 3 from verses 23-26.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. ~ NLT
Beautiful right? Jesus was made to undergo the punishment of sin on our behalf. Although he was righteous and sinless, he willingly paid the price for us and in return offered his life of righteousness to all who in loyal obedience believe and submit their lives to him. He makes us right in the sight of God. This “exchange” is what theologians call substitutionary atonement. Paul explores this idea further albeit in a condensed form in his 2 letter to the church in Corinth. In chapter 5 verse 21 he says;
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. ~ NLT
Because of what Jesus did, all humanity can be made right with God. We simply need to believe and submit our lives to him. This is why the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf is good news. It’s the best news. Those who are now in Christ have a new nature. The old nature that makes us prone to sin is gone. We are right before God and also have the power to do right. But for the apostle Paul the gospel was more than just that. It was a testament to God’s righteousness. The Gospel showed God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham, his truthfulness to his self revelation and his commitment to deal with evil all the while being a loving father. The Gospel shows that God is righteous in declaring those who believe in Jesus to be righteous.
Today the question we ask you is will you believe?
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The New King James Version (NKJV).
NLT – New Living Translation
VOS – Vocabulary of Salvation