A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness

     RighteousnessGod is forever righteous and the expectation of righteous behavior from His people is a timeless truth. God’s righteousness is manifest in the laws He gives, and He always expects righteousness from His people. In one sense, God’s people are declared righteous because of the righteousness He imputes to them as a free gift (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Once saved, God expects His people to live righteous lives in conformity to His character and commands (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-14). Human righteousness is measured by one’s conformity to God’s character and commands, and though God’s character never changes, His commands for His people have changed over the millennia. God set forth commands for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church. Because God is the Author of each set of laws, one can see similarities and differences, continuity and discontinuity.

Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen. 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.[1]

God’s Righteousness before the Fall of Adam

     In the Garden of Eden, righteousness meant conforming to the laws God provided to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28; 2:15-17).  The commandments in the Garden of Eden were basic and few according to the Biblical revelation.  The commandments were: to procreate and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28a), to subdue and rule over it (Gen. 1:28b), to cultivate and keep the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), to enjoy the fruit of all trees (Gen. 2:16), but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon penalty of death (Gen. 2:17).  Adam and Eve rebelled against God and disobeyed His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-8), and this resulted in judgement upon the serpent who deceived (Gen. 3:14-15), upon Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17-19), upon creation (3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:20-22), and all humanity (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).[2]  The command to procreate is still in effect (repeated to Noah in Gen. 9:7); however, the commands to have dominion over the earth, cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden, as well as the negative command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are no longer required.

God’s Righteousness after the Fall of Adam and Before Abraham

     From Genesis chapters four through eleven, God revealed Himself and His expectations personally to others, and He held them accountable for their behavior, either to bless or curse.  In Genesis chapter four we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:4b-5a).  The Biblical text is silent concerning how Cain and Abel knew to bring offerings to the Lord; however, it is revealed that God approved of Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s.  This language of acceptance and rejection reveals a standard of expectation God had for these two men, which, it is assumed, He revealed to them prior to their offering and which also served as the basis for his welcoming the one while refusing the other.  Cain apparently knew the Lord’s reaction, for he “became very angry and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5b).  Cain later became jealous and hostile toward Abel and “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen. 4:8).  This resulted in the Lord’s judgment on Cain (Gen. 4:9-16), which is an indication that God’s righteous expectations were known and enforced during this time. 

     Genesis chapter five is another indication of God’s righteousness on display as the record of death upon mankind is repeated over and over; first, with Adam (Gen. 5:5), and then with all his descendants (Gen. 5:8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31).  However, God’s judgment is not absolute, as we see God’s grace in the midst of His judgments, as Enoch was spared from the experience of death and this because “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 3:22, 24).  This display of grace in the midst of judgment will be repeated throughout Scripture, culminating in the cross of Christ. 

     God’s righteousness is observed in Genesis chapter six, where the Lord disapproved of the wickedness of mankind and pronounced judgment.  Moses wrote:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:5-7)

     God’s righteous expectations must have been known to those who lived on the earth at this time in history.  What follows in Genesis chapters six though nine is the account of the universal flood upon the world, which destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family.  Of Noah it is revealed that he “found favor in the eyes of God” (Gen. 6:8).  Here, again, is grace in the midst of judgment.  Now, for the first time in the Bible, we see the word righteous (צַדִּיק tsaddiq) applied to Noah, of whom it is written, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).  “By this word we learn that Noah was conforming to the requirements of the relationship he had with God.”[3]  The phrase, “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9) means he walked in step with the Lord who was directing his life, and this was Noah’s righteousness.  God revealed to Noah that He was going to destroy all mankind (Gen. 6:11-13) and He commanded Noah to build an ark that would save only him, his family, and those animals that were brought onto the ark (Gen. 6:14-22); and so God judged mankind as His righteousness demanded.  God’s righteous commands upon Noah were particular to him and not required of any other person.  Noah was righteous because He welcomed God’s commands and obeyed them. 

     After the flood, Moses provided the genealogical record of Noah’s descendants (Gen. 10:1-32), which descendants set their wills against God and built the Tower of Babel in order to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1-4).  God’s righteousness was on display when He came down to see their work and to pronounce judgment upon them.  God’s judgment included confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:5-9). 

God’s Righteousness with the Patriarchs

     Moses then provided a genealogical account of Noah’s son, Shem, which continued down to the birth of Abram (Gen. 11:10-32), another recipient of God’s grace.  Now, in the life of Abram, we observe the Lord’s commands that Abram leave his homeland and travel to a land that God would eventually give to him (Gen. 12:1).  God also promised Abram that he would have a multitude of descendants and be a blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12:2-3); “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (Gen 12:4).  Here are God’s commands and Abram’s obedience.  Later, in Genesis chapter fifteen, Moses would reveal that Abram believed God’s promise to him, and this would bring the declaration that the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  “Moses probably recorded Abraham’s faith here because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic Covenant. God made this covenant with a man who believed in Him.”[4] 

     God’s righteous judgments of blessing or cursing continued throughout the book of Genesis for those who obeyed or disobeyed Him.  God judged the household of Pharaoh for taking Sarai, Abram’s wife from him (Gen. 12:17).  God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (Gen. 13:10; 18:20-21), but spared Lot because of the petition of Abraham (Gen. 18:22-33).  Abraham knew God to be a righteous Judge and that it would be wrong for Him to kill Lot along with the residents of Sodom; so Abraham said to the Lord, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25).  So God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and spared Lot (Gen. 19:1-25).  Throughout the rest of the book of Genesis it is observed that God directed, blessed and protected Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21; 25:5, 11), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 31:3; 32:9-10), and Joseph (Gen. 32:9-5, 21-23; 45:7-9; 50:20). 

God’s Righteousness with Israel

     God then sent His people into Egyptian captivity for four hundred years, as He’d promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:13).  But the Lord also promised He would judge the Egyptians, saying, “I will also judge the nation whom they will serve” (Gen. 15:14).  God’s judgment upon Egypt would come through Moses, Israel’s deliverer.  The judgment upon Egypt further reveals God’s righteousness.  Exodus chapters three through eighteen reveal God’s judgment upon Egypt as well as Israel’s deliverance from tyranny.  In Exodus chapter nineteen Israel enters into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, Who provides a total of 613 commands that are revealed from Exodus chapter twenty through Deuteronomy chapter twenty eight.  Thus the Mosaic Law, a reflection of God’s righteous character, refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev. 26:46). 

     The 613 commands stated in the Mosaic Law—which were given exclusively to Israel as His covenant people—are a reflection of His righteous character.  As Israel’s perfect Lawgiver, God bound Himself to His laws, promising blessing or cursing to His people based on whether they obeyed or disobeyed (Deut. 28).  This meant the Israelite living under the Mosaic Code could predict God’s behavior, and this provided a degree of stability for the obedient-to-the-word Israelite.  The Israelite could rely on God to always do what He promised.  There were no surprises. 

     During the dispensation of Israel, God’s laws were to be continually communicated to the whole nation.  This was made clear on Mount Sinai where the Lord told Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction” (Ex. 24:12).  Once the Mosaic Law was given, the Lord assigned the priests as communicators to His people, saying, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel” (Deut. 33:10a; cf. Lev. 10:11), and “the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).  Also, Jewish parents were commanded to teach God’s Law to their children.  Moses ordered, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7).  The Law of God was to permeate all aspects of Jewish society. 

God’s Righteousness with the Church

     God’s righteous expectations for Israel continued until the death of Christ, which brought the Mosaic Law system to a close (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:5-7, 11; Heb. 8:13), and a new law code was established for the Church.  Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17; cf. Deut. 4:44; 5:1; 33:4; John 7:19), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Gal. 6:2).  Because God is the Author of the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church.  However, the two law-codes should be viewed separate from each other.  Paul stated the Church-age believer is “no longer under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 5:1-4).  The New Testament speaks of “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2), the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), and “the royal law” (Jam. 2:8).

     Concerning the Mosaic Law, Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal. 3:19), that it does not justify anyone (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom. 4:1-5), but was intended to lead men to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).  Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Mosaic Law, it has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13).  “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.”[5]

The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim. 4:4), some old ones (Rom. 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom. 13:4, with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has.[6]

     The closing of the Mosaic Law means a dispensational shift has occurred.  Though the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life (Rom. 6:14), he/she is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:31; Gal. 6:2).  “‘The law of Christ’ is basically Christ’s commandments (Matt. 28:19–20; John 13:34–35; 14:21) revealed through the New Testament writers (John 16:12–13; Gal. 6:2; James 1:25; 2:8, 12) and intended for Church-age believers (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:6, 18; 6:2; Heb. 8:10).”[7]  The Christian has specific commands in the New Testament that direct his/her thinking (Rom. 12:2), words (Col. 4:6), and actions (Jam. 1:22), and such commands flow out of God’s righteous character.[8]

     In order to conform to God’s righteous expectations, the Christian must learn and live in agreement with the “Law of Christ” as it is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 6:2).  It is observed that some of the commands from the Mosaic Law have carried over into the “Law of Christ” (e.g. no other gods, honor father and mother, etc.), but most of Israel’s laws have been abrogated (e.g. slavery laws, tithing, sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc.), and there are some new commands (e.g. do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not quench the Holy Spirit, love as Christ loved, etc.). 

The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do.[9]

     Though both are the people of God, there are Biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church.  For example, Israel had a priesthood that was specific to Aaron and the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-10), whereas in the Church age, all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:5-6).  Israel’s worship was tied to the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but Christians gather locally, wherever they wish, and their body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. Col. 4:15).  Israel was required to offer animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15).  Israelites were required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but God requires no tithe from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded punishment for sin and some sins were punishable by death.[10]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the Church age, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  These are but a few of the distinctions between Israel and Church. 

Summary

     These dispensational distinctions are important to understand.  Though one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to those who lived in the Garden of Eden, it would be wrong for someone living outside of Eden to try to live by those commands.  In fact, it would be impossible, for the commands were tied to the people and conditions of that environment.  Similarly, one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to Noah, Abraham, and Israel; however, it would be wrong—even impossible—for those living in the Church age to try to live by those commands, seeing how those commands were specific to the people and conditions of that time. 

     God is righteous and He issues commands for people to obey.  Though God’s righteous character never changes, the specific commands He gives to people and groups throughout the millennia have changed.  What God expected from Adam and Eve is different from what He expected of Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church, but they always reflect a righteous standard.  Though there are differences in some laws, there is also continuity, and one would expect this from a single Lawgiver.  Confusion among Christians sometimes arises because some of the commands God gave to Israel were incorporated into the commands He’s given to the Church (e.g. nine of the Ten Commandments have been restated with the Church, with Sabbath keeping set aside).  God decides which laws are restated into the new law code and which ones are abrogated.  Christians have the responsibility to learn about God’s righteousness from all of Scripture, and to obey those commands that specifically belong to them.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351.

[2] The phrase, “and he died” occurs eight times in Genesis chapter 5.  This shows the consequence of death fell to Adam’s descendants, continuing down to the present day.

[3] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, 193.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Gen. 15:6.

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA., Ariel Ministries, 2001), 373-374.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351-52.

[7] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology, 1014.

[8] This writer is not aware of anyone who has catalogued all the New Testament commands for the Christian. 

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 650–651.

[10] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

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God’s Righteousness Imputed to the Believer

     RighteousnessGod alone saves.  He saves us in a way that satisfies His righteous demands toward sin and makes us acceptable in His sight.  He judged our sin at the cross where Jesus died a penal substitutionary death.  Jesus died in our place.  He bore the punishment that was rightfully ours.  Our guilt became His guilt.  Our shame became His shame.  The result of the cross is that God is forever satisfied with the death of Christ.  There’s no additional sacrifice or payment needed.  Jesus paid it all.  Subsequently, in exchange, God gives His righteousness as a gift to the one who believes in Christ as Savior.  The “gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17) is freely bestowed by God to sinners who do not deserve it (Rom. 4:5; 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  God’s gift of righteousness—received by faith alone—is the basis for reconciliation with Him. 

Clearly the testimony of the New Testament is that reconciliation comes about through the death of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 5:10). God made Him to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. The death of Christ completely changed man’s former state of enmity into one of righteousness and complete harmony with a righteous God.[1]

     Sadly, many people exert themselves under the false notion that they can, by human effort, adhere to God’s laws and attain the standard of His righteous expectations.  The Biblical reality is that the righteousness of God can never be attained by human effort, no matter how much time or activity is involved.  Unfortunately, many are blind to this truth and seek to reconcile themselves to God by human effort.  In this way the Mosaic Law has been abused.  God never intended the Mosaic Law to be a means of attaining righteousness, as that has always been by faith alone in God and in His promises (Gen. 15:6; John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:11).  However, sinful persons pervert the Mosaic Law into a system of works whereby they try to earn their salvation before God (Luke 18:9-14). 

By nature the Law is not grace (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10; Heb. 10:28).  It is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14).  In its ministry it declares and proves all men guilty (Rom. 3:19).  Yet it justifies no one (Rom. 3:20).  It cannot impart righteousness or life (Gal. 3:21).  It causes offenses to abound (Rom. 5:20; 7:7-13; 1 Cor. 15:56).  It served as an instructor until Christ appeared (Gal. 3:24).  In relationship to the believer, the Law emphatically does not save anyone (Gal. 2:21).[2]

     Jesus alone satisfied every righteous demand of the Mosaic Law.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17).  We could never fulfill the demands of the Law because of the weakness of our sinful flesh (Rom 8:3).  However, Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly in all He said and did.  As believers, we fulfill the demands of the Law because of our identity in Christ, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). 

     Our blessed position of perfect righteousness before God is based solely on the finished work of the Lord Jesus who atoned for our sin.  Jesus’ death was a voluntary action in which He paid the penalty for our sin.  Jesus was not guilty of personal sin.  He did not commit any crime against God’s character and laws.  We committed the crime.  We are guilty.  However, though Jesus did not commit the crime, He paid the price of punishment that was due to us.  “While it is unjust to charge another person for my crime, it is not unjust for them to voluntarily pay the fine. Christ was not charged by God with our crime—He paid it for us, but it was our crime and God charged us with it. Hence, rather than being immoral, a voluntary substitutionary atonement is the apex of morality.”[3]

The Meaning of Imputation

     Imputation is the Biblical teaching that one person is credited with something that rightfully belongs to another.  Biblically, there are three major imputations that relate to our standing before God.  First is the imputation of Adam’s original sin to every member of the human race (Rom. 5:12-13; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  This means that every biological descendant of Adam is charged/credited with the sin he committed in the Garden of Eden which plunged the human race into spiritual and physical death.[4]  Adam is the head of the human race and his fall became our fall.  This is the basis for death and for being estranged from God.  Second is the imputation of all sin to Jesus on the cross (Isa. 53:4-6, 10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 1 John 2:2).  God the Father judged Jesus in our place (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), cancelling our sin debt by the death of Christ (Col. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).  This was a voluntary imputation on the part of Christ Who freely went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself (John 1:29; 10:11, 15, 17-18).  Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness to those who believe in Jesus for salvation (Rom. 4:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9).  This is the gift of righteousness that makes us acceptable to God (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). 

     The word “imputation” itself is an accounting term used both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 15:6; Ps. 32:2; Rom. 4:3-8; Gal. 3:6).  Moses writes of Abraham, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [חָשַׁב chashab] it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  David writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute [חָשַׁב chashab] iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2).  Moses and David both use the Hebrew חָשַׁב chashab, which in context means “to impute, reckon to.”[5]  Moses uses the verb in a positive sense of that which God imputes to Abraham, namely righteousness, and David uses the verb negatively, of that which God does not credit to a person, namely iniquity.  God subtracts our sin and imputes the righteousness of God to our account.  Allen P. Ross comments on the meaning of חָשַׁב chashab in Psalm 32:2 and Genesis 15:6:

Not only does forgiveness mean that God takes away the sins, but it also means that God does not “impute” iniquity to the penitent: “Blessed is the one to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  The verb (חָשַׁב) means “impute, reckon, credit”; it is the language of records, or accounting—in fact, in modern usage the word is related to “computer.” Here the psalm is using an implied comparison, as if there were record books in heaven that would record the sins. If the forgiven sins are not imputed, it means that there is no record of them—they are gone and forgotten. Because God does not mark iniquities (Ps. 130:4), there is great joy. The same verb is used in Genesis 15:6 as well, which says that Abram “believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it (וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ) to him as (or, namely) righteousness.” The apostle Paul brings that verse and Psalm 32:2 together in Romans 4 to explain the meaning of justification by faith: when people believe in the Lord, God reckons or credits them with righteousness (Paul will say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ), and does not reckon their sin to them.[6]

     The apostle Paul cites Abraham’s faith in God as the basis upon which he was declared righteous before Him, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3).[7]  Paul uses the Greek verb λογίζομαι logizomai, which means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, frequently in a transferred sense.”[8]  Abraham believed God at His Word, and God reckoned, or transferred His righteousness to him.  After pointing to Abraham as the example of justification by faith, Paul then extrapolates that we are justified in the same way, saying, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5; cf. Gal. 3:6).  Paul then references David, saying, “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [λογίζομαι logizomai] righteousness apart from works: 7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. 8 ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [λογίζομαι logizomai]’” (Rom. 4:6-8). 

     Paul twice uses the Greek verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo to communicate the idea of an exchange between persons (Rom. 5:13; Phm. 1:18).  The verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[9]  Paul tells his friend, Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus, “if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge [ἐλλογέω ellogeo] that to my account” (Phm. 1:18).  Paul has not wronged Philemon, nor does he owe him anything; however, Paul was willing to pay for any wrong or debt Onesimus may have incurred.  

The word “imputation” means to “reckon over to one,” or “to set down to one’s account.” Paul is giving us an illustration of that which God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle assumed the debt of Onesimus and invited Philemon—who had been wronged—to charge that debt to him, so the Lord Jesus Christ took the debt that we owed to the injured One—to God—and He charged Himself with our debt and set His righteousness down to our account.[10]

     In a similar way, Jesus paid for our sin so that we don’t have to, and in exchange, we receive God’s righteousness.  This idea of an exchange between persons means that one person is credited with something not antecedently his/her own.  Our sin is our sin, and Christ’s righteousness is His righteousness.  When Jesus took our sin upon himself at the cross, He voluntarily accepted something that belonged to another, namely us.  Jesus took our sin upon Himself.  On the other hand, when we receive His righteousness as a gift, we are accepting something that belonged to another, namely Christ.  By faith, we accept that which belongs to Jesus, namely, His righteousness.  Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. 

     Though the word “impute” is not used in some passages, the idea is implied.  Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant Who “will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11), and of God as the One Who “has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10).  And Paul writes of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe (Rom. 3:22), and of being “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. 5:17; 9:30; 10:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 24).  Paul also references the exchange that occurred at the cross when Jesus died for our sin, saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), and he personally spoke of the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9).

God’s Righteousness Imputed to us Results in our Justification

     The righteousness of God imputed to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ results in the believer being justified before God (Rom. 3:22, 24, 28; 4:1-5).  Paul writes, “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).  Here, “justified” means to “be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become δίκαιος, receive the divine gift of δικαιοσύνη through faith in Christ Jesus and apart from νόμος as a basis for evaluation.”[11]  This justification is the result of the work of Jesus Who died on the cross and established peace with God (Rom. 5:1).  He paid the price for our sin so that we don’t have to, and then gives us righteousness as a gift (Rom. 5:17).  The result is that we are justified in God’s sight.  “In justification God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer, which cancels God’s judgment on the believer.”[12]  One might argue that such an exchange is unfair, since a righteous person died so that a sinner might live.  There might be merit to such an argument if the righteous person was punished unwillingly; however, that’s not the case.  Christ willingly laid down His life.  He voluntarily went to the cross.  Also, the recipient of God’s mercy accepts it by faith.  The sinner is saved by grace, through faith, and not by any works at all (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  This makes the matter completely fair.  “How is this fair? It was voluntarily given and it must be voluntarily received. It is fair because God’s justice was satisfied so His mercy could be released.”[13]  The sinner is justified by faith in Christ. 

     Justification is an instantaneous act on the part of God who forgives all our sins—past, present, and future—because Christ has suffered for those sins and been judged in our place, and then God freely and graciously credits His righteousness to our account, which righteousness is received by the one who believes in Jesus as Savior.  “By justification, the believer is declared righteous before God, because he is now in Christ. In this position there is imputed to him the righteousness of Christ and he is accepted as perfect in the presence of God.”[14]  Concerning our justification before God, Millard J. Erickson comments:

In the New Testament, justification is God’s declarative act by which, on the basis of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death, he pronounces believers to have fulfilled all of the requirements of the law that pertain to them. Justification is a forensic act imputing the righteousness of Christ to the believer; it is not an actual infusing of holiness into the individual. It is a matter of declaring the person righteous, as a judge does in acquitting the accused. It is not a matter of making the person righteous or altering his or her actual spiritual condition.[15]

And Louis Berkhof states:

Justification is a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner. It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. While it has respect to the sinner, it does not change his inner life. It does not affect his condition, but his state, and in that respect differs from all the other principal parts of the order of salvation. It involves the forgiveness of sins, and restoration to divine favor.[16]

Paul Enns adds:

To justify is to declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. It is a forensic (legal) act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of the blood of Christ. The major emphasis of justification is positive and involves two main aspects. It involves the pardon and removal of all sins and the end of separation from God (Acts 13:39; Rom. 4:6–7; 5:9–11; 2 Cor. 5:19). It also involves the bestowal of righteousness upon the believing person.[17]

I. Packer writes:

Justification is a judicial act of God pardoning sinners (wicked and ungodly persons, Rom. 4:5; 3:9–24), accepting them as just, and so putting permanently right their previously estranged relationship with himself. This justifying sentence is God’s gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:15–17), his bestowal of a status of acceptance for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 5:21)…The necessary means, or instrumental cause, of justification is personal faith in Jesus Christ as crucified Savior and risen Lord (Rom. 4:23–25; 10:8–13). This is because the meritorious ground of our justification is entirely in Christ. As we give ourselves in faith to Jesus, Jesus gives us his gift of righteousness, so that in the very act of “closing with Christ,” as older Reformed teachers put it, we receive divine pardon and acceptance which we could not otherwise have (Gal. 2:15–16; 3:24).[18]

Merrill F. Unger states:

Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner’s sin on the cross and has become “to us … righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 3:24). Justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (Titus 3:4–5). It is operative as the result of the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who has settled all the claims of the law (Rom. 3:24–25; 5:9). Justification is on the basis of faith and not by human merit or works (3:28–30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16). In this marvelous operation of God the infinitely holy Judge judicially declares righteous the one who believes in Jesus (Rom. 8:31–34). A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God (8:1, 33–34). Justification makes no one righteous, neither is it the bestowment of righteousness as such, but rather it declares one to be justified whom God sees as perfected once and forever in His beloved Son.[19]

And Robert Lightner comments:

To be justified means to be declared righteous. Because of our position in Christ (Eph. 2:13), whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21), God declares us righteous because we are clothed with his righteousness (Rom. 5:1). This is of course the work of grace (Rom. 3:24). God’s call precedes justification, and man’s glorification follows it (Rom. 8:28–30). Justification is more than simply God viewing the sinner as though he had never sinned. Instead, it is God looking upon the sinner to whom the righteousness of Christ earned at the cross has been added.[20]

     We accept the gift of righteousness at the moment we trust Jesus as our Savior and this results in our justification.  It is sometimes difficult to accept this concept, because our behavior does not always reflect our righteous standing before God.  However, God’s Word defines reality, and we are righteous because He has declared it so.  By faith we accept it as true.  It is a fact, not a feeling.  It is true because the righteousness of God has really been credited to our account. 

When we say that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us it means that God thinks of Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, or regards it as belonging to us. He “reckons” it to our account. We read, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, quoting Gen. 15:6). Paul explains, “To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). In this way, Christ’s righteousness became ours. Paul says that we are those who received “the free gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17).[21]

     God’s perception of us is the most important thing.  It is what He thinks that truly matters.  And He sees us as being in Christ, and His righteousness as belonging to us.  It is a failure of faith for us to see ourselves contrary to God’s Word.  We have the righteousness of God.  By faith we learn to see ourselves from the divine perspective.   

Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us. It is not our own righteousness but Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to us. So Paul can say that God made Christ to be “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). And Paul says that his goal is to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). Paul knows that the righteousness he has before God is not anything of his own doing; it is the righteousness of God that comes through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 3:21–22).[22]

     The above theological statements are not merely a human invention.  They are not created by imaginative theologians who try to craft arguments that excuse their sin.  Rather, these arguments flow from Biblical passages that reveal the truth that sinners are justified by faith alone in God.  They are also based on a plain reading of the Biblical text in which the student of Scripture takes God at His Word.  It is Biblical reason that leads to faith. 

Summary

     God is perfectly righteous and can only justify those who measure up to His perfect character.  All mankind is fallen in sin and helpless to save themselves.  An imputation is an exchange in which one person receives that which belongs to another.  There are three major imputations in Scripture that relate our standing before God.  First is Adam’s sin which is imputed to the entire human race and is the basis for our condemnation before God (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).  Second is our sin that was imputed to Jesus Who voluntarily went to the cross and was judged in our place and bore the punishment that was rightfully ours (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).  Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness which is freely gifted to us at the moment of faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, 21; Phil. 3:9).  Once received, the sinner is immediately and forever declared just in God’s sight (Rom. 3:21-28).  The imputation of God’s righteousness to the sinner is a manifestation of His love and grace, for the sinner, by his/her own efforts, can never merit God’s approval.

Steven R. Cook. D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 337.

[2] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, 125.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 335.

[4] Jesus is the only exception, for though He is truly human (Matt. 1:1; 3:23-38), He was born without original sin, without a sin nature, and committed no personal sin during His time on earth (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

[5] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 360.

[6] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 710-711.

[7] The translators of the Septuagint use λογίζομαι logizomai as a reliable synonym for חָשַׁב chashab both in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:2. Paul then uses λογίζομαι logizomai when making his argument that justification is by faith alone in God (Rom. 4:3-5; Gal. 3:6).

[8] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 597.

[9] Ibid., 319.

[10] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 40.

[11] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.

[12] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 876.

[13] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 335.

[14] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, Ill, JFW Publishing Trust, 2008), 190.

[15] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 884.

[16] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 513.

[17] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 326.

[18] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

[19] E. McChesney and Merrill F. Unger, “Justification,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[20] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 203.

[21] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 726.

[22] Ibid., 726–727.

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God’s Righteousness at the Cross

     The subject of the cross addresses God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ substitutionary death which satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin and reconciles us to the Father.  Certainly other characteristics of God are seen at the cross such as love, mercy, and grace; however, this article will primarily be concerned with His attribute of righteousness.  The cross makes sense when we see it in connection with God’s attribute of righteousness. 

     RighteousnessGod is revealed in Scripture as a “God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4); and elsewhere it is stated, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Ps. 89:14a).  Because God is righteous, He can only accept that which conforms to His righteousness and He cannot approve of sin at all.  Scripture reveals, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Ps. 5:4), and “everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut. 25:16b).  Habakkuk states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and John writes, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). 

Everyone is Sinful

     The problem between God and man is a problem of separation caused by sin (Isa. 59:2).  It’s not a problem that originates with God, for He is immutable and His righteousness is constant.  It is people who have sinned and moved away from God.  And it’s not just a few people who have sinned, but everyone.  Scripture reveals, “there is no man who does not sin” (1 Ki. 8:46), and “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Furthermore, “there is none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  The subject of sin is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Hebrew חָטָא chata and the Greek ἁμαρτάνω hamartano are the two most common words for sin, and both have the basic meaning to miss the mark.  God’s laws are a reflection of His righteous character, and when a person sins, he/she misses the mark of God’s character and will.  “The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).”[1] 

     People are sinners in three ways: first they are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:12-21), second, they are sinners by nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and third, they are sinners by choice (1 Ki. 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all, for he incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death that God righteously and sovereignly promised would come if he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  “The LORD God commanded the man [Adam], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’”  (Gen. 2:16-17).  Both Adam and Eve “took from its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6); however, Adam alone was held responsible by God for the disobedience that occurred in the Garden of Eden, for he was the spiritual head of the marriage.   Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race (Rom. 5:12, 18-19) and spread throughout the universe (Rom. 8:20-22).  “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom. 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).  All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col. 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). 

     Sin permeates the thoughts, feelings and volition (i.e. will) of every person.  This does not mean that people are as sinful as they can be, but that all are equally in a state of sin and their sinful condition has completely separated them from God and rendered them helpless to save themselves.  “All are under God’s wrath and in need of salvation.  The religious and nonreligious, the educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor—all are in need of God’s saving grace and are hopelessly lost without it.”[2]  Admittedly, this dark picture of the sinfulness of mankind is difficult to accept; however, God’s estimation of mankind set forth in Scripture is true. 

People are Helpless to Correct the Problem of Sin

     The problem is not only that everyone is marked by sin, but they are helpless to correct the problem of sin.  Sin is a stain that cannot be washed away by self-effort; however, throughout history, many have tried to win God’s approval through a moral lifestyle and good works.  Scripture reveals that good works and/or adherence to laws can never win the approval of God.  In the sight of God, “all our righteous deeds [צְדָקָה tsedaqah] are like a filthy garment” which have no saving value whatsoever (Isa. 64:6).  The words translated “filthy garment” in Isaiah 64:6 literally means a “menstruation garment”[3] which conveys in strong and offensive language the “best deeds of guilty people.”[4]  If people were to gather all their “righteous deeds” and bring them to God and demand their trade-in value, the results would be rejection and eternal separation from Him in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). 

     Many unbelievers fallaciously hold to the strange notion that if they follow the Mosaic Law (or follow any system of good works) they will win God’s approval and be accepted into heaven.  This is wrong.  The Biblical teaching is that we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).  Rather, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5).  Salvation is “the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8b-9), for God saves us “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).

     If human works make people righteous, then credit belongs to those individuals for the work they accomplished on their own behalf in bringing themselves to God.  But human works never save.  The credit for our salvation belongs completely to the Lord Jesus Christ because of His substitutionary atoning work on the cross.  The cross of Christ is an offense to the arrogant self-made man who must admit his helplessness and sinfulness before a righteous God. 

The Cross is a Place of Judgment

     It is true that the cross represents the love of God toward a fallen world He wishes to save (John 3:16).  However, we must also see the cross as a place of judgment, darkness and wrath.  Matthew writes, “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45).  This was a physical darkness that one could see with the eye, though the spiritually blind could not see it for its true significance.  This darkness that overshadowed the cross was a picture of wrath that flowed from God’s righteousness as He judged the sin of mankind.  “Darkness in Scripture often represents judgment and or tragedy (cf. Exod. 10:21–22; Amos 8:9–10).”[5]  Christ on the cross was made to bear the Father’s wrath for our sin. 

It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.[6]

     It was on the cross that God’s righteous judgment for our sin was dealt with in the Person of Jesus, for “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).  “When the servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious.”[7]  Isaiah writes, for “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a Guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10).  The cross was not forced upon Jesus, and it would be wrong to see Him as a helpless victim of His Father’s wrath.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Jesus was willing to die in our place, as the Scripture reveals “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  The cross would reflect injustice if Jesus were forced there against His will.  But this is not the case.  Rather, Jesus went to the cross willingly and laid down His life and bore the punishment that belonged to us.  He bore God’s wrath and died in our place. 

     Paul states that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions” (Rom. 4:25), as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Peter writes that Christ “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  This was the time when God the Father poured out His wrath upon the humanity of Christ; for “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  “His body” refers to His humanity, for deity cannot bear sin.[8]  God sent Jesus to the cross to satisfy His righteous demands for our sin, and He is satisfied with the death of Christ.  We did not ask for this, nor do we deserve it.  The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin. 

God Justifies Sinners Because of the Work of Jesus on the Cross

     God would be fully justified to condemn every person to the Lake of Fire.  However, He created a plan to satisfy His righteous demands toward sinners, and He did this without compromising His love toward those He wished to save.  The wisdom of God is seen at the cross where righteousness and love intersect.  Righteousness demands punishment for sin.  Love seeks to show grace and mercy to the undeserving.  The cross is where that happens simultaneously.  The result is that sin is judged and sinners are saved by grace through faith completely apart from any human works they might produce.  Jesus purchased our freedom with His blood that was shed on Calvary.  The Father is propitiated and sinners are justified because of the work of Christ on our behalf.  We are forgiven.  Jesus is the Hero. 

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

     Paul uses several theologically rich words throughout this short section of Scripture such as righteousness, faith, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation.  In the above section, righteousness refers to God’s righteousness.  It is a righteousness apart from the Law (Rom. 3:21a), but witnessed to by “the Law and Prophets” (Rom. 3:21).  It is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).  No one can, by their own efforts, merit the righteousness of God, and it is futile to try.  God’s righteousness is given freely, as a gift, to those who trust in Jesus as Savior.  The recipients are those who “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  God’s justification of sinners comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24a).  To be justified means that God declares someone is in perfect conformity to His righteousness.  The sinner who believes in Jesus as Savior is justified instantly, fully, and forever.  Justification and sanctification are sometimes confused.  “Justification describes a person’s status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character. The condition of one’s character and conduct is that with which sanctification deals.”[9]  God’s justification is a “gift”, from the Greek word δωρεά dorea, which refers to something “freely given, as a gift, without payment.”[10]  Think about that.  God’s justification is a gift, freely given and freely received, without any expectation of compensation from the recipient.  This is God’s grace to the undeserving.  Grace, from the Greek word χάρις charis, refers to “the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[11]  God justifies sinners freely, by grace, because of the work of Christ on their behalf. 

     By faith we trust that what Christ accomplished on the cross forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for sin.  We simply believe in Jesus for salvation.  A mute quadriplegic, who can never speak or act, can be forever saved because of the work of Christ.  Jesus paid it all.  No one has the means to redeem his own soul, nor the soul of another.  Jesus asked, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  The answer is “nothing”!  If Jesus had not paid our sin-debt to God, there would be no hope of ever being liberated from spiritual slavery, for “no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Ps. 49:7-8).  However, Paul writes of the “redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24b), and this speaks of the payment He made on behalf of sinners.  “Redemption” translates the Greek ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis which means to “release from a captive condition.”[12]  Redemption refers to the payment of a debt that one gives in order to liberate another from slavery.  Jesus declared “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [λύτρον lutron] for many” (Mark 10:45), and the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom [ἀντίλυτρον antilutron] for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).  When we turn to Christ as our only Savior “we have redemption [ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis] through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14).  Because Jesus died in our place, He is able to set us free from our spiritual bondage and give us eternal life, but it is only because of His shed blood on the cross that He can do this, for we “were not redeemed [λύτρον lutron] with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  The blood of Christ is necessary, for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). 

Redemption implies antecedent bondage.  Thus the word refers primarily to man’s subjection to the dominion and curse of sin (see Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:56).  Also in a secondary sense to the bondage of Satan as the head of the kingdom of darkness, and to the bondage of death as the penalty of sin (see Acts 26:18; Heb. 2:14-15).  Redemption from this bondage is represented in the Scriptures as both universal and limited.  It is universal in the sense that its advantages are freely offered to all.  It is limited in the sense that it is effectual only with respect to those who meet the conditions of salvation announced in the gospel.  For such it is effectual in that they receive forgiveness of sins and the power to lead a new and holy life.  Satan is no longer their captor, and death has lost its sting and terror.  They look forward to the redemption of the body (see Heb. 2:9; Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:7; Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Rom. 8:15-23).[13]

     All humanity is born into a slave-market of sin.  Jesus came into this world and took upon Himself true humanity and died upon a cross to atone for our sins.  Because Jesus died on the cross and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9), He rendered inoperative “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).  Those who turn to Christ for salvation can be set free from the slave-market of sin into which they were born, to which they were “subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:15).  Once we are saved, we can say with the apostle Paul, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). 

     What was it that Christ offered as payment for sin?  The answer is His blood that He shed on the cross.  The payment of our debt occurred at the cross by the Lord Jesus, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25a).  Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον hilasterion which is defined as, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”[14]  At the cross, God effected the removal of all impediments that hindered a restored relationship with Him, and this He accomplished by the blood of Christ, which is the coin of the heavenly realm that paid our sin-debt.  The blood of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin. 

     The Apostle John also writes about Jesus’ death as a satisfying payment for sins.  He tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – a satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  At the cross, God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).  Propitiation means that God’s righteous wrath toward our sin has been appeased.  He is no longer angry. 

Christ’s absolute righteousness alone satisfies (propitiates) the demands of an absolutely righteous God. The Greek term “propitiate” (hilasteerion) is used only three times in the New Testament. John informs us that “He [Christ][15] is the atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He adds, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Thus, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25).[16]

     When God judged Christ on the cross, it was a display “of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  God has dealt with our sin in a righteous manner.  He judged it.  Jesus was the object of that judgment, and the cross was the place where the penalty was paid.  “It demonstrates God’s righteousness, the subject of Romans, by showing that God is both just in His dealings with sin and the Justifier who provides righteous standing for the sinner.”[17]  God justifies the sinner who comes in faith, believing in Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The word faith translates the Greek noun πίστις pistis, which refers to a “state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted.”[18]  Faith has no saving merit, as the sinner places all trust in the Person and work of Jesus Who has accomplished our salvation in full.  No works are required (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[19]

     Jesus’ death on the cross was substitutionary (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18), paid the redemption price for sin (Matt. 20:28; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15), cancelled our sin debt (Col. 2:14), propitiated the Father (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and reconciles sinners by grace through faith (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 1:19-20).  The result is salvation to those who accept the free gift of eternal life that was accomplished by Jesus.  In the Bible, it is always God who saves the sinner (John 3:16; Tit. 3:5).  It is God who gives the sinner eternal life and imputes to him a righteousness he does not deserve and could never manufacture on his own (John 10:28; Rom. 4:1-6; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  The sinner never saves himself.  If the sinner could save himself, then Jesus’s death on the cross would not have been necessary.   

The word salvation is used in the Bible to indicate a work of God in behalf of man. In the present dispensation its use is limited to His work for individuals only, and is vouchsafed to them upon one definite condition. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that now, according to the Bible, salvation is the result of the work of God for the individual, rather than the work of the individual for God, or even the work of the individual for himself. Eventually the one who is saved by the power of God may, after that divine work is accomplished, do “good works” for God; for salvation is said to be “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10) and those who “believed” are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). Good works are evidently made possible by salvation; but these good works, which follow salvation, do not add anything to the all-sufficient and perfect saving work of God.[20]

     Salvation is an all-encompassing provision.  It begins and ends with the work of Christ who satisfied God’s righteous character and demands for sin.  It is all that God does for unworthy sinners because Christ was judged in our place.  He atoned for our sin by His shed blood on Calvary.  He paid the redemption price and liberated us from spiritual slavery and an eternal punishment that was surely ours.  He did this freely, in love, and provides salvation by grace to all those who come by faith, trusting in Him alone as Savior. 

Summary

     God is perfectly righteous and cannot approve of sin.  All humanity is under guilt and condemnation because of sin.  We are sinners in Adam, by nature, and by choice.  More so, we are helpless to save ourselves from the slave market of sin into which we were born.  God, in love, did for us what we could not do ourselves.  He satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, Who came into the world sinless, lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law, and went to the cross as an innocent Man and died in our place, the just for the unjust.  The result is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the gift of righteousness to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, trusting that His work on the cross satisfied every righteous demand of the Father.  This blessing to us is an expression of God’s love and based on His grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Sin” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 188-189.

[3] Francis Brown, et al, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, 723.

[4] Ibid., 723.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Matt. 27:45.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, 1309.

[7] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 348.

[8] Though reference is here made to Jesus’ humanity, this in no way diminishes His divine nature. Jesus is the God-Man.  He is one Person.  He is eternal God (Isa. 9:6; John 8:56-58), yet He was born of a woman in time and space (Gal. 4:4).  He is omniscient (Ps. 139:1-6), but as a boy, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52).  He created the universe (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), but as man, He is subject to its weaknesses (Matt. 4:2; John 19:28).  We struggle to comprehend the union of God and Man; however, it is with certainty that the Bible portrays Him this way (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; cf. Luke 1:31-33; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), and this truth is essential to Christianity.  As God, Jesus is worthy of all worship and praise (Luke 24:51-52; John 9:38; 20:28; Heb. 1:6).  As a perfect sinless Man, He went to the cross and died a substitutionary death in my place (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and bore the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to me (Isa. 53:1-12), so that I might have the gifts of righteousness and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). 

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:24.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 266.

[11] Ibid., 1079.

[12] Ibid., 117.

[13] Merrill F. Unger, “Redemption,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 1068-1069.

[14] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1252.

[15] Bracketed comments belong in quote.

[16] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 333.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:26.

[18] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 818.

[19] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 89.

[20] Lewis S. Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 1.

Posted in Christian Theology, Hamartiology, Inspirational Writings, Righteous Living, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

God’s Righteousness and Justice

God’s Righteousness and Justice

     The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  “God’s righteousness (or justice) is a moral attribute; as such, it is intrinsic to God (and extrinsic to creatures). Being an infinite and unchanging Being, God is infinitely and immutably righteous.”[1] 

Though related to holiness, righteousness is nevertheless a distinct attribute of God. Holiness relates to God’s separateness; righteousness, to His justice. Righteousness has to do with law, morality, and justice. In relation to Himself, God is righteous; i.e., there is no law, either within His own being or of His own making, that is violated by anything in His nature. In relation to His creatures He is also righteous; i.e., there is no action He takes that violates any code of morality or justice.[2]

     RighteousnessRighteousness and justice are related words.  The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character.  Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn.  God is righteous by nature (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 119:137, 142; Isa. 45:21; John 17:25) and in all His ways (Ps. 145:17; Rev. 15:3).  “God’s righteousness is sometimes expressed through His judgment on sinners and vindication of the innocent (Ps. 7:8–11). But because God is righteous, always measuring up to the standard of His holiness, we may trust His decisions. He will be completely just and fair in His dealings with us.”[3]  Theologically, the justice of God is observed in several categories: rectoral justice, retributive justice, remunerative justice, redemptive justice, and restorative justice.[4] 

     The rectoral justice of God (also called legislative justice) “recognizes God as moral ruler who, in imposing His moral law in the world, promises reward for the obedient and punishment for the disobedient (Ps. 99:4; Rom. 1:32).”[5]  David writes, “For the kingdom is the LORD’S and He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28) and “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19).  And Isaiah states, “Pay attention to Me, O My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation; for a law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples” (Isa. 51:4).

     Retributive justice means that God will administer just punish to the wicked for their actions.  The Lord told Moses, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them” (Deut. 32:35).  And Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica concerning their suffering and plainly tells them that God not only provides relief to those who are afflicted, but He will also deal out retribution to those who reject the gospel message. 

For after all it is only just [δίκαιος dikaios] for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed– for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thess. 1:6-10)

     The remunerative justice of God pertains to the distribution of rewards for those believers who have been faithful to walk in His ways.  “The distribution of rewards is called remunerative justice (Deut. 7:9–13; 2 Chron. 6:15; Ps. 58:11; Matt. 25:21; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:26).”[6]   David wrote, “The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam. 26:23; cf. 2 Sam. 22:25); and elsewhere he states, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Ps. 18:20). 

     God’s redemptive justice is His forgiving and justifying a sinner because Christ has redeemed him/her by paying the price for their sin.   The price for the sinner’s redemption is the blood of Christ that was shed in our stead (1 Pet. 1:18-19).   The believer is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25a).  God’s redemptive justice saves us from the eternal penalty of sin, guaranteeing “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  God’s redemptive justice is motivated by His love for sinners. 

     God’s restorative justice is the familial forgiveness He gives to His children who confess their sin to Him.  When we sin, we break fellowship with God, and when we confess our sin to Him, He forgives and restores us.  David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32:5).  David was a believer, and when he sinned he broke fellowship with God.  David’s sin did not mean he was in any danger of forfeiting his salvation; however, he was in danger of divine discipline if he did not humble himself and confess his sins and return to a walk with the Lord.  “Confessing involves acknowledging that what one has done violates the will of God (cf. 1 John 1:9). The Old Testament saint had the same responsibility to confess his sins to God that we do, and he also enjoyed the same promise of forgiveness we do (cf. Lev. 5:5; 16:21; 26:40)”[7]  The forgiveness extended to David was familial in that it restored fellowship with the Lord.  In the Old Testament, forgiveness was predicated on confession of sin (Lev. 5:5; 16:21; Ps. 32:5; 38:18) as well as animal sacrifice (Lev. 4:20; 5:6; 6:6-7).  In the New Testament, God requires confession alone (1 John 1:9), which rests on the once for all sacrifice of Christ at the cross (Heb. 10:10-14).  Concerning confession of sin, John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous [δίκαιος dikaios] to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

The forgiveness John speaks about here [i.e. 1 John 1:9] is parental, not judicial. Judicial forgiveness means forgiveness from the penalty of sins, which the sinner receives when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called judicial because it is granted by God acting as Judge. But what about sins which a person commits after conversion? As far as the penalty is concerned, the price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. But as far as fellowship in the family of God is concerned, the sinning saint needs parental forgiveness, that is, the forgiveness of His Father. He obtains it by confessing his sin. We need judicial forgiveness only once; that takes care of the penalty of all our sins—past, present, and future. But we need parental forgiveness throughout our Christian life.[8]

     Concerning God’s justice, it should be noted that where people display the fear of the Lord and humility, God may exercise grace and forgiveness toward those who deserve punishment.  For example, Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6), but there is no record of Aaron being punished for his sin.  It’s likely that Aaron was among the Levites who repented after the event (Ex. 32:26).  Another example is David who had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and had her innocent husband Uriah murdered.  Both adultery (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22) and murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6) warranted the death penalty; however, when David was confronted concerning his sin, he openly declared, “I have sinned against the LORD”, and Nathan told David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).  David was disciplined for his sins (2 Sam. 12:10-11, 14); however, because of his honesty and humility, David was not strictly punished for what he deserved. 

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:8-12)

     In summary, the righteousness of God refers to the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  The righteousness and the justice of God work together.  Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn.  The various theological categories of God’s righteousness include rectoral justice, retributive justice, remunerative justice, redemptive justice, and restorative justice.  The next article shall consider the righteousness of God in the Old Testament.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 323.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 48.

[3] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology, 188.

[4] This last category makes sense, although I’ve not found it in any of the theological works I’ve read.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 196.

[6] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 85.

[7] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Ps 32:5.

[8] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2310-11.

Posted in Christian Theology, Righteous Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study

A Word Study on Righteousness

Righteous [צַדִּיק tsaddiq] are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments [מִשְׁפָּט mishpat]. You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness [צֶדֶק tsedeq] and exceeding faithfulness. (Ps. 119:137-138)

     RighteousnessA word study considers the meaning of a word.  An author determines the meaning of a word by how he uses it within a context.  The semantic range of a word is observed by its usage in various contexts.  The more times a word is used in different ways, the broader its semantic range.  The Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, provides a rich semantic range concerning the words righteous and righteousness.  The basic words in Hebrew are the noun צֶדֶק tsedeq, the adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq, and the verb צָדֵק tsadeq.  The basic Greek words are the noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune, the adjective δίκαιος dikaios, and the verb δικαιόω dikaioo

     For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none), or laws He has created.  “As an attribute of God it is united with His holiness as being essential in His nature; it is legislative or rectoral, as He is the righteous governor of all creatures; and is administrative or judicial, as He is a just dispenser of rewards and punishments.”[1]  The adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq (206 times in 197 verses)[2] means “to be in the right, be right.”[3]  God is righteous; therefore, all His judgments are just.  This is why the psalmist writes, “Righteousness [צֶדֶק] and justice [מִשְׁפָּט] are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).  The Hebrew noun מִשְׁפָּט mishpat refers to the just judgments that follow from God’s righteous character. 

     The denominative verb[4] צָדֵק tsadeq (160 times in 152 verses) most often means “to be just, righteous.”[5]  The root word “basically connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[6]  The masculine noun צֶדֶק tsedeq (160 times in 152 verses) refers to “accuracy, what is correct.”[7]  The feminine noun צְדָקָה tsedaqah (159 times in 150 verses) is translated “honesty; justice; justness.”[8]  It is observed, “The masculine ṣedeq [and] the feminine ṣĕdāqâ…do not differ in meaning, as far as we can prove.”[9] 

The Hebrew ṣeḏeq probably derives from an Arabic root meaning ‘straightness’, leading to the notion of an action which conforms to a norm. There is, however, a considerable richness in the biblical understanding of this term and it is difficult to render either the Hebrew or Greek words concerned by a simple English equivalent. One basic ingredient in the OT idea of righteousness is relationship, both between God and man (Ps. 50:6; Je. 9:24) and between man and man (Dt. 24:13; Je. 22:3).[10]

Millard Erickson adds:

In the Old Testament, the verb צָדַק (tsadaq) and its derivatives connote conformity to a norm. Since the character of the individual is not so much in view as is his or her relationship to God’s law, the term is more religious than ethical in nature. The verb means “to conform to a given norm”; in the Hiphil stem it means “to declare righteous or to justify.” The particular norm in view varies with the situation. Sometimes the context is family relationships. Tamar was more righteous than Judah, because he had not fulfilled his obligations as her father-in-law (Gen. 38:26). And David, in refusing to slay Saul, was said to be righteous (1 Sam. 24:17; 26:23), for he was abiding by the standards of the monarch-subject relationship. Clearly righteousness is understood as a matter of living up to the standards set for a relationship. Ultimately, God’s own person and nature are the measure or standard of righteousness. God is the ruler of all and the source of all criteria of rightness. As Abraham confessed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).[11]

     When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek circa 250 B.C., the translators chose δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune as the closest equivalent to צֶדֶק tsedeq and צְדָקָה tsedaqah and is frequently translated as righteousness or justice.  In the New Testament, the most common words denoting righteousness or justice are δίκαιος dikaios (79 times in 74 verses) and δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune (92 times in 86 verses).  The adjective δίκαιος dikaios pertains “to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair.[12]  All three Persons of the Trinity are righteous and just.  God the Father is called “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 17:25), as well as His laws (Rom. 7:25) and judgments (Rom. 3:26; 1 John 1:9).  Jesus is called “just” or “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. 1 John 2:1), and all His judgments are “just” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 5:30; 2 Tim. 4:8).  And God the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” [δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune] (John 16:8). 

     The noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune may be defined as “the quality, state, or practice of judicial responsibility with focus on fairness, justice, equitableness, fairness.[13]  The quality of righteousness is intrinsic to the Person of God.  “Literally, the word righteous (Gk: dikaios) means ‘to be just’ or ‘right.’ Theologically, it refers to the intrinsic characteristic of God wherein He is absolutely just or right and is the ultimate standard of justice and rightness.”[14]  For God’s people, there is both a positional and experiential aspect of righteousness.  Positionally, every believer resides in a state of righteousness which is based solely on the imputation of God’s righteousness as a gift at the moment of faith in Christ (Phil. 3:9).  Experientially, the obedient-to-the-word believer learns to practice righteousness as he/she walks in conformity to God’s commands (Rom. 6:13).  The former necessarily precedes the latter. 

     The verb δικαιόω dikaioo means “to take up a legal cause, show justice, [or] do justice.”[15]  The noun δίκη dike appears briefly in the New Testament.  Once (Acts 28:4) it refers to Justice “personified as a deity”[16] and three times (Acts 25:15; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7) as “punishment meted out as legal penalty.”[17]  The noun δικαίωμα dikaioma refers to “a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment.[18]  Righteous persons conform themselves to God’s commandments (Luke 1:6; Rom. 2:26).  The requirements of the Law are met in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).  Jesus’ going to the cross was a single act of righteousness that secured justification for those who believe (Rom. 5:8).

     Throughout the Bible righteousness is also seen as a relationship word that recognizes established standards between a sovereign and subordinate.  A man is recognized as righteous, either before God or men, when he satisfies the legal demands placed upon him.  Any law between God and man, whether the laws in the Garden of Eden, the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai, or the law of Christ found in the New Testament writings to the church, establishes the ground upon which the relationship is declared a success or failure and from which blessing or discipline flows. 

The NT uses righteousness in the sense of conformity to the demands and obligations of the will of God, the so-called ‘righteousness of the law’ (Gal. 3:21; Phil. 3:6, 9; cf. Tit. 3:5). Human attainment of righteousness is at points relatively positively viewed (Lk. 1:6; 2:25; Mt. 5:20), but in the end this attainment in all men falls far short of a true conformity to the divine will (Rom. 3:9–20; Lk. 18:9–14; Jn. 8:7).[19]

     The righteousness of God [δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ dikaiosune theou] is not only the standard for divine acceptance (Rom. 10:3), but it is also that which God gives to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), which gift is the basis upon which a sinner is declared righteous and made acceptable in His sight (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  The believer is judicially declared righteous before God because of the imputation of His righteousness given at the moment of salvation.  The believer is experientially declared righteous before God because he/she conforms to God’s expectations for behavior (Rom. 6:11-16). 

     Laws are part of the fabric of humanity.  It’s our nature to label something good or evil.  The real issue for humanity is the starting point; either by beginning with God and what Scripture reveals about Him, or beginning with humanity and creating an arbitrary absolute.  Much of the Scriptural research up to this point reveals that God’s character is the basis for a relationship with Him as well as the norm upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Righteousness” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[2] The number of occurrences of Hebrew and Greek words was obtained using a search on lemma in BibleWorks. 

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1003.

[4] A denominative verb originates from a noun or adjective.

[5] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 842.

[6] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 752.

[7] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1005.

[8] Ibid., 1006.

[9] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” et al, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 752.

[10] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1020.

[11] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 883–884.

[12] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 246.

[13] Ibid., 247.

[14] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 323.

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.

[16] Ibid., 250.

[17] Ibid., 250.

[18] Ibid., 249.

[19] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” New Bible Dictionary, 1020.

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The Righteousness of God

Righteousness     The Bible reveals God is righteous.  He is righteous in essence and action.  He loves righteousness and approves of those who walk in conformity to His character and commands.  Scripture declares, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Ps. 119:137).  God’s attribute of righteousness may be defined as that intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  There is no law or code of ethics outside of God to which He must give account; but rather, His righteous character is the basis for all His laws and from which all good human laws derive. 

     The attributes of God are manifold and work in perfect harmony with each other, being governed by the all-wise mind of God.  When focusing on God’s attribute of righteousness, it is helpful to keep all His other attributes in mind, as this will provide balance to the Christian’s thinking concerning the character of God.  For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just.  Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change.  Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever.  Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge.  Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will.  Because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.  The cross of Christ perfectly displays God’s righteousness in connection with His attributes of love and mercy toward those who deserve only condemnation. 

THE PERSON OF GOD

The Trinity

     This article is a focused study on God’s attribute of righteousness.  However, one cannot talk about the righteousness of God as an attribute without recognizing the Personhood of God.  Righteousness is a moral attribute of personhood.  Personhood requires existence, intellect, and volition.  More so, to say that God is righteous means that one knows something about God.  Knowledge—from infancy onward—is obtained by experience, observation, and revelation.  Knowledge is a resource of the mind.  It is a mental bank of information.  To obtain and build a bank of knowledge, the human mind borrows and invents language as a means of categorizing objects and concepts in order to form a mental framework that allows one to reason and make sense of what is.  One person can communicate with another when they share a similar bank of information—basic words and concepts—and use language as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Information about God comes as a revelation.  God has revealed Himself through His creation, through Jesus,[1] and through Scripture.[2] 

     In creation, God has revealed Himself through people who are made in His “image” (Gen. 1:26-27), through nature (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20), and through His goodness (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17).  He has revealed Himself through His decrees (Gen. 1:3, 11, 26-27; Ps. 33:6), by direct speech (Gen. 2:16-17; Ex. 3:1-10; Matt. 3:17; Mark 9:7; John 12:28), through the mouth of His prophets (Ex. 4:12; Jer. 1:9), and through Jesus (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-2).  Lastly, God has revealed Himself through Scripture (Ps. 12:6-7; John 17:17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Among the various ways God reveals Himself, the Bible provides the most specific information concerning His Personhood, character and actions. 

     Scripture reveals that God exists as a Trinity.  “It declares that there is only one true God; that this God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is distinct from, yet interrelated with, the others; and that all three persons are fully, equally and eternally divine.”[3]  The Trinity is implied in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:2; 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 9:6; Prov. 30:4), and is more clearly revealed in the New Testament (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 10:30; 16:13-15; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).  One could never know about the Trinity apart from divine revelation.  God had to reveal this about Himself.  Unfortunately, throughout history there have been attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity, and this is contrary to Biblical revelation.[4] 

     The three persons of the Trinity are: God the Father (John 6:27; Rom. 1:7; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14).  Each Person of the Trinity is co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal.  To say that each Person in the Trinity is co-equal means that each Person shares the same attributes.

The essential oneness of God is linked to Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (Heb. echad, “compound unity; united one”). This statement stresses not only the uniqueness of God but also the unity of God (cf. also James 2:19). It means all three Persons possess the summation of the divine attributes but yet the essence of God is undivided. Oneness in essence also emphasizes that the three Persons of the Trinity do not act independently of one another.[5]

Overview of God’s Attributes

     Having briefly addressed the doctrine of the Trinity, a presentation of God’s attributes shall follow.  “An attribute is a property which is intrinsic to its subject. It is that by which it is distinguished or identified…God Himself cannot be conceived apart from the qualities attributed to them.”[6]  To know God is to learn about His personhood as well as those characteristics, attributes, or qualities that explain who He is and why He thinks or acts in a certain manner.  More so, it is important to understand that God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony and should not been seen as independent of each other.

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God. God’s perfections are known to us through revelation. Man does not attribute them to God; God reveals them to man. To be sure, man can suggest attributes of God, but these cannot be assumed to be true unless they are revealed by God. The perfections of God describe equally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They describe the nature of the Triune God and therefore each person of the Trinity.[7]

     The infinite personal God can be known, but only in a limited way as a finite creature might grasp.  “The Bible presents a revelation which, though limited by the restrictions that language must ever impose, is of a Person, and this revelation attributes to him those exalted qualities which are His. These qualities thus attributed are properly styled attributes.”[8]  The attributes of God should be seen in harmony with each other.

     Light provides a good analogy of the harmony of God’s attributes.  Light consists of the primary colors of red, blue and green.  These colors are constant in the light wave.  When the primary colors are evenly mixed, they produce the secondary colors of yellow, cyan and magenta.  Objects take on various colors depending on which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed.  When light falls upon an object, such as a tomato, it appears red to the human eye because the tomato reflects certain wavelengths of light while absorbing the rest.  Objects that absorb all wavelengths of light appear as black, and objects that reflect all wavelengths of light appear as white.  Similar to light, God has multiple attributes, and those attributes are constant.  However, when reading through a passage of Scripture, we see only one or more of God’s attributes at a time, depending on what God chooses to reflect about Himself.  In one passage David writes, “Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast” (Ps. 36:5-6).  These two verses of Scripture reveal God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness and judgments.  But this is not the total sum of God’s attributes.  Other passages of Scripture reveal His graciousness (Ex. 34:6), mercy (Eph. 2:4), truthfulness (John 14:6), and so forth. 

     When studying the attributes of God, the student should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him.  More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully would be like pouring the ocean into a thimble.  “The attributes of God present a theme so vast and complex and so beyond the range of finite faculties that any attempt to classify them must be only approximate as to accuracy or completeness. So, also, the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible.”[9] 

     A detailed understanding of God’s attributes guards the believer from developing a faulty view of God as well as taking on only certain attributes to the exclusion of others.  A solitary view of God as righteous can lead a Christian to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness.  A thorough Biblical understanding of God will prove healthy for the Christian who seeks to emulate God.  The Biblical revelation of God has practical application for the growing Christian, for as the believer advances in spiritual maturity, he/she will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. 

     When surveying systematic theologies, theologians will often cite many of God’s attributes as they observe in Scripture.  Below is a sampling of God’s attributes as understood and presented by various evangelical theologians.

Lewis S. Chafer:

omniscience (Ps. 33:13; Matt. 11:21-23; Rom. 4:17), sensibility (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 9:13), holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), justice (Ps. 89:14; Rom. 3:26), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), goodness (2 Cor. 1:3; Heb. 4:16), truth (Num. 23:19; Rom. 3:4), will (John 1:13; Rom. 8:27), freedom (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33-34), omnipotence (no Scripture cited), simplicity (no Scripture cited), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6), infinity (no Scripture cited), eternity (no Scripture cited[10]), immutability (Ps. 102:24-27; Mal. 3:6), omnipresence or immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-12), and sovereignty (1 Sam. 2:6-8; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:12).[11]

Millard J. Erickson:

spirituality (John 4:24; cf. Luke 24:39), personality (Ex. 3:14), life (John 5:26; 1 Thess. 1:9), infinity (Ps. 139:7-12; Acts 17:24-25), constancy (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 6:1-4; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), righteousness (Gen. 18:25; Jer. 9:24), justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 33:5), genuineness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), veracity (1 Sam. 15:29; Tit. 1:2), faithfulness (Num. 23:19; 1 Thess. 5:24), benevolence (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 John 4:10), grace (Ex. 34:6; Eph. 1:5-8), mercy (Ps. 103:13; Mark 1:41), and persistence (Ex. 34:6; 1 Pet. 3:20).[12]

Henry C. Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen:

spirituality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15; 6:16), self-existence (Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; John 8:58), immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 113:4-6; Acts 17:24-28), eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 6:16), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1; Acts 17:24), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-10; Prov. 15:3; Matt. 10:30; Heb. 4:13), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Matt. 19:26), immutability (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 22:3; John 17:11; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8), goodness (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 145:9, 15; Matt. 5:45; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), truth (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; 1 John 5:20), unity (Deut. 6:4; Jam. 2:19), and trinity (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 48:16; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1; 6:27; Acts 5:3-4).[13]

Norman Geisler:

pure actuality (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Col. 1:17), simplicity or indivisibility (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:18; Eph. 4:6), aseity (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25-28; Col. 1:17), necessity (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25; Col. 1:17), immutability (Num. 23:19; Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 13:8; Jam. 1:17), eternality (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 57:15), impassibility (Deut. 10:14; 1 Chron. 29:14; Ps. 24:1; Rom. 11:35-36), infinity (1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 66:1-2; Rom. 11:33), immateriality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15), immensity (Job 11:7-8; Isa. 66:1-2), omnipotence (Job 37:23; 40:2; Jer. 32:17; Eph. 1:19; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), omniscience (Ps. 139:2-4, 17-18; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 4:13), wisdom (Prov. 2:6; 3:19; Dan. 2:20; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 2:7), light (Ps. 4:6; 21:7; Isa. 10:17; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5), majesty (1 Chron. 29:11; Isa. 33:21; Heb. 8:1; 2 Pet. 1:16), beauty (Ps. 27:4; 96:9; Isa. 33:17), ineffability (Deut. 29:29; Ps. 139:6; Isa. 55:8; Rom. 11:33), life (Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Matt. 16:16; Acts 14:15), immortality (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Rom. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Eph. 4:6), triunity (Matt. 28:18-19; John 1:1; 6:27; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Rev. 4:8), righteousness-justice (Ps. 19:9; 89:14; 2 Cor. 9:9), jealousy (Ps. 78:58; Joel 2:18; Zech. 8:2), perfection (Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Matt. 5:48), truthfulness (Deut. 32:4; Num. 23:19; John 14:6), goodness or love (Deut. 10:15; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:16), mercy (Ex. 15:13; Neh. 13:22; Eph. 2:4), wrath (Deut. 9:7-8; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17), transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 97:9; Eph. 4:6), immanence (Jer. 23:23-24; Heb. 4:13), sovereignty (Ps. 115:3; Job 42:2; Col. 1:16), providence (Ps. 103:19; 135:6-7; Matt. 5:45; Eph. 1:11).[14]

Wayne Grudem:

independence (Job 41:11; Acts 17:24-25), unchangeableness (Ps. 102:25-27; Jam. 1:17), eternity (Ps. 90:2), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), unity (Deut. 6:4), spirituality (John 4:24), invisibility (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20), wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Rom. 16:27), truthfulness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), goodness (Ps. 100:5; Luke 18:19), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), mercy, grace, patience (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8), holiness (Ps. 71:22; Isa. 6:3), peace or order (Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 14:33), righteousness or justice (Deut. 32:4), jealousy (Ex. 20:5; 34:14), wrath (Ex. 32:9-10; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), will (Dan. 4:32; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11), freedom (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1), omnipotence or power or sovereignty (Ps. 24:8; Eph. 3:20), perfection (Ps. 18:30; Matt. 5:48), blessedness (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15), beauty (Ps. 27:4), and glory (Isa. 43:7; Rom. 3:23)[15]

Charles Ryrie:

eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2), freedom (Isa. 40:13-14), holiness (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15), immutability (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), infinity (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 17:24-28), love (1 John 4:8), omnipotence (Gen. 17:1; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-11), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:7), simplicity (John 4:24), sovereignty (Ps. 135:6), truth (John 17:3; Tit. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4).[16]

     However one understands the nature and number of God’s attributes, it is always important to keep in mind that His attributes be taken as a collection that work together in perfect harmony.  “The attributes of God form an interwoven and interdependent communion of facts and forces which harmonize in the Person of God.  An omission or slighting of any of these, or any disproportionate emphasis upon any one of them cannot but lead to fundamental error of immeasurable magnitude.”[17]

The Righteousness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

     The singular attribute of righteousness is the focus of this article, and that attribute is observed in all three Persons of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same attributes, and the particular attribute of righteousness is observed by direct statement as well as action.  The Father is said to be righteous (John 17:25), the Son is called the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14), and the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” (John 16:8).  All three shall be observed.

God the Father is Righteous

     On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time teaching His disciples and preparing them for the transition of the coming church age (John 13-16).  At the end of His teaching session, Jesus offered a prayer to God the Father (John 17), a prayer that speaks of His return to the Father, but only after He faced the judgment of the cross.  Jesus did not pray to avoid the pain and shame of the cross, but that the Father would be glorified in it.  In His prayer Jesus referred to His Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11) and “righteous Father” (John 17:25), and he made these statements knowing that the Father was sending Him to the cross to die as a substitute for sinners (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  God the Father was right to send His Son into the world to reveal His love (John 3:16), and He was right to send His Son to the cross to die in our place (Rom. 5:8).  If anyone had grounds to argue with the Father concerning the events of the cross, it was certainly Jesus.  However, God the Son addressed God the Father as righteous, knowing and accepting His plan of salvation through penal substitutionary atonement.  Not only was the Father righteous concerning His plan for the Son, but He is also righteous as “the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23).

God the Son is Righteous

     The righteousness of God the Son became obvious when He took upon Himself a human nature, was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), obeyed the law (Matt. 5:17-19), and directed others to do the same (Matt. 8:4; 23:1-3).  “Christ’s righteousness is completely perfect. He lived a perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:3), and He fulfilled the demands of the law.”[18]  Jesus is called “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19), and the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14).  “The title ‘the Righteous One,’ was used by the early church as an appellation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14).  John declared that believers have an Advocate with the Father, ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (1 John 2:1).”[19]  The apostle Peter writes about “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).  John writes about those during the Tribulation who will sing “the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:3).  As the Righteous One, Jesus judged, and will judge, with perfect righteousness.  He says, “As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios], because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). 

     It is a sad commentary when we read in Scripture that Jesus was falsely accused of sin.  It is a blemish on sinful mankind that they saw the Son of God, heard His perfect words, and personally witnessed His miracles; yet, they rejected Him and sought to destroy His reputation among the people, saying, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19).  And later said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Many false charges were brought against Christ by the Jewish leadership in order to have Him killed.  Scripture reveals, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60).  Both Pilate and Herod found the charges against Jesus to be flimsy and not worthy of putting Him to death.  Luke records:

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.” (Luke 23:13-15)

     The Jewish leadership and the crowds did not care to hear Pilate’s words.  They did not care about what was right before God or men.  They only sought to have Jesus crucified, so they began to shout, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).  Pilate tried to have Jesus released, but the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).  Eventually, “their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted” (Luke 23:23a-24).  Pilate, in a moment of weakness, caved to the demands of the Jewish mob, so Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified as a criminal, even though He was innocent.  As the Lord hung upon the cross, God the Father judged Him in our place.  The sky grew dark for three hours, between 12 and 3 PM, and during that time God the Father poured out His wrath upon Jesus.  Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman centurion who saw what had happened “began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios]’” (Luke 23:47).  God never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do (John 6:70-71; 19:10-11; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).  Though sinful men wrongly crucified the Lord, it was necessary that He die as our substitute and bear the punishment for our sins.  Scripture reveals that Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).  The shed blood of Christ atoned for our sins, and “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9).  Jesus’ obedience makes us righteous before God, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). 

God the Holy Spirit is Righteous

     God the Holy Spirit has a ministry of righteousness.  The righteousness of the Holy Spirit was revealed by Jesus in the upper room discourse.  Jesus revealed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in which He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).  The word “sin” is singular and refers only to the sin of unbelief in which men reject Christ as Savior (John 16:9).  “The Spirit also convicts the sinner of righteousness, not unrighteousness. Whose righteousness? The righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God.”[20]  The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of the fact that Jesus has left the world and has been received in heaven by the Father.  This acceptance in heaven is a testimony concerning the righteousness of Christ, because only perfect righteousness can be accepted by the Father.  More so, the Holy Spirit also convinces people that the prince of this world, Satan, has been rightly judged and will face eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:1-3, 10). 

     Another example of the Spirit’s righteousness is found in the book of Hebrews where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus on the cross so He could accomplish the Father’s will by atoning for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11-14).  The writer to the Hebrews presents Jesus as superior to the Old Testament sacrificial system in numerous ways, and especially His death on the cross which cleanses sinners from sin in ways the Levitical sacrificial system could never do (Heb. 10:4; 10-14).  “The Old Testament sacrifices were limited to outward cleansing; they only cleansed the flesh. But, the work of Jesus avails in the spiritual sphere and results in inward cleansing.”[21]  Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world (John 17:3, 8, 18), and the primary mission of Jesus was to go to the cross and die for sinners (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  His atoning death was an act of righteousness that satisfied the Father’s righteous demands for our sin, and Scripture reveals the Holy Spirit was involved in this most important work of Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).  “With this lovely assertion, the writer of Hebrews involved all three Persons of the Godhead in the sacrifice of Christ, which magnifies the greatness of His redemptive offering.”[22]  The Holy Spirit was right to sustain Jesus on the cross as he offered His blood as an atoning sacrifice to the Father. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min

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[1] God has also revealed Himself through the Person, words and works of Jesus; however, that direct revelation is not available to us now, for all that we know about Jesus comes only through Scripture.

[2] The Bible is a library of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning a period of roughly sixteen hundred years.  Scriptural authority resides in the autographs as they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  God the Holy Spirit superintended the writing(s) of each author so that what they produced is historically and theologically accurate in all it affirms (the Bible accurately records lies and sinful acts, but it does not affirm those lies or sinful acts).  That which the Bible affirms about the Person and character of God is both accurate and instructive.

[3] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[4] Throughout history there have been heresies such as: Tritheism, which teaches there are three absolutely separate gods; Modalism, which argues that there is only one god who manifests himself in three forms as Father, Son, and Spirit; and Arianism, which argues that the Son is not equal to the Father and reduces the Son to the status of a creature.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 199–200.

[6] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 190.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[8] Ibid., 187.

[9] Ibid., 189.

[10] It is peculiar that Dr. Chafer would so clearly explain several of God’s attributes without providing a single Scripture reference to support his assertions.

[11] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 192-223.

[12] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 293-323.

[13] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 75-98.

[14] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31-572.

[15] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 156-221.

[16] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 41-50.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 223.

[18] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two, 333.

[19] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 188–189.

[20] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 362.

[21] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 120.

[22] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 801.

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God’s Favor Toward His People

For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield (Ps. 5:12).

     God shows favor toward His peopleWe show someone favor when we treat them with special kindness, granting them a blessing or improving the quality of their life. The Bible speaks both of divine and human favor. Human favor may be either just or unjust, depending on whether God approves. Just human favor is shown to those who have wisdom (Prov. 8:33-35; 14:35), who diligently seek goodness (Prov. 11:27), kindness and truth (Prov. 3:3-4), and who provide service others (Gen. 39:3-4). David was shown favor because of his service to Saul (1 Sam. 16:21-22), Jesus found favor among God and men (Luke 2:52), and Christians in the early church found favor among men (Acts 2:47; Rom. 14:18). Unjust favor can be shown to someone because they are poor (Ex. 23:3; cf. Lev. 19:15), wealthy (Jam. 2:1-4), or wicked (Prov. 24:23-25). God condemns unjust favor.

     God’s favor refers to the goodness and blessing He shows to others. God’s favor is based on His sovereignty, for He is under no compulsion to act, but does so according to His good pleasure, freely, from the bounty of His own goodness. His favor is often accomplished through the agency of other people as well as through circumstances.

     God shows a certain amount of favor, or grace, to everyone, including the righteous and the wicked.  Jesus revealed, “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). This is the goodness God shows to all mankind regardless of their character. However, though the evil and unrighteous encounter God’s favor, it does not change them. Isaiah explained, “Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the LORD” (Isa. 26:10). Apart from the general favor God shows to all mankind, there is a special favor He shows to some. In the case of special favor, God either directly blesses someone, or creates a favorable disposition in the hearts of others, even unbelievers, so that they treat His people with exceptional kindness.[1]

     The Bible reveals “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8), so God saved him and his family from the destruction of the flood (Gen. 6:10-8:22). Abraham found favor in the Lord’s sight (Gen. 18:3-5), and God promised him a son within a year (Gen. 18:10; cf. 21:2). Lot was granted the Lord’s favor (Gen. 19:19), and was spared the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25).

     Joseph had been sold into slavery by His brothers to Midianite traders (Gen. 37:28), who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar (Gen. 37:36). However, even in slavery, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (Gen. 39:2). God’s presence with Joseph led to God’s blessing. It was God Who granted Joseph favor in the sight of Potiphar, his Egyptian master, and the Lord even blessed Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:4-5). Later, when Joseph was betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and sent to prison (Gen. 39:7-20), even there “the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer” (Gen. 39:21).

     Later, when God called His people out of Egypt, He again caused others to treat His people favorably. Before the Exodus, God promised, “I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed” (Ex. 3:20-21; cf. 11:3). And God’s Word came to pass, as Scripture states, “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).

     Moses, while leading God’s people in the wilderness, requested of the Lord, “let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight” (Ex. 33:13). More so, Moses knew that God’s presence would lead to His blessing; therefore, he said, “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:16; cf. 34:9). The Lord granted Moses his request, saying, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (Ex. 33:17). 

     Ruth found favor in Boaz’ sight and this resulted in many blessings (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13). Daniel had been taken into Babylonian captivity (Dan. 1:1-4) and was subjected to a pagan reeducation program (Dan. 1:5-8). However, “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (Dan. 1:9), so that Daniel could maintain his integrity (Dan. 1:9-16). The Lord’s favor led to Daniel’s promotion within the Babylonian kingdom (Dan. 1:17-21). Later, toward the end of the Israelite captivity, God moved the heart of the Persian king, Cyrus, to show favor to the Israelites by supporting their return to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple (Ezr. 1:1-8; 7:27). It was during this time that God caused Esther to find favor in the eyes of the pagan king, Ahasuerus (Est. 2:17; 5:2), who helped save Israel from a holocaust (Est. 8:1-17).

     Those who love God’s ways and seek His wisdom open themselves to His favor. The psalmist writes, “The LORD favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness” (Ps. 147:11), and Solomon states, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:3-4). And finally, “Blessed is the man who listens to me [wisdom], watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov. 8:32-35).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] God, Who controls the hearts of others, opens their hearts to view His people favorably and to provide blessing. The hearts of kings and rulers are in His hand to direct as He wills (Prov. 21:1). All good things ultimately come from God, involve Him, glorify Him, and benefit others. 

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