The righteousness of God

Righteousness (dikaiosune) is the character or quality of being right or just; it was formerly spelled ‘rightwiseness,’ which clearly expresses the meaning. It is an attribute of God (Romans 3:5). The context shows that His righteousness means essentially the same as His faithfulness, or truthfulness, that which is consistent with His own nature and promises.

In the sayings of the Lord Jesus, righteousness is, among other things, whatever is right and just in itself, whatever conforms to the revealed will of God (Matthew 5:6,10,20; John 16:8,10). It is the sum total of God’s requirements (Matthew 6:33).

God’s righteousness, then, is that infinite, eternal and unchangeable quality in His character closely related to His ethical holiness. God is necessarily righteous in His judgments, always rewarding all His rational creatures directly proportional to their works, showing partiality to none (Deuteronomy 10:17) but always acquitting the righteous and always condemning the guilty (Exodus 23:7).

Application of righteousness

Considering God as the all-righteous One, we arrive at the following conclusions:

1. Whatever has been appointed by God is to be acknowledged and obeyed by man (Matthew 3:15; 21:32).

2. Our religious duties are to be derived from His Word, not invented by us. They are to be performed in the right way; attitude of heart is just as important as external action (Matthew 6:1-18).

3. We are not righteous in ourselves. The only effective remedy is to apply to the righteousness of Another, even our God and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1). Christ’s righteousness is the righteous dealing of God with sin and with sinners on the ground of the death of Christ.

4. Since God alone is absolutely righteous, the word (or message) that reveals to us true righteousness is His own Word for us (Hebrews 5:13). In the Scriptures, as containing the Gospel, the righteousness of God is known and declared in all its aspects.

5. God’s righteousness should create in us a feeling of awe and a sense of punishment, for we fall short of it. But applied to us in Christ, it is a source of unspeakable comfort and joy. Paul uses “righteousness” to describe the gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness is unattainable by obedience to any law, or by any merit of man’s own, or any other condition than that of faith in Christ. The man who trusts in Christ becomes “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He becomes in Christ and because of Christ all that God requires a man to be, all that he could never be in himself. Is this our experience?