The Righteousness of God, 1

I’ll start with an extract I have already quoted from (originally pointed out by Jeff Meyers):

Elijah had come to God and said, “Lord, You promised. I believe this is Your word. It must be so. Let it be so in answer to my prayers.” Daniel’s praying was of the same order as his appeal to the “righteousness” of God eloquently testifies (vv. 7, 16). The Old Testament term “righteousness” has a specifically covenantal orientation. The young Martin Luther could not see this when he struggled to understand what Paul meant by “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17). Of course, Luther was not helped by the fact that his Latin Bible translated Paul’s Greek word dikaiosune (righteousness) as justitia (justice). Luther’s mistake has sometimes been repeated by evangelical Christians. Often righteousness has been thought of merely as the equivalent of the just punishment of God. Preachers therefore may often accompany the use of the phrase “the righteousness of God” with the gesticulation of a clenched fist. It is clear even from this passage, however, that this is to reduce the full biblical meaning of God’s righteousness. Daniel sees the righteousness of God both as the basis for God’s judgment of the people (v. 7) and also as the basis for his own prayer for forgiveness (v. 16). How can this be? In Scripture, “righteousness” basically means “integrity.” Sometimes it is defined as “conformity to a norm.” In the case of God, the norm to which He conforms is His own being and character. He is true to Himself, He always acts in character. God has expressed the norm of His relationship to His people by means of a covenant. He will always be true and faithful to His covenant and the promises enshrined in it. Plainly, God’s righteousness is His faithfulness to His covenant relationship (Sinclair Ferguson, Daniel (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988).

The fundamental need of the human race is for salvation–deliverance from evil, in the forgiveness of sins, and the liberation from the bondage of sin and death. We need a savior, a rescuer from sin. In Isaiah 45 the prophet tells all the nations that their many gods and many lords are not saviors–that they cannot deliver them from death or rescue them from their misdeeds. The LORD alone, as the one true God, is a savior, a deliverer, a rescuer. And God is a savior, according to this passage, especially because of two attributes which He alone possesses. This post will center on one of these attributes, so I will tell you what the other one is right now: Strength. God alone is a savior because he alone is capable of saving us from our sins, delivering us from death, and rescuing us from the curse. But there is another attribute which God alone possesses of all the so-called gods, which makes Him alone the savior.

Isaiah 45.21-25:

Declare and set forth your case;
Indeed, let them consult together.
Who has announced this from of old?
Who has long since declared it?
Is it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a savior;
There is none except Me.
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth;
For I am God and there is no other
I have sworn by Myself
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.”Men will come to Him,
And all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame
In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
Will be justified, and will glory.

Consider, on the other hand, certain slogan that Reformed congregations are often taught:

  • Never pray for justice! Only pray for mercy. The last thing you want is justice.
  • Never pray for God to judge you! That would be disastrous. Plead with Him to be merciful to you.
  • God’s righteousness is of no comfort to us. We must rely on God’s mercy, not His righteousness.

These are pretty common statements in circles popularizing Reformed theology. And they make a good deal of sense. After all, there is no man or woman who does not sin, and if God was to deal with us as we deserve according to our sins, we would all be condemned by God’s judgment. That is true. That is Biblical.

Nevertheless, it is not biblical to tell Christians to “never pray for justice.” In fact, it is totally unbliblical. Christians are supposed to pray for justice. Indeed we are given public prayers in the Bible so that, when we read or sing them, we have to pray for justice from God. I’m referring, to the Psalter:

Psalm 7.8
The LORD judges the peoples; Judge me, O LORD according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.

Psalm 10.17-18
O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear To judge the orphan and the oppressed, that man who is of the earth may cause terror no more.

Psalm 26.1-3
A Psalm of David. Judge me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity; And I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart. For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your faithfulness.

Psalm 35.24
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to my righteousness.

Psalm 43.1
Judge me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation.

Psalm 96.10-13
Say among the nations: “The LORD reigns; Indeed the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the LORD fro He is coming;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
And the peoples in faithfulness
[emphasis added].

I could go on and on from the Psalms alone, but I’ll stop there with that last passage. Notice that not only is God’s judgment something the whole world rejoices in, but that judgment of God is tied to His righteousness.

He will judge the world in righteousness,
And the peoples in faithfulness..

Before I go any farther, let me stress Reformed tradition singing paraphrases of the Psalms (though overstated when demanded exclusively), and reciting often from translations of the Psalms, is a wonderful safeguard of our faith from unbiblical error. You see, if all Evangelicals in America had been raised praying these public prayer-hymns, then these slogans that are tossed around so easily would never make it off the ground. Everyone would know that we are supposed to pray for justice: to beg God to judge us in righteousness, and to plead with Him to do it sooner rather than later. If we had all been brought up singing these paraphrased hymns, or, better, chanting more accurate translations, we would all know what we are supposed to pray for because we would have been doing it corporately all our lives.


2 thoughts on “The Righteousness of God, 1

  1. Pingback: The righteousness of God, 2 at Mark Horne

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