Category Archives: Righteousness of God

The other contrast in Romans 5

Schreiner writes (p. 285) on Romans 5.16:

The power of God’s grace is again stressed. The grace given came “after many transgressions”…  The great number of transgressions seems to be a block to God’s grace, but the robustness of grace is such that it triumphs even over a flood of sin (c.f. v. 20).

But the point is not that grace overcomes the many trespasses/transgressions.  Schreiner’s translation on the previous page breaks the parallel structure.  He translates:

And the result of the gift is not like that which resulted from the one who sinned. For the judgment from one sin resulted in condemnation.  But the gift that came after many transgressions resulted in justification.

The NASB is better:

The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.

The grace does not come against the trespasses but through them.  The gift arises from the culminating multitude of trespasses just as judgment arose from the first trespass.  No wonder Paul has to state up front that he is not ashamed of this Gospel, and over and over again deal with mockers (“Let us do evil that good may come”).  If the transgressions had not been committed, there would have been no propitiation, nor redemption in Christ Jesus, no condemning sin in His flesh.

Thus, the contrastive conjunction in verse 20 is a bad choice of translation (for both Schriener and the NASB  and the ESV and everyone else.  Here are 20 and 21:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, and where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This reminds me of something I preached on Romans over a decade ago:

Now Paul goes on to elaborate all this all over again in the rest of chapter 8. And that culminates with his famous list starting in verse 35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now if you read this as, no matter what happens to us, no matter what we suffer, no matter what trials we experience, still somehow, in some way, we will manage to endure, we will get to Heaven despite all these things, you are not doing justice to Paul’s Gospel.

Jesus didn’t get enthroned beside the Majesty on High despite being born in an animal trough, or despite being rejected by men and misunderstood by his disciples, or despite being betrayed with a kiss, or despite being beaten and tortured, or despite being crucified and killed. No, he attained to glory through these things. He attained to glory by means of tribulation, by means of distress, by means of persecution, by means of famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. He has authoritatively and objectively reinterpreted suffering and death forever. Death is supposed to be the curse for sin and a foretaste of Hell, but He has turned it into the glory road.

Look up at verse 28. Paul doesn’t say that even though many things work together for evil for those who love God nevertheless, by God’s grace they manage to endure these things and inherit glory despite them. No, all things work together for good! All things! Whether death or life or angels or principalities or things present or things to come or height or depth or anything else–all these things work together for good because of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So likewise, God brought about the salvation of the world, light to the nations, by Israel’s climactic corporate culmination of apostasy and sin, leading to the crucifixion of Jesus.  “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”

Here are some notes I scribbled out and published in 2002, for more, but I think there are some typos I never fixed (verse references, maybe)

Note that I labeled this not only “Romans” but “Righteousness of God” because that is what this story reveals, even though many had a problem with it.  It made God seem unrighteous and unfaithful.

PS. Oops.  I forgot to include the rationale for the title.  The common contrast is between Adam and his one sin and Jesus as the New Greater Adam and his one act of righteousness.  But there is another contrast also woven into the story.  There is a contrast between the one trespass of Adam and the many trespasses of the New Adam, Israel.

A book review of the Wright book on justification

Wright is bogging down the discussion by continuing to take dikaiosunē theou as a technical term for God’s covenant faithfulness without providing a convincing rationale. His justification-revision project may be crumbling on simple linguistics. In taking dikaiosunē theou as a technical term, Wright seemingly grants himself the freedom to disregard context when it fits his designs. (The phrase “technical term” in Wright nearly functions as a kind of signal to the reader that he is importing concepts not natively found in the text at hand; the phrase “controlling narrative” appears to be another such marker.) He uses dikaiosunē and pistis interchangeably when it fits his system and differently when it does not (p. 203). Wright cannot maintain “righteous” as “covenantally faithful” throughout his exegetical chapters, as his treatment of a key text like Romans 3:25–26 demonstrates (p. 206).

Along these lines, Wright’s explanation of 2 Cor 5:21 remains unpersuasive because he has not established that dikaiosunē theou means covenant faithfulness. Point after point, his exegesis is predicated on his understanding of dikaiosunē theou, but he provides no OT (or other) support for his view, merely assuming it as fact (p. 217). He then uses the phrase to draw in the “controlling narrative” of Israel and Abraham where it is not demonstrably in the apostle’s mind.

Here we locate a considerable difference between Piper and Wright. Piper may stand to reckon more with Abraham, but Wright has made too much of the patriarch. And in doing so, Wright is unwilling to work any further backward than Gen 12, saying that “Abraham is where it all starts” (p. 217). This gets at a sizeable shortcoming in Wright: He does not go back far enough and ask the ultimate questions. What is God’s purpose in creation before there ever was a covenant with Abraham—or ever was creation? Why most ultimately does God mean “to set the world to rights”? Was God righteous before he made a covenant with Abraham? Was he righteous before he created the world? Because Wright begins with Abraham and does not grapple with the ultimate questions, his base is shallow and the structure is unstable.

via Themelios | Issue 34-3.

Since I haven’t read either book, I can’t say too much about this. But 1) Wright has said repeatedly Abraham was a “new Adam” chosen to deal with sin and bring salvation (whether he reiterates the point in the book I cannot say); and 2) Wright’s view on the righteousness of God is, to my mind, completely convincing.  I am thankful to God I got pointed in this direction by Wright and find it incredible that people are digging in their heels on this point.  If there is a counter-argument, this review didn’t bother to articulate it.

Reader beware: Doug commends the review and Doug, unlike me, has read both books.  That is weighty to my mind, but so far I haven’t changed my opinion on the Wright that I have read.

Outside popular categories

Jeremiah 10.24-25:

Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
they have devoured him and consumed him,
and have laid waste his habitation.

Jeremiah 30.11:

For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
among whom I scattered you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

Stop confusing the Bible for the sake of Theology: Romans 1.17

One of the ways in which Biblical literacy is discouraged for the sake of soteriological safety is in the way people are taught to think that Paul actually says in Romans 1.17: in the Gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed.”

Paul’s statement means that God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel. You would think that would be uncontroversial. After all, consider the OT allusions:

Psalm 98.2:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 62.2:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 60.2-3:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light
and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.

Now Paul has said already in his letter to the Romans that the Gospel is the story of the Jesus living, dying, and rising again.  The message is “the gospel of God… concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1.1-4).

Later, Paul states that the saving response of faith to the Gospel message (or literally “Good News”) is a confession that “Jesus is Lord.”  This is not only a reference to deity, but a reference to his exalted status as one raised from the dead.  In case anyone misses this fact, Paul elaborates that one must, with the confession by his mouth, “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.”

The point here is that, just as in a preliminary way God demonstrated his righteousness by saving and glorifying Israel, so ultimately he has revealed his righteousness in saving and glorifying Jesus by raising him from the dead.

And this all gets lost when you ignore all of this and preach the text as if the Paul actually says here that God’s righteousness is imputed.  Or worse, consider the NIV: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.”  That is not what Paul says, as is demonstrated, among other places, by the first verses in Romans 3 which use the same exact Greek expression:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

The “righteousness of God” here is the same as his faithfulness.  This is also true in Romans 1.17 where Paul makes a wordplay:

“For in it [i.e. the Gospel or “good news”] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith[fulness–God’s] for [or “to”] faith [i.e. our belief], as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  The quotation is Habakkuk 2 is especially apropos because it not only speaks of living by trusting in God, but the whole book emphasizes that God is trustworthy because he is righteous.

If one wants to teach on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness or (what is the same thing) the subsitutionary atonement, there are places to do that.  Paul’s terminology about God’s righteousness in Romans 1.16-17 is not such a prooftext.

Further reading: see my blog post series on The Righteousness of God.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

The Righteousness of God, 5

The Apostles knew of this use of the word “righteous” as one describing God’s character as faithful and thus dependable for salvation. We have already seen this in the case of John, but it might be helpful to line up John with Peter and Paul to have thee witnesses: First John 1.9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

First Peter 2.18-23

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Second Timothy 4.6

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

In each of these three cases, God’s righteousness, in Peter and Paul his righteousness as a judge, is grounds not for despair but for hope and confidence of an eventual deliverance and vindication. For John, it means one can be assured of forgiveness.


So how is Paul thinking of “the righteousness of God” in his epistle to the Romans? Romans 3.1-6:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words,/ And mightest prevail when Thou art judged.” But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? (emphasis added).

Notice that, as in the Psalms, “the faithfulness of God” and “the righteousness of God” are virtually synonymous expressions. In any case, this is certainly talking of God’s own character, not a status that he gives to us. (Let there be no confusion: I am not denying that sinners who are to be saved from the Wrath of God must and do receive a verdict from Him which entails a righteous status. I am not denying that this is God’s verdict on Christ reckoned to his people. I am siimply saying that “the righteousness of God” is not how Paul is teaching us those great and essential truths. He has other concerns in this passage.) Given Paul’s use of the phrase in Romans 3.1-6, we have every reason to expect the meaning to remain consistent with this passage just a little later on in Romans 3.21-26:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being 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. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just [righteous] and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Again, we see here that “the righteousness of God” is his own character, his faithfulness, demonstrated in his work of salvation for his people–displaying Christ publicly as a propitiation in his blood. It is really violently discontextual to claim that “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” refers to imputed righteousness. I have come to (provisionally) agree with Wright and Richard Hayes that the phrase “faith in Jesus Christ” ought to be translated as “the faith of Jesus Christ.” Paul is speaking of Christ’s obedience rather than our trust by which we receive Christ and his righteousness.

But that really doesn’t matter. The traditional translation still demands that “the righteousness of God through faith” be seen as parallel with “Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” The propitiatory work of Chist is a manifestation of God’s righteousness–his faithfulness to his people to save them from their sins. Romans 1.16-18a:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…

Remember Isaiah 56.1b: “For My salvation is about to come / And My righteousness to be revealed.” The Gospel declares the death and resurrection of Jesus and in doing so reveals God’s righteousness. Notice Paul’s parallelism between “the righteousness of God is revealed” and “the wrath of God is revealed.” Obviously, “the wrath of God” is not something imputed to sinners so that they are reckoned as being wrathful with God’s own wrath. Rather, it is God’s character manifested toward them. That is yet another contextual cue demanding that we understand “the righteousness of God” to refer to his own character which compelled him to act on behalf of his people. Finally, one needs to remember that the close proximity of references to God’s righteousness and those to justification are perfectly understandable without any notion of a transfer of “righteousness” from God to the sinner. (To repeat yet again: I am not denying that Jesus’ righteous status is shared with His people. It most certainly is. I am simply denying that Paul is speaking of such imputation in these specific passages.)

Consider Psalm 35.24: “Judge me, O LORD, according to Thy righteousness.” Though two different word groups are used, the Psalmist is plainly asking for justification and believes it will be given to him on the basis of God’s righteousness. But there is no transfer imagined here. The point is that God’s character and integrity guarrantee that he will vindicate those who belong to him.

Likewise, in Isaiah 45.24, 25, the righteousness of God means he can be trusted to fulfill his promise so that “all the offspring of Israel” will be “justified.” (Regarding the two different word roots for “judgment” and “justification,” one should note that these are both present in Romans 2 and 3 and thus the forensic meaning of justification is, in part, established by the courtroom language of “judgment” use in those chapters.

Of course, God’s righteousness also demands that sinners be punished. Romans 3.21-26 acknowledges this fact. What makes God’s righteousness a basis for hope for sinners, instead of fear, is that God made a covenant to deal with sin and justify sinners who entrust themselves to him. God’s righteousness demands that He keep His promises as well as punish sin.

The righteousness of God, 4

God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready (Psalm 7.11, 12).

David’s inspired lyrics do not sound very encouraging to modern ears–especially to modern Christian ears. The idea that God is a righteous judge is something we typically think of as threatening. If we are to be saved from God’s wrath we need protection from God the righteous judge. After all, David also sang, “do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous (Psalm 143.2).

The fact is that Christian believers can only avoid the fearful judgment of God because Jesus faithfully obeyed God and shed his blood on their behalf. Death is God’s curse on sin and Jesus’ blood demonstrates that the curse has already found a victim. If we belong to Christ then our sins have been dealt with on the cross.

However, many act as if this good news means we no longer have to deal with a righteous judge like David did. But this is not true. The fact that God is a righteous judge is precisely the hope of believers. Consider how the Apostle Paul uses David’s title for God in Psalm 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (Second Timothy 4.7, 8).

The good news is not that we no longer deal with God as a righteous judge. The good news is that God through Christ as a righteous judge promises to forgive our sins and reward our labors. Even though we sin and must rely on the forgiveness of sins continually, if we fight the good fight, finish the course, keep the faith, then the Lord Jesus is saving up for us crowns of righteousness which he will one day award to us.

David was quite aware that God’s character as a righteous judge was his only hope. He fully expected God to reward his integrity just as Paul knew Jesus would. Consider the consider Psalm 7.8-11.

The Lord judges the peoples;
Vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.

Even in Psalm 143 in which David confesses he is not righteous, he still believes it is God’s righteousness that ensures that God will not bring him into judgment: “Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous” (vv. 1b, 2). God’s righteousness, like his faithfulness, means not only that he punishes sins, but that he keeps his promises. If God has promised mercy to sinners then God’s righteousness demands that he show them mercy. If God has promised to reward sinners with crowns of righteousness if they fight the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith, then as a righteous judge he cannot fail to award them with those crowns.

Of course, there is still reason to fear the Lord as righteous judge. How many people make a profession of faith at one time and then later abandon the Christian life? They need to wake up and remember the other side of Christ the Judge’s righteousness:

If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.
He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons;
He makes His arrows fiery shafts (Psalm 7.12, 13).


The righteousness of God, 3


We are being saved because of God’s righteousness, not despite God’s righteous.

And you all know this has to be true.

I know you do because we all know of John 1.9. Remember that verse? “If we confess our sins, even though God is faithful and righteous, He will forgive us our sins anyway and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That’s not what it says, is it?


“If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Sometimes I hear Christians talk as if, God would be no less righteous even if He never bothered to forgive anyone. That makes a certain amount of sense, because none of us deserves to be forgiven. And there are people who God has not forgiven and will not forgive who will end up in everlasting torment which they will justly deserve. And those people will have no grounds for complaining that God is unrighteous or unjust. They will deserve their punishment and God will be righteous in so punishing them.

But the problem comes when we make the grace of God seem like some sort of accidental feature of His personality–as if God’s basic nature is vengeance and mercy is some sort of surface phenomenon which is nice for those who are forgiven, but not as much part of God’s personality as justice. The Bible guards against that conception. It says that God’s salvation is just as much a revelation of His righteousness as His punitive justice.

In fact, if we believe that God plans to spread salvation to the vast majority of the human race for the vast majority of history, that too reflects on God’s righteous character. God is the savior of the world because only in Him are righteousness and strength.

Now, perhaps I can give you some ways of understanding more precisely how and why God’s righteousness does not contradict His graciousness and willingness to forgive sinners, but rather upholds it. You may have noticed in some of the Psalm passages I read, that not only were lovingkindness and righteousness related to one another, but faithfulness as well. Therein lies part of the key. In 1 Samuel 26.23, David says that “the LORD will repay each man for His righteousness and faithfulness.” Solomon speaks of David’s “faithfulness and righteousness” in 1 Kings 3.6. Now, those words are mutually interpretive. For a man or woman in God’s covenant, they are not expected to be without sin, but simply to be faithful in keeping covenant with God by continuing to repent, confess their sins, and seek forgiveness, trusting in God alone. God’s covenant, after all, isn’t made for unfallen angels but for sinful men. We are expected to sin. That’s part of the covenantal arrangement.

In Luke 1.6, for example, we are told of Zacharias and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

Now this, is said of sinners. In fact, Zacharias sins in the very same chapter. Nevertheless, they are described as having a righteous standing in God’s sight and being blameless in keeping all God’s laws. How can that be? Because God’s Law was made for sinners to show them how to live by faith. God’s Law told them to repent and be reconciled to God and each other, after they sinned; and to trust God to forgive them and ultimately to save them.

But if God’s covenant expects those who are considered righteous and faithful to sin, then the same covenant has to also expect God to forgive, if He is to be righteous and faithful. And that’s exactly what Scripture declares:

Psalm 143.1 & 2
A psalm of David.
Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplication!
Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!
And do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no man living is righteous.

Now here, we have a much more orthodox-sounding statement in the second verse. Even though in other Psalm, David pleads to be judged according to His righteousness, here he asks God not to enter into judgment against him. Here David uses the term righteousness to mean “sinlessness,” and admits that he is far from sinless.

Yet even here, David does not hesitate to remind the Lord of His own divine righteousness and faithfulness. That righteousness assures David that his sins will be forgiven.

God has revealed His character in His Word. He has told us that He is righteous and He is told us what that means, that he is faithful, loving, and willing to save. Furthermore, He has revealed that righteousness in what He did through Jesus Christ.

What are we to do with that? What does it mean to believe God is righteous, with all the implications that I have mentioned?

In Exodus 33 & 34 we have a real important moment in God’s covenantal dealings with humankind. Moses on Mount Sinai asks God to show him His glory. God answers Moses’ request by hiding him in the cleft of a rock and showing him the back of God’s glory. And with that visual revelation comes a verbal revelation as well, Exodus 34.6-7:

The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands of generations, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by now means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

That is a declaration of God’s fundamental character. It is mentioned again and again in the Scriptures. It is even used by John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, to describe Jesus.

But with that revelation of God’s character, we have a revelation of how we should respond. Look at verse 9: Moses said

If now I have found grace in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate; and do You pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.

So you see what has happened here? As soon as the words are out of God’s mouth that He is gracious and forgiving, Moses is asking Him to prove it.

We all know, from cop shows at least, the Miranda rights: You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.

God operates under similar rules. He expects us to use what He says “against Him.” When He reveals to us His character we are supposed to base our prayers and our very lives on His revelation.

God wants you to know that He can be trusted to save you. That His grace and mercy are revelations of His very being. He has forgiven and will continue to forgive you because of Who He is. Our God is a righteous God, therefore He is a savior. We can remind Him of His revelation of Himself when we pray to Him, just like Moses did. If we trust His Word, we will remind Him of His righteous character, and we will have hope in Him because He is righteous.

While my main point is that God’s righteousness is our hope, I should point out that this doesn’t mean no one should fear it. Isaiah, in addition to declaring God a righteous savior, also declares the nations under condemnation for rejecting that savior. God’s wrath is not incompatible with His righteousness, with His love. In fact, His love explains His wrath. Remember the warning attached to the Second Commandment?

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me.

God’s wrath is His jealousy. Hell is his burning jealousy. Song of Solomon 8.6:

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; [or Hell]
It’s flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.

Proverbs 27.4

Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood,
But who can stand before jealousy?

God is righteous. God is loving. God pursues sinners. God offers forgiveness. But He will not be patient and longsuffering forever. And the very reason Hell is hot, is because such a great love has been spurned.

But, it’s not my purpose here to dwell on God wrath, but on the other aspect of his righteousness. His covenant faithfulness. His love. God is a righteous God and a savior. So we can trust Him. We should fix our hope on Him because of Who He is. We should continue in covenant with Him, because He is faithful and righteous to keep covenant with us.

And as we humbly work out our salvation in fear and trembling, perhaps we should consider the implications of God’s righteousness in our own sanctification. We want, if we are Christians, to be more like God. Even though we continue to be sinners, we want the Spirit to make us more righteous, and the Spirit does.

But what does it mean to be righteous? To be righteous like God is?

It means lots of things. It means to not steal, to not commit adultery. It means to keep the commandments of God. It means not to covet. And et cetera.

But in that package, let us not forget that it means to show lovingkindness to sinners, just like God does. It means to forgive. It means to keep covenant even when people hurt us.


The righteousness of God, 2


Why should we dare ask God to judge us in righteousness? Because, as Isaiah 45.21-25 states rather starkly, God’s righteousness is not something which prevents us from being saved, but something that gives us our only hope of salvation.

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.”

Here in our passage, all the nations are called to abandon their many gods and many lords because these gods and lords cannot save.

Why not? Why can’t they save their worshipers?

Well, for one thing, they simply aren’t strong enough to save their people. Since these gods are, at most, mere creatures who are being given false honors, as Romans 1.23 tells us, they are not powerful enough to rescue their people. They are not capable of delivering anyone. Only in the LORD is strength: so He alone can save all the ends of the earth.

But there is another reason why these false gods cannot save. They not only lack the strength; they lack the moral character. Even if they had the power to save their worshipers, they wouldn’t do it, no matter what promises they made. They are not trustworthy. They are not faithful. They are not righteous. Only in the LORD is righteous; so He alone can be trusted to save all the ends of the earth.

Now I need to dissuade anyone from making a mistake here in considering the righteousness of God mentioned in Isaiah 45.24. Because we all know the great truth that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, we might be tempted to assume that God’s righteousness here is mentioned in the context of salvation because it is the righteousness that is imputed to us.

Whatever else might be said for that idea elsewhere, this particular passage will not support that interpretation. Think about it: “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.” Is strength imputed to us? No. The point of mentioning the LORD’s strength is that He is powerful enough to save His people. The issue in this passage is not what is imputed to God’s people, but God’s qualities which entail that He is trustworthy as a savior. God is a savior because he is strong–capable of saving His people. God is a savior because he is righteous–willing to save hie people.

God’s righteousness assures us that He is our savior. His righteousness does not jeopardize our salvation, but guarantees it. He does not save us depite His righteousness but because of His righteousness.

Again, we see this also in the Psalms. Remember the nature of Hebrew poetry as is found both in the Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah. Hebrew poetry translates well because it does not depend on rhyming but on stating a thought and then usually presenting a closely related thought which elaborates and/or reiterates the same thing.

Psalm 36.10
O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know Thee;
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 103.17
The lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children.

Now, notice how these passages show God’s righteousness and His lovingkindness, not to be contradictory, but mutually complementary. God’s grace and His righteousness are different aspects of the same thing. In being gracious to His people, in showing “lovingkindness” to them, God is being righteous in regard to them.

In fact, because God’s righteousness manifests itself in acts of salvation, they are almost treated as synonymous.

Psalm 36.5
Your lovingkindness, O LORD extends to the heavens
Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are a great deep.
O LORD, You preserve man and beast….

See, according to Psalm 36, to talk of God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, or righteousness, entails talk of His judgments in history which manifest his character as gracious, faithful and righteous.

Psalm 88.11-12
Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

Again we have the same theme. To talk of God’s lovingkindness, or faithfulness, or righteousness is to speak of the “wonders” that He has performed for His people.

This is all tied together in Psalm 98.1-3:

O sing to the LORD a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The LORD has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, and righteousness are manifested through His saving deeds. Verse 2 explicitly tells us that in making “known His salvation” God has “revealed his righteousness.” Salvation does not happen despite God’s righteousness. On the contrary, Salvation is a revelation of God’s righteous character.

And Isaiah in the context surrounding our passage this morning has exactly the same concern for salvation and the revealing of God’s righteousness as we find in these Psalms:

Isaiah 45.8
Drip down, O heavens, from above,
And let the clouds pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit,
And righteousness spring up with it.
I the LORD have created it.

Righteousness and salvation are virtually synonyms in this passage.

Isaiah 46.12-13
Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded,
Who are far from righteousness.
I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off;
And My salvation will not delay.
And I will grant salvation in Zion,
My glory for Israel.

Saving Israel, giving Israel glory, is a manifestation of God’s righteousness. So if God’s salvation is near then God’s righteousness is near–in other words, it is about to be revealed.

Isaiah 51.6b
But My salvation shall be forever,
And My righteousness shall not wane.
Isaiah 51.8b
But My righteousness shall be forever,
And My salvation to all generations.

Isaiah 56.1
Thus says the LORD,
Preserve justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.

I could quote more, but I think I’ve said enough to make the general point: God’s righteousness is the reason for our salvation. We will be confident that God is the savior of the world, not despite our assurance that He is righteous, but because or our certainty that God is righteous. We are being saved because of God’s righteousness, not despite God’s righteous.


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.