The righteousness of God is one of the most significant traits of God. It can also one of the most indefinable or difficult to describe. God’s righteousness is not the same as His holiness and different from His goodness. Yet we very often think of the three synonymously. [i] The Old Testament or Hebrew word is צְדָקָה transliterated as tsedaqah and it means “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.” The New Testament word is δικαιοσύνη, ης, ἡ transliterated as dikaiosuné. It means “justice, justness, righteousness, righteousness of which God is the source or author, but practically: a divine righteousness.” The righteousness of God is virtually synonymous with His justice. In fact, sometimes the words are translated as righteousness and others as justice. To say that God is righteous means He always does what it right or just without fail or bias. God is our measure for righteousness because He is righteousness. 1 Samuel 2:2-3 reads,
There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
About Religion defined Righteousness as “the state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven.” Well then, we are all doomed! Because we know we fall short of moral perfection. Ecclesiastes 7:20 confirms the bad news.
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
So what is the answer for man? How do we attain righteousness if it impossible for us? Well of course, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explained how God’s righteousness was available apart from the law. The Law was taken out of the equation for righteousness and instead along with the Prophets, points to the only way to it, Jesus Christ. Paul described it like this in Romans 3:21-26,
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
What that means is Jesus took all our wrongs and moral shortcomings off of us and put them on himself. He paid the price (death per Romans 6:23) required to settle the debt with God and we were credited with righteousness, moral perfection. Imagine it as shopping. Let’s say you want a necklace called righteousness. You would also like the matching bracelet called eternal life. But your credit isn’t good enough. You have sin on your debit record and that has to be paid for before you can have that necklace. Jesus paid your debt with His blood. Then He gave you His necklace, righteousness as if you had paid for it. Even though you had nothing left, He credited it to your account. On top of that, when Jesus resurrected and conquered death, He gave you the matching bracelet of eternal life. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ for shopaholics.
It is God’s goodness and His love which moves Him to give us His righteousness. Let’s explore more about God’s righteousness, how it is revealed and manifested and how it should affect us.
Consider what just means, since as we have learned it is tantamount to righteousness. If a person is just it means he will evaluate situations with all the information from all sides and will judge without partiality based on that information. Psalm 119:137-144 reads,
Righteous are you, O Lord,
and right are your rules.
138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me,
because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is righteous forever,
and your law is true.
143 Trouble and anguish have found me out,
but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your testimonies are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.
This passage has so much to say about righteousness. First, the psalmist shows the connection of righteousness to God’s rules. Everything God does is perfect and comes from His nature of justice. So in wanting to be righteous, a person would follow God’s rules. Although those who do not know God do not even consider God’s words, believers can rejoice in them because we know God’s words, His promises, covenants and rules are perfect and true. God’s righteousness is eternal it will never end and we can rejoice in that.
God does absolutely nothing outside of His righteousness. We may from time to time put our righteousness aside to take a part in some selfishness, pride, or self-righteousness, but our loving perfect God never does. Everything He does is right. We see it in His kindness toward us. There are so many of us crying out to Him all the time. We need Him constantly and He never tires of meeting our needs, saving us, and making us more. Psalm 145:14-20 reads,
The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
Why doesn’t our Great and Mighty God get tired of our constant neediness? Because He is Righteous, He is Just. He has all the information. He knows who we are and that we cannot do it without Him. It pleases Him when we grow in the Spirit (Romans 8:8-11). It is His will for us to be spiritually mature (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
His righteousness cannot stand for us to be hurt while the wicked prosper. In our imperfection we want vengeance now, and we call it justice. We want those who hurt us to suffer the consequences thinking it will make us feel better. But God is so righteous that He is giving those who haven’t come to know Him yet, the same chance we had. He is giving them time before He finally judges the earth in His Righteousness. 2 Peter 3:7-10 reads,
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
There are lost out there, imperfect just like you, but they blind to their own imperfection and blind to the salvation that awaits them in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to hope for the day when they will finally pay. One day they will pay and their lives will be exposed or on that day Jesus will pay and their lives will be exposed. You and I then also need to remember that on that day the truth comes out and our lives will be revealed. We will either drink from the cup of wrath or we will drink from the cup of eternal life with Christ. There will be no more wickedness, sin, sadness or death there. Are you living a righteous life or is it more of a self-righteous life? Do you love people enough to trust God? 2 Peter 3:11-13 reads,
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
We are told to seek God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). That means is not natural for any of us to exhibit that perfect rightness. We are to pursue it for ourselves and for others. God has all the information, He knows everything (Job 37:16, Psalm 147:5). We do not. We can just trust judgement to God and keep pursing His love, His kingdom, and His Righteousness.
[i] Deffinbaugh, B. (2004, May 18). The Righteousness of God. Retrieved from Bible.Org: https://bible.org/seriespage/6-righteousness-god