God’s Righteousness In Paul’s Letters

In Romans 1:17, 3:5, 3:21, 3:22, 3:25, 3:26, 10:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9, Paul uses various Greek expressions which are usually translated “righteousness of God”, “His righteousness” or “God’s righteousness”. The meanings of these expressions have been highly debated in recent decades.

In some of the above-mentioned verses, these expressions mean different things. For example, in the context of Romans 1:16-18, “the righteousness of God” refers to God’s gracious powerful saving activity towards those who receive the Gospel by faith – this including Him declaring believers righteous by His grace and to Him saving believers from His righteous anger or wrath. He is angry towards all those who refuse to receive the Gospel and turn from unrighteousness and ungodliness. Verse 16 comments on salvation and the Gospel and verses 16-17 refer to faith. Verse 18 mentions God’s wrath against all unrighteousness.

Unrighteousness is the opposite of the absolute perfection of God’s righteousness. The Gospel includes mentions of Jesus’ death for believers (see 1 Corinthians 15:3) and that His death has justified believers and freed them from His great anger against all guilty sinners (see Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and 5:9).

In the context of Romans 3:3-7, verse 5 uses the expression “the righteousness of God” to mean God’s faithfulness to His promises to inflict His wrath and associated punishment on the unrighteous Jews and to deal rightly with believing Jews. God’s wrath is mentioned in the Mosaic and New Covenants. But His wrath is not just a covenantal reality. This is because behind God’s covenants are His perfect holiness and justice which are the source of His great anger against sinners and their sins.

In the context of Romans 3:21-24, the twice-used phrase “the righteousness of God” refers to God’s merciful, gracious saving activity for all Jews and non-Jews who believe, to His faithfulness to His promises found in the Law and the Prophets (see verse 21) and to being declared righteous by God’s grace (see verse 24).

But in the context of Romans 3:25 and 26, the phrase “His righteousness” refers primarily to God’s justice, but may also include elements of His faithfulness to His gracious merciful promises of salvation and of His powerful saving activity.

In Philippians 3:9, Paul refers to the righteousness of God as being God’s unmerited gift of righteousness to those with faith in Jesus Christ. In this verse, Paul compares this wonderful gift of God to him trying to maintain his right standing before God as a Jew through obeying the Mosaic Law. Under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God gave all Jews by His unmerited grace and mercy a right standing before Him from the time they were born and/or circumcised in the case of boys. [1]

In Romans, Paul emphasises that when God saves, He does it in ways which are totally right. Paul teaches that God:

 

         is right in the fact that He saves fallen humans.

         is right in the way He saves them.

 

This rightness is one major aspect of God’s perfect righteousness.

In Romans, God’s righteousness is a more prominent theme than His covenants. In Romans, Paul mentions God’s covenants in Romans 9:4 and 11:27. But in Romans, he referred more often to God’s righteousness.

Paul viewed God’s righteousness as being behind all of the following: His covenants, His saving redeeming activity, His grace and mercy, His reconciling of humans to Himself, His adoption of believers, His declaring believers as being righteous in Christ, His wrath and His judgment of others.

In the Book of Romans, Paul teaches that God’s righteousness is:

 

         His perfectly right nature and character,

         His perfect justice,

         His faithfulness to His covenantal promises and

         His right activity expressed in His saving power.

 

Any teaching which ignores any of these four elements is an unbalanced teaching about God’s righteousness.

 


 

[1] Refer to Chapter “Righteousness through Jesus” and Chapter                “Justification” for extensive proof of the fact that being justified by God in the Book of Romans and other parts of the New Testament means being declared righteous by Him in His role as Supreme Ruler and Judge. James 2:14-26 is an exception to this. Refer to the section “James 2:14-26 in Chapter “Justified by grace through faith and evidenced by…” for details.

 

 


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