The Righteousness of God – Romans 3:19-21

 
A couple of weeks ago, in our message entitled “None,” we said that there is “none righteous.” We made that statement because that is expressly what the Lord said through Paul in Romans 3:10. In the first point of that message I tried to define and describe “righteousness.” I said that righteousness is an attribute of absolute purity which, by definition, can only belong to God. It is one of those words which cannot be made bigger or better than it already is. Righteous is already the superlative form. There is no such thing as righteous, righteouser and righteousest. But that was exactly the game that the Pharisees in Paul’s day, and Pharisaical people today, try to play. “I am more righteous than you are.” Hog wash. It cannot be true. It is impossible. There is none righteous, but God. Something is either righteous or it is not. And there is nothing that has been made by man, that is related to man, or that can be imagined by man that is righteous. Jehovah alone is righteous, and every human being on earth comes short of that glory of God. Self-righteousness however is another story, and that isn’t even related to true righteousness.

This evening I’d like to split hairs just a little bit, because in some ways it is important.

Let’s make a distinction.
God’s righteousness and His holiness are not exactly the same thing. But Jehovah is absolutely holy, just as He is absolutely righteous. The word “holy” refers to His separation – He is separate from sinners and inapproachable as such. There is a magnetic impulse in all of us which draws us to sin more quickly than a moth to a flame. We are drawn to other sinners; we enjoy the titillation of temptation; we are drawn to sin. But the magnet of our sinfulness is opposed by the magnet of the Lord’s holiness. The Lord is repelled from sinners like us by an impenetrable law of spiritual physics. The Lord is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”

But holiness in the Lord is only one aspect of His righteousness. The Lord’s righteousness includes His rightness in everything. Of course He is holy – He is right and righteous in His separation from sin. But He is also right and righteous when He saves some and when He condemns others. God is righteous in His sovereign administration of all things, including His justice. Jehovah is perfect in every way, and that is a part of His righteousness. Holiness may imply perfection, but it doesn’t exactly mean perfection.

The Bible uses the word “righteousness” in four different ways.
Three of the four are aspects of God’s righteousness, and one is euphemistically called “man’s righteousness.” But how can we even talk about man’s righteousness when Romans 3:10 says “there is none righteous?” That is just the point. The Bible refers to human righteousness simply to point out that there isn’t any such thing. Isaiah says that despite all our professions to the contrary, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Solomon said, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness, but a faithful man, who can find?” Then he added, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Speaking of his own experience Paul tells us in chapter 10 – my brethren in Israel “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” The Bible refers to the righteousness of man only to show its inadequacy, and that it is doomed to condemnation.

Then we go back to the righteousness of God. With respect to character, God is transparently holy and righteous in all his acts. When combined with love, His righteousness expresses itself in grace. God’s righteousness is ever absolute and perfect to infinity: “In him is no darkness at all.” God’s righteousness is seen in two ways: He is a righteous Person, and He is righteous in all His ways. But obviously this is not the subject of our text tonight. This isn’t talking about the nature of God, but something that the Lord does for His creatures.

There are two other kinds of Biblical righteousness, and they still belong to the Lord alone. The one that we will not deal with tonight is something that we might call imparted righteousness.” It is possible for the people who are called “saints of God” to live their lives in a way that is similar to the Lord Jesus. For example, they may live victoriously over sin, and they may do things which please the Lord and glorify Him. But it’s not through anything that they can muster up in themselves – it is Christ living through them. If I spend this day without sin and with positive service for Christ, it is not by my efforts and success – it is by His grace and power. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” but without His strength I will be just like every other sinner in this world. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

In writing to the saints Peter said, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Yes, this decision to live godly and in a righteous manner is ours to make, but the ability is beyond us. Paul was thinking more of the negative aspect of this theme, but in Romans 7 he said, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” Since we cannot find in ourselves the ability to do good, in order to do good, we must be given grace to do it. In order to act righteously, we must be blessed with the imparted righteousness of God.

This kind of righteousness is possible because of the fourth variety – IMPUTED righteousness.” I know that I am cutting a fine line in terminology, but the difference is important. There is an imparted gift – something has been put into our hands and hearts. And then there is an imputed gift – something which has credited to us or attributed to us. One may become a part of the way that we live, while the other becomes a part of who we are. And this is what Paul is talking about here Romans 3. In grace the righteous, loving God, willingly bestows on sinners like us, His salvation from sin. One aspect of that salvation is the righteousness of Christ, credited to our account.

And part of the deal is that we are declared righteous – justified – in Christ Jesus. This is not the impartation of God’s righteousness per se, nor is it a perfection of human righteousness. In this aspect of salvation, the sinner is declared to be righteous, even though he is a sinner. The sinner becomes righteous only in the sense that he is now “in Christ.” Christ Jesus, as the Second Person of the God-head, is absolutely righteous, and in the sight of God, the believer becomes what Christ is at the moment of his salvation. II Corinthians 5 – “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Both the imparted righteousness that Christians sometimes display, and the imputed righteousness which is at the heart of their salvation – are God’s. They are both gifts from God, and both come through the Holy Spirit from Christ Jesus. Christians may live righteously, because they are declared righteous, and because, in Christ, they are righteous. The emphasis is heavily placed on the fact that Christians are “in Christ.”

Here in Romans 3, Paul refers to the “righteousness of God.”
It is a righteousness which is unto all and upon all them that believe. It is not a righteousness possessed by unbelievers. It is imputed to sinners when they trust Christ, and it comes to them through Christ.

It is God’s righteousness because He created it – He is the author of it – He its source and Giver. Did the Lord create any of His own attributes? Was there a day when nothing was omnipotent, but God decided that He was going to be all powerful? Did God made a deliberate choice to become omniscient, holy or eternal? The idea is ludicrous. God is who He is and he has always been the perfect way that He is. And included in that is the fact that God is righteous.

But when we are talking about attributes in man, which bear some semblance to the Lord, they must be gifts of God’s grace. If there is a single soul who escapes Hell, it will be because of the Lord’s provision of salvation. If all the best people on earth got together and somehow pooled all their respective goodness, it wouldn’t amount to enough for the salvation of the finest person among them. All our righteousnesses are as filthy, puss-filled, blood-soaked, foul-smelling, good for nothing else rags. I challenge you to look up the original word “filthy” in Isaiah 64.6. If any soul is righteous before the One who is infinitely righteous and holy, it is because of God’s grace.

Secondly, this righteousness is God’s because He is the effectual means of making sinners righteous in his sight. As sinners, there isn’t a person among us who doesn’t deserve eternal death. But the righteousness of God worked out a miraculous process, which involved the death of a perfect and holy substitute. And then the righteousness of the Lord lifted up those sinners whom He saved, sanctified them, made them fit for His service and glorified them. The Lord is righteous and the Lord righteously provided for the salvation of repentant believers.

As to duration, this righteousness is eternal. Not only God’s personal righteousness, but the imparted righteousness that He grants to His saints. Just as there is no such thing as righteous, righteouser and righteousest, there is no such thing as righteous, almost righteous and nearly righteous. The righteousness with which the Lord has saved some us is as perfect and eternal as He is.

And as far as purpose is concerned that righteousness is for His glory. Praise the Lord for His perfect salvation. Praise Him for His righteousness. Praise the Lord that He has chosen to make a few of His creatures righteous just like Himself.