Righteousness of God

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Romans 1:16-17: “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. 17 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." (NAS)

In 1514-1516, the young theological doctor, Martin Luther was lecturing through Psalms, Galatians & Romans, and over a period of several years, there was a gradual dawning in his mind, that the way he understood the “righteousness of God” from his earliest boyhood, was significantly flawed. 

He was a man with a deeply introspective nature.  He had been raised in a very strict home, who constantly cried out to God, how can I, a depraved sinner, know the grace & forgiveness of God. 

And so he turned, to a very rigorous form of monastic living.  He fasted and prayed and denied himself to the point where his health was ruined.  And for years he paid the price for that.  But he was a person deeply in pursuit of forgiveness and salvation. 

And he had a tortured conscious, that constantly reminded him that his thoughts and motives, his fascinations were impure and wrong.  And he certainly could not be redeemed and regenerated with such motives and such thoughts.

Luther believed in line with the scholastic doctors of the middle ages had taught – that the righteousness of God primarily refers to God’s “judgmental righteousness, ” whereby, through the death and resurrection of Christ, the world is seen as sinful and deserving judgment. 

Although forgiveness is offered in the Gospel, the preeminent note of the scholastic doctors, was that the Gospel is primarily a message of judgment rather than redemption.  And the redemption that is offered, is offered on the basis of deep penitential prayer, alms, fasting and “other spiritual exercises.” 

They never offered any assurance as to how deep, qualitatively or quantitatively, your fasting, your prayers, your alms, your spiritual exercises must be to fully enter into the forgiveness that is offered in the Gospel.

So it was the judgmental aspect of righteousness that Luther was taught as a young boy, that he learned in the seminary and that he read to a degree in Augustine, but far more in the mediaeval scholars. 

But as he studied and taught through Psalm, Galatians (a Hebrew, Latin, Greek scholar), and finally working through Romans 1:16-17, the light dawned, when he began to understand context of the words, namely, for in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed.  As it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’

Then he began to understand the righteousness of God, a righteousness by which a just man lives by a gift of God, that means by faith. 

He began to understand that the righteousness of God is to be revealed through the Gospel, namely, the so-called passive righteous we receive, through which God justifies us by faith through grace and mercy. 

We are sinners in experience and in moral condition, but perfectly righteous and justified in our standing with God!


Justification is the act whereby God declares a person who is constitutionally and ethically a sinner to be not guilty, forgiven, acquitted, and credited with a righteousness which does not belong to him or her. 

He does not infuse into us, or impart to us an ethical or personal constitutional righteousness, but rather, he imputes (used 20 times in Romans 4 - logi,zomai = to reckon, credit, account  – Rom 4:24) or credits to the sinner’s account an alien, or extrinsic righteousness that does not belong to that person.  This is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law.




Meaning of Righteousness:

1)     A relational righteousness whereby a person is in a good, harmonious, peaceable, right relationship with another. (A LEGAL, FORENSIC/JURIDICAL USAGE)

2)     A righteousness whereby a person in their personal ethical, moral, heart condition is right, clean, pure, renewed, and sanctified. (An ETHICAL, or PERSONAL USAGE)     

Meaning of “righteousness of God”

1)     the righteousness which God Himself possesses, His attribute of righteousness (possessive genitive)

·        God is perfect in Himself – He is the only, pure, rectified Character in the universe and is the Standard by which everything else is judged.

2)     A righteous from God is given to a person as a free gift (genitive of source or relationship)

·        A righteousness that comes from God is given to a person as a free gift.  It is a righteousness that applies to our relationship before God.

3)     God as the one who righteously acts in the act of justifying us when we believe – an act and the standing of being righteous that flows out of his act (subjective genitive).

·        Both an act of justification

·        None of these three are mutually exclusive, nor contradictory and being righteous before Him because of His act of justifying us.

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