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Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Justification > Rghteousness


The basic meaning of righteousness (Heb., sāddiq and Gr., dikaios) is “straightness” or “rightness,” that is, adherence to a standard; in terms of theology, the standard is the character of God, the essence of God. The word speaks of a rightness or straightness in terms of God; He is righteous and to appear before Him man requires righteousness.

God is righteous in both His nature and in His deeds, though the two cannot be separated; they are one and the same. But a distinction is generally made for the sake of discussion and presentation of Biblical teaching.

O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous (Ezra 9:15);
The Lord is righteous (Ps. 11:7; 129:4);
Righteous are You, O Lord (Ps. 119:137);
The Lord is righteous in all His ways (Ps. 145:17);
The Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does (Dan. 9:14;
O righteous Father (Jo. 17:25);
You are righteous, O Lord (Rev. 16:5).

Righteousness is the essence of who God is, therefore, the psalmist declares: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness” (Ps. 45:7; see: Ps. 11:7). His right hand is full of righteousness (Ps. 48:10), the heavens declare His righteousness (Ps. 97:6), and He will judge the world with righteousness (96:13; see: Ps. 72:2; Acts 17:31). Additionally, in the New Testament the Bible speaks specifically of “the righteousness of God”:

the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:17);
the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:5);
the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:21);
the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:22);
His righteousness (Rom. 3:25);
His righteousness (Rom. 3:26);
the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3);
the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21).

It is usually accepted that man was originally righteous before God with the potential of being confirmed in that righteousness: “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccles. 7:29). Even if righteousness is ascribe to man at the point of his creation, after the deed of Adam, before God in the present era, man has no righteousness; what we call good is really evil (Isa. 64:6).

Because God is righteous and requires righteousness, man must have righteousness to stand before Him; man cannot provide or create the righteousness that is required. The issue, therefore, related to righteousness is how can the sinner become righteous, or how can the sinner be reckoned righteous. In the presence of God the sinner is not acceptable  and has no basis for favor with God. By keeping the Law that God has imposed no individual will be justified (Rom. 3:20), because all people sin and break the law; therefore, man cannot arrive at blamelessness by observing the Law. Acceptance by God involves righteousness. But how does it take place? Inevitably, three questions arise:

Is the believer declared righteous? Is “the righteousness of God” a right standing, a declaration by God? And is this righteousness from God, the righteousness of Christ, imputed to the individual?

Is the believer made righteous? Should it be acknowledged that God not only sees the believer as righteous, but in some manner the righteousness of Christ actually becomes the believer’s righteousness, so it should be affirmed that the believer is righteous?

Is the believer declared righteous and made righteous, not in the Roman sense or in a meritorious sense, but is some real and essential sense?

Involved in righteousness are God’s will, His grace and free gift, faith, the person and work of Christ, the blood of Christ, the word of the gospel; and all of this is apart from the law because the law cannot establish righteousness. Note the following verses:

I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed (Rom. 1:16-17);

the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed . . . even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-22);

we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28);   the righteousness that he had by faith (Rom. 4:11);

the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:13);

his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:22);

since we have been justified by faith (Rom. 5:1);

having now been justified by His blood (Rom. 5:9);

those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17);

Through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life (Rom. 5:18);

by the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Rom. 5:19);

grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21);

that the righteousness requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4);

the righteousness of (ek) faith (Rom. 9:30; ESV has: “a righteousness that is by faith”);

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4);

the righteousness of faith (Rom. 10:6; ESV has: “the righteousness based on faith”);   that which is through (dia) faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by (epi) faith (Phil. 3:9).

To be justified is to be declared just or righteous by the law and in terms of the law; the state of the person is a judicial state determined by the declaration of the court, judge, or the one in charge. Because of Christ, meaning in and through Christ, God decrees the sinner to be  justified, even though His law has been violated. Christ is God’s righteousness for man; to be righteous one must be “in Christ”; it the righteousness of Christ—it is Christ Himself—that the sinner receives.

Involved within the justification is the imputation of God whereby He bestows upon the believer the benefits of Christ. Righteousness must be given to the sinner, imputed to the sinner; the question is whether righteousness is imputed or infused. In justification the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and thereby the believer is justified (Rom. 5:9; see: Rom. 4:5-6; see: Imputation and Justification). To be justified is to be saved. Righteousness and salvation are one and the same; see: Rom. 10:10. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

God’s righteousness becomes the believer’s righteousness “through faith” (Rom. 3:25). Apart from faith there is no righteousness, but with faith righteousness is evident. Paul writes: “it is of faith, in order that it might be according to grace” (Rom. 4:16), that is, to be of faith is to be of grace, and to be of grace is to be of faith. To be of faith is to be trusting in God not self, and to be able to do this is the work of grace. It is God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). It is a righteousness that is from without and does not arise from within—this is the righteousness of faith, justifying faith. It is the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness of God.

During the Middle Ages the tendency was to merge justification and sanctification; man was made righteous through an infused righteousness, and on the basis of this infused righteousness sins were forgiven. The idea of man’s ability to accumulate merit in order to establish a righteousness before God is predicated on the idea of free will. At the Reformation justification was understood to be strictly a forensic act of declaration, without any infused righteousness entering into the foundation for the sinner being accepted by God.

It is not a literal transfer of righteousness, as though it is a substance that can be transferred; rather the imputation of righteousness should be understand in terms of God bestowing a legal status whereby the one before Him is accepted. Ontologically God is not imputing a part of Himself or part of Christ to the believer; again, it is the acceptance by God of the sinner, not for anything within the sinner, but because of God and His act which include: God’s grace, the life and work of Christ, the applicatory work of the Spirit, and the gift of faith to the sinner which is then exercised by the sinner.

One is to be righteous and to do righteousness—the Christian life is both a state and a conduct. Both are of God; the psalmist testifies: “O God of my righteousness” (Ps. 4:1). The believer confirms the state he is in by the life that he lives. If one is righteous, he will do righteous deeds. “You know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (I Jo. 2:29).


Is “the righteousness of God” a right standing, a declaration by God? Is this righteousness from God, the righteousness of Christ, impute, to the individual?

Or is “the righteousness of God” God’s just action, His act in saving; therefore it is a reflection of His moral rectitude, His character?

Or does “the righteousness of God” refer to both?

Horatius Bonar’s hymn, “Not what My Hands Have Done,” speaks of the sole sufficiency of Christ:

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
 Tis He who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

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