Vol. 11 No. 3 March 2009
The “righteousness of God” is a phrase that occurs numerous times in Scripture. How many times have we read the phrase “moral goodness?” The vast majority of people have mistakenly equated their moral goodness with a definite and clear passage to heaven. The statement was made that mass murders and murders of children and the like would go to hell, but God was just going to give the rest of us a “stern talking to.” Nothing could be further from God’s divine plan of salvation for our redemption than our moral goodness.
What is this fatal flaw in the thinking of so many people? Perhaps more than anything else it is the misguided notion that God is a God of love and He is not going to do anything to hurt anybody. Where in the Bible does it say that?
We don’t seem to understand that we begin to sin against God as adolescents, so accountability to Him looms early in our lives. Shortly after Noah and his family came out of the ark, God said in Genesis 8:21b; “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” Psalm 25:7 reads, “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right.”
Someone has said if you took all the honesty, sincerity, and moral goodness of all the people who have lived, are living and will live, and put it into one person, that person would still be in need of divine redemption! That person would still be in the eyes of the righteous God a filthy rag! No person, no matter how devout, stands righteous before God in and of himself!
This could not be made any plainer than through Isaiah 64:6-7, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.” What is normally done with filthy rags?
If some of us were thinking our condition before God could not be that appalling, Paul slams the door on any and all such thoughts in the Book of Romans. Through inspiration, his scathing declaration lets us know we are all sinners, and our human attempts on our best day to justify ourselves before God are futile!
Paul declares that the power to be saved is in the Gospel, not in our supposed moral goodness. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:16-20).
Paul spoke of our lost condition in Romans 3:10-12; “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.’”
Paul further nails down our accountability before God in Romans 3:19-23. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty [accountable] before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Note what Paul says about Abraham being justified by the flesh which is moral goodness, or the righteousness of God in Romans 4:1-3, “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”
Speaking of the faith that Abraham had when he and Sarah were both old regarding the promise of the birth of Isaac, Abraham was fully convinced that what God had promised He was able to perform. “And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now it was not written for his [Abraham’s] sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:22-25).
Abraham’s obedience being counted as righteousness is spoken of again in James 2:23, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted [credited] to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.”
What is the message of these passages? God counts our submissive obedience as righteousness because we do not have any righteousness of our own! God’s standard for our redemption is perfection and moral goodness, but we do not touch the hem of the garment!
This is emphatically stated when Paul writes in Romans 10:1-3; “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
These passages are indeed disturbing to the minds of us who have every desire to be in a right relationship with God. It leaves one begging, as it were, to know how this deplorable state can be dealt with and overcome. Isaiah 55:6-7 tells us what we must do. “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” We must submit in obedience to the righteousness of God, which is found in Scripture, not in the modern day “isms” of man! We have got to become and remain willing to be taught by God so we can know what His will is for our lives. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a).
God has made our justification, our righteousness, our redemption, our atonement and our reconciliation possible through Jesus Christ. “Being justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [covering] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:24-25).
The righteousness of God through Christ is again emphasized in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ through our obedience to the Gospel plan of salvation. This is the teaching of Galatians 3:26-27, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Paul speaking of his personal relationship with Christ said, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Peter makes it crystal clear that our becoming righteous is at a premium, because our entire lives are the price we will pay in submissive obedience. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” (2 Peter 4:17-18). God leaves no doubt in our minds that we must become clothed in His righteousness through Jesus Christ, and not ever depend on our moral goodness.