Bible Study in The Righteousness of God
2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
How does the righteousness of God affect us as people?
How does the righteousness of God, become righteousness from God, and credited to us as righteousness? What does Paul mean by this and how does it happen?
Here we will briefly look at these questions and see why God may have established this means of counting us righteous as opposed to another means.
When we speak of righteousness, what are we talking about? The word is used in both the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament word in Hebrew is “hqdc” and refers to “justice, justification, and salvation”.
In the New Testament the Greek word is “dikaiosune” and refers in a broad sense to the “state of him who is as he ought to be… righteousness, the condition acceptable to God. The doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God”.
Within this state that God approves, are character qualities of “integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting”.
So here, we see that righteousness is our position in life that is approved by God, and based on the character qualities of God... imparted to us. How does this affect us?
Paul declares in his opening statement in the letter to the Romans in chapter one, verse seventeen, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ “.
Paul declares that the gospel reveals, or shows us, what it means to be righteous- a “condition acceptable to God”. The words, “live by faith”, tells us that to live in this condition acceptable to God, we must do so in faith. James R. Edwards, in his commentary on Romans said that, “righteousness comes as a free gift of God and is received by faith alone” (Edwards, 1992).
In defining faith, Paul uses the word “pistis”, a Greek word for “faith” that in general terms means:
- The conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. Conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the New Testament of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it.
God provides righteousness from himself and we obtain it by faith. But how does this happen? Romans 3:10 goes on to say that, “There is no one righteous, not even one”. If no one is righteous, how can we be counted as righteous?
Now if Paul is making the statement, that no one is righteous and that we have all sinned, then how do we obtain the condition that is acceptable to God? By faith.
By faith indeed, but faith in what or who? If we don’t have the ability in and of ourselves- because we have already seen, according to Paul, that we are all unrighteous…everyone from the beginning of Adam until now…where or how do we obtain it?
Some will say that we obtain righteousness by observing and obeying God’s laws. We are acceptable to God when we do “good things”.
However, Paul goes on to tell us in Romans 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin”. Here we see that we can’t place our faith in the Law, and carry out the deeds of the Law, in order to be in proper standing with God.
We can't earn our entrance into heaven. This fact alone separates followers of Christ from all other faiths. All other spiritual belief systems promote working for their god as a means to eternal life.
Then why do we have the Law of Moses?
The Law only causes us to become aware of the fact that we are sinners.
Furthermore, the Law came many years after Abraham (who God declared righteous as it says in James 2:23 “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God's friend”). What then do we have faith in?
Paul continues on to address this, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”.
Paul declares that we are to have faith in Christ (in the sacrificial work he did on the cross), and by doing so, our relationship, or our standing with God, is now as it should be.
How then does this take place?
Paul maintains in Romans 3:24-25 that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (or propitiation as it says in the NAS translation)”.
There are four terms we need to define here in order to fully understand how this works: Justified, grace, redemption and propitiation.
The term ‘justified” comes from the Greek word “dikaioo”. It means “to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be”.
Grace comes from the Greek word “charis’ and means “good will, loving-kindness, favour”.
The term redemption comes from the Greek word “Apolutrosis” and means “a releasing effected by payment of ransom”.
And, finally, the word propitiation (atonement) comes from the Greek word, “Hilasterion”, defined as:
"Relating to an appeasing or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation used of the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated); hence the lid of expiation, the propitiatory".
So then what can we surmise from these definitions?
That it was through God’s love and kindness that he freely (without charge to us) paid the price of our unrighteousness by the sacrifice of Christ’s blood, in order that he may declare us righteous and that we now have been restored, and “our standing with God, is as it should be”.
God (being in his character fully righteous) took that righteousness, and through faith in Christ, counts us as righteous.
What is our part?
Our part in this is having faith in what he did. Moreover, because of this, we have no room for pride in the matter, only a humble posture of gratitude because we did nothing to deserve or earn it.
“Where, then, is boasting?” Paul goes on to ask (3:27). Why would Paul be concerned about people boasting? It is perhaps for similar reasons he would be concerned today.
People want to have credit in their salvation (especially the Jews at that time who believed they were God’s special people, not realizing the reason behind their chosen status as God's witness on earth).
Humans want to be the ones who have earned and deserved their own salvation to eternal life.
“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation” (4:4). Therefore, if a man can earn his right standing with God by the things he does, it nullifies the concept of it being a gift freely given.
It also places mankind on an equal footing with God as if to say “God you do your part and I will do mine”. By doing this, we no longer need faith, however.
If our salvation was based on our works then why Christ die?
Our desire to do good works in order to be righteous goes all the way back to the original sin, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
We have a desire to know what is good and evil making us “like God”. It is our desire to be "like God" that caused us to be unrighteous in the first place!
So we see that God, in order to restore us to the place we ought to be, had to be the one in whom the solution would come. In our act of faith in what he did are we considered righteous according to the book of Romans:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (5:1-2).
We have seen that there isn’t anyone who is righteous except God. In order for us to be in right standing (righteous) with God, he had to be the one who made that possible otherwise we would be going back in a circle to what broke our standing with him in the first place-that we would be "like God."
In addition, because of his righteous character and justice, he paid the price through Christ, and by faith in Christ, we are justified (it is not through the Law or good works). God’s righteousness becomes our righteousness,he paid the ransom, our part is to believe and be thankful, believe in what Christ did, follow him and give him all the glory.
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