What picture comes to your mind when you hear the word “God”? What characteristic of God do you first think of?
Do you think first of the power of God or of His love? Do you picture Him as a loving Father or as a stern Judge? What characteristic of God do you first think of?
When Paul thinks of God in the opening verses of his Roman epistle, his mind focuses first on the righteousness of God.
Both F.B. Meyer, a Bible scholar of past generations, and Warren Wiersbe, one of the outstanding Bible commentators of our generation, concur that this phrase — “the righteousness of God” — is the pivotal phrase in the entire epistle. In one form or another, the term “righteousness” appears in the Book of Romans more than sixty times. What is “the righteousness of God”?
I. It Is an Attribute
When Paul mentions the righteousness of God, he is describing first of all an attribute of God. Righteousness is something that God has. Righteousness is intrinsic to the very nature of God. It is inherent to the very being of God.
All of Scripture proclaims that truth. For example, Jeremiah, the prophet, proclaimed, “You are always righteous, O Lord” (
What is the meaning of this phrase which all of Scripture attributes to God? To speak of the attribute of the righteousness of God means that God is always right. No matter how things look from our human perspective, no matter how confused life seems to be, no matter how uncomfortable we are with the circumstances of our lives, this is a truth we can hold on to: God is always right.
A critic was disparaging God’s creation one day. “It’s all backwards,” the man complained. “Look at the foolish way God has done things. He put the little acorn on a tree where it has a strong limb to support it. But he put the watermelon on a little flimsy vine that can’t even hold it up. If I were God,” he asserted, “I would put the watermelon on the tree and the acorn on the vine.” Just as these words came out of his mouth, an acorn fell out of the tree and hit him on the head! God is always right.
When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, he probably said to himself, “God is making a big mistake.” Later he could see God’s hand in all that happened to him, and he had to admit, “God was right.”
When God chose Gideon to lead His people to victory, a man self-professed to be the weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe in all Israel, many must have shaken their heads and muttered, “God is making a big mistake this time.” But when Gideon tore down the idols and led God’s people to victory, all of Israel had to admit, “God was right.”
When Jesus’ limp, dead body was taken from the cross and placed in the tomb, and the reality of His death began to sink in on the disciples, they gathered in the upper room, sealed the door and secured the windows, and began to cry among themselves, “God has really blown it this time.”
Three days later, when Jesus broke forth from the grave in the power of God and the ignominy of the cross was changed into the glory of the cross by whose power men and women of every generation were to be saved, the world had to declare in unison, “God was right.”
God is always right. That is what Paul is saying. Let me tell you what that means.
Because God is always right, we can trust Him. At times, we cannot understand the things that are happening in our lives. Problems come that we do not think we deserve. Temptations come which we do not think we can handle. Anxiety begins to erode the confidence of our lives. At those times, we need to hear again this word: God is always right, and therefore we can trust Him. Sometimes, it is true that we have to let the ages speak to the hours. Nevertheless, the truth stands: God is always right, so we can trust Him.
Because God is always right, we should obey Him. During World War II, General Montgomery was named Commander of Forces in North Africa for the purpose of rescuing the allied forces from a dreaded debacle. He met with his subordinates and told them simply, “Orders no longer form the basis for discussion but for action.”
How often, when we hear God’s Word on a situation, do we debate it and discuss it and measure it against our opinion and filter it through our feelings? The orders of God are not the basis for discussion but for action. Because God is always right, we should obey Him.
When Paul spoke of the righteousness of God, he was first of all speaking of an attribute of God. He was saying that God is always right.
II. It Is an Activity
We must immediately go further, however, and declare that when Paul mentioned the righteousness of God, he was also declaring an activity of God.
In the New Testament, that same idea of deliverance is there. The righteousness of God is not just an attribute of God. It is also an activity of God by which He delivers man from the bondage of sin. The righteousness of God is His activity in Jesus Christ by which He redeems us from our sins. The righteousness of God describes not just what He is but also what He does.
A leader of the Mafia named Terry Teague was on trial for murder. When he learned that a man named Fogarty would be one of the jurors, he had some of his henchmen pay off Fogarty to hold out for a manslaughter charge instead of murder.
The trial was held, the judge’s instructions were given, and the jury retired to the room of deliberation. The jury was out for a long time and finally came in with a verdict of manslaughter. Teague was overjoyed. He rushed to Fogarty’s side and pumped his hand. “Was it much of a fight in there?” asked Teague.
“It was terrible,” Fogarty responded. “The other eleven wanted to acquit you, but I held out for manslaughter.”
That is what the righteousness of God is about. The world is holding out for a conviction of guilty. Satan is holding out for a conviction of guilty. Even our own conscience convicts us. But God wants to acquit us. God wants to set us free. God wants to liberate us. That’s what the righteousness of God means.
Martin Luther studied long and hard on this verse. For a long time, Martin Luther saw only the condemning righteousness of God, and he hated it. But when he finally saw this righteousness of God which condemns when rejected, saves when accepted, the light of the Gospel broke into his darkened soul.
How that truth needs to illuminate our darkened souls today. The righteousness of God is an attribute of the Father which causes us to be aware of the wrongness of our own lives. But it is also an activity of the Father by which He releases us from the bondage of that wrongness and establishes us in a right relationship with Him.
The righteousness of God is the active favor of God by which He bestows the greatest gift on those who deserve the greatest punishment. It is the activity of God by which He redeems us.
III. It Is an Affirmation
When Paul mentioned the righteousness of God, he was also making an affirmation about God. The context of the passage, especially the parallel in
When Paul mentioned the righteousness of God, he was making an affirmation about God. He was declaring that God will come out on top, that ultimate victory belongs to Him.
We can think of history as a very complicated chess game with millions and millions of pieces. Each of us makes our moves. Satan makes his moves. But God, as the chess Master, counters every conceivable move made by the pieces in a way that insures He will eventually win the game.
At times, the outcome might seem to be in doubt. At times, we might think God is about at the point of checkmate. But when the game is over God will be the winner, for the Bible predicts a time when “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (
Faith Is the Key
God is always right. God acted to give His righteousness to us. Eventually, God’s righteousness will reign supreme.
How do we know these things are true? Paul says that “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” The word “revealed” means that these are things God has shown to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. We did not discover these things ourselves. They were revealed to us. We accept these things that have been revealed to us as true and then we bet our lives on them.
Will you do that today? Will you bet your life on the fact that God is always right? Will you bet your life on the fact that God wants to liberate you from the bondage of your sin? Will you bet your life on the fact that God will ultimately win the victory?