This the 10th installment of a review of RA Torrey’s 1898 publication What The Bible Teaches. See all of Lex’s posts here. A PDF copy of the book can be downloaded here. You are welcome and encouraged to join the discussion.
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OR JUSTICE OF GOD
The theology of righteousness is wrapped in the mantle of the holiness of God, which we recently discussed. God’s righteousness means that He knows what is right and has the will and the power to do right. What’s more, He can’t do anything that is not right, there is no mixture of bad or evil in God. This has implications for His creation. His morals, what He’s determined as right and wrong, is imposed on mankind for its benefit. Evil is punished, good is praised.
People, on the other hand, without guidance can’t differentiate an absolute right and wrong, only that some concept of right and wrong exists. Man has determined that he is independent of every power and authority in creation, and can make his own laws and morals. But without foundation each man’s truth conflicts one with another and leads to confusion and chaos. Which is why Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Did he really want to know? Did he even care?
This gap between God’s righteousness and man’s willful autonomy is bridged through God’s reaching out to us with the redemptive power of forgiveness, as seen in the Old Testament through the sacrificial system that served as a covering for sin. And this looked forward to the final sacrifice of the Lamb of God, that would take away, not just cover, the sin of the world, in Jesus Christ. In the most miraculous way by the substitution of Jesus’ death on the cross, those who accept the free gift of this marvelous atonement can be cloaked in the righteousness of Christ. Read what Paul says in Romans 4:4, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” And in Romans 8:10, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Paul has a lot to say in Romans about what righteousness is and how it affects us.
And how it affects us is a key element in that it is really supposed to affect our daily lives. Paul again in Romans, 6:19, “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [before being saved], resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Our behavior should reflect our new standing in righteousness by doing what is right.
This is nothing new, it is an application of the Old Testament theology of righteousness. In the simplest of terms old prophet Micah stated the bottom line. “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8) But that man has none of his own is emphatically stated by Isaiah, chapter 64:6 “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But how difficult is it for us to see that all our own attempts to be good and do good can’t by themselves redeem us in God’s eyes.
And it is God’s eyes that count. I love what king Jehoshaphat told his judges, trying to establish some desperately needed reforms in Judah. “Be careful what you do, for you are not judging for men, but for the Lord, who will be with you when you make judicial decisions. Respect the Lord and make careful decisions, for the Lord our God disapproves of injustice, partiality, and bribery.” (2 Chr. 19:6,7) And verses 9-10, “He said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.'” A very appropriate message for our own world. It’s marvelous how what was said thousands of years ago is crucially relevant to society today.
God’s righteousness is a fearsome thing to the unsaved, but a treasure and protection for the saved. It should drive the one towards God and stimulate the other to walk pleasing to Him. We should remember that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17) The Pharisees thought it was the former. So do most people today. Jesus tells us our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees. (Matt.5:20) What is impossible with man can be possible through God.
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]