by Dean H. Hough

GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS is not simply a righteousness which sets matters in order after they have gone wrong; it is a righteousness involved with everything God does. As God, He must purpose and perform in accord with His nature. His grace and love must be just no less than His judgments.

The righteousness of God is His righteousness in creation, in the events of the eons, and in the completing of His purpose. The tendency to apply this attribute only to God's acts of judgment has left us with the impression that there is a conflict between righteousness and grace. In one case (it is suggested) God displays His justice by seeing that man gets what he deserves; in the other case God displays His love and grace by [unjustly?] delivering His favored ones from their just deserts.

Even when the sacrifice of Christ is recognized as the basis for God's grace to the believer there is still a tendency, conscious or unconscious, to separate this from God's righteousness. This is because the common teaching is that, while Christ died for all, only a few will actually be saved. If the benefits of the cross are not eventually enjoyed by all, and if the benefits given to the believer are an end in themselves rather than a means for blessing to others and glory to God, then God's righteousness is still in question.

Both Grace and Judgment
are Means to an End

The truth is that both God's grace and His judgments are means to an end, and both are in accord with His righteousness. There are many means which God uses to achieve His goal, and even though they may not appear right to us at times, they all are right. But what is the evidence that this is so? We believe that God is righteous, but how can we be certain that not only His judgments but all His operations as well are right and for good?


Whether or not God is right in all that He does is a critical issue in the Scriptures. It is clearly a central theme in Job, which may well be one of the oldest books of God's Word. Knowing his trials did not originate in his own failings, and refusing to attribute them to Satan, Job was driven to question God, Himself.

"To my Judge will I supplicate ... Who with horror is hurting me and increases my injuries gratuitously" (Job 9:15,17). "I will say to Alue, Thou must not condemn me; cause me to know for what reason Thou art contending with me" (10:2).

The answer which God provided was fully in accord with Job's hope. It was the assurance that God was directing all things, both great and small. This revelation is what Job sought, and once it was given to him he ceased his complaints and repented in humiliation. Nevertheless, for all that, he was not given any proof of a righteous basis for that which God was doing.

This is where we are able to go beyond Job. Now, in the current era, we have not only been given the assurance that God operates all in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11), but we may also perceive with the eyes of our heart, in faith, that there is a righteous basis for all things. God is operating all righteously, and this can be verified by the evidence of the evangel that Christ died for our sins and was roused the third day (1 Cor.15:3,4).

Of course, we can see this evidence only by faith. Only the believer can appreciate it and reap its benefits of assurance and victory. But believing that Christ did, in fact, die for our sins and was roused because of our justifying, we have received something that Job could not have. We not only know that God is doing all things, but also we know that He is bringing all things to a righteous consummation by channeling all through the cross.


To the apostle Paul first were given revelations which penetrated into the depths of God, making known His righteousness as never before seen. Especially in Romans we come upon this subject in a new and startling measure.

First of all we learn that the righteousness of God is the principal revelation of the evangel: "for in it God's righteousness is being revealed" (1:17). Secondly, we are told that man's unrighteousness commends God's righteousness (3:5) by way of contrast. Then the thought of 1:17 is continued and developed in 3:21-28. (This is perhaps the most important discussion of this subject in all the Word of God, and we will need to give careful attention to it.) Finally, in the section dealing with Israel Paul indirectly presents the truth that Christ Himself is the Personification of and the Key to the righteousness of God (10:3,4; cf 1 Cor.1:30).

Yet everywhere in Romans, and throughout Paul's epistles, he is drawing our attention to the tremendous value of this truth. God does all things righteously because He is righteous in every aspect of His being. And the evidence for this is the cross of Christ.

Why is there Sorrow and Pain?

Romans was written against a background of uncertainty and unease. The apostle was on his way, for the last time, to Jerusalem (Rom.15:25), "bound in spirit...not being aware what I will meet with in it, more than that the holy spirit, city by city, certifies to me, saying that bonds and afflictions are remaining for me" (Acts 20:22,23). Then, too, he was heavily burdened with a deep concern for Israel. "The truth I am telling in Christ, I am not lying...that my sorrow is great, and unintermittent pain is in my heart...for my brethren, my relatives according to the flesh..." (Rom.9:1-3). This forms part of the background for these transcendent revelations concerning the righteousness of God.


Job longed for assurance that God was in charge, and he was provided with this assurance. We also can accept the fact that since God is operating all things, all that happens is right. We can even accept such "hard" teachings as are given in the early portions of Romans 3 and in chapters 9 through 11. Man's failures make God's faithfulness stand out all that more clearly, and man's unrighteousness commends God's righteousness (Rom.3:3-5). God is merciful to whom He wills, "yet whom He will He is hardening" (Rom.9:18). Like Job we can find some satisfaction and relief just in knowing that it is God Who does this. But can we be entirely satisfied to leave the subject there?

God's Righteousness Involves All

Paul was not. He boldly brings up further questions which seem to lurk behind all the revelations of God's way in Job, and behind His dealings with the patriarchs and the nation of Israel. "Yet if the truth of God superabounds in my lie, for His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner...?" (Rom.3: 7). Indeed, God is right in what He does, but what of these things which happen to us? God declares, "Jacob I love, yet Esau I hate." "What, then, shall we be declaring? Not that there is injustice with God?" (Rom.9:13,14). There is no unrighteousness in God, but both Jacob and Esau suffered, and indeed in the end, Jacob even more than Esau.

Tradition tells us that these torturing questions of Romans 3 and 9 are answered with a dismissal. "May it not be coming to that!" (Rom.3:6; 9:14). "O man! who are you, to be sure, who are answering again to God? That which is molded will not protest to the molder, 'Why do you make me thus?' " (9:20). But these are only extensions of the dilemma; they prolong rather than solve the problem. The real answer comes in the evangel which displays the righteousness of God. Therefore the reply to Romans 3:5-8 is verses 21-28, and the reply to 9:14-19 is in 11:32-36.


Somehow we have overlooked the importance of the revelation of the righteousness of God in the evangel. We have come to think that Romans 3;21 is speaking of a righteousness from God for us. Indeed there is a reckoning of God's righteousness to us, but the primary issue here is the display of God's own righteousness. Can it be seen even where man suffers, and even where God chooses among us for different purposes, and where God receives glory even through man's unrighteousness and failures? We are brought to face this very troubling question in Romans, just as Job was brought to face deep problems.

The Faith of Jesus Christ brings
the Display of God's Righteousness

If it is important that we do face up to these questions, it is doubly important that we be prepared to listen to God's answer. "Yet now, apart from law, a righteousness of God is manifest ...." The faith of Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to see the righteousness of God! All is out of God, and through Him and for Him, and it is all channeled through the accomplishment of Christ on Golgotha's tree! God is righteous as Creator, Placer and Disposer since He is bringing about a righteous and glorious end for all, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.

Note that the evangel does not begin with a revelation of God's favor to us who believe, but it begins instead with a revelation of the righteousness of God. The second point of the evangel, likewise, is not concerned directly with us, but with Christ: "yet a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ's faith ...." Here we have more than assurance that God is righteous. The words have been translated into deeds. Therefore, we can see that God is righteous. Through His Son, God has performed an action which becomes a channel for the justification of all He has done and does, as well as for the justification of all His creatures. Once we can accept the message that the faith of Jesus Christ, His death on our behalf, opens the way to full justification and glorification for all, we can see the righteousness of God.

Hence (we learn as the third point of the evangel), it is "for all" (verse 22). How tragic that scribes and scholars who could find no value in the distinctive phrases "for all" and "on all," have tended to eliminate the second from the text. This has allowed men to corrupt the evangel right at its beginning. They have changed "a righteousness of God" into "a righteousness from God," and "Jesus Christ's faith" into "faith in Jesus Christ," and "for all, and on all who are believing" into "for all who believe." God's righteousness is for all! it is on all who are believing! It is marked out for everyone; it presently has been applied to us who are believing.

The faith of Christ is the channel through which this highest and fullest manifestation of God's righteousness is achieved. A further witness to this fact is given in Romans 3:23 and 24. There are no punctuation marks or paragraph distinctions in the Greek manuscripts of this text, and verse 24 begins a phrase which needs to be connected with verses 23 and 27 to give a full thought. We could read this passage this way for there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God, being justified gratuitously in His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.... Where then is boasting?"

Not only the grammatical considerations, however, but more importantly the flow of the thought here leads us to this conclusion. There is a distinction between those who believe and those who do not believe. The believer has God's righteousness reckoned to him. But there is no distinction in the fact that we all are sinners, and also that our justification must be gratuitous and come by way of the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus. And it will come that way for all.


There was a time when God passed over the penalties of the sins of Israel. This "occurred before in the forbearance of God" (Rom.3:25). Was that right? Not in itself, but if it was indeed based on the faith of Jesus Christ, then God was right in using this means to picture the work of Christ as a sacrifice for sin and a preparation for Israel for their place in the coming Kingdom. The basis of the Passover was the blood of Christ. All that God has done and does has this same solid foundation.

We Glory in God's Achievement

God's righteousness is now on display, so that all can see it in faith. How thankful we should be to live in this "current era." We tend to look only with our eyes of flesh and see our trials and struggles and frustrations. But God's righteousness is on display for the eyes of faith to see (Rom.3:26). Do we think that Paul lived in "the good old days"? The Roman empire was not all that pleasant! The problems and pressures of life were not any less than we experience. In fact, as we previously observed, they were very severe for Paul as he wrote this epistle to the Romans.

May we receive the favor of believing what Christ has done, and of putting our faith in Him Who is our Deliverance and Righteousness, so that we can gaze more exactly on that display of God's righteousness which is there in the evangel. From the beginning this righteousness has been operating. It was operating when God passed over the sins of the nation of Israel. It was operating when Paul travelled to Jerusalem and went into prison. It is operating now when we are sick or troubled in mind or body. it will continue to operate until at last God becomes All in all. Nothing can keep God's righteousness from finishing its intended course, for it is settled firmly on the work and faith of Christ. May we more and more be giving glory to God for His great righteousness.

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