God is righteous and just (God is good 4)

When we say that God is good, then we are declaring that He is Love, that He is wise (and in fact is wisdom) and that he is righteous. Let’s look at that last aspect of his goodness now.

Romans 1:16-18 tells us that the gospel is good news because it reveals God’s righteousness. Now “God’s Righteousness” in Romans 1 could either mean a quality that belongs to God, meaning that “God is righteous” (subjective righteousness), a quality that God gives to us meaning that Paul is talking about “righteousness from God.” Alternatively, it could mean that God acts in a righteous way: “God exercises justice.” Exegetes have argued long and hard over the exact intention of Paul’s words, but we don’t need to worry too much about that too much yet because if Paul is describing a quality that God gives to us or a manner in which he acts, then surely that righteousness or justice must be rooted in a quality that God already has. So what does it mean to say that God is righteous and just?

Bavinck describes God’s righteousness in this way:

“God’s righteousness is first of all manifested in history, in his government of the World, and in his providential guidance of Israel, and is therefore especially developed by Psalmists and prophets. It is revealed everywhere and extends even to wild animals (Ps 36.7) God is the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25). It consists in that God repays everyone according to his or her works, treating the righteous one way and the wicked another (Gen 18:25).”[1]

This means that:

Righteousness is about fulfilling obligations

So, for example, in Deuteronomy 6:24-25, God’s people are said to be righteous if they keep God’s commandments. This is just after Moses has set out the Ten Commandments. These standards are clearly relational; they are all to do with how we love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). So when God looks at what His people are doing and finds bloodshed and cruelty, he describes this as the opposite of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:7). Righteousness therefore has a legal or forensic dimension because if there are obligations that we are meant to keep, then when we fail to keep them, we will be held to account and those who are treated wrongly and are denied what they are owed can look to the courts to uphold their case (Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1).

Righteousness is about meeting an objective standard

When we talk about righteousness, we are saying that there is something permanent by which we can judge everything. We can know what is right, true, good, lovely. What is that standard? How do we know what it is? Well, the clue is in what Paul said and what we learnt when we were looking at “How do we know?”  Righteousness is revealed to us in the Gospel. Specifically, this means that we find out what righteousness is when we look at Jesus, but generally we see how the whole of God’s revelation points to his righteousness.

Righteousness is revealed in Creation

When God made the World, he described it as good. We often talk in terms of creation order. For example, as Evangelical Christians, we often link our views on marriage and divorce, same-sex relationships etc. to our understanding of God’s purposes for men and women in creation (c.f. Genesis 1:27-28, Genesis 2:4ff).   In Isaiah 45:7-8, righteousness is closely aligned with the goodness of creation which reveals who God is:

I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things.8 “Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together.  I, the Lord, created them.

Righteousness is revealed in God’s covenant faithfulness

This is NT Wright’s preferred perspective. When talking about what Paul means by Justification by faith, he says:

Paul’s doctrine of justification is therefore about what we may call the covenant –the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant whose purpose was from the beginning the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized.”[2]

God is the one who makes a promise to give Abraham descendants. When those descendants rebel against Him, he keeps loving them. He sends prophets to warn them and Judges to rescue them. Eventually, he sends Jesus as their Messiah.[3]

The Covenant shows God’s righteousness because it reveals his love and his mercy. God provides for His people and protects them. He rescues them from captivity; he gives them life, freedom and a land.

The Covenant shows God’s righteousness because it comes with rules. The problem with just looking at creation is that we can confuse “is” with “ought.” We look at the world around us and see things in nature, but were they originally meant to be like that? (e.g. why do bees, wasps, nettles and jellyfish sting?). God’s Law (e.g. The Ten Commandments) tell us what it means to love God and our neighbour. They show us how to be righteous.

Righeousness is revealed in God’s character

John Piper says that God’s righteousness is all to do with his concern for his own glory.[4]  In fact, it is that God judges and shows mercy for his own name’s sake (Psalm 79:9, 98:9). In other words, God wants his own name to be honoured. His name, as we will see later, is a declaration of His character. Sin and injustice are about our attempt to deny God glory, to reject His rule and reign. So Romans 1:18 talks about humans exchanging God’s glory for a lie and Romans 3:23 talks about us falling short of God’s glory. The result is that Paul tells us no-one except God is righteous (Romans 3:10).

This is another way of reminding us that God is Simple. If you want to know what it means to say that God is righteous, then look at his love, goodness, wisdom etc.

And so Turretin says that when we talk about justice and righteousness

“The word ‘justice’ …is generally used in two senses: either for the universal comprehension of all virtues (as injustice is taken for every kind of sin) and is called universal justice (justita universalis) by which, as God is in himself perfectly holy and just, so in all his works he preserves an incorruptible rectitude and justice.”[5]

God’s righteousness flows from his goodness. He cannot do wrong. It is seen in his wisdom as he uses his knowledge to act impartially, to uphold and reward good. It is central to His love. So when we talk about what exactly it is that God loves, we can say that God loves justice and mercy. God loves those who are good and just.

This is important because God will act towards specific situations and people in light of his character. So Turretin defines particular justice as that” which gives to each his due, is occupied with the rewards or punishments and is called distributive.”[6]

Now this means that God necessarily loves justice and hates sin so he must punish sin (vindictive justice).[7]

This is why we need the Gospel

God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel

It is revealed in the Gospel because there we meet Jesus, the perfect obedient Son. He resisted temptation. He was good and kind. He kept the Law perfectly, loving His Father with all His heart and loving not just his friends and neighbours, but his enemies too. He was obedient in death.

It is revealed in the Gospel because righteousness and justice make Christ’s atonement necessary. So when we look at the Cross, we see how far short we fall of God’s glory. We are unable to save ourselves.

It is revealed in the Gospel because through Christ’s work on the Cross, we too can be made righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“The righteousness of the Lord vis-à-vis his people consists finally in giving them his righteousness.”[8]

 

If God is good, then….

We have seen something of God’s moral characteristics. God is not just great, strong and powerful; he is good, loving and just. This is a God whom we can love and trust, not just fear and obey. God not only commands our worship. He is worthy of it too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] H Bavinck, The Doctrine of God and Creation, 222.

[2] Wright, Justification, ix.

[3] Wright, Justification, 97.

[4] Piper, The Future of Justification, 64-65.

[5] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III. XIX.ii. (Giger, 1:233).

Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III.XIX.

[6] Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III. XIX.ii. (Giger, 1:233).

[7]Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III. XIX. xi. (Giger, 1:237).

[8] H Bavinck, The Doctrine of God and Creation, 225.

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