By Harold Fite
It is difficult for the finite mind to grasp the absolute righteousness of God – to visualize a person void of error, who has always been right, and who will always be. Writing about this perfect attribute of God is humbling; for when we think about our righteousness in comparison with His, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).
There are several Hebrew words translated “right” or “righteous.” The two most significant are yasar and mispat. The first has the sense of “being straight,” while the latter means “judgment.”
In the New Testament the word is dikaios, meaning “equal,” usually translated “just” or “righteous.” “Righteousness” is a moral attribute of God with man as its object. God is right, straight, just, and fair with man.
God’s righteousness is not a matter of arbitrary will, but the affirmation of His nature. He can do all things consistent with His nature and nothing contrary to it. No circumstances can ever occur in which He will depart from it. “Righteous and true are his ways” (Rev. 15:3).
God’s law is the expression of His righteous nature. God is holy, righteous, and good (Lev. 19:2; Ex. 9:27; Mk. 10:18), “so that the law is holy . . . righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). This is why moral law is unchangeable: the nature of God is unchangeable. With God “there is no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (Jas. 1:17). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. To lower the standard of morality is to pervert God’s nature. He cannot change His moral law without changing His nature; if He did, He wouldn’t be God!
God cannot lie. His words are always consistent with His nature. Because God cannot lie, we have strong encouragement and hope of eternal life which He has promised to the faithful (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2). “For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea” (2 Cor. 1:20). “He is faithful that promised” (Heb. 10:23). “Let God be found true; but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
God expressed His righteousness by punishing sin while saving the sinner. The world, Jew and Gentile, had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Justice demanded that sin be punished; yet God was merciful. Both justice and mercy were exercised by God in sending His Son as the sacrifice for sin. Jesus died on the cross as a sinner, for sin, to take away sin. “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). God demonstrated His righteousness by being just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 3:24-56). “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).
God’s righteousness demands a just judgment. This nation’s symbol of justice is an 18th century engraving of a blindfolded woman, holding a sword in her right hand and scales in the left. The sword represents strict administration of justice, determined by the scales. The blindfold is a symbol of impartiality.
God does not have to be blindfolded to render impartial judgment. Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34,35).
When the city of Sodom lay under the sentence of destruction, Abraham asked God, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Abraham reasoned correctly: “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from thee.” It is inconceivable that God would destroy the righteous with the wicked.
Was God unjust in rejecting the Jews while accepting the Gentiles? The Jews thought so! In the ninth chapter of Romans, however, Paul shows conclusively God’s sovereign right in rejecting the one and accepting the other. “He has mercy on whom he desired, and he hardens whom he desires” (Rom. 9:18). The Jews would reason, “Why does he still find fault? For who resisteth his will?” Their reasoning would take this course: if God extends mercy upon whom He wills, and hardens whom He wills, we are what God made us and the choice was not ours. Why should God then find fault in one who is acting as God made him? Who is resisting His will?
God does not arbitrarily harden one, or choose one over another in the matter of salvation. Whether we obtain mercy or are hardened, depends on our choice. “He that covereth his transgression shall not prosper; but who so confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
The Jews were rejected because they rejected God’s way. They stumbled over the stone of stumbling, Jesus Christ. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Rom. 9:14).
The punishment of the wicked is just. It would not only be unfair, but against the righteous nature of God to have the same disposition of heart toward the wicked as He does toward the righteous. “If we shall deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:12,13). God will render to every man according to his works. Those who live in harmony with God’s will receive eternal life. Those who obey unrighteousness receive wrath and indignation (Rom. 2:6-8).
God’s righteousness provides man a solid base from which trust and confidence come. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne” (Psa. 89:14). If we stay right with God, we have the assurance that we shall receive the crown of righteousness which the righteous judge has promised (2 Tim. 4:8).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 35, 56
January 17, 1985