God’s righteousness demands perfect and continual heart obedience to His holy law. “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness”(Romans 10:5).
This is a standard to which we can never attain. The Scriptures consistently testify that in God’s sight “no man living is righteous” (Psalm 143:2); “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20); and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
Christ Himself said He did not come to call people who thought they were righteous (Matthew 9:13), and He rejected those who had only an outward show of righteousness (Matthew 6:1; 23:27–28; Luke 18:9). He warned His listeners, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
For those who question their need for the gift of righteousness, the Bible records God’s own righteousness and our lack of righteousness in several ways.
First, God demonstrates that He is righteous by imprinting His eternal moral law on the conscience of every person He creates (Romans 2:14–15). His moral law is always for the ultimate good of His people (Deuteronomy 10:13). It is to protect us from harming ourselves and others and to point us to the best path of life. But we cannot measure up to His standard. We are “all under sin” (Romans 3:9–10).
Second, He makes clear that His righteousness requires a payment for the sins of men and women. His righteousness demands that sin be punished by His wrath. In fact, His very Word states that justifying the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15)! How could God offer His gracious justification to Old Testament saints like Abraham (Genesis 15:6)? How can He now “justify the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), and it not be an abomination? He did it in the past and does it in the present on the basis of Christ’s work.
Several words are needed to describe the accomplishments of Christ’s death. One of these words is “propitiation.” This is the Godward side of the cross. God’s righteousness is satisfied by Christ’s payment for sin, and He is graciously free to impute Christ’s righteousness to our account. It is for this reason that Christ’s death “demonstrated His righteousness” so that He could be both “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:25–26).
The mission of the Messiah’s first coming was not to judge the world but to bring salvation from judgment
In the same way, it is Christ’s propitiation that allows the believer to enjoy the continual cleansing of the blood of Christ. God does not desire us to sin, but if we do sin, we are to agree with God’s conviction and confess it. His response of cleansing us is a righteous response that allows us to enjoy fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). It would not be righteous if there had not been a just payment for this sin.
Third, God expresses His wrath against sin in righteousness by showing His patience. Judgment is said to be God’s “unusual . . . extraordinary work” (Isaiah 28:21). He will pour out His wrath on the unrepentant (see Psalm 7:11–12). Yet He is slow to wrath (Nahum 1:3) and yearns for people to escape His judgment. For this reason He sent His prophets to warn people to flee from the coming wrath (Matthew 3:7). The mission of the Messiah’s first coming was not to judge the world but to bring salvation from judgment (John 3:17). God’s patience and kindness is designed to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4–5), for He does not wish for any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s wrath is not to be understood in human terms as a fit of passion, but it is rather His loving and righteous reaction to sin and His determination to judge it. He is never unrighteous and will always judge in righteousness (Revelation 19:11). The judge of all the earth will always do right (Genesis 18:25). People may look at the world today and conclude that there is not a righteous judge. It appears that many people profit from unethical oppressive behavior and the innocent are not always vindicated. However, the final judgment is said to be a “revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).
Fourth, a day of righteous judgment awaits. God has manifested His righteous judgment in the past. Notable examples are the flood in Noah’s day and Sodom and Gomorrah. He is also displaying His wrath in the present day by giving people over to their sin, removing His restraint, and letting their sin intensify itself (Romans 1:18–32).
There also will be a future display of God’s wrath during the tribulation period (Revelation 6:17) as well as at the great white throne judgment.
Any person who has violated God’s moral standards— any adultery, fornication, lying, theft, murder, unrighteous use of authority, idol worshiping, or any oppression of the needy—and has not repented will be judged (Malachi 3:5; cf. Hebrews 13:4). The Bible makes clear that all of us have violated His standards (Romans 3:23). His wrath will be against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (cf. Romans 1:18). One may be a very powerful man or woman who has a great evil empire, but God hates all who love violence (Psalm 11:5). No one will be able to stand before the Almighty on the day of judgment on their own merit (Revelation 20:15; Nahum 1:6).
God’s righteousness is satisfied by Christ’s payment for sin
Judgment will be exercised with no partiality (Romans 2:11) and will take into account the secrets of man’s heart (Romans 2:16). It will also take into account the revelation that one has received (Romans 2:12). All men have at least received the revelation of creation and conscience (Romans 2:14–15) and are left with no excuse (Romans 1:20).
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge (James 4:12). Final judgment has not been placed into the hands of man but rather into the hands of an eternal righteous God. Evil will not be tolerated forever. Unrighteousness will not win or even profit in the long run. The truth of God’s pouring out His wrath on the unrepentant not only demonstrates that He is righteous but also serves as an encouragement for God’s suffering servants to faithfully persevere in the midst of injustice (Revelation 14:12; cf. Psalm 73:17).
 For more discussion on how to enjoy this continual cleansing, see Bill Thrasher, How to Be a Soul Physician (Seattle: CreateSpace, 2010), 211–34.
by Bill Thrasher
Every believer has a need for an understanding of systematic theology, but very few theology books present material in a personal, devotional...
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