"Righteousness" is such a crucial topic that a Bible student must make a personal extensive study of the concept.

In the OT God's character is described as "just" or "righteous" (verb, BDB 842, KB 1003; masculine noun, BDB 841, KB 1004; feminine noun, BDB 842, KB 1006). The Mesopotamian term itself comes from a "river reed" which was used as a construction tool to judge the horizontal straightness of walls and fences. God chose the term to be used metaphorically of His own nature. He is the straight edge (ruler) by which all things are evaluated. This concept asserts God's righteousness as well as His right to judge.

Man was created in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1,3; 9:6). Mankind was created for fellowship with God (i.e., Gen. 3:8). All of creation is a stage or backdrop for God and mankind's interaction. God wanted His highest creation, mankind, to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be like Him! Mankind's loyalty was tested (cf. Genesis 3) and the original couple failed the test. This resulted in a disruption of the relationship between God and humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21).

God promised to repair and restore the fellowship (cf. Gen. 3:15; see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan). He does this through His own will and His own Son. Humans were incapable of restoring the breach (cf. Rom. 1:18-3:20; Revelation 5).

After the Fall, God's first step toward restoration was the concept of covenant based on His invitation and mankind's repentant, faithful, obedient response (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38). Because of the Fall, humans were incapable of appropriate action (cf. Rom. 3:21-31; Galatians 3). God Himself had to take the initiative to restore covenant-breaking humans. He did this by

1. declaring mankind righteous through the work of Christ (i.e., forensic righteousness)

2. freely giving mankind righteousness through the work of Christ (i.e., imputed righteousness)

3. providing the indwelling Spirit who produces righteousness (i.e., Christlikeness, the restoration of the image of God) in mankind

4. restoring the fellowship of the Garden of Eden (compare Genesis 1-2 with Revelation 21-22)


However, God requires a covenantal response. God decrees (i.e., freely gives, i.e., Romans 5:8; 6:23) and provides, but humans must respond and continue to respond in

1. repentance

2. faith

3. lifestyle obedience

4. perseverance


Righteousness, therefore, is a covenantal, reciprocal action between God and His highest creation, based on the character of God, the work of Christ, and the enabling of the Spirit, to which each individual must personally and continually respond appropriately. The concept is called "justification by grace through faith" (i.e., Eph. 2:8-9). The concept is revealed in the Gospels, but not in these terms. It is primarily defined by Paul, who uses the Greek term "righteousness" in its various forms over 100 times.

Paul, being a trained rabbi, uses the term dikaiosunē in its Hebrew sense of the term tsaddiq used in the Septuagint, not from Greek literature. In Greek writings the term is connected to someone who conformed to the expectations of Deity and society (i.e., Noah, Job).  In the Hebrew sense it is always structured in covenantal terms (see Special Topic: Covenant). YHWH is a just, ethical, moral God.  He wants His people to reflect His character. Redeemed mankind becomes a new creature (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17;  Gal. 6:15). This newness results in a new lifestyle of godliness (cf. Matthew 5-7; Gal. 5:22-24; James; 1 John). Since Israel was a theocracy there was no clear delineation between the secular (society's norms) and the sacred (God's will). This distinction is expressed in the Hebrew and Greek terms being translated into English as "justice" (relating to society) and "righteousness" (relating to religion).

The gospel (good news) of Jesus is that fallen mankind has been restored to fellowship with God. This has been accomplished through the Father's love, mercy, and grace; the Son's life, death, and resurrection; and the Spirit's wooing and drawing to the gospel.  Justification is a free act of God, but it must issue in godliness (Augustine's position, which reflects both the Reformation emphasis on the freeness of the gospel and Roman Catholic emphasis on a changed life of love and faithfulness).  For Reformers the term "the righteousness of God" is an objective genitive (i.e., the act of making sinful mankind acceptable to God [positional sanctification], while for the Catholics it is a subjective genitive, which is the process of becoming more like God [experiential progressive sanctification]. In reality it is surely both!!)

In my view all of the Bible from Genesis 4 – Revelation 20 is a record of God's restoring the fellowship of Eden. The Bible starts with God and mankind in fellowship in an earthly setting (cf. Genesis 1-2) and the Bible ends with the same setting (cf. Revelation 21-22). God's image and purpose will be restored!

To document the above discussions note the following selected NT passages illustrating the Greek word group.

1. God is righteous (often connected to God as Judge)

a. Romans 3:26

b. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6

c. 2 Timothy 4:8

d. Revelation 16:5

2. Jesus is righteous

a. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14 (title of Messiah)

b. Matthew 27:19

c. 1 John 2:1,29; 3:7

3. God's will for His creation is righteousness

a. Leviticus 19:2

b. Matthew 5:48 (cf. 5:17-20)

4. God's means of providing and producing righteousness

a. Romans 3:21-31

b. Romans 4

c. Romans 5:6-11

d. Galatians 3:6-14

5. Given by God

a. Romans 3:24; 6:23

b. 1 Corinthians 1:30

c. Ephesians 2:8-9

6.  Received by faith

a. Romans 1:17; 3:22,26; 4:3,5,13; 9:30; 10:4,6,10

b. 2 Corinthians 5:7,21

7. Through acts of the Son

a. Romans 5:21

b. 2 Corinthians 5:21

c. Philippians 2:6-11

8. God's will is that His followers be righteous

a. Matthew 5:3-48; 7:24-27

b. Romans 2:13; 5:1-5; 6:1-23

c. Ephesians 1:4; 2:10 

d. 1 Timothy 6:11

e. 2 Timothy 2:22; 3:16

f. 1 John 3:7

g. 1 Peter 2:24

9. God will judge the world by righteousness

a. Acts 17:31

b. 2 Timothy 4:8

Righteousness is a characteristic of God, freely given to sinful mankind through Christ. It is

1. a decree of God

2. a gift of God

3. an act of Christ

4. a life to be lived

But it is also a process of becoming righteous that must be vigorously and steadfastly pursued, which will one day be consummated at the Second Coming.  Fellowship with God is restored at salvation but progresses throughout life to become a face-to-face encounter with Him (cf. 1 John 3:2) at death or the Parousia!

Here is a good quote to conclude this discussion. It is taken from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters from IVP

"Calvin, more so than Luther, emphasizes the relational aspect of the righteousness of God. Luther's view of the righteousness of God seems to contain the aspect of acquittal. Calvin emphasizes the marvelous nature of the communication or imparting of God's righteousness to us" (p. 834).


For me the believer's relationship to God has three aspects.

1. the gospel is a person (emphasis of the Eastern Church and Calvin)

2. the gospel is truth (emphasis of Augustine and Luther)

3. the gospel is a changed life (Catholic emphasis)


They are all true and must be held together for a healthy, sound, biblical Christianity.  If any one is over emphasized or depreciated, problems occur.

We must welcome Jesus!

We must believe the gospel!

We must pursue Christlikeness!


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