[July 17]—The Righteousness of God

Romans 1:17

            So Paul said that he came to preach the Good News in Rome, by far the center and hub of the Western World. He said he wasn’t ashamed—despite the opposition from the zeitgeist of his time—to proclaim this Message to anyone who’d listen. So what is this Message? You might think you know, and you’re not necessarily wrong, but Paul’s answer to that question in this verse might surprise you.
            The first verse in which he starts to answer is summed up in four words: The righteousness of God. Lots of other issues are talked about whenever we delve into the specifics regarding the Good News, but this was foremost on Paul’s mind as he approached this.
            He says that in the Message he proclaimed, the righteousness of God was revealed. What did he mean? Here are some possible explanations, and they’re not mutually exclusive.
            First, God’s righteousness is revealed in his hatred of sin. This is something we have to get into our heads; we have to figuratively tattoo it onto our brains, because it runs so counter to everything around us: In order to understand the Good News, we have to start off with the bad news. That’s what Paul did in the most complete presentation of the Message we have, namely the book of Romans. The bulk of the first three chapters are dedicated to the bad news we have to hear. Of course we’ll get to that later.
            But also his righteousness is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. We must understand this as well: Yes, Jesus was sinless. He never sinned. But he did more than that. He actively and purposefully obeyed the Father in every thought, word, and deed. He’s the only one who’s ever walked this planet who could honestly say “I always do what pleases him” (emphasis mine). For more on this, see here
            And his righteousness is revealed in how we’re saved. Hopefully I’m not disclosing something completely new to you. When we receive Christ as our Savior and Boss, there’s a wonderful exchange that happens. He credits, or reckons, our faith as righteousness. Our sin was placed on Jesus’ back on the cross, and his righteousness gets “credited” to our “account.” Or as Paul put it in another letter: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Quite frankly, that's probably the main sense that Paul’s using here, based on what he says in the rest of the verse, especially his quote of Habakkuk at the end.
            But there is a final meaning of "the righteousness of God." As believers, we're expected to progressively demonstrate this righteousness in our lifestyle. This means, to use my favorite summary of repentance, we start doing things his way instead of our own way. That doesn’t mean we don’t fall into sin or ever become sinless, but it does mean the general direction of our life changes. In that sense, the righteousness of God is progressively revealed in my personal life as he changes me from the inside-out. 
            Let me just reiterate that these explanations aren't by any means mutually exclusive. In the context of the rest of the passage, however, probably the 3rd one is what Paul had in mind. 
            Now we come to a part of this verse that’s a little difficult to understand: What does he mean when he says that this righteousness is “by faith from first to last”? The NIV has an alternative translation in its footnote: “from faith to faith.” The NET Bible goes into more detail on the problem here—the Greek is ek pistew" ei" pistin, which could be translated as “by faith for faith,” or “by faith to faith,” or one of the variations in the NIV.
            This could be referring that we came into this righteousness by means of faith and we’ll end it based on faith as long as we’re here in this world. Based on the footnote in the NIV, it could also mean we go from relatively shallow faith to a deeper one as we gain more maturity and understanding. The NET Bible posits that it might mean “It may have the idea that this righteousness is obtained by faith (ἐκ πίστεως) because it was designed for faith (εἰς πίστιν).”
            What was Paul’s meaning here? We’re not sure, and hence we certainly don’t want to be dogmatic on this. It’s quite possible that he had several things in mind, since they aren’t mutually exclusive. But for my money, I think the NIV’s first one is correct: We gained this righteousness by simply trusting in Jesus, and our righteousness before God in the end will be based on nothing else in this world or the next one. As the hymn says “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” You could sing that in the first minute after you got saved, and you can say it on your deathbed after 70 years of faithfully serving him.
            As to applying it, I have to come back to the simplest things to do: Trust and obey. You got your righteousness by simply trusting in him, and you need to demonstrate this righteousness in how you think, speak, and act. Am I? Are you?

Lord Jesus, as the song says, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on your Name, on who you are and what you’ve done. When I start drifting into pride or self-righteousness, please pull me back by your grace. 

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