In which you discover if God’s righteousness is inadequate, overbearing, ethically challenged or merely misunderstood.
Four classic problems plague the nature of God’s righteousness: evil, vindication, corruption and ignorance.
Evil: Some claim that God can’t solve the problem of pain–if God is good, then why does evil still exist?
Vindictive: Other people claim that God is a ruthless tyrant who leans on wholesale massacre to punish the smallest slight.
Corruption: Still others see God’s righteousness–revealed in his use of infinite punishment for finite crimes–as a gross abuse of power.
Ignorance: And finally some simply don’t know what God’s righteousness is. Or how it is related to the theological principle of propitiation.
Let’s look at this attribute and discover the truth about God’s righteousness.
What Is God’s Righteousness?
Righteousness means purity of heart, just, agreeable to the law. Used in Scripture and theology, it’s nearly equivalent to holiness. Righteousness includes all we call justice, honesty and virtue.
Applied to people, it denotes someone who is holy and obedient to the laws of God. Applied to God, it means the perfection or holiness of his very nature.
The Perfect Index for Righteousness
The first thing to know about God’s righteousness is that he’s the ultimate standard for righteousness. God’s righteousness comes from within his self-existent being. It’s the reason he is exalted above us.
This righteousness is anchored in God’s morality and immutability. That makes God morally consistent and perfect, meaning he can’t bear iniquity. This is seen in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 where God enumerates a long list of blessings and curses.
Calvin says in the threats we see God’s spotless purity. In the promises, his infinite love of righteousness. Charnock says in the threats “his irreversible justice manifested that all those that commit sin are worthy of death.” In the promises, “his purity did sparkle.”
Since he is infinite and eternal in essence he is also infinite and eternal in righteousness. His righteousness has no limits and shall endure forever:
But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.” Hebrews 1:8
Thus, God does no injustice. His nature can do no wrong. He is simply acting like himself:
The LORD within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame. Zephaniah 3:5
Anything we consider good conforms to God. Anything we consider evil fails to do so. Without God’s righteousness we wouldn’t even understand what evil is.
Christ the Righteous Judge
He is just in his judgments. And Christ will one day be the judge–rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. Shall not the judge of the entire earth do right? Again, he simply acts like himself, immune to any outside influence. Theophilus said:
For he is a chastner of the godly, and the father of the righteous, but he is judge and punisher of the impious. (TA, 1.3)
He renders to all according to their deeds. This is what Theophilus meant when he said “Yes, He is angry with those who act wickedly, but he is good and kind to those who love and fear him.”
Don’t see this as a “plea for personal vengeance,” says A. W. Tozer, “but as a longing to see moral equity prevail in human society.” Retribution is the inescapable moral law of creation.
Retribution means that God will see that each person sooner or later receives what he deserves–if not here, then hereafter. That is righteousness–not vindication.
Therefore, anger is an appropriate reaction to wickedness. Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in his world be morally perfect? God is not God when he does not punish sin.
God’s Righteousness Means You Get What You Deserve
Think about this: Justice equals moral equity. Iniquity is the exact opposite. The only thing wicked men can expect from God is retributive judgment–if you are under divine rage then God doesn’t owe you anything accept punishment.
And no one has an excuse, because his righteousness is revealed in the law of God:
Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” Romans 10:5
Instead of shunning him and disobeying his law and behaving like outlaws who fear his return, we should long for his return–because God stores crowns of righteousness to one day reward us.
Like Anselm concluded, “He who is good to the wicked by both punishing him and sparing them is better than he who is good to the wicked only by punishing them.” Anselm’s thought can be echoed 800 years later in the words of Martin Luther:
But whoever is a christian should attribute justice to God and injustice to himself, should consider God holy and himself unholy. (WLS, 555-556)
And what can’t be missed here is that goodness without justice is evil. God spares us because he is good, but he could not be good if he were not just. He punishes the wicked because they deserve it. He spares the wicked only because he is good. Thus, he is free from every ounce of corruption.
God’s Righteousness Climaxes in Christ’s Propitiation
Why would he spare the wicked? Any wicked? And how could he do so and still remain just? The answer is found in the theological term propitiation.
Propitiation means to appease wrath and gain the favor of someone you have offended. In Christianity, propitiation is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin. Jesus satisfied God and obtained for his people forgiveness. It’s also a promise–because God is all powerful, demonstrated in Jesus’ resurrection–that evil will be defeated in the future.
In justice God abandons sinners to their wicked ways (the divine penalty for rejecting God). In mercy God withholds or modifies deserved judgement. In grace God freely gives undeserved benefits to whom he chooses.
In the end, the cross of Christ is the culmination of God’s righteousness. All three–justice, mercy and grace–are applied and satisfied.
**Part of The Nature of God.**