One of the communicable attributes of God is his attribute of righteousness. Righteousness is the character of God where he does what is right, true, and just. To be righteous to act and judge things as they are. God is righteous and therefore has a standard for what it right and what is wrong. God’s standard is intrinsic to himself: his righteousness is an outworking of his holiness. When God judges things as “right,” it is because it is consistent with his holiness and when something is unrighteous, immoral, or wrong it is because it is an affront to and a rebellion against his holiness.
God’s righteous character is often put-on display in the Scriptures when he is exercising authority in ruling and judging his creation.
Job 37:23 The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
Psa. 9:8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.
Psa. 96:13 before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Psa. 98:9 before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
The righteous character of God is such that God will condemn the guilty and vindicate or justify the righteous. Thus, when a human judge does not do this but chooses to do the opposite, God declares a harsh judgment against such unrighteous evil:
Ex. 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.
Prov. 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.
Is. 5:23 [Woe to those] who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
Another aspect of God’s righteousness in the Old Testament is God keeping his own promises according to his name. God upholds his own standard of righteousness in the promises and covenants he makes. In this way, his righteous activity is often an activity of bringing saving vindication in the midst of his judgement. He does this not because of the righteousness of those he is saving but because of his own righteous character whereby he keeps his word. God’s righteousness is often paralleled with his salvation:
Psa. 98:2 The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
Is. 51:5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.
Is. 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
Is. 56:1 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.
Is. 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Herman Bavinck summarizes this aspect of the Biblical concept of God’s righteousness:
“The righteousness of God, consequently to which a saintly Israel constantly appeals in its oppression is an appeal to that attribute according to which, by virtue of His covenant, the Lord is obligated to deliver His people from all their enemies. It is not so much an obligation which rests upon God because of his people, but it is an obligation which rests upon Him because of Himself…The righteousness of God to which a pious Israel appeals does not form a contrast to His goodness and salvation but is related to it and stands in close connection with His truth and faithfulness. It confines God to His own word and promise and obliges Him, out of sheet grace, to save His people from all their oppression.” (Reasonable Faith, [Eerdmans, 1956] 446-447)
Ultimately, God’s righteousness is conferred to his people so that they can stand in the day of judgment. God both maintains his righteousness in judging sin and is able to declare the sinner righteous in Christ because of the cross where Jesus died in our place (Rom. 3:23-26). A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is declared righteous not because they are righteous (they are in fact, ungodly) but because they are granted the same verdict as Christ had. Thus, they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.
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