Word Study ‘Righteous’ – Part 09 – Justification in Paul

In this post we consider some of Paul’s usage of the words righteous, righteousness and justification. Sinners become righteous. There are people who are righteous and live righteous lives. The righteous are identified as righteous by some means. What righteousness and blamelessness before God entails.

This is the ninth of a series of posts on the concept of righteousness and justification in the scriptures. I’ve listed most (if not all) references to right, righteous, righteousness and just, justified and justification in the scriptures to do my own study on what the scriptures say about the concept.

Click on this link to go to the first post which has a summary and links to all.

Contents

Paul and his contemporaries

“We perhaps need to remind ourselves that neither James nor Paul defined their terms; they used words that came from various settings with meanings that were assumed, and sometimes they tweaked the assumptions. We are in constant need of reminding ourselves that we do our best with our mental lexicons to approximate the lexicons of the earliest Christians, but our definitions are not the same as theirs.” (p260, Commentary on James, McKnight)

It’s clear from a few passages Paul is operating under the same understanding as his contemporaries. He may well be applying justification to explain new concepts and resolve new problems. But he is still using the same words with the same meanings his audience understands.

Let’s look at some of his references to justification.

Sinners become righteous

Past event for believers (Rom 5.1,8-9; 8.30; 1 Cor 6.11; Tit 3.7)

When addressing existing believers and on several occasions Paul looks back and considers justification to be an initiatory event in the lives of his audiences.

5 Therefore, since we have been JUSTIFIED by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5.1-2)

‘Since we have been’. Paul looks back to the time when they have been justified by faith. Faith in the Greek is pistis, could also be rendered faithfulness. Thus ‘since we have been justified by [Christ’s] faithfulness’ which I assume refers to Jesus’ obedience which led him to the cross.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a the RIGHTEOUS person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been JUSTIFIED by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5.6-10)

I’ve posted on this passage before. This section will not explain all the elements in the text.

Paul says, ‘While we were still sinners’, ‘While we were enemies’. He refers in the past tense to their former sinful state. During this time God demonstrated amazing love for them and sent his son Jesus to die for them. Consequently Paul says, ‘we have now been justified by his blood’, ‘we were reconciled to God’. Again, both these refer to what has happened to the audience in their past.

The imagery Paul is working with is that of temple sacrifice. Where previously animals would have them blood spilled and they would die to atone for sins and achieve forgiveness.

‘We have now been’. Paul is looking back to a past event that has changed the state his audience was in, they have moved from being sinners to being something else in the eyes of God. Their relationship with God has changed. Paul now expects God to show them much greater love as a result. Note also the assumed movement from a sinful state to something more positive as a result of being justified.

Paul considers the past of his audience in Corinth as well.

9 Or do you not know that the UNRIGHTEOUS will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were JUSTIFIED in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.9-11)

Paul lists a series of sinful people and their practices. He then says, ‘and such were some of you’. He refers to their past sinful state, but now assumes they have changed their ways. Thus there is a movement from a previous sinful state to something contrasted with unrighteousness. I assume to be righteous and holy. Consequently he expects them to behave differently.

‘You were justified’. Paul explains what changed them. ‘But you were washed’, ‘sanctified’, ‘justified’. This is what God did to them when they first become Christians. These happenings in their past have now changed Paul’s expectation of how they ought to behave.

Paul says something similar again in his letter to Titus.

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in RIGHTEOUSNESS, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being JUSTIFIED by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tit 3.3-7)

When Paul says, ‘we ourselves were once’ he again refers to a past sinful state. But this changed. ‘But he saved us’, ‘washing and renewal’, ‘so that being justified by his grace’. Paul refers to a past event which changed them and gave them a hope for the future.

Paul uses two different images to describe the movement from sinner to righteous. These are that of temple sacrifice and slave market and they are used closely together when talking about Christ’s death and justification.

Christ’s death and Imagery of Slave Market (Rom 3.23-25; 6.7)

The slave market is the most common image used to describe the death of Christ and its effects on believers. Believers have been bought with Christ’s blood. This is the price paid to buy them from slavery to sin and death.

Paul also uses slave market imagery to describe the movement from sin into righteousness.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free [JUSTIFIED] from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Rom 6.5-8)

The Greek verb δεδικαίωται (Trans. dedikaiōtai) is rendered in english ‘set free’. Here justification is applied to slave market imagery. Slaves are set free from sin.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are JUSTIFIED by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom 3.23-25)

Paul describes a movement from sin to a righteous state. The key word here is ‘redemption’. ‘Justified by grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus’. This is slave market imagery again. Slaves are redeemed by some sort of payment or ransom.

Christ’s death and Imagery of Temple Sacrifice (Rom 5.8-9; 8.33,34)

Briefly discussed in the above section, Paul says the believers in Rome had been justified by Christ’s blood (Rom 5.8-9).

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a the RIGHTEOUS person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since, therefore, we have now been JUSTIFIED by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5.6-10)

The references to Christ’s blood and God’s wrath (propitiation) highlight Paul is applying the imagery of temple sacrifice to justification.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who JUSTIFIES. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8.31-34)

Paul says Christ is ‘interceding’ on behalf of his people. Intercession (v34) is a priestly role (Isa 53.12; Heb 7.23-25) which therefore associates this passage in part with temple sacrifice imagery. I’ll discuss this passage in with respect to the law court imagery below.

Christ’s death and Imagery of Law Court (Rom 5.16,18)

16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought JUSTIFICATION.

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of RIGHTEOUSNESS leads to JUSTIFICATION and life for all men.

19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made RIGHTEOUS. (Rom 5.16-19)

‘One trespass’, ‘One act of righteousness’. In this passage Paul repeatedly contrasts the effects of Adam’s trespass and Christ’s one act of righteousness. Justification is associated with Christ’s ‘one act of righteousness’ – His death on the cross, contrasted with Adam’s ‘one trespass’ – his eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Justification and condemnation are seen as opposites. Paul is using law court language here.

However with the declaration, they both manifest a changed life (made sinners-death, made righteous-reign in life) and future destiny (death, eternal life).

“Paul’s conviction (Rom 5.19) that Christ’s obedience to God (in contrast with Adam’s disobedience) will result in ‘many being made the RIGHTEOUS’ must be understood within the context of God’s Law, which reveals the RIGHTEOUS purposes of God. In terms of God’s will for humanity, the goal of God’s work in Christ is to transform humans into those who are the RIGHTEOUS, whose lives are aligned with God’s purposes, and who, therefore, are in conformity with the image of Christ (2 Cor 3.18).” (p831, Righteousness, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters)

By Grace, not by Works (Rom 3.24; 5.16-19; 8.32-33; Tit 3.7)

Initial Justification by grace is a prominent theme of the movement from the sinful to righteous state.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are JUSTIFIED by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom 3.23-25)

Initial justification is by grace and not by works of righteousness, works of law or any other works for that matter.

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in RIGHTEOUSNESS, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being JUSTIFIED by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tit 3.3-7)

‘Works done in righteousness’. Paul at times does have the ceremonial rituals of the law of Moses in mind. Here however he has more general moral righteousness (cf. Rom 9.11).

By the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6.11; Tit 3.5-7; cf. Rom 10.9-10; 1 Cor 2.6.11; 1 Tim 3.16)

It is with the heart people believe Jesus is the risen Christ. It should not surprise us that if justification is by faith (cf. Rom 5.1) it follows that justification depends on a changed heart and mind. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God (1 Thes 1.5).

29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.29)

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is JUSTIFIED, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10.9-10; cf. Rom 4.24; Jn 20.31)

While the following passage does not refer to justification, if justification is by faith, then there is some sort of factual belief which distinguishes believers from unbelievers and this is a product of the Spirit’s illuminating work.

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2.12-16)

Jesus himself was justified by the Spirit when he was raised to new life.

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated [JUSTIFIED] by the Spirit,

seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim 3.16)

Transfer into a new dominion (Rom 6.7,9,14)

Justification sets the believer free from the dominion of sin and death and moves them into the dominion of grace and righteousness.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free [JUSTIFIED] from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for RIGHTEOUSNESS. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6.5-14)

New expectation for behaviour (1 Cor 6.11; Rom 6.5-14)

Because believers have been justified. Paul expects them to behave differently.

9 Or do you not know that the UNRIGHTEOUS will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were JUSTIFIED in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.9-11)

Paul lists a series of sinful people and their practices. He then says, ‘and such were some of you’. He refers to their past sinful state, but now assumes they have changed their ways.

Paul explains what changed them. ‘But you were washed’, ‘sanctified’, ‘justified’. This is what God did to them when they first become Christians. These happenings in their past have now changed Paul’s expectation of how they ought to behave. Thus Paul expects justification to have a transforming effect on peoples behaviour.

Forgiveness, Peace and Reconciliation (Rom 4.6-8; 5.1,8-11)

6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts RIGHTEOUSNESS apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;

8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom 4.6-8)

Paul is speaking about existing believers who have been counted righteous. They have the covenant blessing of forgiveness (the same thing as the covering and non counting of sin). Forgiveness granted to them when they as ungodly were justified (Rom 4.5).

5 Therefore, since we have been JUSTIFIED by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5.1)

Justification achieves peace with God. There are covenant allusions with peace as covenants are the means of bring peace between former hostile parties (Josh 9.15; 2 Sam 3.21; Isa 54.10; Eze 34.25; 37.26; Mal 2.5; cf. Num 25.12-13).

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been JUSTIFIED by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5.8-10)

Justification is also closely associated with reconciliation. Both are brought about through the death of Christ.

Summary – Sinners become righteous

Initial Justification is one way of explaining what happens to every believer when they come to believe the gospel.

Click to enlarge

The death of Christ on the cross is central in initial justification. The various imagery associated with justification is;

  • Slave market – Set free, redemption
  • Temple Sacrifice – Blood, Propitiation
  • Law Court – Condemnation

Through the work of the Spirit, hearts are circumcised and believers move from the captivity and dominion of sin into God’s dominion of grace and righteousness. They are made righteous in his sight and expected to behave this way. They are forgiven, now at peace with God and reconciled.

He does all this by his grace and mercy, not by any works they may have done even if they could.

The righteous (Rom 5.7; 1 Tim 1.9; 1 Thes 2.10; Tit 1.8)

Paul does not often describe people as righteous. Usually he calls his audiences ‘Saints’. But when he does call people righteous he still fits within the standard framework we have been looking at in this series.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a RIGHTEOUS person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.6-8)

And

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the JUST but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, (1 Tim 1.8-9)

And

7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright [RIGHTEOUS], holy, and disciplined. (Tit 1.7-8)

From these examples we can see that Paul likewise operates with a righteous – sinner distinction like his contemporaries.

Paul describes himself as righteous.

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and RIGHTEOUS and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thes 2.10)

I think these examples and the common understandings of the righteous should influence how we understand justification in Paul with respect to sinners becoming righteous.

Righteousness

Paul seems to use the word ‘righteousness’ in at least two similar, but slightly different ways.

Righteousness as behaviour (Rom 5.18; 6.17-18; 14.16-18; Eph 4.20-24; 2 Tim 3.16-17)

As mentioned in my earlier post on ethics, generally the term ‘righteousness’ is employed to denote the righteous behaviour of a person. Behaviour involves some sort of action and is thus observable. Paul is no different.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of RIGHTEOUSNESS leads to justification and life for all men. (Rom 5.18)

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Rom 6.17-18)

16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of RIGHTEOUSNESS and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. (Rom 14.16-18)

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true RIGHTEOUSNESS and holiness. (Eph 4.20-24)

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in RIGHTEOUSNESS, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3.16-17)

Righteousness as God’s covenant faithfulness (Rom 1.16-17; 3.3-6; 21-22, 25-26; 10.1-4)

But, I also note that it’s possible for a word to have a general meaning, which can be employed in different contexts in specific ways. With respect to righteousness and in addition to the ethical aspects I identified three. Kingdom (Ps 22.28-31; 99.1-4), Covenant (1 Sam 12.6-8; Dt 6.24-25; cf. Dt 5.1-3; Lev 26.14-15) and Law Court (Dt 16.18-20; Lev 19.15-16).

In Romans God’s righteousness is ‘revealed’ (Rom 1.16), ‘shown’ (Rom 3.5, 25, 26), ‘manifested’ and ‘witnessed’ (Rom 3.21). Many of these refer to something observable that God has done in history.

Genesis 12.1-3; 15.1-6, Deuteronomy 30.1-10, Jeremiah 31.31-34 and Ezekiel 36.22-38 represent the most significant promises God has made. These are covenant promises and they are directly fulfilled in Christ and his work (e.g. Mt 26.26-28; Rom 2.25-29; 4.23-25; 10.9-10). As mentioned in the earlier post on covenant, When God saves a group of people, he is primarily being faithful to his covenant promises. This is what God is doing in the Gospel.

In Romans God, in faithfulness to his covenant promises, saves his people through the gospel story.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the gospel] the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1.16-17)

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be JUSTIFIED in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? (Rom 3.3-6)

21 But now the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. … This was to show God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his RIGHTEOUSNESS at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3.21-22,25-26)

10 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God [in the gospel], and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for RIGHTEOUSNESS to everyone who believes. (Rom 10.1-4)

The righteous identified as righteous

In this section I will quote and discuss a number of instances of justification where Paul is speaking about the justification of the righteous. That is the showing or proving that a person is in the right.

God is justified (Rom 3.4)

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be JUSTIFIED in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” (Rom 3.3-4)

In this case God is the one being justified. That is found to be righteous (and faithful) in what he has promised.

Gentile Faith Counted as Righteousness (Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 22; Gal 3.6)

James quotes Gen 15.6 once. Paul quotes it several times. This is another instance where James and Paul are operating with the same understanding of justification.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, (Rom 4.16-23)

This long passage is useful to highlight Paul has Abrahams whole life in mind.

Abraham has saving faith from Genesis 12 onwards (Heb 11.8). Abraham is counted righteous (see my post on logizomai) not at the beginning of his life as a believer, but in the middle. Paul here shows Abraham’s trusting faith over time is the reason why his faith was counted to him as righteousness. Righteousness is understood to be his covenant keeping behaviour. In context Paul associates this counting while he was an uncircumcised Gentile.

5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as RIGHTEOUSNESS”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3.5-9)

In both cases Paul is arguing that Gentile believers (‘not only the adherent of the law’ (Rom 4.16), ‘Gentiles’ (Gal 3.7)) are shown to be righteous in the sight of God. By their faith. Faith here is a boundary marker for the people of God.

Gentiles considered righteous by Faith in Christ, not by Works of the Law (Rom 3.20, 26, 28-29; Gal 2.14-16; 3.7-9, 23-29)

When Paul compares faith and works of law, he wants Jews (IJ in Romans cf. Rom 2.17, Peter in Galatians; cf. Gal 2.14f) to recognise Gentile believers are righteous in the sight of God. He does this by arguing the works of the law of Moses are not righteous behaviour in God’s sight (sinful Jews prove his point) and the primary means God identifies the righteous is by their faith and trust in Him (this includes believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews in the righteous).

28 For we hold that one is JUSTIFIED by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will JUSTIFY the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Rom 3.28-30)

Paul is speaking indirectly to Roman Christians, consisting primarily of Gentiles (Rom 1.8). In this passage he refers to justification in the context of Gentiles being recognised as righteous in the sight of God.

14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not JUSTIFIED by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be JUSTIFIED by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be JUSTIFIED. (Gal 2.14-16)

Paul is recounting a conversation he had with Peter and indirectly addressing the Gentiles in Galatia. He is arguing for Gentile inclusion saying they are justified by faith and do not have to become Jews.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would JUSTIFY the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3.7-9)

Paul says God gave advanced notice to Abraham he would include Gentiles into his world wide family.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be JUSTIFIED by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3.23-29)

‘There is neither Jew, nor Greek’. Paul levels the playing field. All are one in Christ. This is a product of justification, the creation of a new worldwide family.

Imagery of Law Court (Rom 3.19-20; 8.31-34)

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be JUSTIFIED in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom 3.19-20)

The law court imagery can be seen in Paul’s references to mouths being stopped (the have no defense) and the world being held accountable.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who JUSTIFIES. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8.31-34)

Here justification is contrasted to condemnation. The suggestion that one might bring a charge against one of God’s elect places this reference to justification in the law court.

Righteousness before God (Rom 2.13; Gal 3.11; cf. Gen 7.1; 1 Ki 3.5-6; Neh 9.7-8; Ps 143.1-2; Lk 1.5-6; Lk 1.68-75)

Paul has a limited number of passages which specifically mention righteousness before God. I list the two of them and then various other scriptures which use the same terminology. Then I will refer to what he says about being blameless before God. There is much more material.

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are RIGHTEOUS before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Rom 2.12-13)

In context, Paul is explaining not all Jews are righteous in God’s sight. Rather only those who keep the law. Jewish sinners will be judged. (This word study demonstrates Jews like Paul believed people could keep the law.)

Paul will later go on to argue Gentile believers keep the precepts of the law, not the whole law of Moses, rather some sort of subset (Rom 2.27). Paul’s basic thrust here is that to be righteous before God it is necessary to be obedient to God’s commands (cf. Gal 5.5-6).

11 Now it is evident that no one is JUSTIFIED before God by the law, for “The RIGHTEOUS shall live by faith.” (Gal 3.11)

In context, Paul is explaining why Gentiles believers do not have to observe the law of Moses. The verse seemingly contradicts Rom 2.13. However, I said righteousness before God involves some form of obedience. Its clear here this is not about observing the law of Moses. Rather by living by faith.

There are several passages in wider scripture which affirm some people are righteous before God.

7 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are RIGHTEOUS before me in this generation. (Gen 7.1)

Noah in chapter six is contrasted with the evil generation he lives in. His obedience to God’s commands is noted a couple times (Gen 6.22; 7.5).

5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in RIGHTEOUSNESS, and in uprightness of heart toward you. (1 Ki 3.5-6)

Solomon acknowledges David walked before the LORD in righteousness.

7 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are RIGHTEOUS. (Neh 9.7-8)

Nehemiah acknowledges God found Abraham’s heart faithful to him. This involves his righteous living, his obedience. In other passages God acknowledges Abraham’s obedience (Gen 26.5).

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your RIGHTEOUSNESS!

2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is RIGHTEOUS before you. (Ps 143.1-2)

I’ve already dealt with this passage in more detail in a previous post. But here we can see it contradicts a number of the others. We should note God commends Noah as righteous before him in Gen 7.1, whereas the Psalmist in this passage denies his own with all others. Taking God’s word over the Psalmists, I assume the Psalmist is simply assuming an attitude of humility rather than overruling God’s judgment of Noah.

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both RIGHTEOUS before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (Lk 1.5-6)

Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous before God. They walk blamelessly in all the commands of the law of Moses.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and RIGHTEOUSNESS before him all our days. (Lk 1.68-75)

Zechariah also affirms God’s promise to enable his people to serve before Him in righteousness.

We can affirm from scripture righteousness before God (equated with justification) stems from having a relationship with Him (faith) and involves some form of ongoing obedience (following him, persevering, discipleship, etc).

Blameless before God (Eph 1.3-4; Col 1.21-23; 1 Thes 3.11-13; cf. Dt 18.9-14; 2 Sam 22.21-25; Dan 6.22-23; Jude 24-25)

Blamelessness is closely associated with righteousness in the scriptures. To further confirm the above point here are a few passages in Paul which demonstrate to stand blameless before God to a large degree depends on God’s forgiveness of sin, but as we will see requires both some sort of obedience as well.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph 1.3-4)

God predestined believers to be blameless before Him.

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thes 3.11-13)

Being blameless before God is due to His work in the believers heart. This is related to Christ’s second coming.

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and RIGHTEOUS and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thes 2.9-10)

Paul says God witnessed his righteous and blameless conduct.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of RIGHTEOUSNESS that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Php 1.9-11)

Paul predicates blamelessness on the day of Christ and therefore before God in judgment, on love, knowledge and approval of what is excellent.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Php 2.14-16)

Paul urges his audience not to grumble or dispute with one another, but to hold fast the gospel. They are to do these in order to remain blameless and innocent with future judgment in mind.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. (Col 1.21-23)

Being presented holy and blameless before God has been achieved by Christ’s death on the cross and their subsequent perseverance in the faith.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes 5.23-24)

Paul wants believers to be kept blameless through their whole lives. This is a work of the Spirit.

We can affirm from scripture blamelessness before God stems from Christ’s death on the cross, the sanctifying work of the Spirit and involves perseverance, growth in love, knowledge and avoidance of various forms of grumbling and disputing.

Summary – The righteous identified as righteous

Justification is one way of explaining how God’s people are proven or shown to be righteous. Paul primarily employs this understanding of justification to argue Gentile believers are right with God and they don’t have to observe the works of law.

Key indicators of the imagery employed are largely absent. However there is the law court.

God’s people stand righteous before God. References to standing blameless before God suggest this involves holy and righteous living as well as forgiveness of sins.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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