Yahweh – Our Righteousness

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you understand that who you are in Christ is based on who Christ is.

God Promises Righteousness: Jeremiah 23:5-6.

[5]  "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. [6]  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’  [ESV]

[5-6]  The King coming to rule over the people of God will be David’s rightful heir. He will be an offshoot from David’s family, a branch off the old tree. Jeremiah’s description of this King as a righteous Branch helps explain what kind of a king he will be. It lists the several excellencies of the kingship of Jesus Christ. The King would deal wisely. He would follow a wise policy, and wise sayings would be found on His lips. This is just what we find in the teaching of Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom of God [1 Cor. 1:30], the wisest teacher who ever lived. The Righteous Branch would also be a just king. He will execute justice and righteousness in the land. He would pull down the proud and the arrogant; He would lift up the poor and the downtrodden. He would defend the cause of the widow and the orphan. He would do right by His sheep. This is precisely what we will find on the day when Jesus Christ comes to judge the earth. He will do what is just and right. He will gather His servants to be with Him forever, but He will turn His back on His enemies and cast them into the outer darkness [Matt. 25:31-46]. The Righteous Branch would also be a safe king. He would save His people. He would rescue, deliver, and liberate the children of Israel. His very presence would keep them safe from danger. After all the horrors of military conquest, the nation would return to domestic tranquility. Best of all, the Righteous Branch would be a righteous King. He would be a man of perfect integrity. He would not only do what is right, but He would also be what is right. This is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ The coming King would be synonymous with righteousness. A righteous King was exactly what God’s people needed. They needed a righteous King for two reasons. First, their own king was unrighteous. The people of Jeremiah’s day were looking for wise, just, and righteous leadership. Instead they had a king (Zedekiah) who was foolish, capricious, and wicked. He sounds like many of the political leaders of our own day. Like the Israelites, we long for judges and senators who will govern righteously. Jeremiah’s prophecy about the Messiah, therefore, is music to our ears. The coming King would be called the Lord is our righteousness. In other words, He would be exactly the opposite of the kind of ruler we have come to expect in this world. Unlike the last kings of Judah, the Righteous Branch would be the kind of king who obeys God’s commands for how a king ought to behave. He would do what is just and right. He would bring restitution to the victims of theft. He would protect the alien, the fatherless, and the widow. He would not shed innocent blood. He would be a righteous king in every respect. There is another reason the people of God needed a Righteous Branch. True, their king was unrighteous. But they also needed a righteous king because they were unrighteous. For twenty-two chapters Jeremiah has documented the sins of God’s people in careful detail. They were no more righteous than their kings were. They broke every one of God’s commandments. Back in chapter 5, God promised that He would forgive His people if Jeremiah could find just one good man. The prophet searched high and low. He walked up the streets and down the alleys, but he could not find even one man to be righteous for the people. In chapter 23, Jeremiah finally finds his man. This Good Shepherd, this Son of David, this Wise King will be righteous for His people. In some way – perhaps even beyond Jeremiah’s comprehension – the goodness, integrity, and moral perfection of the Righteous Branch would belong to God’s people. His righteousness would be credited to their account. All these promises have been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is righteous for His people. His righteousness belongs to them. All His righteous deeds fulfill the law that they could never keep. All His righteous sufferings satisfy the atonement they could never pay. If you trust in Jesus Christ, then His righteousness belongs to you, and you will be righteous in God’s sight forever.

Jesus Reveals Righteousness:  Romans 3:21-26.

[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 faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [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. 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.  [ESV]

[21-26] Verses 21-26 are tightly packed verses, which are called the center and heart of the whole main section of the letter. According to 3:21 a righteousness from God has been made known, a perfect tense which must refer to the historical death of Christ and its abiding consequences, whereas in 1:17 a righteousness from God is being revealed (a present tense) in the gospel, which presumably means whenever it is preached. In verse 22 Paul resumes his announcement of the gospel by repeating the expression righteousness from God, and now adds two more truths about it. The first is that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. The second truth in these verses is that now for the first time a righteousness from God is identified with justification: and are justified by his grace [24]. The righteousness of (or from) God is a combination of His righteous character, His saving initiative and His gift of a righteous standing before Him. It is His just justification of the unjust, His righteous way of making the unrighteous, righteous. Justification is a legal or forensic term, belonging to the law courts. Its opposite is condemnation. Both are the pronouncements of a judge. Pardon is negative, the remission of a penalty or debt; justification is positive, the bestowal of a righteous status, the sinner’s reinstatement in the favor and fellowship of God. We can clarify the difference between forgiveness or pardon and justification further by developing the antithesis between condemnation and justification. To condemn is not merely to punish, but to declare the accused guilty or worthy of punishment; and justification is not merely to remit that punishment, but to declare that punishment cannot be justly inflicted. Pardon and justification therefore are essentially distinct. The one is the remission of punishment, the other is a declaration that no ground for the infliction of punishment exists. If justification is not pardon, neither is it sanctification. To justify is to declare or pronounce righteous, not to make righteous. This was the nub of the sixteenth-century debate over justification. Put a little differently, justification (a new status) and regeneration ( a new heart), although not identical, are simultaneous. Every justified believer has also been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and so put on the road to progressive holiness. In verses 24-26, Paul teaches three basic truths about justification. (1) The source of our justification: God and his grace. Fundamental to the gospel of salvation is the truth that the saving initiative from beginning to end belongs to God the Father. No formulation of the gospel is biblical which removes the initiative from God and attributes it, even partially, to man. It is certain that we did not take the initiative, for we were sinful, guilty and condemned, helpless and hopeless. Nor was the initiative taken by Jesus Christ in the sense that he did something which the Father was reluctant or unwilling to do. So the first move was God the Father’s, and our justification is freely by His grace, His absolutely free and utterly undeserved favor. Grace is God loving, God stooping, God coming to the rescue, God giving Himself generously in and through Jesus Christ. (2) The ground of our justification: Christ and his cross. How is it possible for the righteous God to declare the unrighteous to be righteous without either compromising His righteousness or condoning their unrighteousness? This is our question. God’s answer is the cross. No expression in Romans is more startling than the statement that God justifies the ungodly [4:5]. How can God justify the ungodly? Without the cross the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and therefore impossible. The only reason God justifies the wicked is that Christ died for the ungodly (5:6). Because He shed His blood in a sacrificial death for us sinners, God is able justly to justify the unjust. What God did through the cross, that is, through the death of His Son in our place, Paul explains by three notable expressions. All three refer not to what is happening now when the gospel is preached, but to what happened once for all in and through Christ on the cross, His blood being a clear reference to His sacrificial death. Associated with the cross, therefore, there is a redemption of sinners, a propitiation of God’s wrath and a demonstration of his justice. (a) Redemption. This is a commercial term borrowed from the marketplace, as justification is a legal term borrowed from the law court. In the Old Testament it was used of slaves, who were purchased in order to be set free; they were said to be redeemed. Just so, we were slaves or captives, in bondage to our sin and guilt, and utterly unable to liberate ourselves. But Jesus Christ redeemed us, bought us out of captivity, shedding His blood as the ransom price. He Himself had spoken of His coming to give His life as a ransom for many. In consequence of this purchase or ransom-rescue, we now belong to Him. (b) Propitiation. To propitiate somebody means to placate his or her anger. In these verses Paul is describing God’s solution to the human predicament, which is not only sin but God’s wrath upon sin. And where there is divine wrath, there is the need to avert it. Three questions. Why is propitiation necessary? Because God’s holy wrath rests on evil. There is nothing unprincipled, unpredictable or uncontrolled about God’s anger; it is aroused by evil alone. Who undertakes to do the propitiating? We cannot placate the righteous anger of God. We have no means whatever by which to do so. But God in his undeserved love has done for us what we could never do by ourselves. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement. The love, the idea, the purpose, the initiative, the action and the gift were all God’s. How has the propitiation been accomplished? What is the propitiatory sacrifice? God gave His own Son to die in our place and in giving His Son He gave Himself [5:8; 8:32]. In sum, it would be hard to exaggerate the differences between the pagan and the Christian views of propitiation. In the pagan perspective, human beings try to placate their bad-tempered deities with their own paltry offerings. According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated His own holy wrath through the gift of His own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death. (c) Demonstration. The cross was a demonstration or public revelation as well as an achievement. It not only accomplished the propitiation of God and the redemption of sinners; it also vindicated the justice of God. In order to understand the form which this demonstration of God’s justice took, we need to note the deliberate contrast which Paul makes between former sins, which in his divine forbearance he had passed over, and the present time in which God has acted show his righteousness. It is a contrast between the past and the present, between the divine forbearance which postponed judgment and the divine justice which exacted it, between the leaving unpunished or passing over of former sins (which made God appear unjust) and their punishment on the cross (by which God demonstrated his justice). That is, God left unpunished the sins of former generations, only because it was his fixed intention in the fullness of time to punish these sins in the death of his Son. This was the only way in which He could both Himself be just, indeed demonstrate His justice, and simultaneously be the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Both justice (the divine attribute) and justification (the divine activity) would be impossible without the cross. Through the sin-bearing, substitutionary death of His Son, God has propitiated His own wrath in such a way as to redeem and justify us, and at the same time demonstrate His justice. We can only marvel at the wisdom, holiness, love and mercy of God, and fall down before Him in humble worship. (3) The means of our justification: faith [22,25,26]. Three times in this paragraph Paul underlines the necessity of faith: through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe [22]; to be received by faith [25]; and God is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus [26]. Justification is by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. Further, it is vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith, and that, when we say that salvation is by faith, not by works, we are not substituting one kind of merit (faith) for another (works). Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise between God and us, in which He contributes the cross and we contribute faith. No, grace is non-contributory, and faith is the opposite of self-regarding. The value of faith is not to be found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Faith is the eye that looks to Him, the hand that receives His free gift, the mouth that drinks the living water. Faith apprehends nothing else but that precious jewel Jesus Christ. God justifies the believer, not because of the worthiness of his belief, but because of Christ’s worthiness who is believed. Justification (its source God and His grace, its ground Christ and His cross, and its means faith alone, altogether apart from works) is the heart of the gospel and unique to Christianity. No other system, ideology or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it but a lot to deserve judgment instead. On the contrary, all other systems teach some form of self-salvation through good works of religion, righteousness or philanthropy. Christianity, by contrast, is not in its essence a religion at all; it is a gospel, the good news that God’s grace has turned away His wrath, that God’s Son has died our death and borne our judgment, that God has mercy on the undeserving, and that there is nothing left for us to do, or even contribute. Faith’s only function is to receive what grace offers. The antithesis between grace and law, mercy and merit, faith and works, God’s salvation and self-salvation, is absolute. Only when we have glimpsed the gulf which yawns between the holy God and sinful, guilty human beings do we grasp the necessity of what the gospel proclaims, namely the self-movement of God, His free initiative of grace, His descent, His amazing act of condescension. To stand on the rim of the abyss, to despair utterly of ever crossing over, this is the indispensable antechamber of faith.

Christ Alone Gives Us Righteousness:  Romans 10:1-4,9-10.

[1]  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, 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. [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.  [ESV]

[1-4]  Paul begins this chapter, as he began the last, with a very personal reference to his love and longing for them, the Jews. Paul has no doubt of their religious sincerity. He can bear them witness that they have a zeal for God. And he knows what he is talking about, because he himself in his pre-conversion life was extremely zealous in his religion, as seen in his persecution of the church. Indeed he was just as zealous for God as any of his contemporaries, and could even describe his zeal at that time as an obsession. So he is obliged to say of the Israelites that their zeal is not according to knowledge. Yet Scripture says that it is not good to have zeal without knowledge [Prov. 19:2]. Sincerity is not enough, for we may be sincerely mistaken. The proper word for zeal without knowledge, commitment without reflection, or enthusiasm without understanding, is fanaticism, which is a dangerous state to be in. Having asserted their general condition of ignorance, Paul now particularizes in two negatives: they were ignorant of the righteousness of God and they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Instead, they sought to establish their own. The assertion that the Jews did not know the righteousness that comes from God means that they had not yet learned the way of salvation, how the righteous God puts the unrighteous right with Himself by bestowing upon them a righteous status. This is the righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel, and is received by faith altogether apart from the law, as Paul has written earlier [1:17; 3:21]. The tragic consequence of the Jews’ ignorance was that, recognizing their need of righteousness if they were ever to stand in God’s righteous presence, they sought to establish their own, and they did not submit to God’s righteousness. This ignorance of the true way, and this tragic adoption of the false way, are by no means limited to Jewish people. They are widespread among religious people of all faiths, including professing Christians. All human beings, who know that God is righteous and they are not, naturally look around for a righteousness which might fit them to stand in God’s presence. There are only two possible options before us. The first is to attempt to build or establish our own righteousness, by our good works and religious observances. But this is doomed to failure, since in God’s sight even all our righteous acts are like filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. The other way is to submit to God’s righteousness by receiving it from Him as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. The fundamental error of those who are seeking to establish their own righteousness is that they have not understood Paul’s next affirmation: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes [4]. The word translated end could mean end in the sense of goal or completion, indicating that the law pointed to Christ and that He has fulfilled. Or it could mean end in the sense of termination or conclusion, indicating that Christ has abrogated the law. Paul must surely mean the latter. But the abrogation of the law gives no legitimacy either to antinomians, who claim that they can sin as they please because they are not under the law but under grace [6:1,15], or to those who maintain that the very category of law has been abolished by Christ and that the only absolute left is the command to love. When Paul wrote that we have died to the law, and been released from it [7:4,6], so that we are no longer under it [6:15], he was referring to the law as the way of getting right with God. Hence the second part of verse 4. The reason Christ has terminated the law is so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. In respect of salvation, Christ and the law are incompatible alternatives. If righteousness is by the law it is not by Christ, and if it is by Christ through faith it is not by the law. Christ and the law are both objective realities, both revelations and gifts of God. But now that Christ has accomplished our salvation by His death and resurrection, He has terminated the law in that role. Once we grasp the decisive nature of Christ’s saving work, we see the irrelevance of all legalism.

[9-10]  Paul has already stated three antitheses – between faith and works [9:32], between God’s righteousness to which we should submit and our own righteousness which we mistakenly seek to establish [3], and between Christ and the law [4]. Now he draws out the implications of the latter by contrasting the righteousness that is by the law [5] with the righteousness that is by faith [6]. The weakness of the law is our own weakness [8:3]. Because we disobey it, instead of bringing us life it brings us under its curse, and that would be our position still if Christ had not redeemed us from the law’s curse by becoming a curse for us. It is in this sense that Christ is the end of the law. Righteousness is not to be found that way. So, on the other hand, the righteousness that is by faith proclaims a different message. It sets before us for salvation not the law but Christ, and assures us that unlike the law, Christ is not unattainable, but readily accessible. There is no need whatever for us to scale the heights or plumb the depths in search of Christ, for He has already come, died and risen, and so is accessible to us. What, then, is the positive message of the righteousness of faith? Paul summarizes the gospel in these terms: 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 [9]. Thus heart and mouth, inward belief and outward confession, belong essentially together. Confession without faith would be vain. But likewise faith without confession would be shown to be spurious. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved [10]. The parallelism is reminiscent of Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, and the two clauses in verses 9-10 are to be held together. Thus, there is no substantive difference here between being justified and being saved. Similarly, the content of the belief and that of the confession need to be merged. Implicit in the good news are the truths that Jesus Christ died, was raised, was exalted, and now reigns as Lord and bestows salvation on those who believe. This is not salvation by slogan but by faith, that is, by an intelligent faith which lays hold of Christ as the crucified and resurrected Lord and Savior. This is the positive message of the righteousness that is by faith.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How does Jeremiah describe the Righteous Branch in 23:5-6? Meditate on the significance of the wonderful statement of salvation: The Lord is our righteousness.  

2.         In Romans 3:21-26, Paul teaches three basic truths about justification: its source, ground and means. How do these three truths help us to better understand the biblical meaning of justification?

3.         Paul explains the work of Christ on the Cross with three expressions: redemption, propitiation and demonstration. Explain what Paul means by these three terms.

4.         What does Paul mean by: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness [10:4]? Examine your own life. Pray that God will show you where you are still trying to establish your relationship with Him through your own righteousness.


Jeremiah, Volume 2, John Mackay, Mentor.

Jeremiah, Philip Ryken, Crossway.

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

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