God is Righteous
Martin Luther, that famed catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, hated the doctrine of God’s righteousness before he embraced it. As a successful monk, he was utterly devoted to his monastic practices—incessant prayers, fastings, going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold, self-flagellation and the like. He would later comment, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.” One sense of the doctrine of the righteousness of God has to do with God’s hatred of sin and that’s where Luther struggled, One day in the early 1500s, Martin Luther sat in the tower or the Black Cloister, Wittenberg, reading Romans 1:17, which says: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther’s eyes were drawn to the phrase “the righteousness of God,” which he believed to be an unassailable obstacle to salvation. Though he had sought through religious means to gain God’s approval, he became increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. He even hated the Apostle Paul for what he had written.
Luther was ordered to take his doctorate in the Bible and become a professor at Wittenberg University. During a study of the Book of Romans God opened Luther’s eyes to the truth. He said of that experience, “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I … began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” This great man’s personal experience would ultimately work to set ablaze the Protestant Reformation. Whether you despise or embrace this doctrine depends entirely on where your stand with respect to faith in Christ.
What is meant when we speak of the righteousness of God? When we speak of righteousness with respect to men, we voice the extent, or degree to which they measure up to God and His righteous standards. But God is not so much defined by the term “righteous” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God (Psalm 9:7-8). He is the standard by which righteousness is understood and measured. His righteousness is evidenced in that He consistent acts in accord with His own character (Psalm 145:17).
It is impossible for any man to measure up by his own self doings to God’s righteous standards (Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:20). But as Luther came to understand, God has mercifully provided a way for helpless sinners to be saved! Though all have sinned and fallen short, those who believe are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption of Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24). Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross!
We’ve all been born into this world full of sin and we need look no further than our own hearts for evidence of sin’s reality. But here’s the good news. There is no sin in God. When our Savior Jesus walked amongst us, He “knew no sin” and indeed “never sinned” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Never a sinful thought, word or deed! There’s a beauty in this particular attribute of God to which we’d do well to grow in our admiration, as we journey towards that place “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). And as we do, let us endeavor to practice righteousness, even as Jesus is righteous (1 John 3:7).
Heavenly Father. Thank you for being our Righteous God! The more we think about Your righteousness, the more mindful we become of our own shortcomings. Forgive us for our foolhardy attempts to gain self-righteousness by our own doings. Thank You for sending Jesus, that through His work on the cross, a righteousness by faith has been imputed to us, that we are declared righteous in Him. Help us to walk in righteousness, even as You are. Amen.