We hear much in Christian circles today speaking of righteousness as a state which one has achieved or been placed into through the completed work of Messiah. There is a distinction between the state of the righteous and the state of the unrighteous. This righteous state, they say, is available only through faith in Messiah.
…righteousness is the God-given quality imputed to man upon believing in Christ.Christianity.com, “What is Righteousness?”
Righteousness is the state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven…believers receive righteousness from Christ. This doctrine is called imputation. Christ’s perfect righteousness is applied to imperfect humans.learnreligions.com, “Righteousness”
While partially true, this lofty theological ideal does not convey the essential root of Paul’s argument in Romans 4, as he speaks about the righteousness of Abraham.
Romans 4:3-5 – For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
To Paul, faith in God is in itself an act of righteousness. Abraham simply believed God, and this was counted by God as a righteous act. This was controversial to the Jewish ear because they understood righteousness was demonstrated only by being obedient to the law; and technically they were not mistaken.
Deuteronomy 6:25 – “Righteousness will be ours if we are careful to follow every one of these commands before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’
If someone dutifully followed the law, according to Moses, God considered them righteous. They were then doing righteous things because they were following God’s instruction. By doing righteous things, they demonstrate that they are righteous. This is not an incorrect understanding.
However, where the religious leaders of Yeshua’s day went off the rails was by becoming proud in their hearts; they considered themselves so obedient to the letter of the law that they were better than others who did not follow the law as closely as they thought they were doing. However, Yeshua knew their hearts were not right, even though they were technically doing “right” things. This is what led to the hypocrisy that Yeshua denounces.
Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.
What Paul was trying to convey was that believing God (and by extension, his servant, Messiah Yeshua) was in and of itself an act of righteousness equal to or better than all of the deeds of the law combined. Faith in God was the sum and goal of the law; to generate a heartfelt and sincere trust in God in all things. To Paul, this belief that what God was saying (through Messiah) was true constituted an act of righteousness that was “apart” from the law of Moses (that is, it was not a command in itself), but it was still evidenced within the Tanakh, or the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament.
Romans 3:21 – But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets.
There was no law in the Torah of Moses that said simply “believe God.” Instead, the Israelites were commanded to have no other gods before him, to make no images, not to defame his reputation; all of these base commandments are predicated on a belief in God; faith in God must be assumed for these laws to make any sense.
Abraham exhibited faith by simply believing what God said; it had nothing to do what he did or did not do according to some instruction; he merely believed that God was trustworthy. Paul’s argument is that Abraham’s simple expression of faith in God was the supreme act of righteousness. This act of righteousness had nothing to do with any law, it was a genuine and unadorned, honest response of the heart toward God.
This is the response that God desires of all people everywhere; not to grudgingly follow some list of commands to get to heaven, but to honestly from the heart desire to follow him in all things.
Yeshua courts us to believe in him, as he represented the one true God in all things.
John 14:1 – “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
This godly faith in Messiah, Paul says, is demonstrated by all who believe.
Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…
Righteousness is not a complicated theological ideal. It is simply believing God from the heart demonstrated by believing his Messiah.
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