You will no doubt remember that we stated earlier that the purpose of listing some of the attributes of God is not to give an exhaustive list or even a verbose explanation of the ones chosen. Rather it is to present what is hoped to be a working knowledge from which we can look at the different rolls within the Godhead. This was the result of attempting to develop a unification theory of God’s attributes which I have come to suspect is a lot like herding cats, the more you work at it the less you seem to accomplish. You will also no doubt think “Hmmm, some of these sound alike” and you would be correct some do sound alike yet certain distinctions must be made. For instance some might think that God’s holiness is akin to His righteousness but I think that would be a mistake.
Webster’s 1828 states of Righteous:
1. Just; accordant to the divine law.
2. Just; equitable; merited.
When applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands. The Scriptures calls this a righteous man. When applied to things, it denotes agreement or harmony to/with the God’s will or justice. The Scriptures see this as a righteous act. However, in theology it is chiefly used, and applied to God and to the attainment of His followers, called saints.
Oddly enough the saint of God is not commanded directly to be righteous yet we are commanded to be holy. In fact the Scriptures are replete with the command to “be holy.” I think the reason for this is two fold. First, righteousness flows from holiness, and second, righteousness has been imputed upon us as believers. Conditionally we are not righteous but positionally we are. And here’s what I mean. Our present condition in bodies of flesh prevents us from being righteous; Paul makes that clear in Rom 7:7-25. However, positionally we are righteous as we have had Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. The Scriptures present this in a negative form in Rom 4:7-8 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” So that our righteous is the character or quality of being right or just even though it is not our righteousness but it has been given to us as an act of sovereign grace.
However, the righteousness of God could be briefly stated as that which is all that God is, all that He commands, all that He demands, all that He approves, and all that He provides through Christ in the gospel (Ro 1:16-17). God is always righteous and His righteousness causes Him to always think and do what is right or act in perfect goodness in relation to His creation. He will always do what is right. God’s love and mercy must be harmonized with His righteousness which cannot be compromised and this necessary harmony results in His justice. The book of Romans emphasizes the righteousness of God and shows that God is righteous in His dealings with both sinners and believers. The righteousness of God is the theme of the gospel message.
God’s righteousness, was perfectly fulfilled by Christ incarnate and yet rejected by sinning humanity. It is imputed to the sinner who repents and believes in the Lord Jesus, and will be manifested in practical ways in the life of the Christian. The righteousness of God in one sense it speaks of God’s holy hatred of sin. In the early 1500s, Martin Luther sat in the tower of the Black Cloister,
, reading (Rom 1:17). That expression ‘righteousness of God’ was like a thunderbolt in my heart,” Luther later wrote. “I hated Paul with all my heart when I read that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.” Wittenberg
Luther saw God’s righteousness as an unassailable obstacle to eternal life for he was deeply aware of his own sinfulness, and he knew that because of it he was unacceptable to a righteous God. Therefore, as he read this verse he was seized with despair. But the second connotation of righteousness in (Rom 1:17) speaks of Christ’s perfect righteousness, which is imputed to the account of the believing sinner (Rom 4:24). When Luther understood this sense of the righteousness provided by God through the righteousness imputed on a believing sinner's account, he finally grasped the true meaning of the gospel, and this discovery set ablaze the Protestant Reformation.