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God Is Righteous
Characteristics of God, God is Judge
When you hear the word righteous or righteousness, what does that mean to you? How would you define those words? Righteous is one of those words that my brain knows what it means, but when someone asks me to define it, I don't know how to define it without using the word itself. It's like love or hope. Those are hard to define too. Yet somehow, we instinctively know what they mean. So I decided to go to the dictionary to help us. These are some of the definitions I found:
(of a person or conduct) morally right or justifiable; virtuous (Oxford Dictionary)
(Biblical definition) acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
the quality of being virtuous, honorable, or morally right (Dictionary.com)
After reading those definitions, I also wondered how virtuous is defined. When I looked it up, I found that it means having high moral standards.
Righteousness as God’s Core Identity
Based on these definitions, it's easy to see how God is considered righteous. He always chooses the morally right action and acts in accord with divine law—God's law. Because he always acts in accordance with divine law, he is also free from guilt or sin. The Bible clearly tells us that God is righteous:
Psalm 11:7: For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.
Psalm 116:5: The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
Being righteous is a part of God's core identity. In fact, God's righteousness is so all-consuming that the Bible describes it as reaching to the heavens:
Psalm 71:19: Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
you who have done great things.
Who is like you, God?
Like God himself, his righteousness is eternal:
Psalm 111:2-3: 2 Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
and his righteousness endures forever.
Isaiah 51:7-8: 7 “Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
or be terrified by their insults.
8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
my salvation through all generations.”
Interestingly, God’s righteousness is especially associated with his right hand:
Psalm 48:10: Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
As part of God's core identity, his righteousness is reflected in everything he does.
1. God's acts are righteous.
Psalm 71:24: My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
have been put to shame and confusion.
Micah 6:5: My people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.
Revelation 15:4: Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.
2. God's laws are righteous.
Psalm 119:137-144: 137 You are righteous, Lord,
and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out,
for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.
3. God rules in righteousness.
Psalm 9:7-8: 7 The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
4. The foundation of God’s throne is righteousness.
Psalm 89:14: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.
5. God keeps his promises because he is righteous.
Nehemiah 9:7-8: 7 You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.
6. God is a righteous judge.
Psalm 96:13: Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
God as a Righteous Judge
God's role as a judge is often connected to his characteristic of righteousness. Let's look at that one a little more closely.
1. As a righteous judge, God probes our minds and hearts.
Psalm 7:9-11: 9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.
10 My shield is God Most High,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
a God who displays his wrath every day.
Jeremiah 11:20: But you, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously
and test the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
These verses give us the idea that as a judge, God knows our hearts and minds. Even if we just think about something, good or bad, God knows those thoughts, and he tests them to see if they are consistent with his character. He knows your hidden intents and the state of your heart. When God judges your mind and heart, what will he find? Are they hardened to him? Or can he shape them and mold them to be like his?
2. As a righteous judge, God always makes the right and just and fair decision.
This is stated in Psalm 9:8 above: God judges the people with equity. Similarly, Psalm 50:6 reminds us that God is a "God of justice." We've seen from our Bible Essentials study that God sees the sin in our lives, and he rightly and fairly gives each of us the punishment of death for those sins. We all fall under this judgment, and he gives that judgment to all equally.
3. As a righteous judge, God vindicates those who follow him.
Psalm 35:22-24: 22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
do not let them gloat over me.
Vindicate is one of those words that I thought I knew what it meant, but when I looked it up in the dictionary, it was actually the opposite! I thought the focus was on punishing someone who is wrong or evil. Instead, the focus is on clearing the person who has been wronged; vindicate means to clear someone of suspicion or wrongdoing. However, these two ideas do go hand in hand. When God acts on behalf of the righteous, for those who follow him, he shows that they are acting rightly and their enemies are wrong. This vindication often results in deliverance for the follower and punishment for the enemies of God and his people.
Psalm 9:3-6: 3 My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.
4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.
4. As a righteous judge, God's wrath is against those who do not follow him.
Romans 2:5: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
These four points give us a glimpse into God's righteous judgment. First, he looks into our minds and hearts to understand where our loyalty is. Is it to God, or to ourselves? Then, he judges us rightly, fairly, and equally depending on the state of our hearts and minds. If he finds that our hearts are faithful to him, he vindicates us by clearing us of wrongdoing. If he finds that our hearts are unrepentant, he unleashes his wrath on us.
God's Righteousness Applied to Us
The problem that we come up against in God's righteous judgment is that we are all guilty of sin. We are all deserving of his wrath. Throughout the Bible, it's clear that God is righteous and we are not. One place we see this is in Ezra 9:15, where even the remnant of Israel that God preserved can only stand before him guilty:
Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.
Another place is in Isaiah 64:6 when our righteousness without God is compared to filthy rags:
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
God's acts are righteous, and our acts are filthy rags, even when we try to be right and good. Yet the Bible calls those who follow God righteous. How can this be?
The answer comes because of the gospel—the good news of Jesus and his saving work on the cross. Romans 1:16-17 says,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
The gospel reveals God's righteousness to us. Not only that, but it applies God's righteousness to us.
Romans 3:21-24: 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Isaiah 61:10: I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
If we have faith in Jesus, God gives righteousness to us as a gift. In this process, we put off our old sinful nature and put on God's righteousness:
Ephesians 4:22-24: 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
It is through this process, and this process alone, that we can stand before God as righteous. The only ones who can be in God's presence are those who are as righteous as God is. We cannot accomplish this on our own. Our own righteous acts are not enough. We must be covered by the righteousness of God, which comes through faith in Jesus.
Our Response to God’s Righteousness
God’s righteousness is one of his primary characteristics—it makes God who he is and dictates his interactions with people. As we come to understand God’s righteousness and the gift of righteousness he bestows on those who follow him, we find that this is one of the many reasons that God is worthy of our praise and worship.
Psalm 7:17: I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.
Psalm 145:7: They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Our understanding of God’s righteousness should also cause us to share the good news of Jesus with others.
Psalm 22:31: They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Psalm 35:28: My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.
Even the heavens proclaim God’s righteousness!
Psalm 50:6: And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
Psalm 97:6: The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all peoples see his glory.
If the heavens proclaim God’s righteousness, how can we do any less?
Each individual characteristic of God study will come with two resources: a word search just for fun (including an answer key), and a list of verses for if you want to investigate that individual characteristic of God more completely.
You can access these resources by clicking here: God Is Righteous Resources