What Scripture Says About Salvation
A Bible Study by Fred Kenison
Monograph 7: Righteousness
The earlier monographs on conscience and repentance said it was necessary for people to have a change of mind about God. This would provide a sense of comfort, a conscience without a sense of judicial guilt, and the knowledge that God provides that which he demands. These concepts also provide a foundation for discussing the role of "works" in the lives of both believers and non-believers.
What constitutes righteousness? What does the Bible actually teach about righteousness? How do we know when we are righteous? Is faith all we need to be considered righteous? How much faith do we need to be righteous? What are the works pleasing to God? Were James and Paul at odds on this issue?
Answers to these questions demand more than a casual look at the subject of righteousness in the Bible. Correct answers also require examining denominational doctrines in the light of scripture. If allowed to do so, the Bible will separate the grain from the chaff, and lead to a better understanding of these questions.
The word righteous comes from the Hebrew yashar, which means upright or straitness; or from the Greek dikaios, which was translated as both just and righteous. When referring to God, it means that God is the one who judges righteously, without favor, according to his law, and keeps his word given in the covenant.
The word righteous is a forensic term, and would perhaps be more correctly translated as innocent or acquitted. One who is righteous is not found guilty of breaking the law, either God's law, or any law in general. Therefore, the person is acquitted. The translation as just is unfortunate because the word dikaios carries no connotation of justice.
In John 17:25, Jesus addressed God as "O righteous Father." By speaking in this manner, Jesus was acknowledging that the Father could be trusted to operate according to his law.
In II Thessalonians 1:5, Paul wrote that their persecutions and tribulations were a
"manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer."
This is similar to the Old Testament which often spoke of God as righteous in all his judgments.
Jesus spoke of his own judgment in John 5:30.
"I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me."
Paul also spoke of Jesus' judgment as righteous in II Timothy 4:7‑8:
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
In Romans 5:19, Paul gave the source of man's righteousness.
For as by one man's [Adam] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Jesus] shall many be made righteous.
The KJV is a weak translation. Careful attention to the grammar shows that a more accurate translation would be:
For as by, or through, the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by, or through, the obedience of the one, the many shall be constituted righteous.
The KJV did not translate the definite article which preceded the word many in both places it was used. However, the use of the article changes the meaning of many. It does not mean some, as the English word many implies; it means that the group of people who were made sinners by the disobedience of Adam is the exact same group who will be made righteous by the obedience of Jesus! Almost everyone admits that through Adam all men were made sinners. Yet, few accept that the same group-all men-were made righteous by the obedience of Jesus.
The word made (used in reference to Adam) comes from katestathesan, which means to designate or constitute, written in the aorist indicative passive. The aorist indicative means that it was an accomplished fact in the past. The passive shows that the people were not acting or doing anything, but were being acted for, or upon.
The word made (used in reference to Jesus) comes from katastathesontai, a future indicative passive. The future indicative is sometimes referred to as the prophetic tense and mood because it was used so often in prophesying things that are certain to happen. Again, the passive shows that the people are being acted for, or upon. Just as surely as all men became sinners in Adam, all men shall become righteous in Jesus.
In this instance, Paul was not using the word righteous only in the sense in which it was normally used in the Old Testament and the synoptic gospels. He was using it here in a juridical or courtroom sense. He was referring to the judicial effects of the atonement wrought by Jesus through his obedience unto death.
Outside the synoptic gospels and the Old Testament, the word righteous is applied to men very sparingly (only seven times). This may be because men are not righteous in and of themselves. They are only righteous because of God's grace. Men's actions may be accepted as righteous, but only when they are yielded to God so that God acts through them.
Kathistemi, made, may also be translated as made to stand. This further signifies the judicial aspect of the word, picturing someone being made to stand before a judge to receive his judgment. The judgment may be either guilt or innocence (acquittal, or being righteous).
The root word for the word dikaios, righteous, is dexomai, which means to take, receive, or accept a person or thing, such as the judgment given by a judge. In other words, one has no choice as to whether he receives it or not. This was the judicial concept Paul referred to with the word righteous. To Paul, righteousness was something one receives, or accepts passively. Our actions may be accepted as righteous, but there is always the underlying principle that it is God working in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13).
How did Paul come to the conclusion that all of humanity was caught up and made to stand in judgment by the actions of the first Adam and the last Adam (Jesus)? In the first Adam, all were made to stand judicially guilty; in the last Adam (Jesus) all were made to stand judicially innocent, or righteous. These judgments were caused by the work of Adam and Jesus. People in general, or as a whole, were passive in the process of judgment. What they had or had not done did not enter into the matter.
The judgment in question here does not concern works; that will come later at the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. This judgment concerns the nature of people. God accounted all as being in Adam because of Adam's disobedience, or sin. God also accounted all as being in Jesus Christ because of the obedience, or faith, of Jesus. This was God's judicial judgment. All future judgment will be done by Jesus acting under the authority of God.
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22).
At the beginning of his letter to the Romans (verses 1:15-17) Paul said,
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Many of the Roman believers were Jews who had come to believe Jesus was the messiah. But, Paul wanted to teach them more about the gospel of christ, or messiah. One thing Paul wanted them to understand was that this gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
The word power comes from dynamis, which is the unequaled power of God, the source of all power. Psalms 62:11 says,
God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.
And, Romans 13:1 says,
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
The words righteousness of God come from dikaiosune theou, which means divine salvation. Green (p. 90), in his paragraph on the objective genitive, said,
Dikaiosune theou Rom. 1:17 the righteousness which is before God, or which God awards to men.
This adds greater depth to the meaning of the phrase righteousness of God. The righteousness of God is his to bestow to men. The phrase from faith to faith means that this righteousness belongs to men only after it is bestowed by God. As Paul said in Romans 3:10,
There is none righteous, no, not one.
Paul said this righteousness is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith. This is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4:
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
The Septuagint translated this as, But the just shall live by my faith.
Many people assume this verse (Romans 1:17) means they live by their own faith. However, close examination reveals that if we live by faith, it is not our faith but by the faith that belongs to God. Faith is bestowed on men even as righteousness or salvation is also bestowed on men. It is our faith only in a secondary sense; first it was God's faith and he gratuitously gave it to us to use for our benefit.
A somewhat loose translation of Romans 1:17 might be, For therein is God's salvation revealed from his faith to my faith: as it is written, The just shall live by my [God's] faith. It is God who is true, or faithful, as Paul stated in Romans 3:3‑4.
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.
Men may choose to not use the faith bestowed by God, but that does not make God unfaithful.
What this all means is that the gospel of Christ is the power God uses to bring men into the salvation of his kingdom when the messiah comes. Everyone who does not rebel, but remains obedient, shall enter into his kingdom in the future.
Beginning in Romans 1:18, Paul took the role of a prosecuting attorney to prove that the Gentiles stand guilty before God. He then proved that the Jews were equally guilty. Even though they had the oracles, or laws, of God, they broke them.
In Romans 3:19-20, he summed up his indictment of those who attempted to stand before God on the basis of law in Romans 3:19‑20.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Paul used circumcision as indicative of law works because the Jews believed that only through circumcision would God consider any man as being righteous, or innocent, or acquitted.
After saying that all men were guilty, Paul began one of his incredibly long sentences (verses 21-26). This sentence is a marathon of related thoughts with one central subject-the righteousness of God, dikaiosune theou-which to Paul meant God's salvation, or a God kind of righteousness.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
By using the words but now, Paul meant that what he was about to say was in contrast to what he had already said.
The law was a manifestation of God's righteousness, and it had been witnessed to by the prophets. Now, Paul said, he wanted to tell them about another manifestation of God's salvation of righteousness.
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference (Romans 3:22).
Paul was saying that there is no difference between God's righteousness manifested by the law and the prophets, and that manifested by the faith of Jesus Christ.
Many people believe that the words by faith of Jesus Christ refers to people's personal faith in Jesus. If this were true, then their personal faith would also be that faith to all and upon all them that believe, which is utterly impossible. Therefore, such an interpretation is an obvious error.
The word by, or through, comes from dia, a preposition which controls the genitive, the case of origin. The grammar, then, requires that the faith Paul spoke of belongs to, or originates in, Jesus, not us. This is the faith which manifests God's righteousness, or salvation, and this explains the words but now. It says that in this time we must look to Jesus and his faith, or faithfulness and obedience, instead of the law and the prophets.
What place does our faith have in this? Paul touched on that subject with the words unto all and upon all them that believe. This creates two groups of people: group one includes all men, and group two, the believers, which is a subset of group one. What sets those who believe apart from the first group is the unto all. This righteousness of God, through the faithfulness of Jesus, is bestowed to all but is only upon, or abides upon, believers.
Abiding upon them means that it becomes an active, effective force in their lives and enables those who believe to live in accordance with the will of God. In other words, all people have been granted the same righteousness, or salvation, of God; but only those who believe it have it as an active force in their lives. This is one reason why those who know the good news should share it with those who do not know. Knowing what God has done, and believing it, can change your life as well as your future.
To summarize, God's salvation was brought about by Jesus' faith, or faithfulness, and judicially bestowed upon all men. Those who hear and believe will retain and experience its blessings in their lives. This is all a result of grace and cannot be earned; even the faith one has to believe these things is a gift of God.
This judicial judgment of God, because of the faith exhibited by Jesus, places all men in Christ. I Corinthians 1:30‑31 says,
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
And, in II Corinthians 5:21:
For he [God] hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
In English, the verb might implies that this might or might not happen. But in the Greek, it is written in the subjunctive aorist, which is equivalent to the future indicative, and means this will, or has, come to pass. No maybe about it! Again, this is the judicial action of God. All men are in Christ, made to be right, or innocent, before God as a judge.
In Philippians 3:7‑9, Paul stated his attitude about the righteousness to be found in Christ:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Notice that Paul said these things were brought about by the faith shown by Jesus, not by Paul's faith. Paul was found in Christ because of Christ's faith. This righteousness found its source in God.
Returning to the long sentence begun in Romans 3:23-24, Paul said,
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Paul seemed to revel in the use of the word all-all have sinned, all have been justified. Note, Paul does not say it is through anything that men may do. He was still explaining the judicial process that God used to pronounce all men righteous or justified. Both the word righteous (dikaiosune) and justified (dikaioo) come from the same base word.
In Romans 3:25, Paul continued by saying,
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
First, God set out Jesus as a propitiation, or mercy seat. Second, God did this because of his faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, not our faith. Third, God declared his righteousness, or salvation, by remitting those sins which had before taken place in the forbearance of God.
Paul did not use the normal Greek word for remission, or complete forgiveness of sins. The word remission comes from paresis, and this is the only place it is used in the New Testament. It carries a special meaning to fit a special occasion.
Green (synonym #42) says the meaning of paresis is literally,
passing by, praetermission, refers rather to the simple withholding of punishment deserved.
Paul was referring to the sins which were rolled forward under the old sacrificial system.
This was explained in Hebrews 10:1-18:
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
In Galatians 2:21, Paul wrote,
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
No amount of keeping the law can ever bring the judicial judgment of righteousness. In Galatians 3:21-22, Paul posed the question:
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
The word by in the above scripture comes from the preposition ek, which means source, or place of origin, from, of, cause, out of. In other words, the promise stated above is ek, out of, Jesus' faith not ek, out of, the law, and is given to every one who believes. What is this promise that comes out of Jesus' faith and is given to every believer?
The gospel preached to Abraham was that God would justify the nations through faith. Galatians 3:8 says,
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
Galatians 3:9 again states that this blessing comes out of, ek, faith. Those who believe the gospel of Christ have this righteousness abiding upon them and it affects their lives by producing righteous deeds. This is the experiential side of righteousness, a topic we will deal more fully with later.
In Romans 3:25, Paul said that God set forth Christ as a mercy seat because of his faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:16-17, he stated that God made this part of the covenant with Abraham.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
Christ was the seed which would receive the inheritance. Part of Paul's gospel was that this inheritance of the kingdom of God would be shared by those who allow the gospel to affect their lives in obedience to God. Jesus was obedient unto death for the sins of the world. God had faith in his death, and declared the justification (or righteousness) of those who had sinned before the death of Jesus.
In the last verse of Paul's extraordinary sentence, he went on to say that God not only justified past sins that had been passed over, but he also justifies present sins. Romans 3:26 says,
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
In the KJV, it sounds as though God only justifies those who believe in Jesus. If this were so, then it would have been impossible for Paul to reach the conclusion he did in Romans 5:19:
For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
A careful examination of the grammar in Romans 3:26 will reveal what Paul was really saying.
First, Paul said, to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, which means it is time in progress. This phrase could also be translated as, from this time forward, God is declaring or showing forth, his righteousness, or salvation.
And what is the salvation that God is showing forth, or declaring? Paul continued, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. This verse is crucial to Paul's argument that God's salvation, or righteousness, is purely of his grace and not of merit.
Unfortunately, the KJV translation implies that men's faith is a necessary part of salvation, which is exactly the opposite of what Paul was saying. If men's faith were a necessary ingredient to bring about the judicial pronunciation of righteousness by God, that would mean that God's pronouncement is brought about by what men did. That would be the same as the Jews who believed salvation by merit, which Paul was actually disputing in his dialogue to the Romans.
Romans 3:25 said that God showed forth his righteousness, or salvation, by making Jesus a mercy seat, or a place of forgiveness, for all the sins committed before his death. Now, in verse 3:26, Paul was saying that in the now time (kairos), God was also forgiving all the sins committed by men who live after the death of Christ. This is due completely to the grace of God and the faith of men has no impact whatsoever in this judicial decision.
In the phrase, that he might be just, and the justifier of him, the word just, dikaion, comes from the same base word as righteousness, dikaiosunes, and justifier, dikaiounta. The word justifier, which could also be translated as the one who makes, or pronounces righteous, is a verbal noun and states the action of the one acting. It is derived from dikaioo which means to make one righteous. In other words, God, in the now time (continuously), is not only pronouncing men righteous, but is also making them righteous by granting them the power to be what he has judged them to be. He is doing this because of Jesus Christ.
The words of him in verse 3:26 do not appear in the Greek, but have been added to clarify the meaning. Unfortunately, this became a matter of church doctrine rather than simply an issue of grammar. The actual Greek words are: dikaion kai dikaiounta ton ek pisteos Insou, just and justifier of the out of faith of Jesus.
The troublesome word is the Greek word ton, which means of the. Many times, Greek writers would simply state of the, leaving the rest to be filled in from the previous context. The reader has to determine of the what, or whom? To find the suitable word to finish what was left unsaid, one must refer back to Paul's previous comments.
Whom is God justifying or being the justifier of? Is it of him which believes? No! There is no him mentioned previously in this long sentence. Who, then, is mentioned for the reader to refer to?
In 3:22, Paul said that the righteousness, or salvation, of God was unto all and abided upon all believers. The only ones mentioned then is all. To be grammatically correct, this phrase in verse 3:26 must be read as: that he might be just and the justifier of the all. In other words, all men come under this judicial pronouncement of God.
Next, consider the phrase ek pisteos Insou: ek, out of; pisteos, faith; Insou, of Jesus. The word ek is a preposition which indicates source, cause, or origin. Ek tells the source of God's action in justifying the all; it is the faith of Jesus. Although the word ek literally means out of, the KJV translated it as in which conveys the exact opposite of its true meaning.
No wonder the New Testament concept of God's righteousness, or salvation, has become distorted. Nothing brings about God's righteousness, or salvation, except the grace of God. His judicial pronouncement of righteous is based upon, and finds its source in, the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Nothing more and nothing less!
This pronouncement of righteous is not only given by God about all men, but it is also imparted. This is the antithesis to Jewish belief which said that righteousness was not imparted until the judgment after death. Paul was teaching that since righteousness is pronounced judicially, it is also imparted to be enjoyed in this life as well as being looked forward to in the judgment and the next life.
Men are made to be what God has pronounced them to be. Kittel (Vol. 2, p. 207) says,
The present salvation carries with it a future salvation. For justification is a grace which implies the dawn of the new aeon and thus bridges time. Hence in the light of the vuvi de, (now time, or continuously) which has the content of fulfillment, all that happens prior to the end has an interim character. This is the great inversion entailed in justifying faith. In Judaism justification is uncertain and must wait until the day of judgment. Here it is already present and active. It is declared in the light of history and grasped by faith as a present reality. But since the promise of dikaiosune transcends time and points to the consummation, it gives rise to hope, and at this vital point faith in justification overcomes the hesitation of Jewish eschatology. The justified, who have grasped the Now of forgiveness at the cross, can look forward with confidence to the final sentence. This is not a quietistic dogma. It is a dynamic hope which impels to resolute action.
What constitutes righteousness? The faithfulness of Jesus Christ, or his faith, was the basis on which God judicially pronounced that men were righteous, or acquitted. It was the faith of Jesus, not the faith of men. How much faith does one need to be pronounced righteous? The same amount of faith that only Jesus could demonstrate.
In Romans 3:27-28, Paul asked and answered two questions:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
The word justified is a present passive infinitive, which means that a man is continuously being justified, or accounted as being righteous.
Hebrews 10:12‑14 says,
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
The words for ever, come from dienekes, which means continuously, or in perpetuity. This word is used only in the book of Hebrews.
In answering his own questions, Paul stated unequivocally that the judgment of innocence, or righteousness, made by God on men's behalf, is made not because of men's works, but by the faith, or faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Paul remained consistent with his statement back in Romans 3:20,
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Then, in Romans 3:29-30, Paul continued:
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Here, he reiterated that God's judgment includes all men, both Jews and Gentiles, and all of this rests on the faith of Jesus Christ.
Paul demolished the Jewish concept that God would pronounce a man righteous because he had kept the law in a relative sense, instead of the absolute way in which Jesus Christ kept it. Then, he turned his attention to how a man might do works that were pleasing to God and how those works could be adjudicated as righteousness in an experiential sense. He had already proven that no law works would be enough to bring the judgment of righteousness. That being the case, what is the rightful place for man's works in God's plan?
Romans 4:1-2 says,
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
The word before comes from pros, which means to face toward. If Abraham were to stand before God in judgment, or face to face with God, all his works would amount to nothing. Even Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, could not stand before God on the basis of his works.
This statement was in absolute antithesis to every tenet of the Jewish faith. Any Jew believed that Abraham was justified, or accounted righteous, because of his works. But, Paul said that these works could not earn God's pronunciation of righteous.
Romans 4:3 says,
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
The word counted comes from elogisthe. This is the same word that was translated as conclude in Romans 3:28, and translated as reckoned in Romans 4:4. This word has many nuances, the least of which is a mathematical sense. If the mathematical sense is used, believing God would be equal to righteousness, and the Jewish concept of merit would be correct. That is not what Paul was saying, although many have made this very basic error, perverting Paul's teaching on this matter.
Paul side-stepped this very assumption in Romans 4:4:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Notice, Paul did not say it was reckoned of faith. He said that the man who offered works to God assumes that God owes him the reward. Paul's position was that any reward received from God was always of grace, not faith, not debt.
The mention of reward, or wage, is important in order to keep this verse in proper perspective. From Paul's previous comments, this reward is definitely not the judicial judgment of righteousness.
In Romans 4:5, Paul answered the dilemma of how a man's works may yet receive a reward, or wages, for his deeds of righteousness.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
It is the ungodly men without any law works who are justified. The word justify means not only to pronounce one righteous but also to make one to be righteous. The latter issue is the one Paul broached in Romans 4. This is different from the preponderance of Paul's argument in Romans 3, which dealt primarily with the pronunciation of all men being judged righteous, or justified.
The phrase his faith is counted for righteousness does not mean that faith is accepted as righteousness, the one quality being equal to the other. The word for comes from eis, which is usually translated as into. Eis controls the accusative and shows motion toward. Paul was literally saying that a man's faith is for, or into, righteousness, or righteous deeds.
All men are given a measure of faith, and all men clearly see the things of God. Romans 1:20 says,
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
The word godhead, theiotes, would be better translated as goodness. In other words, the things made by God show men his power and goodness. This is very basic faith, but it is enough to bring men's works into judgment as to whether they were done on the basis of faith or flesh. Only those works done on the basis of faith will be both good and righteous.
In Romans 14:23, commenting on the subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul said,
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
The man who does a good deed to glorify himself instead of God has perverted the power of God, and no matter how good the deed may appear, it will not be considered as righteousness because it lacks the proper basis of faith.
In Romans 3:22, Paul wrote,
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.
These are the people whose deeds are based upon faith. The righteousness of God abides upon them, and is the means God uses to produce the works through them which are pleasing to him. In this way, God makes believers experientially righteous, even as he has judged them to be judicially righteous.
Those who produce righteousness can not even claim those works as their own. II Peter 1:1 says,
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. The reward is fully of grace.
Paul continued his argument that righteous deeds must be based upon the gift of faith by quoting from David. Romans 4:6‑8 says,
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Paul began with the words even as, which equated David's words about the mercy of God with Paul's point that the reward is of grace. This, again, is a departure from normal Jewish teaching. Verses 4:7‑8, quoted from Psalms 32:1‑2, were used to show that David was describing the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness without law works, or those of the flesh. Righteousness, both judicial and that based on faith, are reckoned of grace.
Paul developed this thought in I Corinthians 1:30 when he said that God made Jesus our righteousness:
ABut of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
And, in II Corinthians 5:19, he said,
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
If God does not reckon sin to any man in the world, but has reconciled them all to himself, then this substantiates the argument that God has completely separated man from the judicial penalty of sin.
Jesus Christ paid the entire penalty for the sins of all men. The judicial aspect of sin is a dead issue with God. All men should be told this good news, so that being dead to sin they might live unto righteousness. Living unto righteousness, according to Paul, can be done only by faith. And that faith may be as simple as believing the goodness of God, or as deep as the faith of one who has profound knowledge in the word of righteousness.
Hebrews 5:12-14 criticized people of that day for their ignorance of the word of God :
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
People with very little knowledge of God may still have righteous works, or deeds, based on their faith. However, according to Romans 1 and 2, this would be unusual. As Jesus said in Matthew 8:11,
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
In Romans 4:9, Paul again raised the question as to whether God was the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and again gave an affirmative answer:
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
This time Paul approached the question on the basis of circumcision. By raising these questions, Paul undoubtedly excited the ire of Jewish believers who still thought that men must also be circumcised to come under the covenant promises.
No wonder Paul was stoned! These questions were anathema to most Jews. By using Abraham as his example, Paul proved to them that Abraham had faith reckoned to him into righteousness while he was yet uncircumcised (Romans 4:10), that he received the seal of circumcision for his righteousness while still uncircumcised (Romans 4:11).
Paul was telling the Romans that the faith God reckoned for, or into, righteousness was for the purpose of producing proper works. Romans 4:12 says,
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
Paul acknowledged that righteous deeds must be based upon faith, the faith that God is good and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. He also said that faith comes by hearing the word that God loves us just as we are. Furthermore, he has already forgiven our sins on the basis of that love, as demonstrated by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The apostle John agreed with Paul that we should walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham. I John 2:29 says,
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
John also emphasized the doing of righteousness, or the practice of it in loving deeds. I John 3:7 says,
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
Practicing righteousness requires loving God and doing acts based on that love.
James also aligned himself with Paul and John by declaring that proper faith will produce proper deeds, which are those deeds which may be declared righteous because they are based on faith and not upon law. James 2:14‑24 says,
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Paul began with faith as a basis, and showed that God has given that faith to produce works, or deeds, based on that faith and not on the law, or flesh. James began with works, and looked backward to the undergirding of faith. If he did not find works based on faith, he declared that faith was dead or nonexistent.
Both Paul and James were talking about the same thing. Both agreed that Abraham's faith was reckoned to him in order to produce works which were to be based on the faith God gave him. They were both looking at the same subject from different directions. Their perspectives were different, but their conclusions were the same: only works based on faith are righteous.
A perfect illustration of this is the diatribe of Matthew 23:27-28 which Jesus directed against the Pharisees:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Their works were not based upon faith, but upon law.
Paul said that works based on law will not be considered as righteous ones. In Romans 4:13‑15, he said,
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
In Romans 4:16, Paul re‑emphasized a point he consistently mentioned:
Therefore it (the promise of verse 4:13) is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.
Paul always presumed that faith was the intermediate cause of righteousness. Grace is the ultimate basis for all the blessings of God, even faith. Therefore, the righteousness of Abraham, as well as our righteousness, is based on the grace of God. It is no longer our righteousness, but that righteousness produced by the grace of God in reverse sequence: first by us, then by Christ in us, then by the grace of God.
As Philippians 1:11 says,
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
In Romans 4:19‑20, Paul used as an example of Abraham's works the fact that,
he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.
Strong in faith comes from enedunamothe te pistei. To break this down: enedunamothe, was strengthened; te pistei, by faith, the cause of Abraham's being strengthened. The words strong in faith would be better translated as strengthened by faith.
Faith is the power that enables men to do righteous deeds. Of course, this is not a power of men, comes from God. Romans 4:22 says that because Abraham believed God and his promises, therefore it was imputed to him for (into) righteousness. It was faith which empowered Abraham and Sarah to conceive a son despite their old age.
Paul continued by saying,
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:23-25).
Two things should be carefully noted in this verse. First, it will be imputed to us if we believe on him who raised Jesus. It does not say those who believe in Jesus, but those who believe God when he speaks to us about Jesus. It is to those that God will reckon, or impute, faith into righteousness, or righteous deeds.
Second, Paul said that Jesus was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification, or righteousness. If this sounds rather mysterious, Paul gave the answer about how this was achieved in Colossians 1:27:
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Truly, he was raised for our righteousness. No one should ever boast about how their faith produces righteous deeds.
In Romans 5:1, Paul began to summarize his thoughts from the preceding chapters. He used the word therefore to point the reader back to what had been said before. It was Jesus, by his faith unto death, who brought about our judgment of righteousness (judicially); and because of his faith, men are counted as righteous in their deeds (experientially).
Romans 5:1 says,
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that men have been justified judicially and will be made righteous experientially, Paul said they should have peace toward God. This is not just peace of mind in general, but the peace of knowing that Jesus has fulfilled the law and we are no longer under law but under grace.
Paul continued this thought in Romans 5:2:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Again, it is by the mediation of Jesus Christ that we have access into this grace wherein we stand. Faith enters in, but it is the secondary cause, not the primary. Because of this, we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Paul then listed the blessings which God has given us:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:3-5).
God's love was poured out in our hearts by holy spirit, which was given to us; that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; that we are justified, or made righteous, by his blood; that we are saved from wrath through him; that when we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; that being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life; that we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement, or reconciliation.
Take note! None of these blessings came because of anything done by men, only what was done by Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:6 says,
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
When Paul used the words yet without strength, he was equating men's weakness of ungodliness with that of babes who were circumcised at eight days of age. Paul neither said nor indicated that baptism is comparable to circumcision; but he did say that the death of Jesus Christ brings the circumcision of heart demanded by God. This circumcision of heart was done for us while we were without strength.
This brings the study of righteousness full circle, back to the verses quoted at the beginning of the study from Romans 5:18-21.
ATherefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
In closing, consider what Paul said in Romans 9:30‑10:4.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Through their ignorance, the Jews stumbled and missed the righteousness of God. Today, ignorance still causes many to stumble at the same stumbling-stone, and miss the righteousness of God.
# We must have a change of mind (repent) about God. This will provide
a sense of comfort, a conscience without a sense of judicial guilt, and
the knowledge that God provides that which he demands.
# When referring to God, righteousness means that God is one who
judges righteously, without favor, according to his law, and keeps his
word given in the covenant. In other words, God can be trusted.
# One who is righteous is not found guilty of breaking the law, either
God's law, or any law in general. Therefore, the person is acquitted.
# Scripture indicates that the group of people who were made sinners by
the disobedience of Adam is the exact same group made righteous by
the obedience of Jesus!
# Almost everyone admits that through Adam all men were made
sinners. Yet, few accept that the same group-all men-were made
righteous by the obedience of Jesus. Just as surely as all men became
sinners in Adam, all men shall become righteous in Jesus.
# Men are not righteous in and of themselves; they are righteous only
because of God's grace.
# Our actions may be accepted as righteous only when they are yielded
to God so that God acts through us.
# In the first Adam, all were made to stand judicially guilty; in the last
Adam (Jesus) all were made to stand judicially innocent, or righteous.
These judgments were caused by the work of Adam and Jesus. People
in general, or as a whole, were passive in the process of judgment.
What they had or had not done did not enter into the matter.
# Many people assume we live by our own faith. However, close
examination reveals that if we live by faith, it is not our faith but by the
faith that belongs to God. Faith is bestowed on us even as
righteousness or salvation is also bestowed on us. It is our faith only in
a secondary sense; first it was God's faith and he gratuitously gave it to
us to use for our benefit.
# We may choose to not use the faith bestowed by God, but that does not
make God unfaithful.
# Everyone who does not rebel, but believes what God says, shall enter
into his kingdom in the future.
# The law was a manifestation of God's righteousness, and it was
witnessed to by the prophets.
# Paul said that there is no difference between God's righteousness
manifested by the law and the prophets, and that manifested by the
faith of Jesus Christ.
# Paul said that in this time we must look to Jesus and his faith, or
faithfulness and obedience, instead of the law and the prophets.
# [There are] two groups of people: group one includes all men, and
group two, the believers, which is a subset of group one. What sets
those who believe apart from the first group is the "unto all." This
righteousness of God, through the faithfulness of Jesus, is bestowed to
all but is only upon, or abides upon, believers.
# All people have been granted the same righteousness, or salvation, of
God; but only those who believe it have it as an active force in their
lives. This is one reason why those who know the good news should
share it with those who do not know. Knowing what God has done,
and believing it, can change your life as well as your future.
# God's salvation was brought about by Jesus' faith, or faithfulness, and
judicially bestowed upon all men. Those who hear and believe will
retain and experience its blessings in their lives. This is all a result of
grace and cannot be earned; even the faith we have to believe these
things is a gift of God.
# Christ was the seed which would receive the inheritance. Part of Paul's
gospel was that this inheritance of the kingdom of God would be
shared by those who allow the gospel to affect their lives in obedience
# Unfortunately, the KJV translation implies that men's faith is a
necessary part of salvation, which is exactly the opposite of what Paul
said. If men's faith were a necessary ingredient to bring about the
judicial pronunciation of righteousness by God, that would mean that
God's pronouncement is brought about by what men did. That would
be the same as the Jews who believed salvation by merit, which Paul
was actually disputing in his dialogue to the Romans.
# Paul said that God showed forth his righteousness, or salvation, by
making Jesus a mercy seat, or a place of forgiveness, for all the sins
committed before his death. Paul also said that God was forgiving all
the sins committed by men who live after the death of Christ.
# In other words, God, in the "now" time (continuously), is not only
pronouncing men righteous, but is also making them righteous by
granting them the power to be what he has judged them to be. He is
doing this because of Jesus Christ.
# The faithfulness of Jesus Christ, or his faith, was the basis on which God
judicially pronounced that men were righteous, or acquitted. It was
the faith of Jesus, not the faith of men.
# Paul said that offering works to God assumes that God owes us a
reward. Paul's position was that any reward received from God was
always of grace, not faith, not debt.
# The man who does a good deed to glorify himself instead of God has
perverted the power of God, and no matter how "good" the deed may
appear, it will not be considered as righteousness because it lacks the
proper basis of faith.
# The righteousness of God abides upon those whose deeds are based
upon faith. This is the means God uses to produce the works through
them which are pleasing to him. By doing so, God makes believers
experientially righteous, even as he has judged them to be judicially
# Living unto righteousness can be done only by faith. That faith may
be as simple as believing the goodness of God, or as deep as the faith of
one who has profound knowledge in the word of righteousness.
# Proper faith will produce proper deeds, which are those deeds which
may be declared righteous because they are based on faith.
# Paul began with faith as a basis, and showed that God has given that
faith to produce works, or deeds, based on that faith and not on the
law, or flesh. James began with works, and looked backward to the
undergirding of faith. If he did not find works based on faith, he
declared that faith was dead or nonexistent. Both Paul and James were
talking about the same thing. They were both looking at the same
subject from different directions. Their perspectives were different, but
their conclusions were the same: only works based on faith are
# It was Jesus, by his faith unto death, who brought about our judgment
of righteousness (judicially); and because of his faith, men are counted
as righteous in their deeds (experientially).
# Since men have been justified judicially and will be made righteous
experientially, Paul said they should have peace toward God. This is
not just peace of mind in general, but the peace of knowing that Jesus
has fulfilled the law and we are no longer under law but under grace.
© 2009, Fred Kenison and Merrill Douglass. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.