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Righteousness in Romans (1)

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God is righteous. The scriptures are clear that this is true. But what does it mean?

  • God’s character is good.
  • His motives are always good.
  • His actions are always right.

God is fully and completely righteous.

No human is fully righteous (although we were created good).

  • We have all done things that are not right.
  • Sometimes our motive for doing things has been wrong, even when our actions are good.

There is no point in humans trying to be righteous. It is an impossible goal.

Accordingly, when I studied the gospels, I was not surprised to find that Jesus did not talk much about righteousness. He promised that the Holy Spirit would convict the world about righteousness (John 16:8). He promised that those who were desperate for things to be right would be satisfied (Matt 5:6). But that was about it.

In contrast, before he met Jesus, Paul seemed to have been obsessed with righteousness. To understand his letters, we have to think about the reason for this fixation.

Paul’s obsession with righteousness seems to be something that he picked up as a young man while training as a Pharisee. They were concerned about the restoration of Israel. Although the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon to their land, they were still controlled by the Roman Empire, one of the ugly beasts of Daniel’s vision. They yearned for the time when a messiah would come to overthrow the Romans and set Israel free.

The Pharisees believed that the obstacle holding the Messiah back was the unrighteousness of the people. To remove this hindrance, they tried to live as righteously as possible and trained as many people as possible to do the same. (They hated Christians because they perceived them to be unrighteous and therefore holding back to the restoration of Israel).


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