Paul talks about righteousness a great deal in his letter to the Romans. He begins the letter by declaring that the righteousness of God has been revealed through Jesus (Rom 1:17). His is the only true righteousness.
Paul explains that the only righteousness that humans can have is “righteousness” that has been credited to them through faith. We cannot get this righteousness by doing what is right. It is given to us as a free gift if we trust in Jesus.
I presume that some of the Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing had been pursuing their own righteousness, as he had done, and needed correction. The Jewish Judger seems to have been very self-righteous because he looked down on the people of the world (Rom 1:18-32). Paul’s response in Romans 2:3 pokes a hole in that self-righteousness. He blows the Judger’s self-righteousness apart by pointing out that the Judger had committed many of the same sins that he condemned in others (Rom 2:21-24).
Paul goes on to explain that no human is righteous, not one (Rom 3:10). Given that we cannot be righteous, it is pointless for humans to set righteousness as their goal. A better goal would be a good relationship with God. We should aim to do the things that he has created us to do.
Most commentators on Romans still assume that the human problem is our need to attain righteousness. They assume Paul is teaching the Romans how to achieve true righteousness. I believe this assumption gives us a false understanding of Paul’s message. It feels like they have not escaped the tangle of the Pharisees.
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