GRACE DISTINCTIONS #8 – by Jack Cottrell
VIII. PERSONAL RIGHTEOUSNESS vs. GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS. In the previous point we spoke of human righteousness as well as God’s righteousness. Distinguishing between them is very important as we try to understand grace.
First, what is “righteousness”? Basically, to be righteous means to be in conformity with the NORM by which one is properly and rightly measured. The proper norm to which human beings must conform is our Creator’s law code. Thus we can define righteousness (especially in the context of grace) as “satisfying the requirements of the law.” Mainly this includes satisfying the law’s commands, but there is a sense in which it may include satisfying the law’s penalty. These are different ways one may be righteous in reference to one’s law code. (A common current definition of righteousness as “faithfulness to covenant promises” is woefully inadequate.)
We cannot maintain fellowship with God without righteousness. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9, “Do you not know that the unrighteous [lawbreakers] will not inherit the kingdom of God?” The norm to which we must conform to be righteous is our New Covenant law code. We must satisfy the commands of our law code to be accepted by God. The alternative, of course, is to be lawbreakers (sinners) and thus to satisfy the law’s requirement for penalty. Since we are in fact sinners, our destiny would appear to be the latter. (This latter is actually a kind of righteousness—“being right with the law”—but not the kind that saves.)
But here is where the distinction between personal righteousness and God’s righteousness comes to the rescue. PERSONAL righteousness is simply our OWN satisfaction of the requirements of God’s law. We wish we could do this by means of our personal integrity, our faithfulness to God’s will, our obedience to all law commands without any deviations. The problem here is the message of Romans 1:18 – 3:20, “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). As Isaiah 64:6 declares, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
Since because of sin we can no longer be right with God in terms of the law’s commands, the only alternative is to be right with God’s law in terms of its penalty. We are under condemnation to hell.
Is there any hope for us? Not based on our own righteousness. But here is the point of the gospel of grace: God steps into our place and satisfies the requirements of the law FOR us! God makes sure that the requirements of his own law are satisfied. He does not allow his law to be besmirched or dishonored. He makes sure that the perfections of his law are upheld in absolute righteousness. And the glory of his grace is this: he GIVES that DIVINE righteousness to us as the basis of our salvation.
Going back to Isaiah, in 61:10, the prophet declares, “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of [HIS!] righteousness.” This gift of God’s righteousness is the “righteousness of God” that Paul says is revealed in the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).