Sermon – May 2, 2021
Romans 1:16-17 (Part 1) – The Righteousness of God (mp3)
Luther’s conversion to the true gospel was likely not accomplished in one specific moment. Yet, if there was a moment, it was in studying the passage that lies before us today. It was here, above all else, that Luther came to realize that God’s gift of salvation was truly that, a gift, and that he might leave behind all attempts to earn such favor through his own merits. And it happened as he considered the small phrase “the righteousness of God.” Let us take time to think through this important phrase this morning, and see in it the glory of the gospel of our God.
1. What makes the righteousness of God difficult to understand?
While for many of us, the issue of righteousness is somewhat straightforward (the righteous do what is right) and perhaps we already agree with Luther’s appreciation of it as a gift – do we really know that it is? If it is a gift, does that gift just indicate a judgment of not guilty, or does it start our sanctification? Is it just about salvation, or does it contain an aspect of judgment? How does the OT use the term? Would Paul’s contemporaries understand how he uses the term? How does English confuse this issue? All of these questions compound the difficulty of the issue.
2. What ideas might the righteousness of God include?
Here, I just want to mention 5 things, pulled mostly from the context of Romans itself. First and second, however we are to understand the term, it must be related in some way to both our salvation (it must support it) and to our faith. Third, it must be related to our own righteousness. Paul makes much of God’s righteousness; for that discussion to be completely unrelated to our own righteousness (which Paul also makes much of in the 6th chapter) seems unlikely. Fourth, I think it must be an attribute of God, and thus connected to judgment. God’s righteousness is mentioned here, and then heavily again in Romans 3:21-26. There, it is clear that his righteousness is an attribute of his, and it relates to the sacrifice of Christ (v. 25 especially). Lastly, if it is an attribute of God, it cannot be a norm or a standard outside of himself, but rather connected to his own actions. Things are right because God does them.
3. What is a helpful way to understand the righteousness of God?
The righteousness of God is an attribute of the unique God whereby he shows himself a kind judge. It is helpful to highlight a few of the words in that description. Why speak of God as judge? Because righteousness language is the language of a court-room, and God is the judge. Why speak of a “kind” judge? The fact is, while we connect God’s righteousness more often to his right and wrathful condemnation of sinners, the OT links it much more often to salvation. David clearly saw it as good and kind (see Psalm 147). Because righteousness is an attribute of God, it displays his character, which is always first and foremost one of mercy, grace, love, and patience. Why unique? Because God’s righteousness, and the salvation it affords, sets him off from the idols which cannot save in the last day. There simply is no other God, and that means that he is the only one who can truly offer you or I salvation.
4. How is the righteousness of God connected to the gospel?
While our unrighteousness denies God (Rom 1:18), our faith confesses the unique nature of God, his rights over every bit of our lives, and our commitment to his commands. What’s more, it is our faith in God as revealed in Jesus – it is Jesus that we confess as Lord. For in him we see the truth of God’s character most clearly: a kind judge, who will not let sins go unpunished, so he takes them on himself to give us life instead. A God of infinite love and compassion, mercy and grace. This is why we call knowing him “good news” – and why we lift our voices with his praise!