It is difficult to even begin to imagine the nature of the righteousness of God. God is perfect, holy, righteous in every way, but we as sinners don’t have a way to truly appreciate what that means. How is it possible that I could know what complete righteousness and perfection are? How can I even begin to understand holiness when all I have ever known is my sinful self that desires only those things that are for my own selfish advancement, my good. In fact, the way that I judge is through comparisons with other people who are also imperfect and sinful. I can’t really even begin to understand the righteousness of God.
A classic example of someone who comes to the realization of how sinful they actually are is in Isaiah as he had a vision of God in the temple. As he sees God, he says, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah understands that, just because he has seen God in his holiness, he is doomed. Imperfection cannot stand with perfection. Otherwise, perfection no longer is perfect because it is accompanied by imperfection. That which is unclean cannot stay with what is clean. Otherwise, what is clean is no longer clean.
That is the situation with Isaiah, except that God sends one of the seraphs that has been declaring the holiness of God to Isaiah with a coal from the altar in his hand to touch Isaiah’s lips. The effect is that he is now made clean. God now makes Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, clean so that he can stand in the presence of God.
This is the message that Paul announces to both the Jews and the Gentiles: That God has made it possible for them to be considered to be clean, to be righteous, to be holy before Him. This is the Gospel that he has been declaring to people everywhere.
Writing to the church in Rome, Paul says this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed —a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”Romans 1:16-17
Paul is saying that God’s power has brought salvation to those who will believe, both to Jews and Gentiles.
Through faith, we can be made righteous. God reveals his righteousness, his holiness, and gives it to those that have faith that they receive it through Jesus Christ. God gives Jesus to us as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and we must live by faith, believing and not doubting that God has given us his righteousness. And when we do that, he will consider us righteous and we will continue to live within this virtuous cycle of faith.
Of course, this is not new. From the beginning of God establishing a people for himself on the earth through Abraham, righteousness was given by faith. We see this in Genesis 15 where God gives Abraham a promise that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Of course, Abraham at that time had no children, was an old man, and Sarah his wife was also past child-bearing age. Yet Abraham believed God and verse 15 says that God credited his belief, his faith, as righteouness. God made Abraham righteous before him. Through faith and believing God’s promises, Abraham will remain in relationship with God.
And so it is the same with us today. God has acted on our behalf, providing the perfect sacrifice as payment for our sins. He brought his wrath upon Jesus who took the punishment on our behalf, and through faith in believing what God has said, we are made righteous before God.
It is for this reason that Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. He is thankful that God has made this way to stand before him, and calls each of us to live a life of faith, believing in what God has done, so that we each can be declared righteous as we stand before him.