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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Righteous, Righteousness

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RIGHTEOUS, RIGHTEOUSNESS

i. History of the terms.—The root notion of the Heb. word צְדָקָה is that which is just, right, and normal; and its exact meaning fluctuates in each epoch according to the standard by which right and wrong are measured. It is true that in the OT this standard is always based on the will of Jehovah; but we observe great changes—chiefly progressive—in the Jewish notion of what He requires. In more primitive times the conception of צְדָקָה is mainly forensic, meaning that which accords with custom as fixed by the Divinely given decisions of the people’s judges. But the prophets raised the whole conception of the law of God, and insisted that its moral aspect was infinitely more important than its ceremonial. Indeed, thongh like all OT writers they dealt with action rather than character, they almost foreshadow in places the NT teaching, that it is a clean heart that makes a righteous deed. Hosea and Jeremiah illumined the conception of man’s duty to his neighbour by the preaching of God’s loving-kindness to His people. Dcutero-Isaiah goes further still, and finds in the thought of God’s unfailing righteousness the pledge that He will comfort and redeem His servants. As used of Him, the word צְדָקָה denotes moral consistency and faithfulness to His promises, and in the highest prophetic teaching this was felt to include the love which pardons the penitent, though ever stern to the obdurate.

In the age of formalism, which was marked by the cessation of prophecy, the notion of righteousness became more ceremonial and external. Already in some of the Psalms we have ‘the righteous’ as a regular party in the land, and the term ultimately became the self-designation of the Pharisees. צְדָקָה was now identified mainly with almsgiving in the sphere of private morals; and, in the judicial sphere, with readiness to help the weak as opposed to the letter of strict judgment.* [Note: See Dalman, Die richterliche Gerechtigkeit im AT, as quoted in art ‘Righteousness (in OT)’ in Hastings’ DB iv. 281.] In the LXX Septuagint the word is translation usually by δικαιοσύνη, but also by κρίσις, ἔλεος, and ἐλεημοσύνη; and the adj. צַדִּיק usually by δίκαιος, but also by ἄμεμπτος, καθαρός, πιστός, and εὐσεβής.

The Gr. δικαιοσύνη, like the Heb. צְדָקָה, was generally used in a much broader sense than our word ‘justice,’ and denoted social virtue as a whole. Aristotle defines it as ἀρετὴ τελεία καὶ οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἀλλὰ πρὸς ἕτερονοὐ μέρος ἀρετῆς, ἀλλὰ ὅλη ἀρετή (Ethics, v. 3. 1129b; cf. Plato, Republic, 443). The chief difference between the Heb. and Gr. words lies, not in the terms themselves, but in the radical distinction between the religions of the two races,—the former being based on the relation of man to God, the latter on man’s duty to himself; thus in Greek ἀδικία is usually distinguished from ἀσέβεια.

ii. NT usage.—The NT writers inherited the word צְדָקָה with all its religious associations, and used as its equivalent δικαιοσύνη, and as its opposite ἀδικία. The latter word is sometimes contrasted also with ἀλήθεια (e.g. Romans 1:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:10); for ‘truth passing into action is righteousness’ (Westcott on 1 John 1:9). ἄδικος is also contrasted with πιστός (Luke 16:10-11), εὐσεβής (2 Peter 2:9, cf. Romans 4:5), ἅγιος (1 Corinthians 6:1). The first of these three words expresses an idea always present in the word ‘righteousness’ (namely, consistency); the other two give its basis for man,—devotion to God,—but do not immediately express the notion of duty towards one’s neighbour.

Jesus Christ transformed the whole conception of righteousness; for He broke down the externalism of His day by emphasizing character rather than action, and set religion on an entirely new basis by making it a real response of the whole personality to God, and pointing to love as the essence of righteousness. It is significant in this connexion that it was Christianity that created the very conception of personality, and so ultimately the word itself. Jesus Christ tells His followers that their righteousness is to be based on the eternal character of God (Matthew 5:44-45), as uniquely revealed in human life by Himself (Matthew 11:27 ||). Accordingly the early Christians seem to have spoken of Christ as ‘the righteous one’ (see Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14, James 5:6). But we must examine in more detail the righteousness taught and exemplified by Him.

1. The Synoptists

(a) General usage.—The Synoptic writers all use δίκαιος and δικαιοσύνη generally, of the man who tries to do his duty in the sight of God, whether Christian or not (Matthew 1:19; Matthew 5:45, Mark 6:20, Luke 1:6; Luke 2:25). But St. Matthew also uses the words especially of believers in Christ, to denote the character which He requires in citizens of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10; Matthew 6:1 etc.). St. Luke, indeed, approximates to this in three passages at least (Luke 14:14, Acts 24:15; Acts 24:25); but with him it can scarcely be called a well-defined usage. The explanation of this peculiarity of the First Gospel no doubt lies in the fact that its chief aim is to represent Christianity as the consummation of Judaism (cf. Matthew 5:17). But a still more noteworthy fact is that the Synoptic writers do not directly speak of righteousness as a Divine attribute. [Matthew 6:33 is no exception, for ‘his righteousness’ there means the character which God expects of us, though this is implicitly based on the nature of the Father]. Nor is Christ ever directly termed δίκαιος by them, except in the mouth of unbelievers (e.g. Pilate’s wife in Matthew 27:19), and in the cases mentioned above from the Acts, where St. Luke represents three different speakers as calling Him ὁ δίκαιος. In this connexion it is significant that in recording the centurion’s words at Calvary, St. Luke (Luke 23:47) writes, ‘Certainly this was a righteous man’; but St. Matthew (Matthew 27:54) and St. Mark (Mark 15:39) give υἱὸς θεοῦ in place of δίκαιος. Now, when we remember that our Lord, in the Synoptic accounts, does not speak of Himself as ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, though He accepts the title from others, and acknowledges His unique Sonship before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:70 ||), we see why He does not. call Himself ὁ δίκαιος. He does not put forward His own claims in the Galilaean ministry, but leaves His followers to infer them from His words and acts (cf. Matthew 16:15-17). And when men have drawn the inference, then they call Him ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ rather than ὁ δίκαιος. Similarly, He Himself does not speak of the Father’s righteousness, because to His hearers the word would not convey enough. He speaks rather of the Father’s love.

(b) God’s righteousness.—What we have said above leads us on naturally to ask, What is the central idea in Christ’s teaching about the Father’s righteousness (for though He does not Himself apply the word to God in the Synoptic accounts, the idea is not excluded)? Our Lord bases everything on the truth that God is a loving Father to all men, and they are potentially His sons; by love they may know Him, and so make that potentiality actual. Such is the teaching of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In Matthew 5:45-48 Christ tells us that God loves both good and evil, both righteous and unrighteous; and His followers are to do the same ‘in order that ye may be (γένησθε = ‘show yourselves to be’; or else ‘become’) sons of your Father which is in heaven.’ And His summary of the whole matter is, ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect (i.e. in and through love) as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ But this love in God, if it makes Him infinitely merciful to the penitent sinner, makes Him equally stern to the impenitent. Again and again Christ, by means of a series of parables, teaches the future suffering of the wicked. It will suffice to quote one which shows the unity of the Divine love in its two aspects of mercifulness and sternness—the parable of the king that took account of his servants and punished him who showed no mercy to his fellow (Matthew 18:23-35). He is ready to forgive the largest of debts if only the servant proves his love; but he has no mercy for the ungrateful and unloving; ‘he delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due’

(c) Christ’s righteousness.—If we may rightly speak of the absolute righteousness of God in the Synoptic accounts, we have no less reason for speaking of the absolute righteousness of Christ. A close examination of His words may even seem explicitly to sanction this. In Matthew 5:10 He pronounces a blessing on those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; and in the next verse He goes on, ‘Blessed are ye when men shall … persecute you … for my sake.’ We may compare Mark 8:35 ‘Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it’ (also Mark 10:29). Throughout his Gospel St. Matthew makes δικαιοσύνη the character of the citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. But Jesus Christ is the inaugurator of that kingdom (Matthew 11:11; Matthew 12:28). It is He, as the Son of Man, who sows the good seed of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:37); He, again, who can give ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (Matthew 16:19). He has authority over the angels in His kingdom, which is the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:43). He not only gives to men a unique revelation—the only revelation—of the Father (Matthew 11:27 ||—a passage which implies His sinlessness), but He is the giver of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11 ||). This teaching is confirmed by the order of words in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 (men—the angels—the Son—the Father). So He claims to be the Son of God (Luke 22:70 ||), and suffers condemnation for blasphemy; as such, He is transfigured, before three of His Apostles, with the Divine glory (Matthew 17:1-8 ||). And so again He assents to the statement that He is quite different from one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14-18); they were righteous, but He is the righteous Man, and more also. The whole teaching of the Synoptic Gospels is implicitly the same; nowhere does our Lord show any consciousness of sin; again and again He emphasizes the sinfulness of all men and their need of repentance. Therefore He is to be the judge of mankind, in the consummation of God’s kingdom (Matthew 7:22 f., Matthew 13:41, Matthew 16:27, Matthew 25:31 ff.).

(d) The contents of righteousness.—What, in brief, was the ideal of which Christ was the perfect example, and which He sets before His followers? Obviously an adequate answer to this question is far beyond the limits of this article. But we must try to apprehend a few leading principles. This is the easier, because Christ sought to ‘educate’ His disciples by giving them principles rather than precepts; His service was to be a free development, not a slavish system. St. Matthew has collected for us, in the Sermon on the Mount, much of our Lord’s teaching on the Kingdom of heaven and the δικαιοσύνη which marks its citizens. They are to seek above all else ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33); they are to ‘hunger and thirst’ after it (Matthew 5:6). The Kingdom only reflects the eternal character of the King (Matthew 5:45). Thus δικαιοσύνη, which is very close in meaning to our modern word ‘morality,’ is throughout based on religion, and treated as inseparable from it. Matthew 6 opens with a warning against ostentation in δικαιοσύνη (if, indeed, that is the right reading); and the examples given are those of almsgiving (Matthew 6:2), prayer (Matthew 6:5), and fasting (Matthew 6:16)—the second of which, at least, is often treated by us as outside morality. Now the central principle of God’s being is, as we said, represented to be love. Consequently love is the unfailing measure of human δικαιοσύνη. The first commandment is ‘Love God’; the second, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Mark 12:29-31 ||); and, according to St. Matthew (Matthew 22:40), Christ adds the words, ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’ (words almost repeated in Matthew 7:12 and presupposed in Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8).

Here, then, is the principle by which we may test all our actions. God judges men by what they are rather than by what they do; we, being human, and unable to read the heart, are to judge by their deeds what men are (Matthew 7:16), though with much caution against rash and censorious judgments (Matthew 7:1). But the final judgment is God’s, who takes account of motive as well as act. He who nurses wrath against a brother, or treats him with bitter contempt, is guilty before God as well as the man who proceeds to murder (Matthew 5:21-22); and ‘every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). It has been well said that ‘inwardness’ is the guiding principle of the Sermon on the Mount. The hard sayings of Matthew 5:39-42 must clearly be interpreted on the same principle of love towards our neighbour, resting on love towards God; they do not forbid all resistance of evil (such as resistance to a thief or one of overbearing temper), but they prohibit resistance which springs from personal resentment; they do not inculcate indiscriminate charity, but command us to do, without thought of self, whatever is best for those in need. On the same principle, Christ tells us that it is quality, not quantity, that matters. In prayer we are not to ‘use vain repetitions,’ as if we should be heard for our ‘much speaking’ (Matthew 6:7); yet it is to be observed that Christ Himself sometimes spent the whole or the major part of the night in prayer (Luke 6:12, Mark 6:46-48). Men may ‘cast out devils’ and do ‘many mighty works’ in Christ’s name, and yet be no true followers of His (Matthew 7:22-23). The widow who cast a farthing into the treasury was doing a greater thing than those who brought rich offerings (Mark 12:41-44 ||).

Love to God is the first commandment; love to man is included in it, as the less in the greater. The motive which makes the service of men righteous in the highest sense is that it should be done for Christ’s sake (Mark 9:41, Matthew 10:42; Matthew 18:5), or, in other words, in order that men ‘may glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). We must really lose ourselves before we can find our true selves (Matthew 16:25 etc.); i.e. self-development is included in the end, but it can never come through selfishness. The Christian’s paradise is not like the Mohammedan’s; the reward of self-denying toil in Christ’s service is more toil (Luke 19:17). The Lord’s Prayer opens, not with petition, but with adoration and thanksgiving; and petition must be qualified with the thought, ‘nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done’ (Luke 22:42).

Thus one important aspect of love is filial trust, or faith in God. But this faith is certainly not intellectual in essence. Without love it is void and empty (Matthew 7:22 f.). It is the faith which seeks God’s kingdom and His righteousness first, and makes the daily toil for the material necessaries of life subordinate to these, in its calm certitude that God will give sufficient for our needs. But how, it may be asked, are we to win such faith as this? Partly by contemplation of God’s love in Nature (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:26-30, Luke 12:24-32); partly by the evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Matthew 16:8-10; Matthew 28:19-20 etc.); partly by turning into earnest prayer the measure of faith that we have (cf. Mark 9:23-24); and partly by loving service of our brother men in all humility (see Luke 17:5-10).

Again, as love for mankind is incomplete except when based on love for God, so is love for God an idle sentimentality unless it is realized by the service of men. ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). This is set forth in detail in the picture of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Here the test of men is whether they gave food, drink, and shelter to strangers and to those who were needy, or sick, or outcast. For the ‘Golden Rule,’ which sums up ‘the Law and the Prophets,’ is, ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also to them’ (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). Nor is any man to be outside the pale of a Christian’s love. To the scribe’s question, ‘Who is my neighbour?,’ Christ replies by a parable, in which a Samaritan is represented as doing for one of his traditional enemies, the Jews, what the priest and Levite of the man’s own race had left undone (Luke 10:29 ff.). So He abolishes the Jewish belief that ‘neighbour’ includes only those of one’s own race. And His last words on earth lay before His Apostles their duty of teaching all nations (Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, cf. Mark 16:15). He uses also the term ‘brother’ in a no less catholic sense, in all probability, though He never explicitly tells His disciples that they are to consider all men as brethren (see Matthew 7:3; Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:21, Luke 17:3-4). The teaching of the parable of the Prodigal Son is still more emphatic on this point. It is also true that He uses the word ‘brother’ in a narrower sense, to denote specially the man, whoever he is, that does the will of God (Mark 3:35 ||). See art. Brotherhood.

It was the simplicity and the ‘inwardness’ of this supreme test of righteousness by love that were to make Christ’s ‘yoke easy’ (Matthew 11:30), in contrast with the ‘heavy burdens’ imposed on men’s shoulders by the externalism and endless rules of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:4). He said, ‘Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3-4, cf. Mark 9:35); and He called the scribes and Pharisees ‘children of hell’ (Matthew 23:15)—a term which he never applies even to the publican or the harlot—because He found in their self-exaltation and censoriousness (cf. Luke 18:11, Matthew 23:5-10) the very antithesis of the meekness and humility which were to Him the essence of righteousness (Matthew 11:29; Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 17:7-10). His mission, He says, is not to the self-righteous, but to the man conscious of his sin (Matthew 9:13 ||, cf. Luke 15:7). To the Pharisee ceremonial was everything, the spirit of action nothing (Matthew 23:25-26); to Him the ceremonial was useless unless carried out in the spirit of love (Matthew 5:23-25), and the rule of law must always give way to the rule of love (cf. His treatment of Sabbath-observance, Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:5). Therefore He said, ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:20).

This leads us to speak briefly of His treatment of the Mosaic Law. He made a rule of observing it, but never in a literal, slavish manner. In everything He acted on the principle that ‘the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:28). He yielded to authority (cf. Mark 12:17 ||, Luke 17:14, Matthew 17:27). except when doing so meant the violation of a higher law (see Matthew 23:3). The Law was to Him sound in principle, but not perfect. His work in respect to it was not revolutionary, but evolutionary (Matthew 5:17-20). Not ‘a jot or tittle’ of its underlying principles was to perish; and the man who should ‘break’ (λύσῃ in Matthew 5:19 picks up καταλῦσαι in Matthew 5:17; cf. John 7:23) them would be acting against Christ’s command.* [Note: This passage has caused such difficulties to the commentators that some of them have declared it inconsistent with Christ’s teaching, and have held that He never said these words (cf. Hastings’ DB, Ext. Vol. p. 24f.). But that John 7:18 really applies to the principles of the Law, and not its letter, is surely proved by the addition of John 7:20, where the scribes and Pharisees are denounced as having broken it while seeming to ‘hedge it round.’]

On the other hand, He gives new and deeper applications to the laws of Moses, as in the case of the law of murder (Matthew 5:21 ff.). He does not hesitate to add new restrictions to it, as in the case of the laws of adultery, false swearing, and retaliation (Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:33; Matthew 5:38); and He definitely abrogates a law of Moses when He declares all meats clean (Mark 7:15-19).

In connexion with the question of Christ’s relation to the Law, there is one passage which calls for special mention—Matthew 3:15, where, in answer to the Baptist’s protest against baptizing Him, He says: ‘Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ We are sometimes told that δικαιοσύνη is here equivalent to the ceremonial law; but this cannot be so, inasmuch as there was no ceremonial law about baptism. Nor did baptism mean the same to Him as to most who underwent it. To them the ceremony selected by John brought assurance of forgiveness of sins, but no conscious outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2-3); to Him it brought no forgiveness of sins, but a visible descent of the Spirit. For He never, all His life through, raised Himself above the ordinary human dependence on outward act and form, as His use of symbolic action and the institution of the two Sacraments show us. By δικαιοσύνη, then, in this passage, He clearly means the general use of outward religious ritual current at His time, and He makes this the occasion of receiving spiritual power.

(e) The communication of Christ’s righteousness to His followers.—It would be going beyond the limits of this article to discuss the method of Justification and Sanctification (see sep. artt.), as represented in the Synoptic writers; it only remains to show the place they give to the facts which these words represent (even though it is impossible entirely to separate method and fact). We have seen that Christ claimed a unique knowledge of the Father and a unique power of revealing Him to man (Matthew 11:27 ||),—a revelation which He consistently represented as possible only through love. Nor was this power to fail at His death. As their risen Lord He would always be with His disciples, to pour upon them power from on high (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:48-49). He was now to fulfil the Baptist’s prophecy that He should baptize them with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:1-13). The Holy Spirit, representing the risen Christ (Matthew 28:20), was to give them the righteousness which should, by God’s love, fit them for the Kingdom of heaven,—righteousness growing with their growing love and faith, which were to be its essence. Christ distinctly took His stand on the appeal to morality. Works were to be the necessary outcome of true love (Matthew 7:21 etc.). When He says, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be tilled’ (Matthew 5:6), He does not mean in the next world only, but in this also. Indeed, throughout His teaching, the life to come is treated as an orderly development of this life. He speaks, on the one hand, of the Kingdom of heaven as already come in some measure,—‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21, cf. Luke 6:20; Luke 11:20), and it is to come with more marked power still within the lifetime of some of His disciples (Mark 9:1 ||). Yet, on the other hand, its consummation is not for this life, but for the life to come (Matthew 25:34, Mark 14:25 = Luke 22:18 = Matthew 26:29). So Christ taught His disciples to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ i.e. in ever more and more fulness until the end (συντέλεια). Meanwhile (as is everywhere implied, and nowhere stated) God sees each member of the Kingdom not as he is, but as he is becoming ‘in Christ,’ and treats him as a son for his faith and love.

2. St. John.—When we turn to the Johannine writings, we pass into a new atmosphere. We are no longer dealing so much with the outer activities of Christ’s life in its earthly setting. St. John had pondered through long years and with deep reverence over the inner meaning of that life. To him Christ was primarily the λόγος, the revelation of the eternal nature of the Father, though it had been given them to touch and see Him in earthly form. Consequently we have a series of sayings unlike anything in the first three Gospels: ‘God is Spirit’ (John 4:24), ‘God is Light’ (1 John 1:5), ‘God is Love’ (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). So the thought of righteousness as a Divine attribute is peculiarly developed in St. John. It is parallel to his favourite use of ἀλήθεια, which he treats almost as a synonym for ἁγιωσύνη, representing the less active side of righteousness (cf. ποιεῖν τὴν ἀλήθειαν in John 3:21 and 1 John 1:6 with ποιεῖν τὴν δικαιοσύνην in 1 John 3:7). So in John 8:32-34 ‘the truth shall make you free … but he that doeth sin is a slave.’ Again, the conception of the Kingdom becomes in St. John the thought of life eternal; and the latter in Jn., as the former in the Synoptists, is spoken of, now as a present possession (John 3:36), now as that which shall be fully bestowed only in the next life (John 12:25).

Thus the thought of righteousness as a Divine attribute meets us at every turn, and its explicit mention not infrequently. δίκαιος εἶ, cries the angel to the Eternal in the Apocalypse (Revelation 16:5, where the thought is chiefly of His sternness to the wicked [cf. Revelation 15:3, Revelation 16:7, Revelation 19:2] in delivering His saints). Πατὴρ δίκαιε are Christ’s own words in prayer (John 17:25), where the thought is primarily of God’s gracious mercy and faithfulness in revealing His love to His chosen ones. δίκαιος occurs again in 1 John 1:9 in a similar sense of ‘true to his loving nature.’ ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ In exactly the same way righteousness is predicated of Christ throughout as One who is consistent in His mercy to the penitent, and loving in His necessary sternness to the obdurate. ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1); ‘They that have done good (shall come forth) unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ill, unto the resurrection of judgment.… My judgment is righteous’ (John 5:29 f.). Yet ‘I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me … the word that I spake … shall judge him in the last day’ (John 12:47-48). Christ, that is to say, seeks but to save the wicked, in His love for them; but if they will not have His mercy, they are self-doomed.

The Divine part throughout is that of absolute love: ‘God is love,’—that sums Him up in a word; and that is the newness of the Christian teaching (John 13:34, John 15:12) which transforms the notion of what makes goodness in deed. Our whole duty is to love God, which involves obedience to Him (1 John 5:3), and is declared to be the only means of knowing Him (1 John 4:7). The love of God necessarily carries with it the love of man (1 John 4:11-12; 1 John 4:20); it is the love of God, shown by sending His Son to die for the world, which teaches us to love other men (1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10), and the one love must be as catholic as the other (cf. John 12:32). Elsewhere, in emphasizing the inwardness of all true righteousness, Christ shows that it depends on God’s nature as Spirit. ‘God is Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24). And the corollary is that true worship is independent of locality and ceremonial (John 4:21),—though this is not to be taken as implying that all ceremonial may be safely cast aside.

But it is by developing Christ’s teaching about the second or spiritual birth that St. John especially marks both the essential inwardness and the continuous growth of righteousness. The locus classicus for this is the Lord’s discourse given in John 3:3-21, where the eternal life given by the second birth is brought into immediate relation with His own pre-existence and resurrection (John 3:13-16). This chapter is illustrated in the First Epistle, where he writes:

‘Every one that loveth is begotten of God’ (1 John 4:7).

‘Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God’ (1 John 5:1).

‘If ye know that he (probably Christ) is righteous, ye know that everyone also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him’ (1 John 2:29).

But here we notice a further point. Christ ‘was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not …’; the righteous man is ‘he that doeth righteousness, … even as he is righteous.… Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God’ (1 John 3:5-9). At first sight this seems inconsistent with 1 John 1:8-9, where the Apostle tells us, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins …’ Clearly, in the former passages, sin is thought of as a lasting state of rebellion against God; in the latter, it is treated rather as an act due to weakness. He that is born of God cannot deliberately rebel against God, as long as the new life is in him; cf. John 13:10 ‘Ye are clean, but not all’ (Christ excepts only Judas, John 13:11); John 15:3 ‘Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you’; for, as He goes on to say, this cleanliness of heart comes from the union of Himself with the disciple, effected by love. ‘Abide in me and I in you.… He that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:4 f., cf. John 17:21; John 17:23). Here we have explicitly stated what is implicit in the Synoptic Gospels, namely, that only by the union of love with the risen Christ (cf. John 8:31-32, John 15:13-15) can we do righteousness, receiving more and more of ‘his fulness … and grace for grace’ (John 1:16), having already in us the eternal life which is to be consummated at the last day (cf. John 17:3, John 20:31). This is the general meaning of John 16:8-10. ‘(The Holy Spirit), when he is come, will convict the world in respect of … righteousness … because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more’; that is to say, the Holy Spirit will not only reveal Christ’s righteousness to the world, but will show men the infinite possibilities which are theirs in union with Him, because Christ is henceforth alive for evermore with the Father, having conquered death and sin. All this implies, what St. Paul explains so fully, that God sees us as we are becoming ‘in Christ,’ rather than as we are; but St. John does not analyze forgiveness as St. Paul does, and throughout he looks rather at the eternal fact than the temporal process.

3. St. Paul.—In St. Paul’s Epistles δίκαιος generally bears the same meaning as elsewhere in the NT, and so is associated with ὅσιος and ἅγιος (cf. Titus 1:8, Romans 7:12). However, once at least he seems to revert almost unconsciously to the Pharisaic idea of the δίκαιος as one who conforms to law; for in Romans 5:7 he apparently differentiates between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘good’ (ἀγαθός) man in much the same way as the Gnostics afterwards called the God of the OT ‘righteous’ (meaning ‘just’), and the God of the NT ‘good.’ This is not his usual custom, however; indeed, in Ephesians 5:9 he couples ἀγαθωσύνη and δικαιοσύνη; and in Romans 7:12 he puts δικαία between ἁγία and ἀγαθή.

In Romans 14:17 St. Paul tells us that ‘the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,’—words which remind us of St. Matthew. But, unlike the First Gospel, he often speaks of the righteousness of God. In the years which preceded his conversion, he had known all the suffering of a sensitive man who feels that, in spite of all his desire to keep God’s law, he is constantly breaking it in act, and generally failing to live up to the spirit of it. The salvation of his life had come to him in the conviction that God takes the will for the deed, and that in union with the risen Christ the human will is kept constantly true. This is the truth that he has to work out intellectually in his Epistles. And he begins by showing that Christ had not lowered the standard of God’s righteousness to meet human weakness, but raised it (cf. Romans 3:21-26). God is and must be true to His righteous nature; He is the righteous judge who will reward those who serve Him and punish those who do not. It is not the fact of God’s righteousness that has been abolished by Christianity, but the old standard of service. This comes out very clearly in Romans 10. Israel, he says, were ignorant of God’s righteousness (though they knew God’s law, Romans 10:3), for ‘Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness unto every one that hath faith’ (Romans 10:4). The Jew had thought that he must ‘ascend into heaven’ or ‘descend into the abyss,’ that is, make superhuman efforts to keep the Law. But the righteousness which is of faith saith, ‘… The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach.’ ‘For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (Romans 10:6-10). It is not keeping the Law in act that God demands so much as ‘faith working through love’ (Galatians 5:6); ‘the end of the charge is love out of … faith unfeigned’ (1 Timothy 1:5). ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Galatians 5:14, cf. Romans 13:8). Without love, the most wonderful of God’s other gifts—even faith itself—or the most perfect acts of self-devotion, are vain and empty (1 Corinthians 13:1-3): love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13), though it necessarily contains faith (1 Corinthians 13:7). Thus Mosaism is ἡ διακονία τῆς κατακρίσεως, but Christianity ἡ διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης (2 Corinthians 3:9). God, ‘the righteous judge,’ shall give the crown of righteousness (i.e. perfect righteousness as a reward; cf. τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς, Revelation 2:10, James 1:12) to all them that have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

So St. Paul, though he constantly emphasizes the truth that ‘faith is counted for righteousness’ (Romans 4:5 etc.), never means by faith merely an intellectual belief, but that faith which is part of love, i.e. a response of the whole personality to God. Therefore it is obviously quite unfair to represent his doctrine of justification by faith as entailing a legal fiction. The faith and the love must be actual in the believer, and must issue in action (Romans 2:13), and as they grow, so must action become more perfect; it is not the action, however, that constitutes righteousness in God’s sight, but the faith and love. God views us sub specie aeternitatis: He looks on us as we shall be some day by virtue of our union with Christ. St. Paul puts forward, in different language, the truth which St. John expresses by saying that the man who is begotten of God cannot sin. As the believer beholds through faith ‘the glory of the Lord,’ he is ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ is the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-15); we are, by the mysterious union of love, ‘in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us righteousness and sanctification’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). We may ‘become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). ‘I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me’ (Philippians 4:13). Sometimes St. Paul’s language touches that of St. John: ‘If Christ is in you … (your) spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10; cf. the opposition of θάνατος and δικαιοσύνη in Romans 6:16; cf. also ‘reigning in life,’ Romans 5:17, where χάριτος—God’s gracious gift—is coupled with δικαιοσύνης).

4. The rest of the NT.—The other books of the NT present few new features which call for notice here. The Epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes Christ’s absolute righteousness, in order to show Him as the one sufficient Victim and High Priest. He is ‘the effulgence of (God’s) glory and the very image of his substance’ (Hebrews 1:3). The Psalmist’s words apply to Him uniquely, ‘Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity’ (Hebrews 1:9). He was ‘in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). He is the ‘king of righteousness’ (Hebrews 7:2). With regard to His work for His followers, the writer of the Epistle usually employs the words ἁγιάζω and τελειόω. He exhorts his readers to have ‘experience of the word of righteousness,’ that is, ‘to press on unto perfection (τελειότης), not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment’ (Hebrews 5:13 and Hebrews 6:1-2). This perfection comes only through Christ (Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:19); He is the risen High Priest, who ‘ever liveth to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:25, cf. Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 6:19-20). His blood purges us ‘from dead works to serve the living God’ (Hebrews 9:14). ‘By one offering he hath perfected for ever (i.e. potentially) them that are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14). Therefore we must ‘follow after the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). The Epistle bases our sanctification on love through faith, just as St. Paul does (Hebrews 3:19 with Hebrews 4:2). The OT heroes wrought all their great deeds through faith (ch. 11); but faith could not


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Righteous, Righteousness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/r/righteous-righteousness.html. 1906-1918.

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