Who cares about righteousness anymore? Does God himself not care about evil in the world? When we see the violence and hatred and selfishness done in the world, we might think that. Is God indifference about right and wrong? When we witness a world full of people constantly breaking the law, we might think that. Does God not care about justice? When we experience the many injustices of this world, we may want to think that.
Many people accuse God of injustice: ‘if God exists, then he is horrible’. If not atheists they hold God as the unrighteous one.
Remarkably, one of the clearest descriptions in the Bible of the ‘core message’ of Christianity, found in Romans 3:21-26, is also where the Apostle Paul goes to the very heart of this question. It might not be what you typically think the Gospel message is all about, but the question of the righteousness of God is what Paul’s ‘good news’ in Romans 3 focuses on.
Romans 3:21-26 is all about the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness has been made known: It has been revealed as a combination of three things, his character of righteousness, his gift of a righteous status before him, and his action to save unrighteous people
God’s message about ourselves
The Bible declares that in fact there are multiple ways in which God has revealed himself to humanity. First, he has revealed his power in creation: Creation itself displays his eternal power and nature (Romans 1:19-20). Second, he is always revealing his anger against sinful human society: The evil in society is God making known his anger from heaven against all of humanity; we are unrighteous because we suppress this truth (Romans 1:18-32).
Paul's description of all people, from every culture, from every rank, whether we appear to live good lives or not, whether we live religiously or not, without exception, is that every person is guilty before God, without excuse, and without any defence. Romans 1:18-3:20 gives a terrible picture of humanity, society, individuals - unrighteousness and self-righteousness. We have no hope in ourselves and of ourselves for any escape from the judgment of God. What is more, the Bible declares that every person actually knows this.
God’s message about himself
But in addition to this there is something very special that God has revealed, something new; something God has made known without (apart from) his law that he had given Israel, which we have in the Old Testament (although it is promised in the Old Testament).
And it’s just this: God has made his righteousness known (Romans 3:21).
What is the gospel? What has God made known about himself in Jesus? He has revealed his own righteousness.
The very God who, although revealing his anger from heaven against all our unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), has also come into this world and made known his own righteousness. In a world full of evil whose people boast about our evil, inventing further ways of doing evil, even judging others for the evil things that we actually do too - In this world of unrighteousness, God has now revealed his righteousness (Romans 3:22).
God has done this firstly by coming himself as the righteous one. He came in the person of Jesus. He came into the world as the owner. Because he is the owner, he is the lawgiver. And he came into his world to establish his own righteousness through the man Christ Jesus.
What would you have expected him to do when he came? What do you expect the righteous one from heaven to come and do when he enters this evil world?
The amazing thing is that although Jesus came as the righteous one of God, in his first coming he came not to condemn the unrighteous, but to save them: not to judge, but to bring justification; to die upon a cross for us.
Without the cross, justification of the unjust would be unjustifiable; declaring righteous those who are wicked would be unrighteousness. The only reason God will do it, is because Christ died for the wicked.
Although it is true that God is angry with people because of the offence our sin against him [and this is true because he is perfectly righteous], God gave his own Son to die in our place, and in doing this he gave himself. And in doing so he turned away his own anger against us. And consequently, because of the cross, God can justify wicked people; God can declare to be righteous those who are evil. And he does it through faith alone; this righteousness from God comes to all as a gift who have faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22).
God’s demonstration of himself
The cross, as well as being a great achievement of God, the cross of Jesus is also a demonstration of God. It’s by the cross of Jesus that God has demonstrated his character of justice.
Without the cross God could not be both just and justify the wicked. He could not be righteous at the same time as declaring wicked people to have his righteous status. But on the cross he achieved a right way to do it: He bought people at the right price. He turned aside God’s anger with the right sacrifice. He showed God’s justice with the right demonstration. And therefore he can justify us, who were slaves, angering God and unrighteous. It is his just justification of the unjust: he has justified sins righteously. The cross was his righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous.
It is a way that is worthy of himself as the holy just God, and merciful loving God.
We can only be amazed at the righteousness of God, which is perfectly wise and loving and merciful and just.
This is the gospel; it is God's news about himself: God has made his righteousness known by declaring right those who are not through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Is God unrighteous?
The world is full of evil, but through the gospel we know that God has demonstrated his amazing care by coming into this world and experiencing the greatest evil himself on the cross so that we ourselves can be saved from his righteous anger against not only the evil in this world, but also the evil in our own lives too.
The world is full of unrighteousness, but through the gospel we know that God has demonstrated himself to be the only righteous one at the cross, where he did the greatest right, by taking the punishment for the wrong-doing of the world, so that we who are completely wrong might be given his righteousness.
The world is full of suffering, but through the gospel we know that God has himself has come and suffered the greatest injustice, because he loves us, and in his justice he has provided a just way to justify people.