The Righteousness Of God In Romans

By Alfred Bouter

After beginning the letter with a brief introduction (Rom. 1:1-15), the apostle Paul presented his major thesis to his readers in Rome. It is about God’s message of good news and His power for salvation (vv.16-17). Paul wrote: “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (v.17 NKJV). This short but important statement says something about God, His spoken and written Word, and how individuals receive them.

The message Paul was called to pass along implies that God is always right,1 or just, whether in His person what He is in Himself, the triune God or in what He says and does. In other words, in God’s plans, actions, governmental dealings and communications, He is 100% right. Therefore when God declares the sinner guilty and to be condemned, He is right. As the Creator, He set the rules and is perfectly just in His demands; and He is uniquely qualified to judge.

In his speech to the Greek leaders in Athens (Acts 17:22-31), the apostle showed that the only true God is:

  • The Creator,
  • Sustainer,
  • Ruler of the universe (even in control of human history),
  • The Savior-God, and
  • The supreme Judge.

This passage, which I suggest that you read, addresses man’s need to believe in response to what God says. It implies the necessity of faith and confidence in Him. All these matters, and more, are discussed in detail in the book of Romans, an epistle that can be called “a treatise2 about God and His righteousness.”

Some Background
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, describes God’s magnificent creation and man’s special relationship with God (Gen. 1-2). Soon afterwards, much was destroyed by Satan’s successful attack with subtle lies, as well as through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and subsequent fall into sin (Gen. 3). This had consequences for the entire human race and its immediate and ultimate history, but God was not without resources. He brought a sacrifice, an innocent substitute that took Adam and Eve’s place. They both believed God, who, before driving them out of the garden in His righteous judgment (v.24), clothed them with the skins of the innocent animal sacrifice (v.21), which was a picture of “the garments of salvation … [and] robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10).

Summary Of Romans
Writing over 4,000 years after the fall, Paul showed that God is right in His verdict that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). However, when someone of fallen humankind turns to God in true repentance and God declares him or her “just,” or “righteous,” God is still right!

Paul developed the theme of righteousness as follows. The entire human race descended from Noah’s three sons, Ham, Japheth and Shem (Gen. 9), and Paul showed that they knew the truth but soon suppressed it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-20). This was not long after God had revealed Himself as the righteous Judge in Noah’s flood. The descendents of Ham (Gen. 10:6-20) are described in Romans 1:21-32, of Japheth (Gen. 10:2-5) in Romans 2:1-16, and of Shem (Gen. 10:21-30; 11:10-32) in Romans 2:17-3:20.

The more one has received, the more responsible he is before God. This principle is demonstrated in the indictment that all are under God’s judgment and condemned, but the harshest terms are used for the Jews, who had descended from Shem. The Jews, as we know from Scripture, were given, or had, the most light.

Here is a brief outline of Romans, besides the preface (1:1-17), the postscript (16:17-24), and the doxology (16:25-27):

  1. Sinful humans need God’s righteousness (1:18-3:20).
  2. God has provided righteousness through Christ’s sacrifice (3:21-26).
  3. Righteousness is received through faith (3:27-4:25).
  4. Righteousness is experienced in the soul (5:1-8:17).
  5. Righteousness is guaranteed in bringing permanent blessing (8:18-39).
  6. Righteousness is seen in God’s sovereignty and ways, without setting aside Israel and human responsibility. This includes God’s dispensational dealings, with important lessons for us (Rom. 9-11).
  7. Righteousness is displayed in transformed lives (Rom. 12-16).

Despite Opposition – A Response Towards God
God’s thoughts are contested by man, and for this reason the apostle introduced rhetorical questions with the words, “What shall we say then?” The answer is obvious each of the seven times (Rom. 3:5, 4:1, 6:1, 7:7, 8:31, 9:14,30).

Paul described the ministry he received from God as an apostle (Rom. 11), but he was also a bondman, an evangelist, a teacher and a priest with respect to those who accept the gospel and get saved. Through him, sinners were led back to God and saved, becoming true worshipers now and for eternity (15:8-21).

This amazing epistle shows God’s righteousness in condemning guilty humans and providing salvation for those who repent, including a work of God to ensure such a response. We should note that God works:

  • For the salvation of the lost in setting them free from the guilt of sin through the blood of Christ (3:20-5:11); from the power of sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection, through a work of the Holy Spirit (5:12-8:10); and from the presence of sin (8:11-39);
  • In those saved and restored to God – there is a formation and sanctification of those set apart for Him. This is illustrated in Israel’s story, past, present and future (9:1-11:36); and
  • With the redeemed ones that they would be instruments of blessing now and forever (Rom. 12-16). The redeemed ones are transformed through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their relationship to God, themselves, each other, earthly governments, believers with different convictions and unbelievers.

In all these details we see God’s saving, sanctifying and transforming power as displayed in those who were “in Adam” and who are now “in Christ.” They become instruments to be used by God for His glory and the benefit of others, always according to God’s righteousness. Those who reject God’s offer of salvation are under condemnation and will suffer eternal damnation, forced to bow the knee (Phil. 2:10); whereas the redeemed ones bow the knee as willing worshipers.

Romans 8
We should pay special attention to this chapter. In seven points we recognize for the believer:

  1. A new position, freedom from judgment – no condemnation (vv.1-4);
  2. A new life, freedom from defeat – victory (vv.5-12);
  3. A new relationship, freedom from fear – liberty of sons (vv.13-17);
  4. A new hope, freedom from despair – living in hope (vv.18-25);
  5. A new help, freedom from helplessness – helped by the Holy Spirit (vv.26-27);
  6. A new knowledge, freedom from adversity – confidence in God (vv.28-30); and
  7. A new assurance, freedom from worry – no separation (vv.31-39).

These verses contain very much. Meditation of every verse brings us to admire the wisdom of our God, His love and compassion – especially the gift of His beloved Son (8:32).

In Romans, Paul was an evangelist, missionary, teacher, prophet and priest. As a prophet, he spoke on God’s behalf to bring people back to Him. Paul’s ministry still brings fruit for God, as many souls are accepting God’s message of salvation even today (15:15-29). In priestly service, through his letter, Paul leads believers to glorify God (Rom. 8:31-39, 11:33-36, 15:9-13, 16:25-27). Are you glorifying Him? GT

1. Romans has many references to God’s “righteousness.” Various terms such as “justification,” the “declaration of righteousness,” “to justify,” “righteous” or “just,” and “justly,” plus words with the opposite meaning like “unrighteous,” “unjust,” and similar ones – are all from the same Greek root. We count 77 occurrences (or references) of words derived from this root in Romans, much more than in any other book of the New Testament.
2. Treatise is defined as “a formal and systematic exposition in writing of the principles of a subject, generally longer and more detailed than an essay” (