UNDERSTANDING PAUL

What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase the righteousness of God? Is he writing about God imputing his own righteousness to us as his people?

Understanding is the most important element which is missing within the narrative of Romans. Understanding Paul is what we need in our community but some scholars see Paul to be radical and also controversial figure. In recent times, a large number of accusations against him have meant that many find him difficult to like, and one can understand Paul depending on the information he/she has receive and studied. The book of Acts provides historical record for knowing the Apostle Paul. Romans were written by Paul probably from Corinth on his third missionary journey. Paul intended to stop in Rome on his way to Spain to preach the Gospel. Paul got to Rome by way of his arrest and appeal to Caesar which was not the way he anticipated. Romans was written in anticipation of Paul’s visit and to presents an orderly, comprehensive, systematic, doctrinal explanation of the Gospel and how to appropriate and apply its truth by faith.

The theme of Romans has to do with the righteousness of God and how humanity can obtain and live in the righteousness of God. Each major division of Romans contributes to our understanding of the righteousness of God. “Many know that Romans is his greatest Letter. Some may even have heard of the powerful effect this letter has had, over again, in the history of the church: great figures like Augustine, Luther and Barth have studied it and come back with a fresh and challenging word from God” (Wright, 2004, p1)

Paul, who introduces himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle for the gospel of Christ. “The description is more striking in a Greek work, such as this epistle, than in Semitic literature. A Greek did not think of himself as the slave of his ruler or king, nor did he think of himself as the slave of his divine king, or god, or speak of his service to the god as slavery.” (Barrett, 1991, p17) Paul writes to the Christian in Rome to strengthen and support them. Paul sets out his purpose and then declares that he is under obligation to preach the Gospel to Jew and Gentile. “The Gospel means salvation for everyone who has faith, but it was delivered to the Jew first, and then the Gentile too” (Barrett, 1991, p29)

The word “righteousness” dikaiosunh takes on the different meanings in the scripture. A   moral sense is often present, of being right, uprightness. A covenantal sense is at all time present where being right in the eyes of God entails a person’s compliant covenant standing and therefore, by implication, their right to access the covenant blessing of God.

God’s righteousness is said to be revealed (Romans 1:17) and manifested (Romans 3:21).

Hence, it is argued that God’s righteousness is an effective work of God that cannot be limited to a mere declaration, for it includes the entire creation and not just the individual. What God declares becomes reality since he is the redeemer and the creator of the world

Righteousness is not a concept we encounter frequently. Righteousness is the ability to stand in the presence of God without condemnation, guilt or shame. “The righteousness of God refers to his faithfulness to the covenant implied in creation and is an apocalyptic term describing God’s promised activity in setting his rebellious creation to rights” (Barrett, 1991, p31) If man was to be restored to perfect fellowship with the father, God righteousness must be given to him. All sin consciousness, sense of unworthiness, and inferiority must be eliminated from man’s spirit and mind. With God given righteousness, one can stand in the presence of God without condemnation, guilt or shame. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen. It is God who justifies (Romans 8:1, 33) Paul discovered his personal identify for the purpose of winning to Jesus Christ his Lord.

Righteousness includes the idea of God doing what is right, what is just, what is fair, and what is morally upright; Justice, fairness, and uprightness are built into the idea of righteousness. The gospel shows that God is just, fair, and right. The Old Testament speaks about God’s righteousness in relation to bring salvation to his people.

The phrase, the righteousness of God appears 8 times in (Romans: 1:17, 3; 5, 21, 25, 26) and twice in (Romans10:3) God righteousness is revealed in the gospel. It is important to understand that Paul is talking about God’s righteousness, for in the gospel righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written. The righteous will live by faith. This is not righteousness or it is a righteousness coming from God? Nothing in this context suggests that we are taking about righteousness coming from God. Rather, this is God’s righteousness. We will be able to understand this better if one view the text, otherwise (Roman 3:21-26) and (Roman 9:11) will be problematic and it will not make sense. Righteous in the context can mean something like faithfully within God’s covenant people. Something God gives us, He makes us righteous or upright, and something God declares about us, He declares that we are righteous.

Throughout the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, the righteous and the wicked are found side by side in Israel and other nations. The two are distinguished by their deed and whether one is righteous or wicked, it is God who can judge the world. The contrast Paul frequently draws between righteousness and the sin is that, what one ought to do and what one not to do. The claim that all are under the power of sin (Roman3:9) is confirmed by the scriptural declaration that not a single person is righteous. If one would scarcely die for a person who is righteous how much more astounding is it that Christ died for sinners (Roman 5:7-8).

Righteousness, then, for Paul as the rest of Scripture, frequently means what one ought to do. Romans 1:18-32, where he elaboration on a charge of unrighteousness (adikia) brought against all humanity (Romans1:18) for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness suppress the truth.

According to Romans 2, God will one day judge all according to their deeds, those Jews and non Jews who have done what is good will be granted eternal life, and those Jews and non Jews who have done evil will face tribulation and distress (Romans 2:5-11). The law is introduced in (Romans 2:12). Those who possess it will be judged by it; those without the law will be judged without reference to its provisions. But what the law requires of all human beings, as spelled out in the immediately preceding verses. If 2:6-11 restates the same principle in it claim that the doers of the law will be justified or declared righteous. Paul want on showing that Jews and Gentiles will be judged by the same criterion, insists that this is not the case. Gentiles too, he notes, do things that the law commands, and whenever they do so, they show that they too are aware of what the law requires. It has been written on their hearts (2:14-15; cf. 1:32). Hence, Gentiles know less than the Jews are required to be doers of the Law if they are to be found righteous on the day of Judgment (2:13).

Paul’s point has often been missed because of the confusion provoked by his reference to Gentiles who do what the law requires (2:14). Paul wants to show that Gentiles and Jews are subject to the same criterion of judgment, even though Jews, but not Gentiles who possess the law. Assuming that what the law requires is the goodness expected of every human being, Paul insists that Gentiles too are aware of their obligation. Circumcision is introduced into the discussion in (Romans 25:29); the same point is being made. The only circumcision that matters in the end is the spiritual circumcision shown by those whether or not they are physically circumcision who actually does what the law commands. Paul posits the various possibilities, a circumcised Jew who keeps the law. In no case is it part of Paul’s argument to affirm that there are individual who fill each category. His point is that keeping the law is what matters for Jews and Gentiles. Paul finds in the law a statement of requirements of goodness incumbent on all humanity.

The same understanding is implicit elsewhere in Romans. To support his claim that the law itself is good, Paul notes in (Romans 7) that what the law commands is holy and just (dikaia) and good (Roman 7:12). He means not that conduct otherwise neutral becomes just and good when the law commands it, but that behavior that is righteous and good is spelled out in the law. The fundamental principle of the righteousness of the law is that the doers of the law will be justified. That no one meets the requirement in it effect, the requirement itself stands firm. The righteousness that comes from the law, showing (Romans 2:13) that doing what the law commands is the path to being recognized as righteous in God’s eyes.

Paul responds, however, not by arguing against the importance of particular demands of the law, by insisting that the law itself requires obedience to its demands, can hardly serve as a path to righteousness for sinners who have broken its requirements. Rather, it encounters them as a curse, confining them under the power of sin until God’s redemption in Christ is revealed (Romans 3:21-26). The righteousness that comes from the law is introduced in (Romans 10) only after the point has repeatedly been made those mankinds do not submit to God law (3:10-18; 7:7-25; 8:7-8). Paul thinks that the righteousness of the law is of no use to sinners and should not be pursued now that God has revealed the righteousness of faith. But the path itself he finds articulated in scripture, and he equates its underlying principle with the divine demand for righteous behavior on the part of all humanity.

Before I turn to what Paul says about the righteousness of faith, something should be said about his portrayal of the Jewish path to righteousness. Did Jews not see their place in the covenant, rather than their observance of the law, as securing their salvation? Has Paul not distorted Judaism by detaching the Mosaic Law’s own provisions for atonement of transgressions? Nevertheless, the following point may be noted. As mentioned above, entrance into the covenant was not thought to make Jews righteous. Righteousness and enjoyment of life in God’s favor required submission to its commands. If Deuteronomy thinks those who are already God’s people nonetheless face the choice of life or death depending on their willingness to obey God’s commands, then the second Temple Jewish sources repeatedly distinguish the righteous from the wicked among Jews themselves on the same basis, and it is righteous who will enter life. This, as I have seen was Paul’s position too. Paul could not have believed that the Mosaic provisions for atonement remained in effect once Christ had died for the sins of humankind. Presumably, he thought that such rites were symbolic from the start, mere adumbrations of the sacrifice of Christ, which alone was effective in atoning for sins (Romans 3:24-26). But there is more to be said. The mosaic sacrifices for atonement were not thought to be effective unless accompanied by repentance on the part of the transgressor. But Paul who thought that the mindset of the flesh is at enmity with God could hardly have thought unredeemed humanity capable of true repentance (Romans 8:5-8).What Paul says about the righteousness of faith in Romans follows naturally from his understanding f the righteousness of the Law. Here we can only note five og its aspects. In the ordinary use of the terms, righteousness is what one ought to do and the righteous are those who do it. That Paul was not so obtuse as to have missed the point is apparent not only from his frequent usage of righteousness terminology in its ordinary sense, but also from his insistence on the extraordinary and paradoxical nature of the righteousness that God now offers the unrighteous. Those who are justified declared righteous by God grace as a gift in (Romans3:23) are precisely those who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in (Romans 3:23). Those declared righteous in 4:5 are the ungodly. In Rom 5:9, those who have now been declared righteous are the ungodly of v.6, the sinners of v.8, the enemies of God of v.10. The many that are made righteous by Christ’s obedience in 5:19 are the same many that were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience. They are the recipients of an abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.

Modern scholars of Paul have also been made abundantly aware that what provoked Paul’s discussion of justification by faith was the issue of whether Gentile believers needed to submit to the Jewish Law. And contemporary scholarship has rightly reminded us that the resolution of that issue had wide ranging implication for the missionary outreach of the church and the day to day life of its adherents. In the end, however, it remains the case that Paul’s response to the first century crisis focused not on the ethnocentrism of those who advocated adherence to particular statutes of the Law, but on the inability of the law itself to secure from sinners the obedience it required. The message of justification by faith pertains in the first place not to how Gentile may be included in the Jewish covenant but to how sinners Jews and Gentiles alike who are threatened by God’s wrath may enjoy God’s approval. That apparently without reference to issues raised by the Jewish law was the essence of Paul’s missionary message to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians. In propounding for the Galatians, Philippians, and Romans, justification that is by faith rather than by the work of the law. “Paul had manifested his righteousness by establishing man’s status of righteousness before God was to be achieved by himself, through obedience to the law. As a Christian, he had come to believe that God, gracious as Jesus had shown him to be, justified men freely on the basis not of works done in obedience to the law but of faith”[1]

Rev Samuel F Sarpong

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