Read: Numbers 23
We really have to understand what righteousness is, if we are to appreciate this profit of faith.
Righteousness is different from holiness. When God created Adam in His own image, He created him in the true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness.
Holiness has to do with the moral character of one’s nature. God is holy, because His divine essence is without the least blemish or moral spot. We are holy when our natures are without the corruption and depravity of sin.
Righteousness has to do with our activity.
God is righteous because everything He does is perfectly in harmony with the holiness of His divine nature. We are righteous when everything we do is in keeping with a holy nature we possess.
By “everything we do,” I mean our thoughts, our desires, our emotions, as well as our words and deeds. When all these things reveal a holy nature, then we are righteous.
But, as you well know, our natures are not holy. They are not holy in any aspect. They are corrupt, depraved, morally dead, incapable of doing any good. And because our natures are in no way holy, we cannot do anything right. We are unrighteous. Every thought, desire, word, deed and emotion is wrong. They are contrary to God’s will. They deserve the punishment of death.
The righteousness of which the text speaks is the righteousness God gives us by His grace. That is, God declares that all His people have no sin, all that they do is perfectly in harmony with His law and His own divine being, and they are, therefore, heirs of eternal life.
We must be clear on what this means. Martin Luther used a Latin expression, Justus simul peccator. This Latin expression means that we are found to be just, while we are, in our lives, sinners. It is like a judge pronouncing a murderer to have never committed the crime of murder, even though he was found guilty of the crime and even though he confessed it to be true.
The clearest instance of this is found in Numbers 23:21. You will recall the history.
Israel was just east of the Jordan River, on the Eastern boundary of Canaan. The nation was camped in a valley. To the south was a high plateau, which was occupied by Moab. Balak was king of Moab, and frightened by the nation of Israel. And so he hired Balaam, a prophet out of Mesopotamia, to come and curse Israel, for Balak knew that if Balaam cursed Israel, they would never be a threat to him.
Balaam tried to curse, but could only bless. Finally, Balak, in despair, took Balaam to a place where only the outer fringes of Israel’s camp could be seen. It was Israel at its very worst, where the mixed multitude was camped.
What did Balaam say? “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel:” That was all Balaam could say.
That is what it means to be righteous before God.