Belgic Confession, Article 23: Justification: A Declaration of Righteousness
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Romans 3:22: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe ....”
Our short definition of justification is “God’s legal declaration of righteousness.” We need to define and explain righteousness because righteousness is absolutely vital in justification.
Righteousness is conformity to a standard or a norm. The word “righteous” in Scripture means straight, level or even. Something righteous conforms to and is in harmony with a given standard. The opposite of righteous is crooked, twisted, bent or perverse. Thus, the word “iniquity” (one of the words for sin in the Bible) means crookedness or perversity. Scripture says that God is righteous or just. That raises a question: if God is righteous, and righteousness is harmony with a standard, with what standard is God in harmony? The answer is Himself: God is unswervingly committed to Himself as the highest and only standard. There is no higher standard outside of God to which He would have to conform. Therefore, whatever or whoever is in conformity to God’s standard of righteousness is righteous and is declared righteous; and whatever or whoever deviates from God’s standard is unrighteous and is declared unrighteous. It really does not matter if you conform to the standards of society, or even to your own standards. Do you conform to God’s standard?
Clearly we do not, for we are sinners. Therefore it would appear that our justification is impossible.
God is righteous. Therefore He must punish sin and sinners for their unrighteousness. That is one way in which the Bible speaks of righteousness. Martin Luther knew that aspect of God’s righteousness, and it troubled him greatly. He understood that, since God is righteous, He will and must punish all those who do not conform to the standard which God has revealed in His perfect Law. Imagine Luther’s confusion, therefore, when he read in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ … for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith …” Luther could not make sense of this. On the one hand, the Gospel is good news for poor sinners. On the other hand, the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God, which, as Luther understood it, is God’s perfect character according to which He punishes sinners. How could God’s righteousness possibly be good news for sinners?
Luther could have no peace until he understood that the righteousness of God means more than that; and that it is something which God gives to sinners so that they can stand before Him without fear of condemnation. The Belgic Confession has this in mind when it states that “Christ … is our righteousness” (Article 22).
Romans 3 gives the answers to Luther’s problem. There Paul speaks of the righteousness of God again. This righteousness is “manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (v. 21). And, crucially, this righteousness is “unto all and upon all them that believe” (v. 22). The righteousness of God, then, is not merely one of God’s perfect attributes, but something He bestows upon us. It is the righteousness from God, the only righteousness which satisfies the demands of God’s holy Law.
Do you have that righteousness? Believer in Christ, you do!
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.Website: www.limerickreformed.com/
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