Book: Beliefs and Doctrines of the New Testament Church

The Righteousness of the Law

God is both Creator and Lawgiver. When God created mankind, He also established righteous laws that govern man’s relationship with Him and with his fellowman. The laws of God draw a clear line between actions that are good and righteous in God’s eyes as opposed to acts that are evil and sinful. Without God’s laws, there would be no sin. The Scriptures declare that “where there is no law there is no sin....for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The Biblical record of the sins of Adam and Eve, and the nations that descended from them, makes it clear that God’s laws have been obligatory upon mankind from the beginning.

In Old Testament times, a man or woman who kept the commandments of God, fulfilling His requirements in the letter of the law, was counted righteous before God. This type of righteousness, which was earned by doing the works of the law, brought many physical and material blessings from God—health and prosperity, deliverance from enemies, peace and long life. When God covenanted with Israel, He proclaimed through Moses that those who kept His laws and commandments “shall live in them” because they would be spared the punishment and curses that were appointed for lawbreakers—including death by capital punishment.

Although the righteousness of the law resulted in many blessings to the obedient, fulfilling the letter of the law did not and could not earn eternal salvation. The promise of salvation and eternal life is God's free and undeserved gift and is offered only through the righteousness of faith. The required righteousness of the letter of the law was a “schoolmaster” or tutor to reveal the sinfulness and weakness of human nature and to point to the need for a better righteousness—the righteousness of faith.

Scriptural References

Gen. 3:11-13; 4:7-11 Gen. 6:5-13; 15:16 Lev. 18:5
Jer. 18:7-10 Ezek. 20:11, 13, 21 Prov. 4:4
Deut. 28:1-13 Deut. 4:1-13; 6:1-4 Gal. 3:11
Rom. 10:5 Rom. 3:9-22; 4:13-16 Rom. 2:11-13

The Righteousness of Faith

The righteousness of faith is the gift of righteousness, which the believer receives through the abundance of the Father’s grace. It is called “the righteousness of faith” because only through the faith of Jesus Christ is it possible to partake of this righteousness. When a believer is justified by faith in Jesus Christ and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit as a begettal from God the Father, the Father imputes to the believer the very righteousness of Jesus Christ so that “grace might reign through righteousness into eternal life, through Jesus Christ.” This imputed righteousness is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ and cannot be earned by doing works of law. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to the believer by God the Father, far exceeds the righteousness required by the letter of the law. In His perfect righteousness, Jesus Christ not only observed the letter of the law but also fulfilled every one of His Father’s commandments in the full spirit of the law. His spiritual obedience was so perfect, pure and wholehearted that He always did those things that pleased God the Father. This perfect righteousness was accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, which He received without measure from the Father.

By His personal example and His teachings, Jesus magnified the laws and commandments of God and revealed the fullness of their intent and meaning. He showed that the spirit of the law does not nullify the letter of the law but requires a fuller, spiritual obedience. This spiritual obedience is beyond the capability of the natural mind and human will and can only be accomplished through Jesus Christ. The Scriptures reveal that when the believer is begotten with the Holy Spirit of God the Father, he or she begins to receive the very mind of Christ. With Christ’s mind, the believer is strengthened to live by every word of God in the full spirit of the law, not just in the letter. With “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” the believer begins to have the laws and commandments of God written upon his or her mind. Thus the laws and commandments of God are established with their full, true spiritual meaning through grace and the gift of the righteousness of faith. This gift of spiritual righteousness, which God grants to the believer, gives him or her the power to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit unto eternal life. Through the righteousness of faith, the believer is truly fulfilling the Scripture, “The just shall live by faith.”

Rom. 4:3-8, 13-24 Rom. 5:17-21 Rom. 3:20-31
Rom. 6:1-19 Gal. 2:20-21 Gal. 5:16, 18, 22-25
Col. 1:27-28 Rom. 7:6 Heb. 8:10
Heb. 10:16 Phil. 2:5, 13