Understanding Righteousness

Focus: A thorough study on the Pauline revelation of righteousness.


There have been many ideologies about righteousness among the Christian community. Ask a typical Nigerian Christian, “are you righteous?” and the response would be that of uncertainty. This ought not to be so, even as we shall see in this course, that we are to be certain of our standing with God. Understanding the concept of God’s righteousness would determine how we enjoy our status as believers. Righteousness is the heart of the Christian gospel and no one can be saved except they actually heard and believed it. It means to be in a right standing with God in such a way that there is no friction in the relationship. It is to be free from guilt and blameless in our relationship with God.

In this course, we are going to see “righteousness” under the following as treated in the book of Romans.


  • The Pauline Revelation.
  • The gospel in the old and new testament.
  • The Historical part of the Gospel.
  • The revelation of the Gospel.
  • Righteousness to and on all who believe.
  • Adams sin and Jesus’ Righteousness.
  • Shall we continue to sin?



Romans 1:1

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.

Here we see the writer introducing Himself as a bondservant, and one who is given to the gospel of God. Paul as an apostle, was given the grace to receive revelations (interpretations) by the Spirit for the church. God chose him for this purpose. In the letter to the Galatians, He made it known that the gospel which he preached was not according to men, because he neither received it from man, nor was taught it, but he got it through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). Among all the apostles, Paul was the only one who personalized the gospel calling it “my gospel” (see Romans 2:16, 16:25). We see that Paul was given the grace to reveal the gospel to us and we are to understand. In his letter to the Ephesians, he makes mention of how God in his grace have granted him the revelation. “How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ). So it’s this, God reveals the mystery to Paul, he writes them, we read and partake in what was revealed to him. Even among the apostle, Peter recognize this grace granted to Paul. 2 Peter 3:15 “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you”. Note that the wisdom given to brother Paul was written.

The Pauline revelation has been written for us to study and share in the same. Also we must note that it was concerning salvation that Paul wrote about, hence, the writings of Paul was explaining the mystery of the Lord’s salvation. (God gave apostle Paul wisdom to know the mystery, which is salvation, and the revelation of this mystery has been given to us in form of the epistles. Any subject as touching the salvation of the Lord or the gospel of Christ that was not treated by Paul should be considered as another gospel, which is not another and must be discarded).



“… separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures”

From the above passage, we can see that the gospel of God was talked about by prophets, and what was spoken has a specific place where it can be located – in the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Hagios: it means a consecrated thing, something separated for a particular use (most times God’s use).

Scripture: graphe; a writing or what is written

Holy Scripture would mean separated writings. Hence the prophets spoke and it was documented.

At the time of writing this letter to the Romans the only recognized holy writing where the Old Testament books. So we can conclude that Paul was saying that the Gospel of God was promised by the prophets in the Old Testament books.

Promise afore: proepaggellomai; to announce before time. This shows that the prophets announced before time (we can use “prophecied”) of the gospel of God and their announcement was in the Old Testament writings.

From these, we can conclude that the gospel was in the Old Testament writings as prophecy or a promise but in the New Testament it is a fulfillment. In the Old Testament, the gospel was about what God would do, the New Testament is about what God has done.

It is worthy to note that all references in the New Testament writings that the word “scriptures” was used were about the Old Testament writing or books and that the word only occurs in the New Testament. This is to show that the New Testament were aimed at explaining the Old Testament writings.



Before we go deeper, let’s get to understand in clear terms what the word “gospel” is.

The word “gospel” is a news, a glad tiding, a good news. It’s from the Greek word “Euagepdion”. That is “eu”, the good, and aggelos, an angel. We look at the word angel in English, of course we start thing beings with wings and things like that, which is wrong, because the word aggelos means a herald, a reporter. How did news about great historic events get distributed back in those days? Via an herald, or messenger. That is, everybody is back in the town because they know there’s being fought miles away, so they’re behind the barricades. They don’t know what’s going to happen. The news only gets to the people via an herald or message- a news. The herald would come in to the town and declares the news, “victory!” then he would run to the next town square and proclaim victory!”.

This is “gospel” generally. A news of great event that brings joy. The gospel is a joyful news. Other religion have good advice but Christianity have the good news. History and gospel? Yes, the gospel should be understood historically also. The gospel of Christ is a news of what actually happened same time in history and that would bring joy to all who hears it.

In Romans 1:3 we see Paul saying the gospel is concerning God’s son, who was born, we could trace his lineage to David, He was proved to be the son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. So Paul is saying, this news is about a man that actually lived in History, this man is no ordinary man and this was proved when he resurrected from the dead, never to die again. The Historical part of the gospel would be that God’s son came in the flesh (we know his family tree), he died, but didn’t remain dead, he resurrected proving that He truly is the son of God.

The whole gospel centers around this great event. If the Old Testament writings spoke about the gospel, it mean, in the Old Testament writings there were these events in the futuristic form, wither literally or figuratively.

In Jesus’ explanation of the Old Testament writings, He made sure it was done in the light of these events. (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46).



Romans 1:16-17

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written “the just shall live by faith”.

After we hear that the son of God died, was buried and resurrected, one would be tempted to ask how it does us good, why should we be joyful knowing someone died and resurrected? This is where the revelation of the gospel comes in. Before we look more at that, let’s note that the gospel of Christ is the only means we can be saved (the gospel is the power of God to save). This implies that all of God’s ability to save a man is in the gospel (the news about the death and resurrection of His Son). Hence we must understand it, pay attention to it, knowing what it reveals.

So what does the gospel of Christ reveal?

Vs 17 shows us that the gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, not the righteousness of man or the wrath of God. This gospel reveals that God makes men righteous by faith and does so in His righteousness. This means the purpose of the son of God’s death and resurrection is so that God can righteously give mankind righteousness thereby saving us.

The need for the gospel: Why would God decide to provide righteousness for us? What is the need of saving us? Only someone who is in danger that would need saving. All humanity was in danger, a terrible one at that. Romans 1:18, says that the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. The wrath of God means the justice of God, the consequence of our action. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death…, Prophet Ezekiel gave us the verdict of God, “the soul that sins shall die” Hence the consequence for our sin is death, spiritual death, condemnation.

Paul went further to explain that we all have known the judgment of God as touching our sins, and that we are without excuse. Everybody have gone astray, we have all sinned against God, both the Jews (religious) and the Gentiles (irreligious). The Apostle then sums up the state of man thus “ there is none righteous, no, not one, there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no not one… for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. We may ask “but I’ve seen folks that are really good and holy in their conduct, are you saying they are in the same spiritual condition as the sinners?.

Isaiah 64: 6 talks about our righteousness being like fifthly rags because our best righteousness is external but our internal condition is like an unclean thing. Our sins are not just external but also internal. The root/source of our outward righteousness is actually sinful. In Matthew 23:25-29, we see Jesus condemn the best of us. God says plainly that we cleanse the outside out our life but inside is full of extortion and unrighteousness. Our righteousness is just another act of hypocrisy, hence God calls it fifthly rag. In Matthew 5, Jesus admonished that our righteousness must exceed that of the outward performance (that of the Pharisees) else we shall have no part in the kingdom of heaven. What is actually wrong in man is the heart and man cannot by behaviour modification solve the problem of the heart. From these, we can conclude that our righteousness, the best of us is all together sinful. We are all in the same place spiritually, we were doomed for destruction, hopelessness was our condition. The only qualification that our righteousness could grant us was condemnation. Oh! the sinfulness of our righteousness apart from Christ. We can never be righteous by good deeds. Our heart is wicked, darkened and foolish. It would always run after things trying to replace God with them and passionately burn after them. Romans 3:20 “therefore by deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin”.



In the midst of this hopelessness and sure condemnation, God’s love and grace spoke forth. Romans 3:21 “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets”.

The righteousness of God that is apart from my condition, my obedience, apart from me is revealed. God says, you can be seen as righteous and the requirement won’t be on you. The demanded righteousness by infinite love has been supplied, the righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, the perfect, divine righteousness! Since the righteousness is not from man both the religious (Jews) and the irreligious (gentiles) can benefit.

Romans 3:22 tells us two forms of the righteousness of God— Possessive genitive (the righteousness of God) and the genitive of origin (the righteousness from God). We see that God express his righteousness as He grants righteousness to sinful man. How can God, a just judge, call a sinful man righteous without tampering with His own righteousness? The following explains how this was possible.

The Redemption in Christ: To explain further we must take note of a key word “justify” dikaioo in the Greek, it means to show, to exhibit, to declare, to view as righteous or innocent. By God’s righteousness, we have been declared, viewed as righteous through the redemption in Christ Jesus.

Redemption: Apolutrosis; from “Apo” which means separation and lutron which means ransom or payment. It therefore means a separation that is enforced by the payment of a ransom/price. This implies that God separated us from our sins by paying the price in the person of Christ Jesus. Simply put the redemption in Christ Jesus is Jesus paying my sins debt to separate me from the wrath that was to come as a result of my sin. Hence Jesus bore the wrath and indignation so that I might be released or justified.

The righteousness of God expressed by the faith of Jesus: There are a couple of places in the epistles where the faith of Jesus was mentioned. Rom. 3:22, Gal. 2:16, Gal. 3: 22, Phil. 3:19, Jam. 2:1. All, apart from James 2:1 where explaining the righteousness of God given by faith of Jesus. God righteously gave us righteousness through Jesus’ faith. The faith of Jesus is Jesus lavishly giving himself for us. He became cursed (condemned) that the blessing (righteousness) be granted to us. Only this act of faith done by Christ could grant such a high gift. He was cursed on our behalf that now we can be viewed as the righteousness of God in Him. Righteousness is expressed and granted to those who believe in the demonstrated faith of Jesus. The believer is justified freely by grace. As we believe in Jesus’ love for us, we receive what His faith provides (the righteousness of God). We live (made alive) by the faith of the son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Propitiation by His Blood: Propitiation; Greek hilasterion which means expiratory (place or thing) that is (concretely an atoning victim. It also means a lid of the Ark of the temple)— Mercy Seat.

This Greek word was only used twice in the New Testament. The only other place it was used apart from Rom. 3:25 was Heb. 9: 5 and it spoke of mercy seat.


What is Mercy Seat?

The writer to the Hebrews talks about the arrangement of the tabernacle of the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the portable sanctuary used by the Israelites from the time of wandering in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt to the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Within the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, which included the mercy seat (Heb. 9:3-5). Here God was supposed to be seated, and from this place He was supposed to dispence mercy to man when the blood of the atonement was sprinkled there.

The Mercy Seat was in the innermost part of the tabernacle covered with the second veil and only accessed by the High Priest who continually enters to make atonement for sins. Obviously God would speak mercy to the High Priest over the children of Israel if the sacrifice on the mercy seat is accepted. Hence the mercy seat is a place for atonement and proclaiming of verdict. As far as there was the separation of the parts in the tabernacle, it means that the way to receive full forgiveness from God was not yet prepared. The Old Testament was that imperfect (Heb. 9:8) Moses only did according to what he saw in a vision in Heaven. Hence, God in His forbearance overlooked sins even with the imperfect sacrifices and the imperfect High Priests.

Another thing to note concerning the mercy seat was that it was a covering. The sense of the word in the Hebrew is based on the material (fact of it’s covering the ark) or derived from this notion of its reference to the “covering” (i.e atonement) of sin.


What exactly was the mercy seat covering? (Exo. 25:22, Exo. 40:3)

The ten commandments

The golden part that had the manna (Exo. 16:4, 18, 27)

Aaron’s rod that budded (Number 17:10)

All three reminds Israel of their sins. Hence the mercy seat covers the rebellion of the Israelite. This signifies that God speaks to us over the mercy seat where our faults/rebellion is covered. Now, note that it wasn’t just about covering only, but blood was sprinkled over it. This means God doesn’t just want to cover our sins but it must be with bloodshed. This unites the idea of mercy seat (covering of our rebellion) and the shedding of blood. This implies that without blood on the mercy seat it really didn’t speak mercy. So the mercy seat is actually the place for atonement, where blood is used to purchase a release from the consequences of the sins of the people.

Remember that the mercy seat of the Old Testament didn’t release the people from their sins because of imperfect sacrifice and imperfect offerer. Heb. 10:4 it is not possible for the blood of goats and bulls to take away sins. So it needed to be done year after year. This means the work on the mercy seat was imperfect; the atonement was not perfect hence it never made anybody righteous. It didn’t fully expressed/manifested God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness bring about a perfect, final and eternal release.

Mercy Seat is therefore any place where God perfectly speaks mercy over His people because of the blood. This is the reason Jesus Himself is the propitiation (mercy seat) by his blood.

He is the High Pries and the sacrifice. He is perfectly accepted as both. As High Priest, He took his own blood,that signified that He has paid for our sins and entered into the perfect tabernacle and obtained a perfect, complete, eternal, final release from our sin debt.

Redemption as used in Heb 9:12 in Greek is lutrosis which is ransoming. It is gotten from lutroo which means to release on receipt of ransom.

This means the blood of Jesus was the receipt He put forth saying paid in full, hence there is the perfect release. An eternal receipt for an eternal redemption.

Vs 15 of Hebrews 9 says Jesus is the mediator of the New Testament, by means of death. The death was for the redemption (apolutrosis—separation enforced by the payment of a ransom) of the transgressions that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance. In other words, Jesus’ death was to separate us from the penalty of sin (since death was the penalty) so that we can have eternal inheritance which is the promise. Jesus died for us so that we can receive eternal righteousness (this is our inheritance).

God made Jesus to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!

Hence Jesus as our mercy seat is Jesus’ blood speaking our eternal release from sin’s debt and our receiving of eternal righteousness and eternal life when we believe.

This perfectly speaks of God’s righteousness. Jesus as our mercy seat shows God’s right to perfectly, completely and for all eternity save His people that believe in Him.

Based on these, God is righteous in making the sinner righteous.



Romans 5:12

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and this death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

The apostle Paul explains that righteousness and the reconciliation that comes by it, was granted only through Jesus. He explains further by saying that the same way sin entered the world, that’s how righteousness have entered. However, since sin and righteousness is different, their effect will be different, so by way of comparing and contrasting he lays out his points.


“Just as through one man sin entered the world…

How did sin enter the world?

Through one man—Adam

This means that since sin entered the world by one man, righteousness also has entered the world by one man.

Entered— Eiserchcmai: entrance into any society, come into existence, came into. It speaks of being introduced.

World—: Kosmos; the inhabitants of the earth (mankind)

Hence, we could safely say that through one man sin was introduced to mankind.

The result of this sin was death, spiritual death. Spiritual death is only possible because of the presence of sin.

“Death spread to all men”

Spread— dierchomai, it means to pass through, to go to different places, to travel through a region, to spread. It was same words used for “went about” in Acts 10:38. It implies that death did not automatically come upon everybody, it was gradual and it required that one sin before it comes upon that person.

“All have sinned” would mean all that died spiritual have sinned.

So from the explanations above we can simply say that, just as through one man sin was introduced to humanity and death through sin, thus death passed through gradually upon all men, because those who are dying have sinned, so it is that through one man, righteousness introduced into humanity and life through righteousness.

Romans 5:17

For if by the one man’s offence, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.

Since we have seen that both death and life didn’t come upon humanity automatically, then how did it spread? In the above passage, we see that the grace that Jesus brought must be received, the same goes for the death, it must be received by the sin of unbelief.


Vs 16

And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which come from one offence resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offences resulted in justification.

We see that what Jesus brought is far greater that what Adam brought. Adam’s sin brought about condemnation. Death would require only the likeness of the sin of Adam to have its way but the life that Jesus brought swallowed up all sins both the likeness of Adam’s sins and that which is by the breaking of the mosaic commandment, resulting in free justification. The amplified version puts verse 20 clearer for us.

“But then law came in, (only) to expand and increase the trespass (making it more apparent and exciting opposition). But where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favour) has surpassed it and increased the more and super abounded (Romans 5:20 Amp)”.

From the above explanations, we can see that the gift of righteousness through Jesus exceeds the condemnation or judgment through Adam. There is no way we can “out sin” the righteousness of God that is through Jesus Christ our Lord. This righteousness grants us eternal life in a final note.



This is a common question usually asked when the gospel is preached. But this question came from a misconception of Romans 6. In this chapter, Paul, the apostle explains in explicit terms how a believer cannot come under condemnation again.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1-2 NKJV).

First thing to notice is that “continue in sin” does not mean continue in an action but rather continue in a state as the word “sin” is not in the verb but in the noun (harmatia). It’s better put thus, shall we remain unbelievers because grace abounds? The answer came in impossibility form— certainty not or as the old king James puts it, God forbids.

God forbid is from two Greek words, “me” and “ginomai”

Me— no, not lest (it depicts negatively).

ginomai— to became, come into existence, come to pass, happen.

Using these words together would mean it cannot come to pass, it cannot happen. Hence apostle Paul was expressing the denial of that reason. He simply says one who has received abundance of grace cannot remain in sin or condemnation; hence his further rhetorical question “how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”

He explains further that the reason we can say we are dead to sin is because we have been baptized into Jesus’ death. To be baptized implies that we have become one with Him, hence Jesus’ experience has become our experience. So for us to understand our being dead to sin, we must understand Jesus death.

In verse 6, we see that Jesus didn’t just die as any regular man would, He was crucified and Paul says we were with Him sharing His crucifixion.

What does the crucifixion of Jesus mean?

It means He was condemned, He was being punished, however, not for His sins but ours. We were punished with Christ for our sins that we should no longer be slaves of sins. And because we have been punished along with Christ or in the person of Christ, there is now a new verdict over us—Freed. The word “freed” used in verse 7 is from the Greek word dikaioo which is to justify. It means we have been justified from our sins because we are baptized or united with the one who was punished for us. Now we cannot be punished twice for same sins. Paul says because of our union with Christ we are to reckon to ourselves that we have fully paid for our sins and are now justified, now alive to God through Jesus Christ “ Reckon” from the Greek word “logizomai” which means to put to one’s account. Hence we are to put the death and resurrection of Christ as well as its implications to our account. He then admonishes us to present our bodies as one who can never be condemned and is justified before God. This would produce fruits of holiness in us.

From the study thus far, we have seen that the one who puts faith on the work of the son of God is justified on a final note before God and cannot come under condemnation. This knowledge is what will produce fruits of holiness in us. Even as we give ourselves to knowing, reckoning and presenting, we shall experience the good life the gospel provides for everyone who receives it by faith.

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