Another attribute of God is righteousness. God is righteous as well as holy. Whereas holiness is related to God’s inward nature, righteousness is related to God’s outward acts, ways, actions, and activities. Everything God does is righteous.
What is the righteousness of God? The righteousness of God is what God is in His action with respect to justice and righteousness. God is just and right. Whatever God is in His justice and righteousness constitutes His righteousness.
Revelation 15:3 says, “Great and wonderful are Your works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, O King of the nations.” God’s works are His acts, whereas God’s ways are His governing principles. God’s ways are righteous in His principles. If you know God’s ways, you will not need to wait to see His works in order to praise Him. Although His works have not yet come, you will know they will come because you know the governing principles by which God does things. God’s ways are righteous according to His principles.
In Romans 1:16b and 17a Paul says that the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, both to Jew first and to Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in it.” In John 3:16 God’s love is the source and motive of God’s salvation. In Ephesians 2:5 and 8 God’s grace is the basic element of God’s salvation. But here God’s righteousness is the power of God’s salvation. Legally speaking, both love and grace can fluctuate, but not righteousness. This is true even the more with God’s righteousness. Because God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
According to John 3:16, salvation is out of God’s love, and according to Ephesians 2:5 and 8, salvation is by God’s grace. But in Romans 1:17 Paul says that salvation comes by the righteousness of God. Neither love nor grace is related to the law. No law forces us to love or to give grace. Whether we love or not we are still lawful, and whether we extend grace or not we are still legal. In a sense, God is not bound to love us. Furthermore, He is not legally bound to show us grace. Righteousness, on the contrary, is very much related to the law. Because Christ has fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s law, God is bound to save us. If you say, “Lord Jesus, You are my Savior,” you can turn to God and say, “God, You must forgive me, whether You like it or not. You are righteous if You forgive me, but You are unrighteous if You do not forgive me.” We can say this to God because Christ has fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law, and, as a result, God is bound by His righteousness to save us. Righteousness, therefore, is a mighty bond God cannot escape—He must save us because He is righteous.
First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous that He may forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful in His word (1 John 1:10) and righteous in the blood of Jesus His Son (1 John 1:7). His word is the word of the truth of His gospel (Eph. 1:13), which tells us that He will forgive us our sins because of Christ (Acts 10:43), and the blood of Christ has fulfilled His righteous requirements that He may forgive us our sins (Matt. 26:28). If we confess our sins, He, according to His word and based on the redemption through the blood of Jesus, forgives us, because He must be faithful in His word and righteous in the blood of Jesus. Otherwise, God would be unfaithful and unrighteous.
In Romans 3:21 Paul speaks a further word concerning the righteousness of God: “But now without law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” To say that the righteousness of God has been manifested without law means that the righteousness of God is not based on our doing; that is, it is not based on our keeping the law. Although the righteousness of God has existed for ages, it was not manifested to us until we believed in the Lord Jesus and called on His name. Then the righteousness of God was revealed to us. When God’s righteousness is revealed, it is manifested. It is manifested to us when we believe in the Lord.
(Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 001-020), Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)