Saturday, September 7, 2013

Topical Bible Study I -- Righteousness and Goodness

Part of the reason for utilizing a blog is to hopefully bless others through the sharing of my personal experiences. Some of the random insights I've come across are too short to rise to the amount of material necessary for a full sermon -- so there aren't many you can find online about that. And they're obscure enough that the big-name commentary and theology-glossary sites like Biblehub (used to be but they've apparently purchased an easier domain name) and GotQuestions haven't devoted resources to it--or if they have, it's too hard to find among the thousands of pages on their websites. Therefore, be it thus resolved that I'll share some of these insights periodically and call them "Bible Study" or "Word Study" or other names like that, and make a series out of them over time. Here's my first attempt.

Righteousness and Goodness: A Biblical Word Study

The way I think of these words now is probably very different from the way a typical person uses them, because I think of them in Biblical terms. Without getting too technical, let me spell out the distinction between them, and then give some verses to back up my point.

Righteousness is one of two things: godly behavior (what we would usually think of) OR the positional righteousness that saints have because of the Cross--namely, that God considers us to be perfect like Jesus even though we're not, because we've traded places with Him so that our sins could be dealt with separately from us.

Goodness in the Bible can be something we do as humans, indicated by Galatians 5, but it is appropriate to translate the word 'good' as perfection, which is consistent because goodness as a fruit of the Spirit is something that we don't manufacture on our own, but it comes from God. 

Here's my super-simplified idea: No one is good, but some are righteous. Lemme show you my proof-text:

Romans 5:6-8
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodlyFor scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

This verse used to make no sense to me. What is the distinction between righteous and good? And why is righteous seemingly placed below good on an apparent grading-scale of holiness? The verses arrange it like so: ungodly-->righteous-->good. If righteous and good aren't the same thing, then what do they mean? And here's the answer:

Good Means Perfect

Mark 10:17-18
17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19

Jesus isn't saying that He's undeserving of being called good. On the contrary, He's subtly implying that since the 'rich young man' of this passage recognized Him as good, that He IS God. This is yet another example of Jesus' sense of humor, as I see it. But notice what He says--no one is good except God. And God is perfect. So this passage identifies the Biblical word "good" as equivalent to our modern English definition of the word "perfect." Consider this, and we'll look at another example of the same.

Genesis 1:31
31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Logically, since there was yet no sin in the creation, everything was still sinless, and thus perfect. So the use of 'very good' at the conclusion of the creation account is to be understood as 'totally perfect.' If I understand the scholarship, the word translated 'very' in the Hebrew signifies completeness, lacking nothing. 

Of interest, since I now have the conclusion that good = perfect in Biblical terminology, I wondered if this would hold up concerning Galatians 5 where one of the fruits of the Spirit in believers listed is 'goodness.' I looked up the word in GotQuestions and cross-checked the word in the Mark 10:18 passage with the Greek interlineary provided by BibleHub and verified that the exact same Greek word was used. Agathosune is the Koine Greek for 'goodness' as read in the New King James Version (the one I prefer to use on BibleGateway because it's less cluttered with hyperlinks), in both locations, and is understood to mean selfless acts for the benefit of others.

What really nailed it down for me was the James 1:17 passage that GQ included which said that "every good and perfect thing comes from God above" (paraphrased the ending), which affirms that goodness doesn't come from us but God, since God being the only perfect being, is the only One who can cause goodness to be done in the earth. 
Out of curiosity, I searched the BibleHub database for the Greek word translated as 'perfect' in that passage, and it is teleion, which appears to be the Greek counterpart in this passage to the Genesis 1 Hebrew word "very." Look at the 7 uses in the New Testament listed and see if you agree. I think a safe definition for teleion would be "completeness." Don't you?

Righteousness Means You're Not Righteous

I'm just being cheeky, here. But when you consider that righteousness is a word that comes with certain qualifications, you realize it's not a word that confers any opportunity for pride to a person. Not in itself, at least. The word "self-righteous" means that you think you are righteous in and of yourself, and this is wrong. The correct way is to be "God-righteous," to be considered righteous by God's standards. So how can we do this?

Isaiah 64:6
"all our righteousnesses [not even our sins!] are like filthy rags."

Titus 3:5
we were not saved because of any righteous acts we did.

Romans 3:21-26
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

I highlighted the key part. Do you see that God, when He justifies the repentant sinner, GIVES His righteousness to them, through Christ? This means that God considers us righteous, but it's not our righteousness that we have, it's HIS righteousness. So that's why it's called 'positional righteousness.' We are righteous by virtue of our relationship to God, and not by any special ability to be good that we inherently have which other people do not. In fact, the whole point is that we don't have the ability to be righteous by ourselves, that's why God has to give us His righteousness. Otherwise we couldn't be saved. That's why the doctrine of substitution is so important. 

This is a repost of the video from "The Gospel in 60 Seconds." It explains substitution from 2 Corinthians 5:21 -- "He made Him, who knew no sin, sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."


None of us are good. The good we do is by the power of God.

None of us are truly righteous. Those of us whom God considers righteous have the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to us, we have no inherent righteousness of our own.

Good to know, huh? :) I hope this was an interesting and informative read. And now you'll know what I mean in future posts if I refuse to use the words good or righteous to refer to someone...or on the other hand, what I would mean if I do use those words.
Also see these previous posts for similar articles:

Jesus, King of Insults
Be Careful What You Pray For
Feeling Bad in a Good Way

~ Rak Chazak 

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