Biblical Studies Biblical Theology Paul Preview

God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.


Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.

Explore Schreiner’s Commentary..

Buy it from Baker Academic or Amazon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: