What is Righteousness?


How are you righteous before God?1

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:8-11). Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them (Romans 3:9-10), and am still inclined to all evil (Romans 7:23), yet God, without any merit of my own (Deuteronomy 9:6; Ezekiel 36:22; Titus 3:4-5), out of mere grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8), imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ (Romans 4:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19; 1 John 2:1-2). He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me (Romans 4:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21), if only I accept this gift with a believing heart (John 3:18; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 3:22).

Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?2

Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God (1 Corinthians 1:30-31; 2:2). I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only (Romans 10:10; 1 John 5:10-12).

But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?3

Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10), whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin (Isaiah 64:6).

But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?4

This reward is not earned (Matthew 5:12; Hebrews 11:6); it is a gift of grace (Luke 17:10; 2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?5

No. It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness (1 Matthew 7:18; Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5).

Footnotes

  1. Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 60.
  2. Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 61.
  3. Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 62.
  4. Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 63.
  5. Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 64.

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