Recently, a friend of mine and I found ourselves talking about righteousness, justification, and holiness. This is not the kind of conversation that typically happens at most dinner parties, but this friend and I have a nerd-like fascination with theology.
I have been a Christian all of my life and I have both heard and used these words many times before. As our conversation progressed I realized that I was having trouble nuancing these terms. There seemed to be so much overlap and yet I could not help but think that each term had a unique contribution to the theology of salvation.
I walked away from our conversation challenged but also a bit miffed. I mean, I am a pastor. This should have been theology 101 for me. Why was I having such a hard time differentiating these concepts?
Well, I could not let the mystery just sit there. I am a fanatic for learning and a lover of truth, so I sat down and began studying to better understand these terms.
The following is a brief synopsis of my study on these three paramount theological concepts of righteousness, justification, and holiness.
I walked away with a greater depth of understanding and a greater appreciation for the work that Christ did for me. I hope the same for you.
Righteousness - Greek word is dikaiosynē. Noun. The state of him who is as he ought to be; the condition acceptable to God; doctrine concerning the way that man may attain a state approved by God.
This theological word describes the condition of a person who is acceptable before God. This term is a noun which is important because it means that it conveys a concept or an idea versus an action.
A key Scripture for righteousness is Romans 1:17, "...The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'"
Faith is the action step that activates the condition of righteousness.
Justified - Greek word is dikaioō. Verb. To render righteous; to declare or announce one just, righteous, or as he ought to be.
This theological word describes the action that God takes in declaring a person righteous. Notice that it is a verb. The action of justification is carried out by God.
Justification - Greek word is dikaiōsis. Noun. The act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him
When a person is justified before God it means that they are seen by God through the filter of righteousness.
A key Scripture for the concept of justification is Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
Justification is the action taken by God when faith is carried out.
Thus far we have seen that righteousness is the condition of a person before God while justification is the action/process carried out by God that renders a person righteous. But what of holiness? Where does holiness fit within this framework?
Holiness - Hebrew word is qodesh. Noun. Apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness. Greek word is hagiotēs. Noun. Sanctity.
Holiness is the result of a life of righteousness. A person who is righteous is set apart and sacred.
A key Scripture for holiness is Hebrews 12:14, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."
When it comes down to it, these three theological terms are unique and yet they work together as a perfect trifecta to describe the gift of salvation. When a person surrenders their life to Jesus through faith in his death and resurrection, God does the amazing work of justification. A person who is justified is given, by grace, the gift of righteousness. This gift of righteousness renders a person acceptable in the sight of God and the result of this righteousness is a life set apart in holiness.
The mystery of our salvation. What an amazing thing made possible only because of the love and grace of God.
Only the words of Paul from Romans 11:33-36 can suffice to close,
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen"