Honest Q & A: Bible (2) – Holiness, Righteousness and Justice

 

Question: What is the connection between holiness, righteousness and justice?

Good question, as the three are sort of related, but not the same thing. We’ll take them in reverse order, beginning with

Justice: Put most simply, this is giving someone what they rightly deserve. It can be either reward or punishment, including punishment for sin. It can be giving someone that which is their right, including helping orphans, widows or the poor, who may easily be subject to unfair treatment. Governments are to treat people justly, meaning they have to play fair and not play favorites. As pertaining to God, his justice would of course be perfect, as he sees every infraction but also perfectly understands every genuine mitigating or moderating factor.

Righteousness: This term is based on a concept something like “straightness,” leading to the thought of actions conforming to the norms or standards of right behavior. It is important, however, to view righteousness in light of relationship. We behave righteously toward one another when do what is required of us and promote the community’s peace and well-being. In Romans, Paul contrasts the righteousness obtained by the law (imperfect, for we will never behave perfectly in our relationship to God), and the righteousness obtained by faith (perfect, for divinely given). Thus, by faith we obtain a righteous status before God, something we cannot earn. He then equips us to live righteously before others and in his sight.

Holiness: Fundamentally, to be holy is to be “set apart.” It is an otherness in contrast with that which is common or profane. In the Old Testament, objects were set apart for use in the Temple worship, and were not used for anything else. There was a ritual purity attached to them that made them different. In the New Testament our word saints literally means “holy ones.” In other words, God has set certain people apart, namely, those who have received eternal life by faith. They are now holy because they have been cleansed from their sin and set apart for God’s special purposes. God’s holiness can be thought of as his ultimate and all-encompassing attribute. He is totally other and totally pure without any blemish or defect whatsoever. Thus, his holiness would include both justice and righteousness.

(In answering this, I consulted The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Grenz, Guretzki and Nordling, 1999; and New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale, 1982)

 

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