According to Genesis 9, Noah was a “righteous man” and that’s why God chose to save him and his family from the flood. Thus the natural conclusion is that if we hope to be saved from God’s judgment we too must be “righteous.” There was several others pronounced “righteous” in the Old Testament; Enoch, Job and Boaz are a few.  These three involved some kind of deliverance as well and it’s still natural to see that the salvation was dependent on their being “righteous.” I am hard pressed to count myself among “the righteous.” I know I’ve fallen short a lot of times in my life. Just yesterday I said unkind words to my wife and harbored ill will toward others. If I am to have any hope I have to understand the declaration of these people and others being “righteous” in a different way. If it doesn’t mean one must be righteous to be saved, what does it mean then.  Jesus, Himself, said that if we want to go to heaven our “righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees.”  Ouch! Is that what it means?

I’m so glad that it does not mean that any of these men, including Noah, were sinless. Clear passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament make that clear. Paul quotes from the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-12 and says, “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” He is quoting from Psalm 14:2-3. It says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Isaiah 53:6 also says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.”

The cleanest resolution of this apparent problem can be reconciled by acknowledging a “declaration of righteousness” versus an actual living state of righteousness in the individuals. There is much Bible support for this as well. One of the strongest passages comes from the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter 15 we come to one of the high-water marks of Old Testament revelation, summarized for us in verse 6: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” None of these Old Testament folks were delivered from their particular circumstance because they were sinless. No, it was because they had faith. This is played out in Hebrews chapter 10 as the writer goes through what we know as the “hall of fame of faith.” Each example explains that it was by “faith.” There is more doctrine from Paul regarding this truth. Romans 1:16-17 says, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.'” Then Paul points this truth at us! In Romans 5:1, he says, “Having been declared righteous, then, by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If personal righteousness is a requirement for salvation, no one could truly have “peace with God.” That only comes when our faith in Christ gains a deposit of His righteousness into our bankrupt accounts. Only then, through faith, can I truly experience “peace with God.” This is why the Gospel is good news to sinners like me.