Several people in the Bible are said to be “righteous.” Job and Noah are two Old Testament examples. The way Genesis 7:1 says it, one might think that Noah was righteous because of his good works. It says, “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.’” Then you read Paul’s comment in Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, no not one.” He’s getting that from Psalm 14:1-3 which says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

There is a difference between being “declared” righteous and actually being “righteous.” In our understanding “being righteous” is living a perfect, or close to perfect life and is related to our behavior. But the Hebrew verb used here is more judicial than practical. It is the judge speaking from the bench and dismissing the charges. It’s not that there weren’t any. They are just dismissed. Exell explains the Hebrew adjective, “Which signifies ‘to justify, make appear just, declare just;’ and, hence, gives to the adjective something of the same forensic force, ‘justified.’ The evangelical importance of this can scarcely be overstated. To be just is to be right in point of law, and thereby entitled to all the blessings of the acquitted and justified. When applied to the guilty, this epithet implies pardon of sin, among other benefits of grace.”[1] So even guilty people, like you and me, can be justified. God offers this justification to us on the same basis that he declared it upon Noah.

McGee says, “Why was Noah righteous? It was by faith, just as later on Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith: Noah believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. That is the reason God saved him.”[2] It’s faith that pulls the cart of salvation, not works. Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” In my view, Noah could not have saved himself. Daniel could not have saved himself from the lions. Job could not save himself from the trials and struggles brought upon him by Satan. I agree with my Lutheran brother, “Noah, Daniel, and Job could not save themselves, nor the Jews, nor us from anything. In fact, they had no righteousness of their own. Their righteousness was not that of human works, but it was a gift of God’s grace received by faith.”[3] That’s why Paul can tell the Ephesians, “It is by grace you are saved, it is not of works lest any man should boast.” The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a similar statement on this subject, “Being estranged from God and condemned by our sinfulness, our salvation is wholly dependent upon the work of God’s free grace. God credits His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, thereby justifies them in His sight.”[4]

[1] Exell, Joseph S., and Thomas H. Leale. 1892. Genesis. The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary. New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon. 1991. Thru the Bible Commentary: The Law (Genesis 1-15). Electronic ed. Vol. 1. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.