This is where attempting to dissociate “righteousness” from God’s work on behalf of God’s people starts to fall apart. It’s not that there is a quality of God that needs to be lived up to. Romans 3 tells us that God reveals his righteousness when he makes a way to vindicate/acquit people who affiliate with Jesus.
It’s not just that God has to live up to a standard. It’s that the standard to which God desires to live up is the one in which people are vindicated before him. When we talk about righteousness, we are talking about God’s ability to vindicate people who are not worthy of vindication.
And here’s where the surprise comes into the Jewish story: the act that God judged worthy of vindication was Jesus’ death on the cross. And, acquittal looks like being associated with that death so as to be joined to that resurrection-vindication.
In all this:
- I think that Wright, Piper, and the Reformed tradition generally agree that God is being seen as a judge who acts justly in the vindication of humanity. The “courtroom” idea is common to all of them.
- Wright insists, and the Reformed Tradition should have room for, the idea that the standards of the courtroom are the stipulations of the covenant that God established with Israel. Wright does not think “relationship” is all that helpful a term unless paired with the notion of covenant membership.
- Wright, Piper, and the Reformed tradition more generally all agree that the death of Jesus makes God able to do what he could not do based on mere humanity: justify just sinners.
- By making the basis of justification a “righteousness” of God or of Christ that is a character trait, the Reformed tradition has had to further talk about the idea of “imputation” so that the “stuff” of God or Christ could be transferred to us in order for us to be justified.
- By making righteousness an appropriate response to the covenant, Wright has set God’s righteousness as something that does not get “imputed,” but rather “revealed” in the self-giving death of Jesus that enables God to vindicate.
- By making righteousness an appropriate response to the covenant, Wright makes Jesus’ obedience in death the act that God sees as righteous so that Jesus can be vindicated and, in turn, those who are in Christ can be vindicated also.
- By making the faith that reveals God’s righteousness our own rather than Christ’s, the traditional Reformed perspective is developing the mechanism by which the righteous “stuff” that is Jesus’ or God’s can be transferred (imputed) to believers. Wright’s Christ-faith interpretation functions within a different framework, within which no such mechanism is needed.
- The Reformed tradition (and Lutheranism as well) have a strong means of connection with Wright on the centrality of Christ’s death as the justifying principle without reference to imputation. It’s called “union with Christ”. If someone is in Christ, they are baptized into his death–which is the action that God is pleased to receive as the faithful act of obedience that finds vindication. If someone is in Christ they are baptized into his resurrection and participate now in that vindication, are little righteous ones who live by faith.