What is Righteousness?

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The words 'righteous', and 'righteousness' are found much more in biblical language than in everyday language. Both words, however, are concerned with everyday matters, and for this reason some modern versions of the Bible prefer to use such words as `right', 'fair', 'just' and 'honest'. A righteous person is one who, among other things, does right or is in the right.

The Source of Righteousness

Perfect righteousness is found in God alone. He is perfect in goodness and has a perfect knowledge of what is right and what is wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 145:17; Isaiah 45:21; Rom 9:14; Hebrews 6:18). Since God made man in his image, man also has a sense of righteousness. If people are characterized by proper behavior and moral uprightness, the Bible may speak of them as righteous (Genesis 7:1; Psalms 15:2; Proverbs 12:3-10; Luke 1:6; 2 Corinthians 9:9-10).

This righteousness is not a moral perfection that people achieve by their own efforts, but a right relationship with God that people enter into through faith and obedience (Isaiah 50:9; Hab 2:4; Romans 3:4-5; 9:31-32; 10:3-4; Galatians 3:11-12). It is a righteousness that pleases God and guarantees his help (Psalms 45:7-8; Isaiah 56:1;1 Peter 3:12).

The Legal Setting

Righteousness is not simply a private affair; it is a matter also for social concern. God's righteousness demands social justice (Isaiah 5:7-9; Amos 5:6-7,24). Justice, in fact, is a prominent characteristic of righteousness in the Bible.

The Bible commonly uses 'righteousness' and related words in a legal setting, where a judge must administer justice righteously. The judge in some cases is God (Genesis 18:25; Psalms 96:13; Eccles 3:17; Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:8; Rev 19:11), in other cases a civil official (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 4:8; Ezekiel 23:45; cf. John 7:24). The innocent and the guilty are respectively the righteous and the wicked. In acquitting the innocent, the judge declares him to be in the right, or righteous; in condemning the guilty, the judge declares him to be in the wrong, or wicked (Deuteronomy 25:1; 1 Kings 8:32; Job 32:1; Malachi 3:18; Matthew 13:41-43; 27:19; Romans 2:5-8).

This legal sense of righteousness gives meaning to the biblical teaching of justification by faith. (In both Hebrew and Greek the words 'righteous' and 'justify' come from the same root.)

To justify means to declare righteous. Justification is God's act of declaring righteous those who put their faith in Christ and his saving work. God does not make believers righteous in the sense of improving them to a standard of behavior that satisfies him, but rather he declares them righteous. Christ has met God's righteous demands by paying sin's penalty on behalf of sinners. God is therefore able to declare repentant sinners righteous, yet himself remain righteous in doing so (Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 4:1-3; 5:1-2; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:21-22; Philippians 3:9). Though righteous deeds, or good works, cannot save anyone, once people are saved their lives should be full of righteous deeds (Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 1:11). Once God has declared them righteous, they must make it true in practice by living righteously (Romans 6:13,18-19; Ephesians 4:24; 5:9; Philippians 3:810; 1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:14).

(Editorial Comment: Notice the comment where it says "A judge must administer justice righteously." Ponder this point in relation to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court.)

More About Righteousness

by: Bill Bratt

What is righteousness? Righteousness is doing what is right. How do we know what is right and what is wrong? What is the Bible definition of Righteousness? Psalms 119:172 gives the answer: "For all Your commandments are righteousness." Godís Ten Commandments tells us what is right and what is wrong. By obeying Godís Ten Commandments we can strive to be righteous. If we break any of Godís Commandment then we have sinned. What is the Bible definition of sin? 1 John 3 verse 4 tells us, "For sin is the transgression of the law." So why should we strive to keep Godís Commandments? The apostle Paul gives the answer in Romans 6 verse 23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Now we see that sin leads to death and striving for righteousness leads to eternal life.

What did Jesus tell His disciples to seek after? "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33). Jesus gave us two points to seek after. The first point is about the Ďgospelí which is the good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:1, 14, Matthew 24:14, 28:19-20). The second point that Jesus gave was to "seek Godís righteousness." We are to live our lives in obedience to God and His commandments and to live without sin.

Now we are all human and we sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). What do we do? We must repent (Acts 2:38). The apostle John tells us in 1 John 2 verse 1, "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. {2} And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. {3} Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments."

In the Sermon on the mount, what did Jesus tell us to thirst after? Jesus said in Matthew 5 verse 6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled."

Letís try to do our part and strive for righteousness.