What is righteousness? Is it an outdated church word? Does it mean doing the right thing? Is righteousness something you do or is it something you are? Righteousness is literally one’s right standing with God. Many people have done many things to be in right standing with God. Rituals, traditions, keeping laws, being morally upright, and doing good things are some of the basic ways people have tried to become righteous in God’s eyes.
Scripture tells us that God imputes (assigns or attributes) righteousness to us not by what we have done but because of what Jesus has already done for us by His death on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Righteousness speaks of a court and judge setting.
We are on trial because of our sin and Jesus is the payment for our sins. Being found righteous is the judge finding favor with you. God doesn’t count our sin against us and finds us innocent not because of our doing but because of Jesus. Romans 4:5-8 tell us, “However, the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” Righteousness is attributed to us by faith, not by any good works we do (Ephesians 2:8-10).
We are not made righteous by being morally upright, good works, reading the Bible, attending church, praying, or serving in Church. We are only made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. When we believe this by faith, Romans 4:5 tells us, righteousness is imputed to us. Philippians 3:9, says, “and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are found in Him only by our faith in Him. Being righteous is really having God’s righteousness, through Jesus’ sacrifice, imputed to us.
The Bible says our righteousness will not get us close to God or to heaven (Titus 3:3-7). Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and we should repent of it. Our righteousness is the claim that we are our own God and can save ourselves. We are dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1) and cannot measure up to God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The antidote for being bad is not simply doing good. We need a Savior that is sinless to take our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we are saved, we are made completely righteous in God’s eyes because of Jesus (Romans 5:17).
Why is righteousness good news? Here’s an example. You are saved but suppose you said some bad things to your wife in a heated argument. Now you must exercise your faith to see yourself still righteous in the middle of your sin. Being righteous does not excuse you from repentance. Now you repent for that sin to God and your faith in your right standing granted by God will help you become holy and give you strength to reconcile with and love your wife.
Satan wants to tell you, “You aren’t righteous and saved! Look what you said to her.” He’s a liar. You tell him God has made you righteous; you will repent and respond in holiness to your wife and be reconciled to her.
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Stephen Harrison is associate pastor of Family Church at White Hall.
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