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What is Righteousness?

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The character of God is righteous. But what does the term righteousness actually mean? We take a deep dive into what the Bible says and how we can achieve righteousness as children of God.

What is Righteousness

The word righteousness (noun) and its adjective righteous are Biblical terms that are mentioned more than 500 times in the word of God.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the English word righteous means acting in accord with divine law or moral law, being free from guilt or sin, and being morally right or justifiable. It also means arising from an outraged sense of justice or morality.

A righteous man is one whose own character and behavior conform to the laws and regulations set by human standards.

image of Bible open to the book of Malachi with the text what is righteousness? according to the Bible

The noun righteousness is similar to having the rectitude of life which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means the quality or state of being straight, having moral integrity, or the quality or state of being correct in judgment or procedure.

The definition of righteousness according to the Bible means being right in the eyes of God. It’s doing the right thing according to God’s standard, not the standard of the world. He is our Creator, and his ways are perfect and superior. True righteousness means we are justified or bought into proper alignment with God’s perfect moral standards.

“God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.”

Psalm 7:11 ESV

The term righteousness is used to refer to an attribute of the Lord. He is a righteous judge who never does anything wrong and executes justice on earth.

The Greek word that is most often translated as “Righteousness” in both the Greek translation of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament is the noun δικαιοσύνη (G1343). It is pronounced “Di-kai-ō-soo-né.” It means rightness, the correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting, and the way in which man may attain a state approved of God. It’s conformity to a known standard or law.

The Hebrew word tsadiyq, translated as righteous, and the word ישר (Yashar, Strong’s #3477), translated as upright, are paralleled many times in the Bible, indicating that in the Hebrew mind, they were similar in meaning.

Biblical righteousness refers to God’s perfect standard in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and word. We cannot measure the absolute standard of righteousness; only the Lord God can.

In the Old Testament, sin entered the world through the Adam’s disobedience. The fall of man resulted in the Lord giving us his Ten Commandments. This is God’s law to his people and it proves that human beings are helpless and cannot achieve his perfect standard. People kept breaking the laws and had to atone for their sins.

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Romans 3:20 KJV

We see that the Lord God counted Abraham’s to him as righteousness, not his works or deeds (Genesis 15:6). We cannot attain righteousness through our own efforts, but we need the Lord to help us.

How do you become righteous today?

Righteous living is not about pointing fingers at others and their wrongdoing and seeing yourself as better than everyone else. Scripture is clear that none of us are righteous before the Lord.

“As it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one.”

Romans 3:10 ESV

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Romans 7:18 ESV

What we attempt in our own efforts to make ourselves righteous before the Lord are viewed by him as filthy rags-unacceptable, dirty, and impure (Isaiah 64:6).  All the outward sacrifices, works of the law we may do with attitudes of pride and vanity are an abomination that is not pleasing to the Lord. After all, he looks at the heart above all else.

In the New Testament, we see a shift in how to achieve righteousness. God’s will was to see us all saved and living according to his standards. He loved us, and so he sent his only Son to come to earth and live like us and amongst us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16 ESV

Jesus’ life was in a state of moral perfection, and he died for our sins to free us from our punishment and credit us with his own righteousness, which is God’s righteousness.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV

All the requirements of God’s law were nailed on the cross with Jesus Christ. He came to take away all our sins and declare formal redemption for all people of all nations.

‘Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Luke 24: 46-47 NKJV

Today, we are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the true Gospel. In the eyes of God, we are righteous as long as we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and the true Son of God. He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

“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.”Romans 1:17 NLT

When we accept him as our Lord and Savior, he cleanses us from all sins and gives us a right standing with the Lord. We are now children of God, no longer alienated but embraced, loved, and accepted.

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Philippians 3:8-9 NKJV

Through one man- Adam, sin entered the world, and through one man- Jesus Christ, we’ve received grace and God’s gift of righteousness. Now, we are justified and can experience abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”

Romans 5:17-18 NIV

The Bible is clear that there is no other way to achieve righteousness except through Christ Jesus. He is the end of the law of God for righteousness.

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Romans 10:3-4 NKJV

The first step to achieving God’s righteousness is through repentance, believing in the Son of God, and receiving salvation. Once you do this, you need to have a conformity of heart and develop the right relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ by spending time in his word and learning about him.

The Holy Spirit will help you live according to the holy principles of the Bible, which results in the conformity of life that is transformed and brings glory to God.

Bible verses about righteousness

These Bible verses inspire us to live righteously and even show us some practical ways we can do that. They will also encourage us and remind us of the source of true righteousness.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23 ESV

The penalty for our sins and was we deserved was spiritual death and separation from the Lord, and even physical death with no redemption. But through God’s grace, we have received the gift of salvation, which leads to eternal life in Jesus.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1 NLT

Even if we do good deeds, we will not achieve righteousness. Everything needs to be done for the glory of God and not for others to see and praise us.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

James 1:27 NLT

Blured text with focus on RIGHTEOUSNESS for the post what is righteousness

True religion involves both faith and good works (James 2:26). The works will in no way justify us, but they show a heart transformed by God’s grace and love, leading us to be willing to serve others. It’s our faith in Jesus Christ that should produce good work.

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Galatians 2:16 KJV

If we could make ourselves right with our own ways and deeds, then Christ Jesus would not have come. But we needed Christ’s righteousness to be justified.

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:20 ESV

In Biblical times, scribes had expert knowledge of the law of God and were also proficient in legal matters and often referred to as lawyers. The Pharisees were a sect famous for their extremely careful keeping of the law of Moses and, together with the scribes, considered themselves righteous people.

They were perfect in their own eyes and believed in their own goodness. They prioritized outward appearance more than the condition of their hearts and were self-righteous. But when Jesus came, he made it clear that diligently observing the law could never achieve the perfect righteousness of God, only faith could. Purity of heart was and is still more important than outward works.

“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

2 Timothy 2:22 NKJV

In Paul’s letter to Timothy his faithful young disciple, he encouraged him in the Christian life which involves pursuing righteousness. This is done by living in faith and obeying what the Bible tells us. It’s a journey that we take with the help of the Holy Spirit where we change how we act, think, and talk according to the word of God so that he is glorified and honored.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Matthew 6:33 KJV

When we seek the righteousness of the Lord and prioritize his kingdom (Romans 14:17) above all else, all the other prayer requests we have will be answered. He will add more blessings and favor to our lives.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6 ESV

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The Beatitudes is one of the most popular passages of the Scriptures found in Matthew 5:1-11. They summarize some of the key principles of the Kingdom of God. While some human beings hunger for success, power, or comfort, the Bible tells us to hunger for righteousness.

This means we hunger to become more like Christ, be sanctified, and be holy. Moreover, we want to see more righteousness in the world. When we do, he is faithful and will satisfy that hunger.

“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”1 Peter 3:12 ESV

This is an encouraging scripture about righteousness. God’s eyes are on the righteous; He watches over them, and protects and guides them. His ears hear and answer their prayers. So, we need to continue pursuing righteousness.

“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

2 Timothy 4:8 ESV

When we seek righteousness, we will get our reward one day. As Apostle Paul says, there is a crown of righteousness that we can all look forward to receiving one day from our Heavenly Father.

True righteousness is God’s perfect standard in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and word. We achieve righteousness through repentance and faith in the Son of God and having a right relationship with him. It’s not possible to live a perfectly righteous life in our own strength. And that’s a good thing. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us along the way.

You may enjoy this brief video on “What is Righteousness?”

Or one of these recommended resources on what is righteousness:

The Root of the Righteous by A. W. Tozer 

Two Kinds of Righteousness by E. W. Kenyon

Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees by Tom O. Hovestol

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

NKJV – Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

NIV – Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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