The term “Righteousness”, is used quite often in God’s Word.
It talks of following righteousness in the Psalms…
Psalm 21:21 “He who pursues righteousness and mercy Finds life, righteousness, and honor.”
There is the effect/work/fruit of righteousness in Isaiah…
32:17 “The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.”
We also see righteousness lasting forever in Psalm 119:42, while Jesus emphasized its importance in the sermon on the mount with “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.
So consequently, Romans 3:10 states “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;”
As for myself, I was quite confused on the subject for years. Having experience Sunday school and Christian school teaching since I was young, this term had been used in church vernacular on a regular basis, so I accepted it, although without understanding.
I’ve determined now, if I don’t understand something in God’s Word to simply search it out, and so I start with a basic definition, and go from there.
Looking at righteousness as it is used, I’ve found that part of the reason I was so confused is because righteousness is used in different contexts that seem to conflict.
Paul reflects on this in his second letter to Corinth…
A basic understanding by American-Webster says that it is defined by “acting in accord with divine or moral law”(Deut.6:25), Christianity.com says that it is an “attribute that belongs to God, the lawgiver”. This implies the perfection or holiness of God’s nature.
2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So my question has been, if God’s perfection or righteousness is imparted to us upon salvation as stated in Philippians 3:9 “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;”
…..then why are we encouraged to pursue it after we believe? How do we pursue it?
The answer: the perfection that Jesus demonstrated in life and death, demonstrated perfect righteousness by the standard of the law. This righteousness that He attained, made it possible for Him to bear our sins upon the cross. He says, He imparts His righteousness to us when we trust and believe Him, i.e. following Him. His perfection is bestowed upon us and we become acceptable in God the Father eyes. That is true mercy and grace.
We are then implored to pursue righteousness in our lives. Why? Because righteousness is a reflection of God’s character, when we live righteously we show God love.
If we truly follow Jesus and accept His gift of love, we return His love to Him by following the moral law as He did. This is why Jesus describes these commandments in Mark 12 as being the greatest of them all:
Mark 12:28-31 “Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
How is loving others brought into this fold?
The 10 commandments, i.e. the “Moral law”, reflects loving others in commandments 6-10, look for yourself in Exodus 20.
In God’s universe, loving Him looks like loving others. Jesus reflected on this concept extensively in Matthew 25, He summarized it in verse 40 “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it-to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
We may not be perfect in our pursuit of righteousness, and quite frankly, the Lord really doesn’t expect that. Jesus modeled this understanding to Peter when He washed only His feet and not his entire body in John 13, before His death.
We see that when a righteous man falls, he may fall seven times and still get back up, in Psalm 24:16. This reflection of seven is a sign of completion. That man or woman may be a complete failure but still return. The reflection is then turned toward the ‘wicked’, who, when they fall, they are brought down by calamity.
Wouldn’t you think that if a person who was considered ‘righteous’, fell 7 times, they would no longer be deemed righteous?
The difference is the path you are pursuing. Am I on the path of righteousness, pursuing God and loving Him and others as I go or am I pursuing my own interests and agenda?
Do I pursue God’s moral law because I love Him or because I’m trying to justify myself before Him?
These are questions we should ask ourselves for it is the measure by which we will stand in judgement one day.
Either justified or found guilty, either righteous or unrighteous, it’s your choice.