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Righteousness: Given to You and Grown Within You

From the time I was eight years old, some sixty years now, I have been going to church. I was one of those who went Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, whenever the church was meeting. Although I cannot say I went “every time the doors were opened” because I have missed a few times, some for good reason and some without a good reason, I have met with God’s people more than the above average person.

So, I know the religious jargon, all the words that people outside of the church do not understand and perhaps some people attending church also do not understand. But knowing the jargon doesn’t always mean understanding the words. Yes, I knew the words. Yes, I knew a lot of the key Scriptures that used the words and had even memorized some of them. But did I truly understand the words? For a long time the answer would be “No.” And although I may have a better understanding today, I am sure I still have more understanding to come to about them.

One of those words is righteousness.

Say this word to a non-religious person and you will probably get a weird look. Say this word to a church goer and their eyes might light up as they say they are so glad that God considers them righteous. And, yes, this is something that every Christian should be abundantly thankful for. Yet there is more to this beautiful and multifaceted word than we often consider.

For those of us who are in Christ, we know we have righteousness, that is we are in a position of having been made righteous by God. As Paul wrote, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

But what exactly does this mean to be righteous? What is righteousness?

For the largest portion of my life with Christ, I have heard this word described as “being made right with God” or “being in right standing with God.” I grew up learning that the word for righteous and righteousness can also be translated as “justified,” which I heard described as being “ just as if” I was without sin. These are all true and we do need to understand and appreciate these aspects of righteousness, as they bring in the abundant grace of God, but for me these concepts are still somewhat ethereal.

Looking at several respected Greek dictionaries, I found these definitions of righteousness (dikaiosynē): justice, justness, righteous, righteousness; acceptable to God; observing divine and human laws; the state of him who is such as he ought to be; the state of being in proper relationship with God; the act of doing what is in agreement with standards.

What occurred to me as I read these definitions was that, yes, righteousness is a position that we are placed in by God, but that it goes beyond this.

These definitions indicate righteousness involves more than just a positional state; it also involves a way of acting and living, it involves what we do.

We also see another nuance of righteousness which is related to conformity to a standard, of being what one is supposed to be. In our case, this would be conformity to God’s standards, being what God intends us to be, living as God intended us to live.

This meaning of righteousness helped me understand several Bible passages, such as when Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 and 23, that “There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

God created us in His image and intended us to be like Him in our lives, but we made a choice not to conform to his image. In other words, we chose to rebel against Him and become sinners.

So God sent Christ to redeem us, placing us in a position of being right with God, and also transforming us through the power of His Holy Spirit to live in conformity with the way God intended us to live.

Consider the following Scriptures:

“And we all…are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

Understanding that righteousness is more than a positional state I am in but also portraying the image of Christ in the way I live, a state of being, helps me have a better understanding of passages like these:

  • I walk in the way of righteousness (Prov. 8:20-21).
  • For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). (In the context Jesus is speaking of the way they lived and so is equating righteousness with a way of living.)
  • Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matt. 6:1).
Righteousness is not just a position; it is a way of living out life, something we practice, something that can be seen.

Put another way, righteousness is something God gives to us and something He grows within us. It’s something we both stand within and grow into.

So, have you practiced your righteousness lately?

And, this verse really puzzled me:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

It is in Jesus that we become the righteousness of God. But what does the righteousness of God look like in our lives?

God is righteous. His very being, His essence, is being and doing what is right and good and best for others.

This is why God provides sunshine, rain, and air, sustaining our existence and providing for people whether they love or hate Him. Ultimately, God provided for our spiritual needs, sending Christ to pay the penalty for our sins and providing his Spirit to empower us and transform our hearts.

Through the way we love others, provide for the physical needs of the needy, provide for the spiritual needs of others, and through being ministers of reconciliation—these are how we live out the righteousness of God in our lives.

Has anyone seen the righteousness of God through you recently?

So, I have come to see that righteousness is not only a blessed position that our God has placed me in but also a way of living that naturally flows out of this blessed position. As the apostle John put it,

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:7)

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