What is Righteousness?



The words Righteous and Righteousness are used a lot in the Bible. But the words seem to have different meanings in the secular sense vs. the Biblical sense. Can you sort this out please.  M.R.

DEAR M.R:  I will be happy to try. Thank you for your question.

Righteous, as used in the secular culture of today, has come to mean something different than its Biblical meaning. When people today say that “Charlie is righteous,” they mostly mean that he is morally upright, that he is virtuous, that he is law abiding. All are secular attributes that are certainly praiseworthy, involving good behavior, good citizenship and the like. But the same words used in a spiritual or Biblical context have a much deeper, more profound and eternal meaning. Why? Because when someone is “righteous” in a Biblical sense … that is, righteous in God’s eyes, it has to do, not with how people see him, but how God sees him.

The word “righteous” or, its derivative, “righteousness” are used five-hundred and forty-five times in the Bible. That’s more times than “Apostle” (85 times), “Baptize” (71 times), “Devil” (36 times),  “Salvation” (122 times), “Forgive” (150 times), or “Disciple” (296 times). So it is clear that understanding the meaning, importance and usage of the words righteous, and righteousness as they are used in the Bible, is an important and key aspect to our understanding of God and how he relates to us and we to him.

So what do righteous and righteousness mean as they are used in the Bible?

Righteous (Biblically) literally means “blameless in Gods eyes.” It means that there are “no issues between us and God” … that we are in a relationship of “right standing” with God and that we are at “peace with God.”

Importantly, the Bible says that without being in a state of righteousness at our death, we cannot go to Heaven! I Corinthians 6:9 (King James Version) “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” And Jesus himself says this in Matthew 5:20 (New International Version) … “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.”

Sounds easy, but there is just one problem, and it’s a biggie! NONE OF US ARE RIGHTEOUS … ME INCLUDED!  In fact Romans 3:10, 23 states God’s truth about every single human being on planet earth. (New Living Translation) … “No one is righteous, not even one. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

That means, sadly, that if I merely stole a pencil in the third grade, lied to my spouse last week or disobeyed my mom at age fourteen … I have broken three of the Ten Commandments so by definition I am a sinner and I was then and still am now in a state of unrighteousness. Sounds kinda harsh. Right?

Maybe, but, like most people, I’ve probably violated God’s law which he gave in his Ten Commandments, not just the three times I mention here, but many thousands of times, maybe tens of thousands of times over my life. So whether we want to admit it or not, each of us has the stain and guilt of sin upon us, and for that reason we are unrighteous and thus cannot enter Heaven. “That sounds even more harsh,” you might exclaim.

But think about it. Why on earth would God let sin, sinners and unrighteous people enter his perfect sinless heaven to pollute and ruin heaven like we have polluted and ruined the earth with our violence, lies, hate and destruction? He wouldn’t and he won’t! Sorry, but that’s the unpleasant truth!

But there IS good news! God in his love, grace, and mercy did not abandon us to our sin, death and unrighteousness.

No. He sent his only son Jesus to live among us for thirty three years and teach us by his example how to live lives of righteousness. Jesus bore the punishment all of us deserve by dieing on the Cross at Calvary then somehow through a miracle, the Bible says that God DECLARED EVERYONE AS RIGHTEOUS  who believes in and trusts in Jesus’ blood sacrifice and resurrection.  Next week we will celebrate his birthday.

So its all really quite simple. God does something that only he can do. He pardons us. Then, he declares us something that we aren’t, and can never be on our own … RIGHTEOUS… blameless! Our only requirement is to trust in him to do it, then love and follow him.

Merry Christmas And Happy New Year To All My Readers.

Father Paul Massey is Canon to the Bishop of the Mid-South Diocese of The International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and is assigned to The Cathedral Of Christ The King in Sharpsburg, Georgia.