Definition of Righteousness
by Rayola Kelley
Q: What is righteousness?
A: There seems to be much confusion about what is real righteousness. Some people think it is a matter of what you do, but this is not completely correct. Righteousness in the kingdom of God has a lot more to do with where you are standing in relationship to the Lord.
This brings us to the simple meaning of righteousness. It is right standing in God. If one is in right standing in God, then one can be assured of coming into right standing before God. Right standing before God will allow Him to count obedient actions that are in accordance to His Word as being righteous. As you can see, righteousness has to do with our standing in our relationship with the Lord.
In light of this information we must understand what it means to be in right standing in God. Righteousness is a position, state, attitude, and response. We must begin with position. Positionally, God must see us as being in right standing with Him. The only way He can do this is upon being born of the Spirit from above in accordance to His Word. He places us in Christ who is the essence of our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). When God looks upon us, instead of us standing in our filthy rags, He will see Jesus in His righteousness, placing us in a position of righteousness. In a sense, we become “trees of righteousness”. 2 Corinthians 5:21brings this insight to this matter, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” As the life of Christ is formed in us, we are being made more and more into the embodiment of His righteousness.
Next comes the state of righteousness. We know that there is no good thing in our flesh(Romans 7:18). In other words, there is nothing beneficial that originates with the flesh. Therefore, all that we do must originate with God to be considered acceptable, good, and perfect. To be in a state of righteousness where all matters find their foundation and inspiration in heaven, requires faith on our part. We must believe that what has been declared in God’s Word is true, right, and perfect. We must approach the Word with not only the intent to believe it, but with the determination to abide (live and walk) in it (Romans 10:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7). This will bring us into a state of righteousness. It is because of faith that God can reckon such a state as being righteous. Romans 4:4 confirms this, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Once we have come to the state of righteousness by simple faith, then we are able to develop the attitude of righteousness. The attitude of righteousness is quite simple: It hates evil. You cannot develop the clarity of righteousness unless you despise that which opposes, hinders, or defiles it. Job, who was considered pure and blameless before God, hated evil (Job 1:1). He clearly rejected any temptations, affronts, or claims of evil. By hating evil, it will be natural for us to seek after the standard and example of righteousness which was expressed in Jesus Christ. It was for this reason that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to reprove us of righteousness according to the example of Christ (Matthew 6:33; John 16:8-11).
Finally, there is the response of righteousness. Righteousness will always manifest itself in godliness. The Bible is clear that the Lord has given everything to us that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Godliness is exercising the instructions, ways, and matters of God into our lives through assimilation (believing it is true), applying its wisdom as truth to our ways, and obeying the instructions as a natural expression of our love and adoration for Him. Remember, there is nothing that acknowledges or compliments someone more than the desire of another to be like him or her. This is true for the Lord, only He is worthy of such adoration. It is for this reason that we will naturally flee youthful lusts and choose to follow after righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22).
Since our best is filthy rags and our unregenerate works can be considered reprobate, it is obvious that the Lord imputes righteousness to us at every point. It is also clear that in order to attribute righteousness to us, we must be standing in the right place in our relationship with Him.