Righteousness is a big concept and can often seem complicated to understand. But it is critical that we, as Christians, take the time to discover the truth about righteousness, so we can live a life filled with faith and free from hindrances.
Our righteousness in Christ is the centerpiece on which Christian faith is built. Everything God’s Word promises us hangs on it, and the entire structure of our salvation is built upon it. If we are going to walk in the joy of our salvation and the power of the promises we have in Him, we must understand our righteousness in Christ.
What Is Righteousness?
Traditional thinking confuses righteousness with holiness. Many people never stop to ask the question, “What is righteousness?” They think they already know the answer and believe righteousness is the way you act, but this is not true… righteousness is what you are—the nature of God.
Scripture uses the term “righteous (just)” to describe the resulting state of our regeneration and our compatibility with God: our likeness to Him. It means we have “right-standing” with God, or more simply, God’s “rightness” has been given to us. As partakers of the divine nature [simple_tooltip content=’as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,’](2 Peter 1:3[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. ‘]1 John 4:17)[/simple_tooltip], through regeneration by Holy Spirit [simple_tooltip content=’not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,’](Titus 3:5)[/simple_tooltip], God’s divine righteousness is imputed and imparted to us in Christ [simple_tooltip content=’Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’](2 Corinthians 5:17[/simple_tooltip], [simple_tooltip content=’For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’]21[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”’]Romans 1:16-17[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,’]3:21[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’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 3:9[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.’]1 Peter 2:24)[/simple_tooltip]. When we are born again, it completely replaces the old, sinful nature inside us. This makes us right with God. This is what it means to be born of God [simple_tooltip content=’12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’](John 1:12-13)[/simple_tooltip]. Because of this righteousness the Father has shared with us, we can accurately be called saints, holy, pure, blameless, and light-filled in Christ.
A GREEK DEFINITION FOR A HEBREW CONCEPT
The prominent theme in various Old Testament Hebrew words for righteousness is an imputed righteousness rather than an imparted one. Abram is the clearest recipient of this imputed righteousness [simple_tooltip content=’And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.’](Genesis 15:6)[/simple_tooltip].
The Hebrew word used for the righteousness imputed to Abram is tsedaqah. It indicates a position given by God in light of Abram’s faith. It means God considered Abram as righteous, despite Abram’s sinful nature or his ability to keep any law—a huge act of mercy from God. He was counted righteous for his faith in God; however, there is no evidence regeneration happened, or the actual nature of those in the old covenant was made righteous.
This is the type of righteousness many Christians believe they have in the new covenant. However, the apostles interpreted the reality of righteousness further, giving new covenant substance to an old covenant shadow.
A Greek word translated “justification” is dikaiosis in the New Testament [simple_tooltip content=’who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.’](Romans 4:25)[/simple_tooltip], which means „clearance of all the guilt.” This word means the same imputed righteousness as the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament. In fact, the concept is contrasted directly back to the imputed justification Abraham received in Romans 4. However, the Greek words used for righteousness in the New Testament differ from this word for justification and expand on it, showing imputed righteousness is not the end of our redemption but the beginning. These new definitions used to describe new covenant righteousness drastically moved from that of imputation to become definitions that now included imparted righteousness.
We see words for “righteous” like dikaios. When you look at this word in Strong’s Concordance, it means: “used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life;” also “faultless, guiltless,” “holy and innocent,” “acceptable to God.” [simple_tooltip content=’So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just,’](Matthew 13:49[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”’]Romans 1:17[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”’]Galatians 3:11[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”’]Hebrews 10:38)[/simple_tooltip]. This is both a statement of our new nature and the life we are invited to live by faith as new creations. This is an internal reality being described, not just how God sees us.
Another word for righteousness is dikaiosyne, which means the “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God, the doctrine concerning how man may attain a state approved of God,” and “integrity, virtue, purity of life, tightness; correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting.” This word expands on the word for justification again, giving it a far deeper new covenant meaning now that we are united in Christ and one spirit with the Lord [simple_tooltip content=’But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.’](1 Corinthians 6:17)[/simple_tooltip]. We see that as we continue to live out the reality of this truth, this naturally leads to purity of action too.
Then there is dikaioo, meaning “to render (i.e. show) just or innocent: free, justify, be righteous. To render righteous or such he ought to be, to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered” [simple_tooltip content=’being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,’](Romans 3:24[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.’]8:30[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.’]1 Corinthians 6:11[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.’]Galatians 2:16[/simple_tooltip]; [simple_tooltip content=’that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’]Titus 3:7)[/simple_tooltip].
You can see that while the definition of these Greek words includes our justified position before the Father, they go far deeper and reveal the statement of our new identity and ability to evidence our new nature in this life.
The apostle Paul tells us that when we believed in Jesus, He identified us as His own by giving us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He has promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people [simple_tooltip content=’13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.’](Ephesians 1:13–14)[/simple_tooltip]. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal upon our life to attest that we have been given the free gift of righteousness and the gift of eternal life through Jesus’ finished work.
For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Romans 5:17 tells us that we can reign in life through Jesus Christ. However, the experience of most Christians does not line up with this truth. Instead, the circumstances of many Christians are reigning OVER THEM!
If we are not reigning, we need to ask ourselves why. And what is reigning, generally speaking? Reigning is simply resting in the finished work of the cross of Jesus and in all the benefits of His resurrection! This doesn’t mean we won’t have any problems, but it means that we can be at rest in the middle of them, believing that God through Jesus has already provided everything we need!
Taking a closer look at Romans 5:17, this verse will give us some clues and insight into reigning in life. Here are some of the phrases and their meanings from this verse:
- “those who receive„: Receive is the Greek word “lambano” and it means “to take, to lay hold of.” It’s an active verb. It’s not just waiting on God to zap you. Also, it’s in the Greek present active participle tense. In other words, those who are continually receiving. Receiving what?
- “the abundance of grace„: Not just a measure of unearned favor of God, but the abundance of it! Abundance is the Greek word “perisseia” and it means “superabundantly, superfluously, gain, or profit.”
- “the gift of righteousness„: Gift is the word “dorea” in the Greek and means a free gift. The word stresses its unmerited and undeserved character. As we saw earlier, the word “righteousness” literally means the “state of him who IS as he OUGHT to be, the condition acceptable to God.” The righteous have been cleared of all the record of their guilt before God, he is AS YOU OUGHT TO BE! He is acceptable to God!
- “reign in life”: Through receiving the free gift of righteousness, we reign in life. And this isn’t talking about heaven one day. It’s talking about now! The Amplified Bible says, “reign as kings in life.” Reign is the word “basileuo” which means to exercise kingly power. To reign in life means that we have authority. We exercise our kingly authority by taking captive any thought or fiery dart of the enemy, by using the power of our words, and by resting in Christ.
All the benefits of our resurrection life and all that God has for us must be received. These two things that Romans 5:17 mentions that God has given to us – the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness – must be actively, aggressively, continually taken hold of to reign in this life.
Living in this fallen world, we are constantly in a tension with the accusations of the ruler of this world who tells us we are not righteous when we fail that will cause us to doubt our righteousness in Christ and put us on a path of self-righteousness and defeat. Yet, the truth proclaims that we are under grace and perfectly righteous because of the blood of Jesus.
We never lose the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness once we are born again, but our lives may not reflect this truth. When we believe the truth, it will set us free to receive the benefits of it.
So, the reality that we share God’s righteousness means many powerful things for us, including:
- We have an entirely new existence. We are those who are righteous before God in Christ, having peace with God, as if we had never sinned.
- Sharing God’s righteousness makes us compatible with God so that we can have a deep, constant, love relationship with the Father.
- Due to our righteous nature in Christ and because of our new relationship quality with the Father, we can now live a righteous life as a love response to Him—the thing we could never do with our old, sinful nature and broken relationship.
When the righteousness becomes real in your life, you will experience the life and power God intends for you to have through the gift of righteousness.