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definition of righteousness

The Definition of Righteousness

When we believe God for change, sometimes we base our ability to receive on what we see in the mirror. We tend to disqualify ourselves from receiving from God because we see the unrighteousness of our flesh. However, we aren’t qualified to receive based on our behavior but on His finished work. Let’s look at the true definition of righteousness.

Definition of Righteousness

The word “righteous” is defined as, “characterized by uprightness…morally right or justifiable…acting in an upright, moral way.” The definition of “righteousness” is the state of being righteous. In other words, a righteous person is someone who does the right things. As Christians, we desire to do what is right. However, as human beings, with imperfect minds and bodies, we don’t always behave in a purely righteous manner.

Throughout the Bible, you find descriptions of righteous people. Scripture says the righteous will receive blessings from God. The Old Testament declares that you will be blessed when you obey the Law and that if you disobey the Law, you’ll be cursed. Yet, in the New Testament it says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, how can any of us be considered righteous? And if we aren’t righteous, how can we believe to receive any blessing from God at all?

There is a difference between the world’s definition of righteousness and the true definition of righteousness. According to the world, a person’s  external behavior determines his or her righteousness. Is someone consistently making good choices, helping others, trying their best? If so, they are judged righteous, and if not, they are judged unrighteous.

But the true definition of righteousness isn’t based on behavior at all! On the contrary, righteousness is based on two things: what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross and our faith in what He did.

Jesus Purchased Our Righteousness

For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21, brackets added for clarity

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 10:12, emphasis added

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14

As Jesus hung on the cross, He took every sin of the world upon Himself. The punishment for humanity’s past, present, and future sin was placed upon Him. He actually became sin for us so that we could be made righteous!

In fact, those requirements of the Old Testament Law were fulfilled by Jesus. The Law wasn’t bad; it perfectly represented God’s standard of holiness. It also showed us that humanity can never perform well enough to earn any blessing from God. So, Jesus did it for us!

Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life so that He could become the one sacrifice that could provide forgiveness for all sin, for all time (Hebrews 10:12). This is why on the cross He said, “It is finished!” His work of providing our redemption was fulfilled at the moment of His death.

Spirit, Soul & Body

As mentioned above, we often disqualify ourselves from receiving God’s best because we know we’re far from perfect. We look at the mistakes we make and think, I’m unrighteous because I do this and that. I can’t expect God to bless a sinner like me! However, God determines our righteousness differently.

So, how can we be righteous and still display unrighteous behavior?

Humans are three-part beings. We are a spirit, we have a soul (mind, will and emotions), and we live in a physical body. When we are born again and put our faith in Jesus, our spirit is made 100% righteous! We exchange our unrighteous with the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). 2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it this way: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

What part became new? Our bodies? No, that can’t be. When we are born again, our bodies don’t instantly change. Do our souls become new when we are born again? No, our thought processes don’t change overnight. The part of you that became new was your spirit. The spirit man is the real you, the part of you that lives forever.

When you put your trust in Jesus and accepted Him as your Savior, your spirit was made brand new! This is why when you are born again, your old behaviors may not change right away, but you are still considered the righteousness of God in Christ.

Made Righteous By Faith

The righteousness that we receive when we are born again comes through our faith in what Jesus did at the cross.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Our salvation, just like our righteousness, is a free gift from God that we receive through faith. It has absolutely nothing to do with our behavior. However, it has everything to do with our faith in Jesus!

Remember, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law. Every single “If you obey these commandments” clause in the Old Testament was fulfilled by Jesus. He perfectly obeyed, so that we would not be held to that impossible standard. In turn, what makes us righteous is not our perfect behavior but our faith in Jesus’ perfect behavior.

When you read the Old Testament blessings that contain a qualifier like, “If you obey the voice of the Lord your God,” imagine it saying, “Because Jesus obeyed the voice of the Lord your God!” Jesus has already perfectly obeyed for you. Now all you have to do is believe!

Receive By Faith

Our qualifications to receive blessings from God have never been dependent upon our behavior, under any Covenant. Even Abraham, who was far from perfect, was considered righteous because of His faith, not because of his actions.

And he [Abram] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Genesis 15:6

When you are believing God for anything—healing, financial provision, fulfilling relationships, restoration, etc.—don’t look to your own successes or failures to determine whether you are deserving to receive or not. You can’t possibly be good enough to deserve the blessings of God!

Thankfully, you don’t have to be. Remind yourself that you are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! Thank God for what He has done and promised you. God’s promises are good and true, and you can believe to receive them without feeling disqualified. Faith in Jesus is all the qualification you need!

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

2 Corinthians 1:20

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