What is the righteousness of God?
When you ask this question, I assume that you are referring to the righteousness of God in God’s people. That is, the Christian’s righteousness, not God’s. This being the case, there are two aspects of this righteousness that we need to consider.
First, there is the “imputed,” or “given” righteousness of God. This is a righteousness which has nothing to do with what we do, but rather who we have faith in. The Bible talks about this righteousness in Roman 3 when it says:
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24)
Notice how the beginning of this verse starts off by saying “now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested”. What does this mean? Simply that it has nothing to do with keeping God’s laws. It is something which God gives freely. How does God do this? And is it just for God to do this? Well, actually it is just. It is just because it depends upon *someone* keeping God’s laws. That “someone” was Jesus. He lived the perfect life. He kept all of God’s laws perfectly. When God gives us, or “imputes to us” his righteousness, he does so on the basis of Christ’s righteousness — the fact that he kept God’s laws perfectly.
Therefore, having received Christ, we are now made righteous in God’s sight — that is what Romans 3:22(a) says: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”. It’s a “faith” thing, not a “works” thing.
There is a second type of righteousness. It is a righteousness that is by works, and not by faith. It is the righteousness that Jesus talked about in Matthew 5:48 when he said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” It is the holiness that Peter talks about when he writes, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) Again, in the book of Hebrews we read, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
In closing, I would like to remind all people that in order to “qualify” for the second type of righteousness — in order for God to give us credit for having done our very best to be outwardly righteous (that is, the “works” righteousness) — we need for first become righteous on the basis of faith in what Christ did for us in dying on the cross. In other words, we could strive all we wanted to, trying to be good people, but if we did not first receive Christ as Savior and Lord, it would profit us nothing! Just look at what Jesus had to say to the scribes and Pharisees, who depended upon their good works to get them into heaven (and they really did try hard to keep the law):
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13)
Here, Jesus says that these scribes and Pharisees actually prevented people from getting into heaven! And yet they tried so hard! What was the problem? The problem was actually a pride thing — these people did not want to accept their need for a Savior! They thought that by their works, they could “earn” the right to go to heaven. (Dead wrong!) All Jesus wanted them to do was to humble themselves a little bit, and “come down” from off of their lofty throne. They would not humble themselves to the point of saying, “I have sinned. Lord, I need to be forgiven. Lord, cleanse me. And make me clean”. But rather, their attitude was, “I am my own boss. Because of what I do, I deserve to go to heaven.”
Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their attitude, and used them as an example of how *not* to be righteous, when he said, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Because of their bad attitute, they sealed themselves *out* of heaven, and any “good works” that they did were done in futility (the good works testified against them, rather than blessing them). So make sure to do your good works with the right attitude! That “right attitude” starts off with confessing that we are sinners and in need of a Savior.
May God bless you as you consider these things today.