The Bible is full of guidance and wisdom for followers of Christ to lean on and learn. One common topic that you may frequently come across in the Bible is righteousness. The words righteous and righteousness occur in the Bible (ESV) a total of 567 times! Obviously, righteousness is important, but why? Why do we see righteousness in the Bible so many times? Well, perhaps we should start by understanding what righteousness means.
What is Righteousness in the Bible?
Righteousness is defined as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Righteousness in the Bible is used to describe an attribute of God.
When we look at righteousness in the Bible, we can use different tools to help us understand what it means. One useful tool for defining the word righteousness in the Bible, is a concordance, which lists various words, along with citations of the passages and where they are found. All 567 times righteousness is seen in the Bible can be found in a concordance, thereby making it a great tool to aid in your Bible study. Another tool you can use to further understand a word like righteousness in the Bible, is a lexicon. More specifically, a Greek or Hebrew lexicon. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. Because the Bible we read today has been translated from both languages, sometimes there isn’t a word in English that completely represents the original meaning of the Hebrew and Greek word. Transcribers typically use a phrase that communicates the idea accurately, but sometimes it is nice to look back at the full definition of a word in the original language.
Now that doesn’t mean we all need to be Greek and Hebrew scholars to fully understand the Bible, but it is nice to have tools available to us to use when we need them. Some online lexicons that I have found helpful include the Blue Letter Bible and Bible Tools.
That being said, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for righteousness was tsedeq. In the Hebrew language, words were used more as a word picture to describe an idea. So tsedeq was a term that painted the picture of balanced scales.
When we look at the word righteousness in the New Testament language of Greek, dikaisunē, it is defined in a broad sense as the “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.”
Who Does the Bible Call Righteous?
Righteousness in the Bible is firstly and most completely, a characteristic of God. 1 John 1:5 says,
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
Christ also, as part of the Trinity, has righteousness as a characteristic. (We will talk later about the wonderful things He does with His righteousness.) So, of course, if God and Jesus are righteous, then the Holy Spirit is righteous as well. The Trinity functions as one. Any characteristic we see attributed to one, we can infer to be attributed to all three. If you’ve been in church any length of time, you have probably heard this scripture from Romans 3:10,
as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;
And while this scripture is true, it is only true apart from Christ. Through the work of the Lord in and through us, we are made righteous. And it is because of the work of God in their lives, we see righteousness attributed to Noah, Lot, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, Abel, Joseph, John the Baptist, Zacharias, Elisabeth, and Simeon. These people, when mentioned in scripture, are said to be righteous because of the actions that revealed their faith. We, as Christ followers are even referred to as the “righteousness of God through Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Learn about righteousness as the breastplate of the armor of God.
Can I Become Righteous?
Yes! You can! In the previous paragraph you just read that through Jesus, we are the righteousness of God. But, you also just read in Romans 3:10 that none are righteous. So, how do we work through the truth of these two passages to fully answering the question of “Can I Become Righteous?”
Well, first of all, we can’t confine our search to these two verses alone. Remember, righteousness in the Bible occurs 567 times! But don’t worry, we won’t look at every single one of those. I’ll leave a little research for you to do yourself.
Look with me at Philippians 3:9,
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
Righteousness in the Bible comes through faith in Christ, not in our ability to obey. Because let’s face it, our ability to obey the law is minimal at best.
Romans 6:15-23 tells us that we are to become slaves to righteousness. Now I know that the thought of slavery initially puts a bad taste in your mouth. Mine too. However, this slavery is for the sake of the freedom found in Christ. We can be slaves to righteousness because it is fully to our benefit! God is a good and perfect master, so we do not need to be afraid to serve Him with our lives.
According to Romans 6 verse 18 we have been “set free from sin” and “have become slave of righteousness”. For sin leads to death (v.21 and 23), but righteousness leads to eternal life (v.22 and 23).
Pursuing Righteousness Isn’t Easy
Pursuing righteousness in the Bible is not easy. We are told time and time again to endure, to persevere. And why would that be? Because the Christian life is difficult. Everything doesn’t become perfect once you accept Christ and start living for Him. He tells us this truth in John 16:33. But thankfully, it comes with great encouragement too:
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
What great encouragement indeed!
In our pursuit of the righteousness found in the Bible, we must be watchful that it doesn’t turn into “self-righteousness”. Self-righteousness is very different from righteousness in the Bible. Righteousness in the Bible depends on the work of Christ in us, which produces humility in us knowing that it is not our own power, but the power of Christ at work through us. Self-righteousness is dependent on our own works done out of selfish motivation.
You know the kind of righteousness I’m referring to. Has there ever been a time when you did something good, solely for the purpose of receiving praise and/or to look better than someone else? Let’s not kid ourselves. We have all been guilty of that at one time or another. But in pursuing righteousness, we need to practice humility so that the righteousness we are producing is the true righteousness in the Bible.
Proverbs 21:21 says that
He who pursues righteousness and loyalty Finds life, righteousness and honor.
1 Peter 5:5 commands us,
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
When we pursue self-righteousness, it comes from a position of pride that will eventually lead to our demise. However, when we humbly pursue righteousness in the Bible, we will be honored by God Himself. Now that sounds like something I want to pursue. What about you?
Not only does pursuing righteousness lead to life and honor, but there are other big gains as well. After telling how God cares for us far more than He does for the “birds of the air” and the “lilies of the field”, Matthew 6:33 shares how we can resist being anxious and receive from God all that we need.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
We must seek his kingdom and his righteousness. There are so many good reasons to pursue righteousness in the Bible.
We Have Help to Become Righteous
One scripture that has been particularly encouraging to me, as I think about the work of pursuing righteousness, is found in Romans 8:10-11. It says,
If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
We do not have to muster up our own righteousness, which is good since we can’t do it anyway. There is nothing you or I can do to make ourselves righteous. We must depend on the work of Christ. The complete work of Christ, both on the cross and in us through the Holy Spirit. He is the one who
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. ~ Romans 8:28.
Scripture repeatedly tells us that our righteousness and godliness come from Christ. He is our help. He imparts His righteousness onto us and gives us the power to act in it. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Take comfort in the truth that it is He who makes you righteous! I don’t know about you, but that is very freeing to me. It makes me want more of Him. And it also motivates me to learn even more about righteousness in the Bible and all that it has to say.
Go discover God’s Righteousness in the Bible
Let this truth encourage and propel you forward in your pursuit of Christ. Let it motivate you to see what else the Bible says, not just about righteousness, but about everything. The more we know God’s word, the better we are at knowing how to pursue righteousness. May that be freeing to you, not burdensome. Becoming righteous isn’t a burden, it is a privilege. A privilege we can find great joy in. May you find great joy in pursuing Christ and His righteousness!