So often in church we lapse into “religious talk” without ever really understanding what our words actually mean. We need to very clearly understand the definitions of the words that we use, sometimes so loosely. If we don’t know exactly what words mean, then they really have no meaning to us at all.
Righteous and righteousness are two of those “ambiguous” words. We sorta know what they mean, maybe. And maybe not. Yet, if we are not absolutely 100 percent certain of what they mean and how they apply to every one of God’s children, they we are missing out on all that God has for us.
The great example of “righteousness” that the Bible speaks of is the righteousness of Abraham, who was called God’s friend. That is not to say that Moses and David (the other two Old Testament people called God’s friend) were not righteous. They most certainly were. But they came after Abraham, and so, Abraham gets to be called the Father of Many Nations. He was the called this because he trusted God fully. God told him to pick up and leave his home and go to a new land, and so he did. He argued with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, and God not only listened to him, as a Friend would, but even agreed to Abraham’s stipulations. Then God told him he and Sarah would have a child, even though they were beyond child bearing years and Sarah had been barren all her life. Further, he was wiling to even sacrifice his own son, Isaac, at God’s request because he totally trusted God. By faith Abraham, when he was put to the test [while the testing of his faith was still in progress], had already brought Isaac for an offering; he who had gladly received and welcomed [God’s] promises was ready to sacrifice his only son, Of whom it was said, Through Isaac shall your descendants be reckoned. For he reasoned that God was able to raise [him] up even from among the dead. Indeed in the sense that Isaac was figuratively dead [potentially sacrificed], he did [actually] receive him back from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19).
Thus Abraham believed in and adhered to and trusted in and relied on God, and it was reckoned and placed to his account and credited as righteousness (as conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action) (Gal. 3:6). There’s a hint at the meaning of righteous and righteousness. Some define it as being in right standing with God. What it means is that God graces us (his children) with the same favor as He graces Jesus. Now, God will never see any of us as Messiah. That was Jesus’ job and He accomplished it perfectly. To Him and to Him only belongs the title of King of kings and Lord of lords. But what it does mean is that when we are “righteous” we are viewed by God as being without sin, totally clean and pure in His presence. We are in “right standing” in the sense that we are seen by God as being sinless. Not because of anything that we have done, but because of what Jesus did for us.
In His Last Will and Testament (John 17), Jesus notes that He is giving us the glory and honor which You have given Me, that they may be one [even] as We are one (John 17:22). That’s why we are so highly elevated. That’s why we get to be called “righteous” and be viewed by God as sinless and pure in His sight. Jesus bought and paid for it.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul goes into a long discussion of Father Abraham, noting his legacy and his righteous standing with God, and then notes, [Righteousness, standing acceptable to God] will be granted and credited to us also who believe in (trust in, adhere to, and rely on) God, Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Who was betrayed and put to death because of our misdeeds and was raised to secure our justification (our acquittal), [making our account balance and absolving us from all guilt before God] (Rom 4:24-25).
Being righteousness or living in a state of righteousness doesn’t mean just being a good person, or one who goes to church every Sunday and supports all the church activities. It doesn’t mean being pious and ready to preach the Gospel at the drop of hat, or shoe, or other garment. No, it means that you are clear and clean of all sin. And that only comes one way. You have to ask to be cleaned and you have to mean it with true sincerity from a heart that doesn’t want to go on sinning. A few mumbled words of apology and a half-hearted request for forgiveness just won’t do. You really must not want to sin and not want to live in sin. And the truth of it is, that God’s children really don’t want to sin nor live in sin. So, get yourself in a state of mind that is focused on the task at hand, go to God and admit any sins that you know you have committed. Do this with a heart that is repentant—has turned away from that act of sin—and ask God to please forgive you and wash you clean in the precious Blood of the Lamb (1John 1:7, 9).
Do this daily, hourly, if necessary. Don’t go asking God to forgive you as a daily “chant.” That’s nonsense. Asking for true forgiveness requires a heart that is repenting of sin. Now you might say on a daily basis, “Father I give you my life and my work. Thank You for helping me not to yield to temptation and for protecting me from the Evil One.” But when you do something that really stings you, then, right then, repent and ask for forgiveness.
For example, I grew up in a rural community where swearing was a “manly” thing. Kids weren’t allowed to swear, but once you got a bit older, then you could use all those words you learned as kids but weren’t allowed to use (at least in the presence of adults, who by the way, did use them). So, very occasionally, when I’ve hit my finger with the hammer at the end of a long hard day of building something, I might swear. But I don’t want to. I feel embarrassed that I bowed to that impulse. So, right then, I stop, apologize to God for allowing my lower nature to take over, ask Him to forgive me and to help me to overcome such impulses in the future.
I want to stay in a righteous state because The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working] (James 5:16b). For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), and His ears are attentive to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who practice evil [to oppose them, to frustrate, and defeat them] (1Peter 3:12).
When we are in right standing with God, we can burst right into the throne room and talk with God all we want. He will not only welcome us, but will listen attentively and even reply if we give Him a chance.
This enormous gift of making us righteous before God is a key to understanding who we really are in Christ Jesus, We are not second class citizens, standing off in the distance and watching enviously as Jesus gets to sit with God, talk to Him, and share everything with Him. We get to be right there with Jesus. In fact, Jesus made this possible, so He welcomes us with open arms, too. We’re not clothed in rags and smelling of the dung heap. We are dressed in royal purple and smell of the perfumes of Heaven. Through the righteousness that came to us through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we have power and authority in our lives, and we need to live confidently in the Truth of that.