Righteousness (dikaisoune) is a defining aspect of God’s character and nature, but one which is able to be achieved by man, unlike His unique attributes such as omniscience. In terms of theology, Biblical righteousness is the mature fruit of that Holy Seed implanted in us by God when we were “begotten again”; it is the reproduction of Christ in man. He, after all, is the personification of righteousness; indeed, He is described as the Branch of Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:15) and the Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16).
Righteousness is what conforms to both the Word and the Spirit of God; it is both internal and external; internal as to right thinking and external as to right conduct. It is doing that which pleases the Father, as Jesus did (John 8:29). Jesus was the personification of righteousness, being both perfect in moral integrity and perfect in relation to God’s Holy Word, both in His rightly dividing it, and in His obedience to it.
Righteousness has two aspects; one is to do with rightly understanding what God requires; the other is bringing the life into harmony with that right understanding. Put another way, the one is spiritually discerned, the other is morally applied. You can have a right spiritual understanding without a right moral response, but you cannot have a right moral response without a right spiritual understanding. The foundation of Biblical righteousness therefore, is the correct interpretation of the word of truth, and the second edge to that Biblical sword is a moral response to that revelation.
In both theses applications of the word, righteousness is what is produced by abiding in Christ, a manifestation of His life in mine. Paul wrote:
“…that grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).
How does grace reign through righteousness? By man’s obedience to the Word of grace. Moreover, in this submission to God’s grace revealed, Christ Jesus is glorified.
There can be no righteousness outside Christ; “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). While there can be many admirable human qualities, righteousness belongs to Jesus Christ exclusively, for God made Christ to be righteousness in us (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they were hypocrites; they said, but did not do (Matthew 23:3). They had the appearance of righteousness on the outside, but on the inside they were something different entirely (Matthew 23:25). And, as Jesus warned, the doors of the kingdom shall be shut to those whose righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). They did things to look good in the eyes of men (Matthew 23:5); their desire and ambition was to receive glory from men (Matthew 6:2).
Paul writes: “Stand firm therefore, having girded your waist with truth, and clothing yourself with the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14).
The belt was the foundation garment for the armour of Roman soldiers; if the belt wasn’t right, the breastplate didn’t fit properly. The lesson we draw from this is that if the waist is girded with the doctrines of men, rather than the word of grace brought by the Holy Spirit, the breastplate of Biblical righteousness won’t fit properly and therefore it cannot do its job of protecting the soldier of Christ against unrighteousness and lawlessness.
Religion tends to make laws and bind burdens on the backs of the faithful as indicators of righteousness, but there are no rules for righteousness, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone having faith” (Romans 10:4).
It is important to remember that the demons of hell are quite capable of imitating righteousness, as Paul pointed out: “Therefore it is not surprising if his (Satan’s) ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15); that is why righteousness must come from within, wrought in each believer by the Holy Spirit, and that can only occur where there is absolute surrender to the Word of Truth.
The “sacrifice of righteousness is to trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5); what that means is that we have to sacrifice our own will in favour of that of God; to lay down our “self” lives as Christ did His. We cannot trust God unless we obey what He plainly says in His Word; and remember, faith that isn’t trust, isn’t Biblical faith. It is up to each believer to seriously seek after righteousness; as Jesus said, if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
“Awake to righteousness, and sin not” Paul urges (1 Corinthians 15:34).
If we earnestly beseech Him, the Lord will awaken our hearts to righteousness. It was God who implanted the Holy Seed of righteousness in each of us when we were begotten again by God. When Mary was implanted with the Holy Seed it was to enable the Son of God, a Spirit, to become a human man. When we were “begotten again” by God, the Holy Seed that was implanted in us was to enable us, human creatures, to become living spirits.
The old man was a living soul, a natural man, of the earth, earthly. The man awakened to righteousness is a quickened spirit, a spiritual man, of the Lord, heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:45-47). As we have borne the image of the earthly, so, if we know we are “begotten again” by God, we will bear the image of the heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:49). That image is righteousness.
NOTE: In the language of prophecy, “righteousness” has two negatives; “unrighteousness” and “lawlessness”. The reason is that righteousness is under the spiritual Lordship of Christ Jesus, whereas unrighteousness is under the lordship of the spirit of the world and lawlessness under the lordship of the spirit of anti-Christ.