Righteousness is a word that many find hard to understand, and it can be difficult to explain. Simply put, it is upright conduct or virtue; it is the state or condition of being right and just. God is truly righteous and holy, and because of this we must be righteous as well. In 1 John we read, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:5-6). However, the righteousness of God is not something that is earned, but is a gift that we receive when we put our faith in Him. Christ is the source and author of righteousness. He is the only perfect example!
God is Holy. He is perfect and upright in all His ways, and there is no wrong in Him. In 2 Corinthians we read that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This verse points directly to Christ, telling us that He is inherently righteous and we as humans are not. He is the only one who has not known sin – at least not his own. So how do we, as unrighteous humans, approach such an amazing God? Even Job wondered how a person could approach God when He is so perfect (Job 4:17). How do we not only approach Him, but become right and acceptable before Him? And how does the righteousness of God apply to us today?
In Romans 3:21-26 we read
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Christ was not born a sinner, nor was he punished for any of his own sins, but for ours. All our sins were placed on him as if he had done them, which he did not. He took the personal penalty for them; death, even death on a cross. As believers in Christ, God has taken our sin and placed it on His son. Believers, then, experience the blessing of forgiveness through faith in the complete redemption provided by Jesus Christ. When sinners repent of their sin, affirm that Jesus is Lord, and trust solely in His completed work on the cross, God credits Christ’s righteousness to their account. On the cross, God treated Christ as if he had lived our life with our sin so that he could treat us as if we had lived Christ’s life of pure holiness. He took our punishment and has declared us righteous! God is the source, with the power to declare us righteous.
Having said all that, does this give us a ticket to sin? No, we must do our part! Like I already mentioned, there needs to be repentance. And not only repentance but faith as well, a faith where works are evident. James warns us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Without repentance and faith, this gift is not available to us. Because we are made righteous, we need to strive to live holy lives. Ephesians 5 gives us instruction on how to live our Christian lives out in love. In verse 11 says to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Also, in verse 15 and 16 it says to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We can see here that we are not given a free ticket to sin and continually misuse God’s righteousness and gift of forgiveness. Instead, we are to strive to live righteous lives.
God is holy and righteous. He sent Christ to die for you and me, and gave us an amazing gift of righteousness. We need to come before Him with repentant hearts, turn from our sin, and accept his forgiveness. He then gifts to us His righteousness in order that we can appear righteous before God. Only to God can we be forever grateful!