What is Righteousness?
Like faithfulness, many people struggle with the concept of righteousness. It’s a very churchy-sounding word, after all, and can seem overwhelming, even impossible. Because it feels impossible, many think “Why bother?”
I sometimes feel the weight of the seeming impossibility of righteousness. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to a right focus.
“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (Jesus) is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)
Righteousness is a way of living, a way of imitating Jesus based on the divine, moral law given in the Bible. That at its core means we do what God says we should do and live how he wants us to live.
What’s more, practicing righteousness means showing I am already considered righteous. This only inflames my inner conflict with righteousness because being righteous, by definition, means I am free from guilt and sin, that I am justified. I don’t feel that way a lot of the time.
Of course, the conflict I express comes when I attempt righteousness all on my own. Not possible. I know this both by my many failures and by what the Bible says of the matter.
One activity that helped me better understand righteousness was reading about the first person ever called righteous in the Bible. There’s a good trivia question for you. Know who it is?
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time.” (Genesis 6:9)
Now, we know Noah wasn’t perfect, at least not of his own accord (Genesis 9:20-22). So, what made him righteous and blameless?
If you read all of Genesis 6, you get a solid picture of why Noah found favor and why God considered Him righteous. Three reasons stand out that help me understand how to practice my own righteousness.
1. Noah refused to live according to the culture around him.
Noah was willing to stand out and did not succumb to the evil in the world around him. He alone kept God’s standards.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart… But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)
2. Noah had a relationship with God; he spent time with Him.
“Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
Like his grandfather Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24), Noah spent time with God. Unlike his grandfather who eventually simply “was not, for God took him,” Noah had more that God wanted him to accomplish on earth.
3. Noah did what God asked him to do, even when doing so went against human logic.
Though it had never rained, God told Noah to build a boat and put animals in it. Noah’s response?
“Noah did according to all that God had commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)
Noah’s faith in God is obvious by his obedience.
This is not a comprehensive study of Noah or of righteousness. Instead, it helps each one of us take steps toward increased understanding of what righteousness looks like in a believer’s life.
To continue on that journey, spend time with God in his Word. Ask him to help you walk in righteousness. Study the lives of the many other individuals in the Bible described as righteous, and consider doing a word study on righteousness itself.
The following truths will help you get started. Be sure to read through their accompanying Bible references.
- God is completely righteous. (Isaiah 45:21-24)
- We can’t be righteous on our own. (Isaiah 64:6)
- Human nature is the opposite of righteousness. (Romans 3:10-18)
- Righteousness is not attained by works. (Romans 4:18-25)
- Law following does not make us righteous. (Galatians 3:11-21)
- Righteousness protects the core of a person. (Ephesians 6:14)
- Righteousness comes through faith. (Philippians 3:9)
- Grow in righteousness by studying God’s words. (2 Timothy 3:16)
- Righteousness ought to characterize a believer’s life. (1 Peter 2:24)
Think about how these truths played out in Noah’s life and in the lives of others considered righteous. Realize that while we are declared righteousness, living it is not a one and done attainment but a continual way of living that flows out of a relationship with God as faith in him grows.
In studying righteousness, or God’s faithfulness or any other topic in the Bible, always remember that we are on the road to perfection, to holiness. We journey that road through small steps that add up over time to make a huge difference. Keep taking those steps and following the path God has set before you.