What does righteousness mean?

Righteousness is generally defined as an action or behavior that is morally right or just. Righteousness is frequently mentioned and discussed in the Bible. The Greek word typically translated as righteousness deals with behavior related to other people or toward God in areas of morality, business dealings, or legal matters. It is also often used in contrast with wickedness.

Psalm 1 offers a poetic look at the life and conduct of a righteous person. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."

These words clearly indicate that the righteous person does not focus his life on associating with the wicked, but in meditation upon God's Word. The wicked person will find judgment in the end, but the Lord watches over the way of the righteous. These themes are often repeated in other Psalms and Proverbs.

While the Christian seeks to live a righteous life, the Bible is also clear there is no one who is righteous on his or her own: "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). Instead, Jesus is called the Righteous One (Acts 7:52) who offers His righteousness to cover the penalty of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In response, the believer is empowered by God's Spirit toward an ever-increasing life of righteous living. As Romans 12:1-2 teaches, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

An interesting thing about the Christian life is that the perfect righteousness of God gives us righteousness in Christ and helps us to daily grow in righteousness by the power of His Spirit. In heaven, we will be made perfect in righteousness as we dwell in His presence forever.

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