It's time we stop running on the hamster wheel rat race of our spiritual efforts and truly learn how to be righteous. The amazing news is, we can do it! So let’s touch on what exactly that means, because I’m not talking about surfing right now.
Literally speaking - like Websters - righteousness means the quality of being morally right or justifiable. In practice, we would think of someone who is virtuous internally (intentions, thoughts, etc.) and who acts in an upright, integrous way externally (behaviors, words, etc.) as a righteous person. An all-around, genuinely good person. Of course, no one is perfectly righteous, because surely at some point we’ve all harbored a negative thought, cut someone off on the road, or said something we wish we could take back. But you get the idea.
In the context of Christianity, righteousness is a big, big, big deal, for two main reasons. For one, the motivation to be righteous is significantly greater. And secondly, the standard for righteousness is infinitely higher.
When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just wanting to be righteous so that people think highly of us, or for some sort of karma, what goes around comes around, ultimately self-centered motivation. We want to be righteous because we know that:
But that’s just the thing: the person that we’re following is so stinking far ahead of us! How are we supposed to keep up?? Jesus didn’t screw up one time when he lived on earth. Sooo … dang it. I definitely can’t beat that. Or match that. And if that’s the precedent he set, then, well, shoot. I guess I’m just going to get as close as I possibly can?
But even in my efforts, the math part of my brain is having a hard time figuring this thing out. I’m trying to hang with Jesus, and 100% perfect righteousness is where he lives. Jesus is over there. I’m over here. I can’t get over there.
I don’t like this.
I wonder what the cut-off line is going to be. I mean, surely he’s going to allow at least one person to pass the test, right? But how many will pass at the end of the day? What’s the bell curve here? How close am I going to have to get to his standard of righteousness for him to look past all my unrighteousness - my mistakes and my shortcomings?
Like I said - for believers, righteousness is a big deal. Scary big. Really scary. Really big big scary big. I’m not even exaggerating here.
But get this: God did something amazing … He changed the Webster’s definition of righteousness!!!
[Just kidding, God was here first. Sorry Websters.]
But really. God gave us a new way to define and pursue righteousness - not as something we do or reach or become, but as something that we are. We no longer have to prove ourselves by attempting to perfect our thoughts, feelings, actions, words, and desires. We are no longer defined by the net sum of our actions. Righteousness is no longer about what we do or don’t do, have or haven’t done. We are righteous! It’s our identity!
That means our righteousness is also absolutely unscuffable. It doesn’t go up or down depending on our merits each day. We can actually just be righteous, once and for all. What’s more? We can live like it, too!
Before, when we wanted to be righteous but deep down we knew we really weren’t, we were doomed to fall short before we ever started. But now, when our righteousness is legitimately who we are, and who we are is totally sealed, then behaving accordingly is second nature! All we have to ‘do’ is be ourselves.
Our one-step process to right, blameless, and justified standing with God - even by HIS standards??? … Faith … Just believe, in your heart of hearts.
Now if you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds like something Disney channel would say,” I can’t blame you. [And hey they're a great company for a reason, am I right? :) ] But there’s a specific reason why God is able to do this. It’s because when we become believers, our righteousness - and our unrighteousness - doesn’t even exist anymore. We could not, even we we tried, add to or take away from our righteousness. Why not? Well, because … it gets weirder ... we don’t exist anymore. See, following Jesus isn’t a self-help program. Rather, the Bible teaches that in deciding to follow Jesus, we die once and for all. The person we knew ourselves to be exists no longer. Check out the ways the Bible puts it:
It is no longer we who live, but Jesus who lives in us.
We have died; our lives have been hidden with Jesus.
We have been crucified with Jesus and we no longer live.
We were buried into death with Jesus
Our old selves were crucified with Jesus so that our old body, ruled by sin, would be done away with.
Who knew being a Christian was so gruesome??
The good news is, in the same breath that we die, we are resurrected. Not as a living-dead zombie, nor as a better version of who we used to be, but as a completely different person, as a new life, as a new creature. This is what Jesus made possible by dying and raising up from the grave thousands of years ago. Because he did it with himself, he can do it with us, too. He's more powerful than even death and life itself. Welcome to day one of righteousness!
So why does metaphorically dying and raising to life make us righteous? Even if it were true that we had a fully clean slate, wouldn’t we just mess it up again? Let me try to explain it like this: when we choose to follow Jesus (die, raise up, new life, etc.), we join the family of God. And in joining the family of God, we come in not as orphans or house servants, but as a legitimate sons and daughters, with full rights to the family’s inheritance.
Imagine if Zac Efron married some nobody low-life. Will Zac become a nobody low-life? Of course not! Rather, his spouse will receive all that comes with marrying Zac Efron, such as fame, wealth, and bitter jealousy from most of the world’s population.
Similarly, joining the family of God, we willingly exchange our lives as we knew them for different ones - we drop our old last name and take on God’s instead, in a sense. And the benefits of marrying into this family just so happen to far exceed what anyone could ever imagine. One of the benefits of being in God's family is righteousness. Others are joy, peace, love, and freedom. We didn’t earn these things; we married into them. God has them and now we get to share in them, because for some crazy reason [he loves us], he brought us low-lifes into his family. And now being married, they are just as much ours as they are God’s, just as Meghan Markle is now famous in her own right.
We become righteous because we joined the family that is righteous, and that righteousness does not leave us. How do we join the family of righteousness? We just believe!
If you haven’t been told this before, you might have an eyebrow raised right now. So let’s go through some more of the Bible for a bit just to ensure you I’m not making this stuff up:
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation… this is the Gospel. (Col 1:21-23)
Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom 3:22)
A man is justified [made righteous] by faith, apart from [not by] works (Rom 3:28)
Righteousness comes through Jesus Christ (Phil 1:11)
The Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. (Rom 9:30-32)
He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet 2:9-10)
After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Are you so foolish? (Gal 3:3)
We know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15)
… that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection … becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8-11)
Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom 10:3-4)
For it is with your heart that you believe and are made righteous, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Rom 10:10)
Pretty clear if you ask me!! Our righteousness is no longer our righteousness, but instead, God's righteousness becomes our righteousness! The only 'work' on our part is to believe!
So how do we live in this righteousness, if we already are righteous? How do we start actually living up to and in line with God’s standards of righteousness? Just be yourself! The old you is not who you are anymore. The old you is not the real you.
Can you remember a time when you were a mess inside, but would put up a front to make people think you were doing better than you really were? The story has been flipped! The real you is righteous, holy, blameless, powerful, free - and if you aren’t acting like it, well, you’re just acting! :) The true you can keep wearing an old you mask, but the new you is bursting at the seams!
Thanks to Jesus, we can stop performing this role in the drama we've grown so accustomed to. We don't have to keep wearing the costumes and masks that remind us of who we used to be. We can start living like we’re really alive. We can walk out of the theater and into the real world. There is no shame anymore. Only hope.
If you find yourself here wanting to learn more about spiritual life, start with the foundation. It's hard to build stuff without one. Then we can lay some bricks.
Did you know that Get Enriched Quick has two separate blog feeds? This one focuses in on spiritual growth, while the other takes on all of the rest of life.
They're split for two reasons:
1) I love and will write about spiritual topics enough that more organization via sub-categories will be helpful
2) I recognize that not everyone is active or interested in spirituality, and I can't express how important it is to me that all people feel welcome to receive and to contribute here at Get Enriched Quick.