Unless we really grasp the true meaning of righteousness, living the life of liberty that is rightfully ours will be really difficult. Without being righteous, everything a man does will be a severe struggle.
To really underscore how important righteousness is, it appears 540 times in the Bible—compared with faith, which was used 348 times, meaning that the word "righteousness" appears more than 1½ times more than the word "faith". And in simple terms, faith is the means for appropriating what is yours by righteousness. Without righteousness therefore, faith has nothing to appropriate, and the Christian walk becomes nothing more than religion.
What therefore is righteousness? What must we do to be righteous? More appropriately, whose righteousness is it we are talking about?
Righteousness means “to be in right-standing with God”. It means having the right relationship and being in favor with Him. Without it, approaching God with any amount of assurance becomes problematic: it is the foundation of our faith. True righteousness is not based on what we can do to earn the favor of God, but instead on placing our faith in what Christ has done. This is huge. Anything we can add to what Jesus has done will only pollute, destroy and mess up what has been done.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. Rom 11:6
It is important that true righteousness is the Lord’s, never our own. If a man works, he’s entitled to payment. If the righteousness is based on your performance, then you are entitled to boasting, but not before God. Your righteousness is imputed or charged as a gift to your account.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Rom 3:27-28
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Rom 4:4-5
If your righteousness is based on your performance, how many things are you going to do? Okay, assuming you are able to do several things, what about those things you miss out? Even those things you missed out to do, make you a sinner.
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:14
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. Jam 4:17
Let us correct a most significant assertion about right standing with God—how we become it. We don’t become it by what we do. Rather, we do what we do because we are righteous. Let me use this wonderful coinage: We are not human doings, we are human beings. It is not our doing good and acting religious by performance that makes us righteous, good and necessary as those things may be. Our righteousness is based on our relationship with God because we received the faith of God into our lives.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Gal: 2:20
You see, in Christ, we identify with Jesus in totality. When He died, we did. When He rose, we did. As He sits in glory, we are there right now with Him, pure and powerful as He is.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 1John 4:17
For emphasis, we do what we do because we are in right standing with God, not to earn His favor through our performance. This is huge and it’s what separates us believers from the religious performances of folks out there.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom 8:3-4
There are many religious efforts that people put in place to try to make themselves righteous—outward appearances, conducts, and so on. However, if a man is not renewed in the inside, everything he does on the outside is worthless.
That was what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. The new birth is what makes you righteous, not your outward performance.
I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. Gal 2:21
Friends, your penitence, deprivation, fasting, giving to the poor, etc. – good as they are - are no basis for your righteousness. Actually, they can be a rejection of Christ if they are the basis of your faith. As believers therefore, we don’t get what we deserve, which is death. We get what we believe. Jesus is the right payment for us and anything short of what He has done is a rejection of Him.
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” John 8:24
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isa 53:6
"As you have received Christ, continue in Him." – Col 2:6. The question then is how did you receive Him? It is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). You place your faith in what God has done by grace in Christ. God says that’s exactly how you are to continue living; not by works or by the law which cannot save you (Gal 2:16).
We are righteous by faith in Christ.
For he made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2Cor 5:21