The word “righteousness” is translated from the Greek word “dikaiosune”. Righteousness is an attribute of God that denotes His perfect character. Originally it was spelled “rightwiseness”, which clearly expresses its meaning. It also means “right action”, which in the case of God means that He always does the right thing.
In order to fully understand righteousness we must go back to the etymology of the word. Interestingly, the meaning of many words evolved into more complex and abstract meanings as the great thinkers of Athens sought to expand their thinking beyond the accepted norm of the day. This is exactly what happened to the Greek word for righteousness. There were two words originally: one a noun (dike) and the other an adjective (dikaos). Those thinkers of Athens simply added a suffix to change the meaning slightly (-sune). At the time of the writing of the New Testament “dikaiosune” (righteousness) no longer meant simply being “good”, but rather a principle that would lead one to the correct thought and action based on a standard (God’s integrity or holiness). In other words, righteousness in the New Testament means adjusting to God’s integrity, first in thought then followed by action.
Righteousness is one half of God’s holiness and justice is the other half.
Many times in the Scriptures God’s righteousness and justice are interchangeable because they are so closely associated. Righteousness is the standard or principle of God’s integrity and justice is the function or action of God’s integrity. Because God is righteous, he must condemn sin wherever it is found. God’s justice carries out that condemnation. And God always does the right thing, whether condemning sin or providing salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Justification is the theological term for declaring the believer to be righteous before God. Christ was condemned in our place. God’s righteousness was satisfied (propitiated) on the Cross, as His justice carried out the sentence of spiritual death.
Jesus Christ is the personification of God's perfect righteousness and His Gospel reveals this perfect righteousness. Prior to Christ arriving on the scene in hypostatic union, God’s perfect standard of righteousness was the Law. Christ, of course, fulfilled the Law by keeping it perfectly (the only human being that ever has).
By fulfilling the Law, Christ in sinless perfection reveals God’s standard of holiness. Christ is the standard to which the Church Age believer compares himself.
Man’s righteous works fall well short of God’s righteousness. Man’s own concept of righteousness is relative. For example, one person may think that his sin is not as bad as the next person’s sin. Therefore, he is more righteous (in his opinion). Normally this thinking falls into one of the two trends of the sin nature: self-righteousness (moral) or lasciviousness (immoral). Both, of course, are wrong. Mankind is minus the righteousness necessary to enter Heaven and no amount of human effort can produce this righteousness.
God’s view of man’s righteousness is that he is minus absolute righteousness. God’s view of man’s viewpoint of his own righteousness is that it does not measure up to the absolute righteousness of God. The Bible declares that “there is none righteous” and that “man’s righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
Because of the lack of absolute righteousness, mankind cannot enter Heaven (a holy place) based on his own righteousness. God cannot have fellowship with that which is sinful or falls short of His righteous character. Mankind, therefore, needs God’s righteousness in order to have a relationship with Him and to live forever in this holy place that we know as Heaven.
When a person believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, God the Holy Spirit imputes (credits) God’s own righteousness to that person. The Greek word for impute is “logizomai” and it means “to reckon” or “to take into account.” “Credit to one’s account” is another good rendering of the word from the Greek. God’s righteousness is never achieved as a result of human effort and is completely undeserved. God does not credit His righteousness to the believer because he has earned it or because he deserves it. Like eternal life, God’s righteousness is a gift.
It was the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ that completely satisfied the righteousness of God by means of His substitutionary spiritual death on the Cross. In His humanity under the control of the Holy Spirit, He was able not to sin and He fulfilled the righteous standard of the Mosaic Law.
Christ, a sinless person, willingly became sin for us, taking our place, being judged in our stead. He is now sitting in the place of honor at the right hand of the Father, which signifies that God is satisfied with Christ’s death on our behalf.
God’s righteousness is freely offered to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as Savior:
Practical or imparted righteousness refers to Experiential Sanctification. At salvation, we are declared righteous and we possess God;s righteousness (Positional Sanctification). However, we still possess a sin nature (until we die or the Rapture occurs ) and it must be dealt with on a daily basis.
What is Practical or Imparted Righteousness for the believer? It is aligning your daily living (the Christian Way of Life) with your position in Christ. It is not becoming sinless, though we should begin to sin less as a result of our spiritual growth. Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a list of characteristics that can be produced in the life of the believer who is being controlled by God the Holy Spirit. This list is: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control, and these are the very characteristics of Christ. You can see that the fruits of the Spirit are all mental attitudes. Therefore, the Christian Way of Life is a life of thinking. It is not merely thinking “just any” thoughts, but thinking Divine Viewpoint, which is the “mind of Christ” (accurate Bible doctrine). Practical righteousness is the believer exhibiting to the world the righteousness of God under the control of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Way of Life is made up of two aspects: our spiritual life and our Christian life. Both require thinking divine viewpoint and both work in concert with the other. A proper understanding of these two doctrinal concepts is essential for the glorification of God.
A distortion of either concept leads to emotionalism, legalism and heresy.
It is impossible to exhibit practical righteousness (your Christian life) until you first develop a relationship with God (your spiritual life). Any attempt on the part of the believer to develop a Christian life prior to the development of a spiritual life is a waste of time.
Based on the Royal Priesthood, the believer’s spiritual life is his relationship with God. This relationship is private. No one but God knows the status or quality of your spiritual life. Overt activity is not the demonstration of the believer’s spiritual life, since outward appearances are not always what they seem.
Spirituality is an absolute concept – you are either 100% controlled by God the Holy Spirit or 100% controlled by your sin nature at any given time. When the believer is being controlled by the Holy Spirit, he is also maintaining his fellowship with God. Without the consistent control of the Holy Spirit over a period of time, a spiritual life cannot be developed. The control or guidance of the Holy Spirit is the volitional responsibility of every believer. God the Holy Spirit cannot guide your life if you do not allow Him to do so. It is your choice. Negative volition towards His guiding ministry either grieves Him or quenches Him.
Our spiritual lives are developed as we spend time in fellowship with God, learning and apply His Word. Fellowship with God is achieved only by utilization of the recovery system He has provided for us as believers when we commit personal sin. This recovery system, found in I John 1:9, is to name, acknowledge, admit all known sins to God. He then cleanses us from those sins, as well as all the unknown sins we had committed.
You cannot develop a relationship with someone you do not know and you cannot know God apart from knowing, believing and applying His Word.
As the spiritual life is being developed, the Christian life (the believer’s relationship with other people and to circumstances) is also to be developed based on the Royal Ambassadorship. There is a definite relationship between the development of the spiritual life and the Christian life. Attempting to development a Christian life without developing a spiritual life first leads to emotionalism or legalism (both are distortions of the true Christian Way of Life).
As a Royal Ambassador, the believer represents Jesus Christ to the world. The quality of this representation depends on the quality of the believer’s spiritual life. You cannot adequately represent someone you do not know. An ambassador is also charged with the responsibility to carry out certain principles and policies of the one he represents. He is also mandated to live in a manner that brings honor to the one he represents. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, the ambassador must learn and comply with the mandates of the one he is representing.
As believers in Christ, it is imperative for us to properly represent our Savior. The world is watching each one of us to see what kind of representative we will be for Christ. Only a well-developed spiritual life will mature the believer and allow him to produce the righteousness of God in a practical way.