Summary: Righteousness: Right STANDING, Right RELATIONSHIP, Right BEHAVIOR, through Christ. Not by birth, religion, goodness. Evangelistic (Romans 10:9-10) and missional focus.


When I say the word “righteousness,” what pops into your head?

Is it an image of a self-righteous person, who delights in being better than everyone else?

Do you get defensive, because you know you’re not perfectly righteous?

Do you have a self-righteous urge to say something about how unrighteous so many people are?

Is your mind flooded by things in the world that are wrong, and you would like to set right?

If you look up the definition of righteousness, you will find something about conforming to moral laws and rules, and being free from guilt or judgment. I think that is a deficient definition of righteousness!

Suppose there is a child who meticulously obeys every rule. Does obeying rules mean he or she is getting life right?

Or a dutiful husband or wife, who is always careful to do what is required, and not to transgress any expectations. If there is not love, and the couple is not growing or thriving, life is slipping away. Is that righteous?

Righteousness is getting life right. It is being right with God, and therefore right with ourselves and others.

The Jewish rabbis defined righteousness as conformity to the law of God, as interpreted by respected rabbis. Paul gave righteousness a deeper meaning, however. In Romans, righteousness has 3 aspects:

-Right STANDING before God, the Judge of all. Being declared “not guilty,” “blameless,” released from shame or penalty for sin.

-Right RELATIONSHIP with God, the Source of life and goodness.

-Right BEHAVIOR: doing what is right in God’s eyes.

How do we get all of that right? HOW DO WE ACHIEVE RIGHTEOUSNESS?

In chapters 9-11 of Romans, Paul focuses on his own people, the Jews, and their pursuit of righteousness. It troubled him greatly that Jews, despite their inclusion among the people of God, were not right with God:

Romans 10:1-3, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

Jews were pursuing righteousness in the wrong way. Earlier, in Romans 9:31, Paul said, “…the people of Israel, who pursued THE LAW as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal…”

For Jews, “the law” was more than the Ten Commandments, or even all the commandments of the Old Testament. “The law”—known as the Torah—referred specifically to the first 5 books of the OT, Genesis through Deuteronomy. In the Torah, they found their identity as the chosen people of God, the sacrificial system of the temple to atone for sin, and God’s commandments. The law was then expanded, to include all of the Scriptures, and hundreds of laws and rules taught by respected the rabbis.

Jews who pursued the law as the way of righteousness assumed that by embracing their Jewish identity and heritage, faithfully fulfilling their religious duties, and meticulously obeying the laws and rules defined by the Jewish faith, they would be righteous.

That might seem strange to us, but it is not too different from how some people pursue righteousness today:

Some assume that because they are born into a Christian home, or were raised right, they are righteous.

Some depend upon religious activities, such as worship or service, to make them righteous.

Some try very hard to obey the commandments of God, or at least be good, moral, loving people.

Some are careful to conform to the norms of society, being a good citizen and doing their share.

All good things—but do they make people righteous?

-If righteousness is RIGHT STANDING with God, without guilt or condemnation, can that be achieved by Christian identity, religious activities, or even meticulously obeying rules and trying to do good? Will those things make us right, at the core of who we are?

-If righteousness is a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with God, we have to ask: What kind of relationship is based on measuring up to God’s high standards? What happens to the relationship when people fail?

-If righteousness is RIGHT BEHAVIOR, will rules alone guide us to do what is right, even if we could keep them all?


Paul is not opposed to the law revealed in the Torah. Yet the Old Testament law in itself is unable to make people right with God.

What was wrong with the law? The law was fine. In fact, the law was a gift from God to his people, telling them how to love and serve him—how to be righteous. Paul quotes Moses in verse 5: “Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “’The person who does these things will live by them.’”

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