Text Size: Zoom In

That’s Righteous?

A slang dictionary shows how the word “righteous” has often been used by young people to express their enthusiasm for something that meets with their approval.

To some of us, using the word that way might sound irreverent. But the slang usage of “righteous” might actually do a better job of communicating the breadth of meaning that we find in the Bible.

On one hand the Apostle Paul wrote that no one is righteous (Rom 3:10). In the context of his letter to the Romans he seems to be using the word to mean that, on our own, none of us lives up to the perfect standards of God.

On the other hand, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist were both described as being righteous (Luke 1:6). So are Abel, Noah, and Lot. Together with many other very imperfect people, they are described that way by the Bible.

Then there’s Jesus. He too used the word “righteous” to refer to what we might consider very unlikely and undeserving people (Luke 18:9-14). On one occasion, it happened as he told the story of two men who went up to the temple to pray. The first man, a religious Pharisee, thanked God that, by contrast with more unworthy people, he lived by the law of Moses. A second man, despised by the Jewish community as moral rubbish, was also there to pray. But he wouldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven. Instead he said, “God be merciful to me the sinner”.

Interestingly, the religious man noticed that sinner standing nearby and actually mentioned him in his prayer. He thanked God that he wasn’t like him.

Yet as, by now, we all know, Jesus said it was the man who saw himself as “the sinner” who went home justified (literally declared righteous).

According to Luke, Jesus told the story because of those who consider themselves righteous— while despising others.

The wonderful truth is that, in God’s eyes, “righteousness” is a gift of his approval. It is a characterization– not of perfect people–but one that expresses God’s own personal enthusiasm for those who have received the gift of a right relationship with him because they see how much they desperately need his mercy.

In this sense, some might feel that the  Bible itself uses “righteous” in a slang and unbecoming way. But how thankful we can be that it does!


Vote on whether you think this post is something you'll be thinking about:
Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+32 rating, 32 votes)

30 Responses to “That’s Righteous?”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    A few years ago a fellow bought a home here in our community and moved in. he was immediately welcomed as an asset to our little town and many of us pursued becoming his friend.

    He began attending one of the churches and especially the Sunday school for adults.

    One afternoon as we sat on the porch and were talking he ask why the teacher at the church was so against pride.

    He himself was/is a contractor and it seemed that taking pride in doing a good job was always the *right* attitude.

    So in the ensuing conversation we explored the differences between arrogance and confidence.

    It seems to me that this same confusion exists with some about attempting to live a righteous life and those who condemn them for it, as well as those who think they live a righteous life and feel that gives them *special* status with God.

    We should all attempt to live *right* with God, not doing so is in direct disobedience to His desires for us.

    At the same time we should all understand none of us are going to do a perfect job of it, only the best we can or are able to with the aid of our Lord. And apply that understanding toward others.

    “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5: 15)

    Do any of us consider ourselves *right* with God? Your answer should be *yes* as we are made *right*/*righteous* with God the Father through His Son Jesus of Nazareth.

    We can not *brag* of our salvation, but we can take a little pleasure/pride that we are no longer living a life of sin, but rather chase after living *right* with God.

    Always trying to polish and improve our *righteousness* yet still made *righteous* as a result of our acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as our Lord and Savior.


  2. refump says:

    Would you agree that the “righteous position” we hold as believers is a gift from God & that there is nothing we did to earn that position? If so, what is our role/responsibility in maintaining that position of righteousness? This is where I get confused. Nothing we can do to earn it but something we need to do to maintain it!? Help me out everyone.

  3. remarutho says:

    Good Morning Mart & Friends –

    Mart, you said of the attribute of “righteousness,” that it is:

    “…a characterization– not of perfect people–but one that expresses God’s own personal enthusiasm for those who have received the gift of a right relationship with him because they see how much they desperately need his mercy.”

    I agree most heartily! This question (“That’s Righteous?”) is presented in a most complex way in Scripture, it seems to me. I think of Jesus telling both the Roman centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman that their faith was very great. It is acceptable to consider great faith as bringing in God’s approval and that it is “counted as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

    Even Judah, the son of Jacob, told the gathering of judges that Tamar “is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her my son Shelah.” (Genesis 38:26) Whether Judah spoke the truth is another matter. But, he called her “righteous” because she pursued a lawful promise that he had made to her as a daughter-in-law. He had broken the promise – she had in effect kept it. One of her sons, Perez, is named in Matthew’s gospel as part of the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth. It is difficult to judge such things. We simply have to entrust them to God. We may consider neither Judah nor Tamar especially righteous, but Tamar was given favor.


  4. BruceC says:

    As I read your topic Mart and also the posts that followed I was led to look back at the picture of those two shabby, falling-apart homes; likely surrounded by others of the same type. What a picture of us and of all peoples.
    Now; we could make them “look” and “appear” all nice on the outside and make them very attractive to all who see them. But then the Code Enforcement Officer comes by and inspects the inside and says “Rejected!”
    Or instead of doing it on our own we can ask The Great Contractor to come in and remodel our “home” in the best possible fashion. And he does it for free! Then when it is inspected it will be righteous because of the Contractor’s mark!! Now that’s righteous!!
    If we give God all the glory for what He has done in us and for us we are like the sinner in the temple. If we insist on ignoring God and going it alone we are like the Pharisee.
    All people are given that choice.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  5. kingdomkid7 says:

    The Bible also says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. For me, the bottom line is that our only hope is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us because we belong to Him. Since I cannot (and do not) claim any “credit” for righteousness, I don’t see a reason to dwell on it. I do what is nearest me to do, and stay connected to the One who really is righteous. Not a big fan of slang, anyway — even the “good” slang. ;-)

  6. poohpity says:

    refump, I think yes and dependence on God knowing who we are as we stand in worship daily before Him.

    Which one would we rather have pray for us the one who thinks because of his good deeds he is righteous or the one who knows that it is by faith in Jesus that has bestowed righteousness on him? The one who is dependent on himself or the one who depends on God? (Romans 12:3 NIV)

  7. fadingman says:

    refump, We can’t maintain righteousness either. It’s all from God. God both justifies us AND keeps us justified. Maintaining our salvation is His responsibility.

    Not only that, God also sanctifies us – continually – as we walk in submission to the Holy Spirit. We have no natural power to do this. (A good series of reads and rereads of Romans 6 through 8, along with Galatians (especially Galatians 3:3) should make this clear.) All of this works out so that in the end all the glory goes to Jesus Christ, and none to us.

  8. swwagner says:

    It is enough for me that God looks at me with approval! Relaxing in His love and care are among my most cherished gifts from Him.

  9. poohpity says:

    Steve, how do we “polish and improve” our righteousness?

  10. oneg2dblu says:

    refump… I agree with kingdomkid7, “stay connected to the One who really is righteous” and fadingman, “as we walk in submission to the Holy Spirit.”
    Those are two ways for us to know how to please God by being in the Will of God.
    I look at my initial salvation as always freely given, not ever earned. Then, because of the initail faith God has given us and the resulting deposit of the Holy Spirit, we are better equipped to be able to live in the Will of God as well.
    Others here may say it doesn’t matter how you live once you are saved, but I disagree, because there are too many verses in the bible say otherwise.
    I believe it is for each of us to discover through God’s leading and not man’s, which life is best for us to live. One of obedience to his word and will, or one of how some were taught, it no longer matters, because you’re saved.
    I do not believe that once you have accepted the promise of salvation, then that is all there is.
    I believe that Follow me, is the desired call or the commandment given by Christ to all His believers, which means you sholud then desire to live as a lifelong learner, under His Discipline.
    One is as being the first step which is then naturally leading to the other, and not separate momentary event, discounting any future right living, or any further knowing of God’s Will, for the freedom of wandering aimlessly through life just holding a ticket to Heaven.

    Instead, I bleive we then get to live a god-given(righteous)living a life of commitment and service to and through Christ, and not living a solely self serving worldly (righteous)life.

  11. foreverblessed says:

    Todays meditation of God at eventide is about us having failed God:
    -You grieve that you have failed Me. Remember it was for the failures that I hung on Calvary’s Cross. It was a failure I greeted first in the Easter Garden.

    It was to one of the failures I entrusted My Church, My Lambs, My Sheep.

    It was to one who had thwarted and despised Me, who had tortured and murdered My followers that I gave My great world Mission to the Gentiles.

    But each had first to learn to know Me as Savior and Lord by a bitter consciousness of having failed Me.

    If you would work for Me, then you must be ready for the valley of humiliation through which all My followers have to pass.-

    If we realise how great a failure we were before Jesus saved us, the song Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. (There was someone called a wretchlikeme who has posted here too, God bless him)
    how blessed we are to come to the river of grace, how good the taste of the water, how pleasant His life that gives us new life, and makes us right- eousness. How blessed we are in Him,

  12. poohpity says:

    Amen and Amen!!

  13. tracey5tgbtg says:

    I’ve been thinking about the opening comment all day. What occurs to me is the elusiveness of righteousness. The harder we try to pursue and attain it, the farther we are from it. It can so easily become self-righteousness. As you say Mart – “righteousness is a GIFT of his approval.

    I remember one of the nuns in religion class telling us that what God required of us was perfect holiness – to never sin. She then said that if for one moment we actually thought we had attained that state, we were filled with pride and that was the worst sin of all. That really had me in a tailspin. My immature brain chewed on that for a while and could only come up with… “that’s IMPOSSIBLE!”

    Isn’t that what the whole sermon on the mount is about? No matter how good you think you are doing, you aren’t even close to perfect holiness. Isn’t that what Jesus told the rich young ruler? Following the rules isn’t enough. You must give up everything. And the apostles asked Jesus, “how is that possible?”

    Do we have righteousness? Yes, in Christ – through our faith in Him. God’s righteousness shines out most brightly not through those who are striving to be righteous, but through those who are living for God and in His love. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.

    So many good comments have been made.

  14. foreverblessed says:

    So it is Tracey, so impossible to be perfect, and yet if we remain as branches in the vine, it is His life flowing through us that does it.
    There was a time in my life I tried to be perfect by keeping the 10 commandments, I grew up a christian in a cnristian family. Good law abiding citizens. But you tend to be getting hard on others, why do they not keep the law: no stealing, no cheating, no adultery, life would be so much easier for us all. And you forget that the measure of love, patience, mercy, peace, joy is not coming through keeping the laws, but by living in faith in Christ Jesus. Someone asked here what we can do, there is afcourse the seducer, the temptation to sin, we have to say no to that, say no to depression, and in faith in Jesus ask for help. But saying no is a different thing then saying Yes to Jesus, surrendering all to Him. To surrender all to Him it is best to get to know Him better, He does not want us to surrender to someone we hardly know. The fact that He was willing to pay the price for all the sins and shortcomings of us all is that not enough to know how great His love for us is.
    Now I live in that Grace, His grace through faith, And I fill myself with His life, make the glass full of Him, then there will be less and less place for the evil one, because Jesus fill me up more and more.
    I hope to show Jesus to others, not preaching to them, what I used to do, but God has forgiven me, and I should forgive myself too, for I am now object of His mercy.

  15. remarutho says:

    Good Morning All –

    Foreverblessed, you wrote:
    “The fact that He was willing to pay the price for all the sins and shortcomings of us all is that not enough to know how great His love for us is.”

    Have been reading “Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer,” by Fr. Gabriel Bunge. He describes the path to faithful prayer to be through repentance and tears for our unworthiness before the King of the universe. It seems to me the 21st c. (wo)man rejects repentance and confession as some sort of “guilt trip” that is to be avoided at all times.

    Fr. Gabriel quotes Evagrius: “Pray first for the gift of tears, so as to soften through contrition the wildness that dwells in your soul, so that by confessing your transgressions to the Lord you may obtain forgiveness from him.” (Romans 2:4, 5)

    Can it be the path to righteousness leads through confession, repentance and tears – to the joy of unhindered fellowship with Him?


  16. SFDBWV says:

    In the beginning I would suppose that Adam was *righteous* in the eyes of God, though at the beginning he didn’t know right from wrong / good from evil.

    As long as Adam and then Eve obeyed the one rule God had given them they were seen as *right* with God. However that didn’t last and their trait toward disobedience has been handed down throughout all the generations since they began having Children.

    With the exception being Enoch who *walked with God* and was taken up into heaven without tasting the sting of death, for God’s reasons and purposes.

    Given in the annuls of the Bible are several people whom God considered *righteous*, and I will take the chance of saying there are many people who have lived a good and honorable life these past several thousand years of mankind.

    Have we placed a condition of righteousness errantly as only seen as being perfect before God?

    Because I don’t see the true meaning of the word *righteous* as being *perfect before God*, there is another word for that and it involves being covered for all transgressions by the blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus of Nazareth. That word is *sanctified*.

    Being righteous is living an upright and honorable life of doing what is right and in this case what is seen as right in the eyes of God.

    We can all live a righteous life and should, God has even singled out people for doing so, but none of us can be sanctified for doing so that takes a different action from us and the greatest of action from God in the drama of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and our acceptance of He being the Son of God, the Messiah as He said He is, our Savior.


  17. poohpity says:

    Steve, if it is as you said, “Being righteous is living an upright and honorable life of doing what is right and in this case what is seen as right in the eyes of God.”, does that not turn into self righteousness?

    I think we can polish and improve our righteousness by our understanding more fully “we are not all that and never will be”. Just as the tax collector stood back pounding his chest admitting his sinfulness before a Holy God, not comparing his self to any other human being but to who he was before a righteous God.

  18. SFDBWV says:

    There seems to me to be two different styles of becoming a believer in Jesus to be Messiah and placing all of our hopes on Him.

    One is the person who is born into a family that raises them up from their earliest age of understanding as to who Jesus is and what it is Jesus came to the world for.

    At some early age that person just naturally accepted all they were taught as being true and interlaced into their minds and hearts the person of Jesus. Many of these people also adopted a lifestyle of living what seemed to be right and aligned with Scripture as God’s will for their life. They may or may not have had a life changing experience that brought them into a conscience position of being *born again* this transformation may have occurred at a very early age and so they grew up already covered by the blood and under the influence of the Holy Spirit in them. Such people are blessed for having Godly parents who were themselves *righteous* in their behavior.

    The second person is the one who lived a life of riotous behavior, lying, stealing, abusing alcohol and drugs, cursing and doing whatever seemed right for them to do in order to satisfy their apatite for destruction.

    This person came to know Jesus through a doorway of desperation and deep unhappiness, by at some point in their lives realizing they were not living *right* with anyone and certainly not God; these people had an encounter with Jesus not unlike Paul did on the road to Damascus. Their encounter with Jesus produced a life saving, soul saving rebirth that provided them with *salvation* becoming *sanctified* through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

    This transformation also provided them with a desire to live a more righteous life and that desire comes straight from the Holy Spirit in them and that same Spirit aides them in being able to do so.

    The offence Mart speaks of is when a person who has been living what seems as right before God, looks down upon a sinner for not living right before God.

    Because that person doesn’t appreciate and perhaps doesn’t understand that it is the influence of the Holy Spirit and efforts of others who have given them the desire to live right, not a power unto themselves.

    That they lack pity for a lost soul and hold an attitude of being better than another within their heart. And since God judges the heart, God sees the attitude as an offence against that person and against Him making the offender *unrighteous*.

    To strive towards righteousness is to work at being a better person, if we do not strive toward righteousness, then what are we striving towards except just doing as we please without the desires of God being our own desires.


  19. poohpity says:

    I have to respectfully disagree. Jesus seemed to be pointing out that the Pharisee which in those times held themselves in high esteem by wanting the best seats, more attention and essentially being brought up in what we would call today a religious home but missed the whole point of really worshiping God because they wanted to be worshiped. They asked God to look at all the seemingly good things they did while their hearts were far from God which Jesus repeatedly pointed out all throughout the Gospels. He called them whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23:27 NIV. Whether people are brought up in Christian homes or not every person has to come to a point where they realize that they have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God as an individual (i.e. the tax collector) and no longer look at their works but the works of Jesus Christ.

    Paul equated righteousness with having peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17 NIV) When we lack that peace and joy by it could be circumstances, attitudes, hatreds, and live without a trust, faith and dependence on God that joy and peace is just not there. While looking at Paul no matter how many times he even disparaged of life itself but yet he told us to count it all joy not because of the circumstance but the knowing that God had it all in control so he could sing and praise God from prison after being beaten with whips, rods, stoned and a physical impairment that caused deep trouble in his flesh but he could rejoice. He was brought up in a religious home but still had to meet Jesus himself and turned him from an angry, self righteous man filled with malice to the person who carried the gospel to many people.

    He was the religious person who said look at all the good things I have done for you God to the tax collector who beat his chest and realized what a sinner he was and needed what Jesus did on the Cross so that He could become righteous not from what he did but to what was done for him.

  20. kingdomkid7 says:

    Righteousness is born of right standing with God. We see both Lot and the repentant tax collector declared righteous. The declaration has to do with where they “stand” vis a vis God. Lot seems to have escaped the wrath of God by the skin of his teeth — like us. The tax collector recognized his sinfulness — so he, too, could be declared in right standing with God. His picture of himself was accurate. Our ongoing Repentance and that gift of tears (thanks for that one, Maru) helps to keep us low before God as well — which, ironically, is what lets us “stand.” And we can’t get too cocky about that either — if we think we are standing too firmly, we may be primed for a fall!! I didn’t quote that scripture, but I’m sure you know the one.

  21. poohpity says:

    I think if we even began to feel cocky in anyway about anything from the Lord, knowledge of His Word, Spiritual gifts, righteousness, salvation, justification, sanctification or even just His love then we are taking credit for something that does not belong to us to take credit for. They are all gifts from God and nothing we can do to earn or deserve them. Paul only boosted in the sufferings for the sake of spreading the Gospels of Christ. He never seemed to boast about how spirit-filled he was or how righteous his living was because he realized that everything he had from God was from God not due to anything he could do or would do. Oooops he did boast of his need for forgiveness, grace and mercy which to me is what the despised tax collector did which is what we would do to if we did not want others to look at our righteous lives.

  22. poohpity says:

    Gospel not Gospels. I also believe that is what pushes many away from the forgiveness we have received in Christ because some seem to think they are above others when it comes to sinning but boast of how right living and good they are which is a personal deception on those who believe such things as with the Pharisee.

  23. BruceC says:


    Your last two posts are spot on and something that the Body of Christ needs to heed. We live in a “look at me” culture that unfortunately has affected some in the church. And I have seen that self-righteousness in more brothers and sisters than I care to think about.
    This is something we all could bring to the Lord in prayer.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  24. poohpity says:

    Yes, Bruce, we need daily to be reminded of just how much everyday we are in need of forgiveness, grace and mercy and I know for myself I will join in that prayer to beat our chests and ask for forgiveness as a sinner standing before the Throne of God covered in the blood of the Lamb humbly accepting who we are through it.

  25. kingdomkid7 says:

    We must all be careful. It’s really easy to cross the line. Do we really want to imply ithat some of us do a “better” job than others of being Christlike by humble acceptance of our personal limitations? How is that humble? I ask this with all due respect to everyone here. I’m just wondering.

  26. narrowpathseeker says:

    Hello Steve, I come back now and then to see if anything has changed. I find that you and others are still lifting and encouraging others in what you share with profound insight and a true heart for our Lord. God Bless you and please know that I have forgotten no one here and especially I have not forgotten you. I see that still others with genuinely caring hearts like yours have gone. I am hoping someday to rise far enough above myself to return, but I find when I come here and encounter that which I can still not deal with, that I have not progressed enough to do that.

    However, I wanted to let you know that I am ok and that things are getting a little better HERE. Thank YOU and ALL others for your prayers. I too hope that Cherielyn, Sparrow, Claudia, and all others…. I can’t remember names….(I have them written though)who no longer seem to post here, are doing well. God Bless you, your wife and Matt. I agree that God does the work in us, but I believe as I believe you do that we need to cooperate with Him and do our part.

  27. narrowpathseeker says:

    Kingdomkid7, I think you(like Steve) bring much insight and honesty to this blog…thank you.

    Maru, thank you for posting Romans 2:4. I truly believe we have to do our part.

  28. poohpity says:

    kingdomkid7, don’t you feel that comparing one’s self with others period is prideful? Whether it is saying how humble one is or how righteous it is still a comparison which is also a form of pride. It seems in the end no matter what we will all be presented before God and asked to give an account of our behavior and especially how much we have injured others by our actions or words.

    Oh by the way I looked up a couple of verses you may have been referring to in your 4:33pm comment, Proverbs 16:5,18. I do not know if that was what you were talking about or not?

    narrow, it is good to hear from you and glad to hear things are getting better for you. You remain in my prayers.

  29. Mart De Haan says:

    Am working on another post in an effort to look at some of the tension that we are seeing in the meaning of “righteous”.

  30. kingdomkid7 says:

    Thanks, narrowpathseeker. I appreciate being welcomed! I wasn’t actually thinking of Proverbs, Pooh. But I will gladly accept that one.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.