Think of the word “righteousness” for a minute. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely, whatever you’re thinking of is or relates to something good.

Merriam-Webster defines “righteous” as “morally good: following religious or moral laws.” So, if we’re going by this definition, if we’re just righteous, we’re good to go, right? Well, not quite. This definition is missing a key component that we can find in His Word: Christ Himself.

Scripture provides a much more hopeful definition of righteousness. I really like the way Deuteronomy 6:29 puts it: “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.” Then, in the New Testament – specifically, the book of Matthew – Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I love that verse because it’s attributed as His righteousness. As in, righteousness belongs to God. But here’s the really cool part: we can take part in it because righteousness belongs to God, and in turn, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I just found a couple of verses – one from the Old Testament and one from the New – but search for righteousness in a search bar for electronic Bibles or in a physical concordance, and you’ll find even more examples that would surpass the space of this blog post.

So, let’s look at righteousness with Christ in mind. We’ll look what righteousness should mean for us if we imitate Christ, are with Christ, and are in Christ.

We should imitate Christ

Who is the greatest Example that we have to go by when it comes to goodness? We can look no further than Jesus. When we imitate Him, we serve as an example to others (1 Corinthians 11:1). From a young age, He sought the truth, and we should do the same in any way that we can (Luke 2:41-50). We should also show others His love as it’s been shown to us (Matthew 7:12). It’s simple, really; since it’s spelled out in His Word, we should follow suit (Ephesians 5:1). But does this mean we have to be perfect to be with Him in Heaven? Absolutely not. We don’t have to be perfect already; He is there to meet us in the middle and make us perfect in Him (2 Corinthians 12:9). And once we truly realize this, our walks with God no longer seem unreachable. Once we realize we are in need of His perfect gift of salvation, and we are willing to take the steps necessary through obedience to His Word to obtain it, Jesus can meet us where we are (Acts 10:35).

We should be with Christ

Just as we should be and do good as He is good, we should be willing to follow Him wherever He leads. If we follow His path for our lives, we will be on the straight and narrow path leading to Heaven (Matthew 7:14). So, how can we be with Christ? We can do this by praying that He reveal His Will to us. Then, we ask for His help as we follow it along the way, especially if His instruction is to wait (Psalm 27:14). And sometimes, waiting can feel like the hardest part of all. Though this walk is never truly easy anyway – we live in a fallen world, after all – being with Christ through trials is far better than being without Him when things feel peaceful. And if we retain that faith, we will be rewarded and acknowledged for it, as Abraham was (Romans 4:9b).

We should be in Christ

Finally, being righteous should mean that we are united in Christ, both as individuals and as a church family (Ephesians 4:1-5). We should be in Christ not only by imitating and following with Him, but also by immersing ourselves in His Word and in His teachings. Sometimes, that means we pursue every opportunity we can to serve; other times, that means we need to be spiritually filled by sitting at His feet in the figurative sense by opening our Bibles and taking in all we can as we study, and in that case, we need to be either a Martha or a Mary depending on the situation (Luke 10:38-42). And when we’re united in Christ as a church family, we can accomplish so much more in service to others and to the truly incredible God we serve, along with the truly awesome opportunity we have as a church to worship Him.

The simplest way to define righteousness in these terms is to say that it’s goodness with God as well as goodness in God. But righteousness is far more complex than what’s beyond its surface, and the only way to grasp it is through the study of His Word and prayer to our Heavenly Father for discernment in understanding it as much as we can while we are but human. I am no expert on righteousness; in fact, I want to seek to attain righteousness – the goodness that’s only achievable if I’m imitating Christ, with Christ, and in Christ – in my own life, even though I am imperfect, and sometimes, righteousness feels like a thing that’s only reserved for a certain few in Heaven. But thankfully, Jesus is there for all of us, and He is available through prayer and His Word no matter what question we have or trial we face.

By Savannah Cottrell