Merriam-Webster defines righteousness two ways:
1) acting in accord with devine or moral law
2) free from guilt or sin
If one were to look only at the world's definition of righteousness, it would seem to be unattainable.
It is unattainable on our own. Trying to attain righteous on our own also is exhausting, defeating or can lead to pride. When we think we can work our way by ourselves to right standing with God, it is called "self-righteousness".
God says that all of our works we do to attempt to obtain righteousness are like filthy rags.
But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
The reason He says this is because no matter now "good" we are, we cannot obtain righteousness. In comparison to His goodness, we fall immeasurably short.
This may seem discouraging at first glance, but I assure you it is quite the opposite.
For if by the one man's offense (Adam's sin) death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Romans 6:17 (parentheses added)
Did you see that? Righteousness is a gift.
Before Jesus came, God gave His people a list of rules to follow known as "the law". This law was impossible to completely follow, so why did God give His people this list if He knew they could never do it all?
The law was not designed to keep His people in bondage, but rather to point His people to Him.
God is perfect, but He knows we are not. He doesn't require us to be perfect. He wanted His people to know His standards, but to also realize their need for Him. If we don't know our need, we won't seek His presence.
Under the law, righteousness was something people worked toward, but could never acquire.
But, when Jesus came, the law was replaced.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galations 2:16
My heart aches for people still living in bondage, trying to earn grace, trying to earn acceptance, trying to earn heaven.
There is freedom in Jesus.
I do not set aside the grace of God for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. Gal 2:21
The verse above is stout. If we are trying to earn righteousness, then Christ died in vain. Wow.
Here is the thing....We don't have to earn righteousness, we already are righteous.
I can hear some people saying, "What! Blaspheme!" I didn't write the book, I'm just relaying the message.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
When we come to Jesus, He takes all our sin and all our righteousness (remember ours is like a filthy rag) and exchanges it for His.
We are righteous not because of anything we have done, but because He is and He lives in us.
It may be difficult for you to look at yourself as righteous. Maybe you've never heard this before. Maybe you have a past tattered with sin. Maybe you were told you were nothing and worthless your whole life.
I am here today to tell you, YOU ARE RIGHTEOUS.
If you still are having trouble believing it, I encourage you to read Romans and the Corinthians. Let the Word of God cleanse your mind with truth. Write the verses above down and say them everyday until you believe it.
When you know God has redeemed you. When you know you are already righteous through Christ, it changes the way you see yourself and how you act.
At the beginning of the post, I shared that Merriam-Webster defined "righteousness" as "free from guilt or sin". You are indeed free from guilt or sin.
Christ gives you permission to be free. You are free, you are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.