But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. -Romans 3:21-26
I always secretly wondered what righteousness was. I grew up hearing the word used, but even after I began pursuing Jesus I was a little unsure. How could I know if I was righteous? If I wasn’t, how could I become righteous? It was confusing and I didn’t understand. It took a long time for me to begin believing I was righteous, but Jesus used Jason Gray’s song “I Am New” to start convincing me:
Forgiven. Beloved. Hidden in Christ. Made in the image of the Giver of life. Righteous and holy. Reborn and remade. Accepted and worthy–this is our new name.
Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him. (1 John 2:29) I am righteous! I may not do all I should, I may not be perfect, but I have Jesus living in me now. His righteousness is inside me. It is nothing I’ve done. Without Him, I’m the same old mess of unrighteousness. It’s Him and only Him. He turns me into the person He tells me I am! The trick isn’t to seek righteousness itself, but to seek God whole-heartedly. That’s what righteousness is: the imitation of Him. Trying to be righteous alone always fails. We’ve all tried, but you just can’t do it! God doesn’t need you to be perfect; He just wants you to love Him. Unbelievers in Israel gave us this example: Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3) You’re not seeking righteousness for yourself. You need to want it because He has it and it’ll bring you closer to Him, not to improve yourself. He put on righteousness as breastplate long before we even knew it was possible (see Isaiah 59:17).
You’ve probably heard it said that The righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) Righteousness without faith is failure, empty works, legalism. Unless you have faith, your would-be-righteous acts don’t mean anything deeper than the act itself. Faith is the key. Faith is what makes it all matter, makes it part of you. Before I had faith, I tried to do everything in my power to be a good, pure person in hopes that Jesus would love me. Unfortunately, my power is small and weak. Not only could I not be righteous, I couldn’t make Him love me even when I did something good– He already loved me. I simply had to believe that. Being righteous is NOT a way to make God love you; it’s a product of the love He’s already given you. When you have faith in Him, righteousness begins to grow in you. Because you love Him and know He loves you, you do all that you do out of that faith, and that makes you righteous. Faith is the source and the fuel. Believe in His love and His promises. That’s what counts. (see Genesis 15:6)
As a piece of armor, righteousness works as a breastplate. What does it do, exactly?
- It’s your front. A breastplate goes straight onto you; it’s probably the first thing someone would notice on you. You’ve heard people say, “So-and-so has this kind of front”, meaning they put off a certain air? Righteousness has its own air. You can usually tell when someone is truly striving to imitate Jesus. It effects the people around you, simply because you live it! The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. (Isaiah 32:17)
- It tells others who you fight for. Many knights would wear their family crest or the king’s symbol on their chest. It was a silent declaration of loyalty, but it also let other knights know if they were on the same side or not during battle. Likewise, your righteousness is a symbol of your loyalty to Jesus and fighting for Him; it shows you care enough to try, to commit the way you live to Him. However–it also lets the enemy and his warriors see whose you are; it makes them hate you and fight you. Psalm 37:30-33 explains and encourages: The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The Lord will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial. We’ll be under attack, yes, but we won’t be defeated. He will protect us.
- It protects your most vital area: your heart. There are so many verses in the Bible that speak of righteousness being life-giving. I know first-hand that sometimes it just doesn’t look appealing to do the right or moral thing, but I also know that every time I act on that I start feeling weary, beat-down, lifeless. Those moments of defiance and disloyalty remind me what a difference He makes in me. Loving Him is what makes my blood flow. If I don’t live out my love, my heart is defenseless; it can easily be penetrated by the enemy’s attacks. Put on righteousness out of love for Him, or you won’t make it! The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
To learn more about the traits of a righteous man, read the book of Proverbs.