What is righteousness?- God’s Righteousness Vs. Self-Righteousness

Discover the difference between self-righteousness and God’s righteousness and how you can apprehend and walk in God’s righteousness as a way of life.

While I was going over a familiar scripture recently, I realized something about the righteousness of God that I had not previously understood. The word ‘righteous’ is thrown around a lot in Christian circles. But what is righteousness really? How do you even define or comprehend God’s righteousness or apply it to your life?

I function as a teacher in the body of Jesus Christ; as such, I like to be able to take a concept and show a person exactly how it works. But with topics like God’s righteousness, as soon as you think you got it, it’s like grabbing at air, and you miss it again.

The only way for a human to apprehend God’s righteousness is if the Holy Spirit teaches them from the Word. No amount of head knowledge will help you understand how the righteousness of God works in your life apart from the Holy Spirit teaching you.

Pay attention to the word ‘righteousness’ in the Bible

This all started when I was listening to one of my favorite passages of scripture, Isaiah 11:1-5.

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. Isaiah 11:1-5 KJV

A profound yet simple revelation about God’s righteousness towards us

When it came to the part that says, “With righteousness shall he judge the poor,” I realized something: God will always do what is right, and He’s ALWAYS fair; He always wants what is best for mankind. It is so basic yet so profound. I think we all ‘know’ that to a degree, and we’ve taught that here at Be in Health for a long time, but it really is true.

God will always do the right thing toward you. That may include correction from time to time, and that is okay. He will always do the right thing for everyone. It doesn’t matter about someone’s socioeconomic status; whether a person is an outcast or popular, high ranking or not, it does not matter one bit.

Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do [it]: for [there is] no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts. 2 Chronicles 19:7 KJV

Righteousness brings peace

God, in His righteousness, will always do right towards every person. We can choose to accept that or reject it; we can believe it or not. Nevertheless, God will do what is right; He cannot do anything less because that is His nature.

Why is this so important to me? If you understand his righteousness, you will feel totally and completely safe with Him in an instant. That’s why God says that righteousness always produces peace.

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Hebrews 12:11 KJV

What is righteousness according to the Old Testament?

As I became more aware of it, I realized that His righteousness is spoken of everywhere in the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament. When I looked at some definitions of God’s righteousness, I was amazed at what I found.

The primary word righteousness in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “tsedeq”. My basic revelation was that the righteousness of God means that He always does the right thing towards us. That is so simple; I was sure that I’d find something much deeper in the definition. But here’s the definition: It is always the right thing. It really is that simple! It’s not something high or lofty.

Pursuing righteousness requires pursuing God

We often wonder what the right thing or righteous thing to do is. A judge’s decisions in the court of law are to be made according to the truth without partiality. Isaiah 11:3-4 says that He will not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears. He will not be moved by what He sees nor by what He hears. But with righteousness, He will judge the poor, and no one can sway Him. God has an unswerving adherence to the standard of fairness.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that by His doing you are in Jesus Christ, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 KJV

What is righteousness according to the New Testament?

From the New Testament, the Greek word for righteousness is “dikaiosyne”. The Greek lexicon definition is almost a teaching in itself, and it’s important for us to understand. It defines the difference between our ‘righteousness’ and God’s righteousness. Righteousness is something that only belongs to God. We can only learn it from Him and then begin to apply it to our lives. But of ourselves, we have none, we may have righteous beh. Here is what the lexicon says:

Righteousness or justice. It is the essence of that, which is just, or of him who is just or righteous. It is conformity to all that he commands or appoints since God himself is a standard for the believer.

The righteousness of God means the righteousness, which belongs to God or God-like righteousness. The righteousness of God is the right which God has upon man. The right He does toward mankind in order for man to recognize and fully submit to the right of God upon his life. He must receive God who offers him or his righteousness to man, as a gift (Romans 5:17), and we must receive it as a gift, not earned. The recognition and acceptance of God’s right upon man, realized through faith, stands in opposition to the righteousness, which is of the law, which is man’s acceptance of the claims of the law upon his life. 

Are our good intentions true righteousness?

Did you hear that? In our good intentions at times, we read the law of God, and we accept its claims upon our life. We must rather accept the righteousness of God upon man through faith and believe that He is good towards us apart from anything we do to earn it.

Accepting His righteousness toward us by faith stands in opposition to the righteousness which is of the law. The righteousness of the law is man’s acceptance of the claims of the law upon his life. Paul said that the righteous man who does the law shall live in them.

And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Galatians 3:12 KJV

Why can’t we achieve righteousness on our own?

Often, man, in his fallen natural condition, would rather establish his own set of standards and his own righteousness. However, such righteous behavior is not really made righteous and cannot please God. I see a bigger and bigger divide between self-righteousness and the righteousness of God in our lives. In fact, I think the term ‘self-righteousness’ is a misnomer; it’s not really righteousness at all.

Self-righteousness is self-centered, prideful, and self-idolatry because we are putting our ways above what God says is right. To apprehend God’s righteousness, you don’t work more. You receive it by faith, understanding, and receiving that He is good toward you.

A person could spend their whole life trying to earn righteousness, working by the law, doing good works and righteous deeds, trying to prove that they’re good enough, yet still miss the mark entirely. Why? Because they are not yielded to the Holy Spirit as their source of strength, inspiration, and guidance. They lean on their own understanding and try to do good deeds for God without submitting themselves to God for His Kingdom and His glory.

If we want to pursue righteousness, we must pursue God

At Be in Health, we often see people striving to be good enough to be healed. That is not the gospel! That’s not what the journey is about. Being healed relies on the understanding of His goodness and His righteousness toward you and receiving that. Then, out of that, you learn how to work it into your life as a fruit of the Spirit. There is only one thing that we can do that makes us righteous before God, and it’s found in John 6:29:

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. John 6:29 KJV

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Galatians 3:6 KJV

Do you want to be a righteous person and live a righteous life?

Do you want a commandment to follow? Do you want a work to do? Believe. Believe in God’s righteousness towards you that was shown to you and me at the cross, and that the Holy Spirit shows to us now. When we believe and understand His righteousness towards us, we will learn how to be righteous ourselves through God’s divine influence on our hearts and be a people zealous of good works.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:13-14 KJV


David Levitt


This article is an excerpt from a Hope of the Generations Church service. Watch the full exhortation here!

You may also like these related articles:

What Does the Bible Say About Trusting God? – By David Levitt

Building a Foundation of Faith for Future Generations – By Scott Iwahashi

God’s Character in Us

-How to Enter the Kingdom of God – By Pastor Benny Parish

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How can we relate to God and His righteousness? Can we be righteous? Does God want good or evil for you? Can God even do bad things to you? Find the answers to these questions and more here!

By Be in Health| 2022-08-23T10:44:45-05:00 March 26th, 2022|Overcoming, Uncategorized|0 Comments