One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church. (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.) One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteousness.”
To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God. This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort. As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”
This concept is explained further in Romans 3:
What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)
The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times. Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.
In other words, since we can do nothing to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.
When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law. That penalty is death. Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God. This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.
The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven. Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.
If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”
Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.
RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus. For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.
Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous. Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.
Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.
(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)