The question of who is righteous before God is one that has been contemplated for millennia. Though there are differing perspectives, most agree that being considered righteous requires living according to God’s principles.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Those who have faith in God, repent of their sins, and live according to His commandments are considered righteous before Him.
In this comprehensive article, we will examine righteousness from biblical, theological, and philosophical perspectives. We’ll consider different interpretations of righteousness, look at noteworthy examples of righteous individuals, and provide actionable tips for living righteously.
Defining Righteousness in the Bible
Righteousness as Right Living
Righteousness in the Bible often refers to living according to God’s moral standards. It involves doing what is just, lawful, and upright. Several verses encourage righteousness, such as Psalm 106:3 – “Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.”
Living righteously manifests itself in qualities like justice, honesty, decency, and virtue.
Righteousness Through Faith
Many verses also connect righteousness to faith, such as Romans 3:22 – “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” This relates to being made righteous through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Even though all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), He credits Christ’s righteousness to those who have faith. Believers thus obtain right standing before God.
The concept of “imputed righteousness” thus emerges in Scripture. This refers to righteousness credited to one’s account. Just as Adam’s sin brought condemnation, Christ’s obedience leads to justification and righteousness for believers (Romans 5:19).
Through faith, God legally declares believers righteous because of Christ’s righteousness imputed or attributed to them. He no longer counts their sins against them. This demonstrates that righteousness cannot be earned through good works or Law-keeping but is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Perspectives on Righteousness in Christian Theology
The Catholic Church teaches that righteousness comes through God’s grace and human cooperation with God’s plan. Catholics believe faith and good works are both essential for salvation. God gives us sanctifying grace, which allows us to live righteously, and actual grace, which guides us toward righteousness.
Catholics emphasize pursuing spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and reading Scripture to grow in holiness. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, are vital means for deepening communion with God.
By participating in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, Catholics can overcome sin and become more Christ-like.
In Protestantism, righteousness is viewed as an imputed gift from God rather than an infused reality. Martin Luther taught that humans cannot become righteous through their own efforts. Instead, Christ’s perfect righteousness covers believers when God graciously justifies them by faith alone (sola fide).
Sanctification is also by grace. As believers behold Christ, the Holy Spirit conforms them more into His image. Good works naturally flow from salvation but do not achieve it. Protestants affirm the priesthood of all believers and largely reject sacramentalism, instead emphasizing Scripture, prayer, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Eastern Orthodox Perspectives
Eastern Orthodoxy sees righteousness as a process of being joined to God called theosis. Through Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, He restores humanity’s communion with God. The Eucharist unites believers to the risen Christ, enabling participation in the divine life.
However, humans must actively cooperate through ascetic practices, prayer, almsgiving, and repentance.
Orthodox theology rejects Augustine’s teaching on original sin and does not see humans as inherently corrupted. Righteousness means being healed from the effects of sin and death and transformed by grace.
But it requires synergistic cooperation between God’s energies and man’s efforts to acquire the Holy Spirit.
Philosophical Views on Righteousness
Plato’s Conception of Righteousness
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that righteousness consisted of four key virtues – wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. In his famous work The Republic, Plato argues that a just society must cultivate these virtues in its citizens.
The wise make proper judgments, the courageous defend what is right, the temperate exercise self-control, and the just ensure harmony between all parts of society. For Plato, the righteous individual works for the good of the whole rather than mere self-interest.
His ideal form of righteousness seeks balance, harmony and well-being for all.
Aristotle’s Ethics and Righteousness
Plato’s star pupil Aristotle built upon his teacher’s conception of virtue-based ethics. In works like the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that true righteousness lies between two extremes of excess and deficiency. Courage, for example, is the mean between recklessness and cowardice.
No single virtue stands alone – all interconnect to form a coherent whole. Much like Plato, Aristotle believes the righteous person strives for excellence and self-fulfillment by cultivating wisdom, justice, courage and temperance.
But even more than his teacher, Aristotle roots his ethics in human nature rather than abstract ideals. He believes our unique capacity for reason allows us to reflect critically on virtues, values and what it means to live well. This allows us to consciously shape ourselves and seek righteousness.
Kant’s Deontological Ethics
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant offered a starkly different take on righteousness. In his deontological ethical theory, morality stems not from virtues or outcomes, but rather from our rational duty as human beings.
Kant argues that righteousness means acting out of reverence for universal moral law – categorical imperatives true for all people, in all places, at all times. We cannot merely pursue our own happiness or be righteous only when convenient.
Each person possesses absolute dignity and worth, so true righteousness requires treating all humanity as an end in itself – not merely as a means to some other goal. Kant believes human reason gives us access to moral absolutes that transcend changing customs or authorities.
Righteousness thus means governing ourselves by timeless universal laws discoverable through rational thought alone.
Notable Examples of Righteous Individuals
Some of the most well-known examples of righteous individuals come from the Bible. Figures like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, and Job are all described as righteous in God’s eyes. Here are a few details on some of these biblical heroes:
These biblical figures set wonderful examples of living righteously by following God’s commands and walking in faith.
Saints and Church Fathers
Throughout church history, many Christian saints and church leaders displayed righteous, holy lives. Here are a few standout examples:
The selfless service and moral example of saints like these inspire us toward righteous living.
Modern Day Righteous People
While we often focus on biblical figures, righteousness is still evident in modern times. Here are a few contemporary people known for living upright, moral lives:
The character and convictions of these moral leaders provide us with inspirational models of modern righteousness.
Living Righteously – Tips and Guidance
Developing Virtuous Character
Developing a virtuous, righteous character begins with cultivating good habits and virtues like honesty, generosity, patience, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Make a conscious effort to exhibit these virtues in your daily life through small acts like telling the truth even when it’s difficult, being generous with your time and resources, patiently listening to others, and controlling inappropriate desires or behaviors.
Over time, regularly practicing these righteous habits forms them into moral virtues ingrained in your character.
Additionally, read uplifting, virtuous literature and surround yourself with righteous friends who will positively influence your character development. Their good example rubs off. You might also try volunteering in charity organizations which provide opportunities to practice virtues like compassion and selflessness.
Obeying God’s Commands
The Bible contains God’s commands and instructions for righteous living. As an act of love and worship towards God, we must diligently obey His Word (John 14:15). For example, commands to love your neighbor (Mark 12:31), practice justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23), and avoid sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
To obey God’s commands, read the Bible regularly and apply its teachings to your life decisions. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding and practicing what you learn. When you fail and sin, repent and ask God for grace to continue pursuing obedience.
Although we cannot perfectly obey, we must make intentional, consistent effort out of reverence for God.
Repenting of Sins
Since even righteous people sometimes stumble into sin (1 John 1:8), repenting of sins is key to restoring fellowship with God. True repentance involves confessing your sin sincerely to God (1 John 1:9), feeling genuine sorrow over offending Him (2 Corinthians 7:10), and turning away from sinful behavior with God’s help.
After repenting, move forward in righteousness by prayerfully avoiding temptations, asking God to reveal lingering sinful attitudes in your heart, and diligently pursuing obedience through Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Maintain an attitude of humility and dependence on God’s grace as you continue striving to live righteously.
In conclusion, while perspectives on righteousness vary, faith in God and living according to His precepts are universally regarded as necessary for being righteous before Him. By developing virtuous character, following divine commands, and repenting of sins, we can strive to walk in righteousness daily.
While perfection is impossible, we must persist in pursuing holy lives to honor God and fulfill our created purpose.