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1. Introduction

Righteousness or being righteous is a foundational truth for a believer in Jesus. In Covenantal Atonement, we found that righteousness is part of the great exchange and allows Holy Spirit to enter a person. In Believer’s Victory Over Sin, we discovered that righteousness is a gift, and we are the righteousness of God. Another pre-requisite reading to this lesson is Propitiation – Mercy Not Punishment.
We will now look in detail at:

  1. The Great Exchange.
  2. What is righteousness?
  3. How our being righteous is not sufficient to enter the kingdom or family of God.
  4. The righteousness of God opens the way for the Spirit of God to enter the person.
  5. How righteousness produces the new birth or being born again.

2. The Great Exchange

Remembering from the Old Testament Revelation of God that covenant is not only God making a covenant with man, but it is a two-way covenant between God and man (think of the marriage covenant that is also two-way). For this reason, there is a two-way exchange between God and man that occurs.

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 confess Jesus as Lord, we give Him our sins, and He gives us His righteousness. He became sin for us on the cross. We become the righteousness of God! Yes, that is correct; you are now as righteous as Jesus Christ.


We give our sins to Jesus,
He gives God’s righteousness to us

2 Corinthians 5:21

3. Defining Righteousness

Righteousness is the state of being righteous.

Righteousness’ definition is ‘acting under divine or moral law – free from guilt and sin.’

Contrary to some theology, it does not only mean right standing with God. Although right standing with God is a consequence of having the righteousness of God, it is not a definition of righteousness. The apostle John defines righteousness as:

… He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

1 John 3:7

A righteous person is one who PRACTICES righteousness! The word practices are present tense. In other words, practising righteousness needs an active outworking of being righteous in our daily lives. However, the New Covenant GIVES us the nature of God, who is holy and righteous. This means we can do righteous acts, and therefore are righteous.

We are now looking at the righteousness of those who do not believe in Jesus.

4. Righteousness of Those Who do Not Believe in Jesus

It is an important truth that humankind is good in the eyes of God.

A. Righteous Before the Law.

Moses wrote ‘Job’ around the time of Abraham. Job was righteous (upright) in God’s sight:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

Job 1:8

Noah was also righteous.

Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 14:14

B. Righteousness of Those Under the Law.

James says Elijah was righteous.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (Elijah) avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.

James 5:16-17

Jesus said the Pharisees were righteous.

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

C. Righteous Gentile.

Cornelius was a Roman soldier and, therefore, not a follower of the Mosaic law. Cornelius was also righteous in God’s sight because of what he did:

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

Acts 10:1-2

There is no argument from scripture that humankind is righteous. It teaches us that there are righteous men and women. The crux is that the righteousness of man is not good enough to get you into the kingdom of God.

5. Man’s Righteousness is Not Enough

A. Sin Nature Twists Man’s Righteousness.

We found in Sin Entered the World that humankind sins because sin is a force that acts from the outside of the person. As a result of succumbing to sinful deeds, the person develops a sinful nature. Because sin then becomes the person’s nature, they become a sinner, which means that when they do righteous acts, there is a nature twisting this. For example, people may do acts of kindness out of wrong motives.

Paul then goes on and says this, quoting Psalms and Ecclesiastes.

As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
…none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Romans 3:10-12

However, we have seen that God does see that people are righteous. People have taken this scripture as an absolute, referring to everyone. Yet if we look at this passage in Psalms, David is not referring to everyone.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.

Psalms 14:1

In this passage, the Hebrew word for fool is Nabal. This word describes an empty-headed person who demonstrates their lack of wisdom through a foolish lifestyle.

B. The Sin Nature.

Sin nature makes it impossible to be righteous enough to enter the kingdom of God.

So what is Paul saying in Romans? We need to read this in the context of the previous and following verses. In the previous verse (Romans 3:9), we have seen that Paul is explaining in Romans 3:1-8 that all are under sin because of their sinful nature.

For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

Romans 3:9

Then in the following verses, we find the answer:

6. Righteousness Comes from Faith in Jesus Christ

How do we become the righteousness of God? Through faith!

even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…

Romans 3:22

And in Philippians:

and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;

Philippians 3:9

Covenantal Atonement taught us that when we believe, the atonement reconciles us to God, we die with Christ, and the New Covenant comes into effect, giving us righteousness.

Receiving the gift of righteousness does not mean that followers of Jesus will always do righteous acts. However, what has changed is that the son and daughter of God no longer have a sinful nature. Being born again with a new heart, they now have a righteous nature. Therefore it is more ‘natural’ to do righteous acts.

A mature believer in Jesus can go days or longer without sinning because they have a righteous nature that helps them be righteous.

7. Jesus was Perfectly Righteous.

A. Not By Obeying the Law.

Jesus’ righteousness was not a result of obeying the law, insted living a sinless and obedient life.

Jeremiah prophesied this:

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

Jeremiah 23:5

B. Jesus Fulfilled the Law.

Jesus’ righteousness was because He was righteous. As a result, He fulfilled the law and lived the perfect life.

Jeremiah also prophesied this;

‘In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

Jeremiah 33:15

C. Jesus’ Righteousness was Tested.

Satan tempted Jesus unsuccessfully:

And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

Mark 1:13

And Jesus was also tested by His desires:

“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:42-44

He, therefore, can help us as the High Priest.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

So His testing and suffering were on whether He would act righteously. Jesus never sinned and therefore was righteous. As a result, Jesus was able to be glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration.

D. His Righteousness Brings many Sons to Glory.

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 2:10

We benefit from Jesus’ testings and temptations. He did not succumb to sin; He was righteous in person and action. Therefore, we know we are entirely righteous through the Great Exchange. If He had sinned in any way, then the sinful nature would have come upon Him. (See Sin Entered the World for the importance of this).

8. Old Testament Righteousness

We have seen in Philippians 3:9 that righteousness comes from God.

A. Old Testament Righteousness is “On Our Account”.

Before Jesus died, Abraham was ‘imputed’ or ‘accredited’ righteousness.

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

Romans 4:3

The Jew’s righteousness was added to their account but never was their own righteousness.

We need to be careful when quoting Romans 4 that we do not bring it into the present New Covenant era. Paul talks as though Romans 4 is before Christ died, and the Old Covenant is still in effect.

Before the New Covenant, God’s righteousness was “reckoned” to the believer or “imputed”. These words mean that righteousness was credited to their account. This is because there could be no gift of righteousness. After all, Jesus had not yet come. The New Covenant had not come into effect because Jesus had not yet died.

B. Sins were Covered in the Old Covenant.

Righteousness before Jesus died meant that their sins were “covered”. At the time of David, Jesus had not yet come, so there was still no eternal forgiveness and forgetting of sin. The blood of a sin offering just covered sin.

…David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

Romans 4:6-8

C. Entry into the Kingdom of God.

We have seen that righteousness comes from faith. We have also seen that to enter the kingdom of God, our righteousness needs to exceed the most (self) righteous people – the religious leaders of the time.

9. New Covenant Righteousness

Under the New Covenant, righteousness is far superior. Old Testament imputation does not include any impartation OF righteousness. It means that Jesus’ righteousness is added to our account. Righteousness comes as part of the New Covenant (see Covenantal Atonement). The New Covenant is the legal aspect of our inheritance. It is our adoption papers into the family of God.

A. Right-Standing with God.

So let us identify what we have learned so far:

  • Righteousness is simply being righteous. 
  • We now have Jesus’ righteousness, which means we have a righteous nature. 
  • The result of having the righteousness of God and Jesus is that we have right-standing with God. 
  • We are holy and righteous in God’s sight.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 8:12

B. Right-Fellowship with God.

Right fellowship with God means that you enter into a close personal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Hebrews 8:10

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

The New Covenant gives us legal adoption into the family of God. Once we believe in Jesus, we legally become a son/daughter of God. But the legal aspect is only half of the story.

10. Righteousness Brings Life

A. Unrighteousness Stopped Access to the Tree of Life.

When Adam and Eve chose the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil over the Tree of Life, access to the Tree of Life had to be closed. Adam and Eve blamed each other and the serpent.

So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:24

In the way of righteousness is life,
And in its pathway there is no death.

Proverbs 12:28

Righteousness is a fantastic thing – it brings with it life, not death. We have seen that humankind develops a sinful nature that blocks the way to life.

C. Jesus Christ Opened the Way to the Tree of Life.

Talking about our current state, not future heaven, Jesus says:

Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.

Revelation 22:14

Now we look at how He opened life to us:

D. Jesus is Resurrection and Life.

We think that Jesus raises the dead, and He most certainly does (and I have personally seen Him do through my hands at the mention of His name). But He is more than that. Jesus IS life, and Jesus IS resurrection.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

John 11:25

11. Righteousness Brings New Birth

In Propitiation, Mercy Not Sacrifice and Covenantal Atonement, we saw that it was not just the blood of Jesus that atones, but the person of Jesus who atones. So when Jesus comes in, completely righteous, only life and resurrection can occur.

A. Born Again by the Spirit.

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:5-7

We must be born of the Holy Spirit, not just legal documents.

B. Holy Spirit Raised Jesus from the Dead.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

Holy Spirit brings life to our bodies that were dead! But how did Holy Spirit do this in our life?

C. Righteousness of the New Covenant Allows Holy Spirit to Bring New Birth.

The previous verse gives the answer:

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10

When you die in Christ through belief in Him, you receive the atonement.
Atonement brings reconciliation with God.
Jesus’ death allows the New Covenant to take effect in your life. That New Covenant brings righteousness and forgiveness of sins, and righteousness allows Holy Spirit to come in and resurrect you.

Holy Spirit gives us a new heart, and we are born again. We are now a new creation, with the righteousness of God being our true nature. We have eternal life.

Praise God!

D. Jesus Fulfilled all Righteousness Through Water Baptism, Allowing Holy Spirit to Come Upon Him.

Jesus had to do what was right by being water baptised to receive the Holy Spirit baptism. It is the same for us. The righteousness of God allows us to receive Holy Spirit baptism.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

E. Holy Spirit AND the New Covenant Gives Us Adoption.

We saw that the New Covenant is like our adoption papers. However, it is not just a legal transaction. This is meant to be experiential, not just paperwork. So on one side, we have the legal documents (the will of Father and Jesus), but on the other, we have the Spirit of God working in us, so we experience the love of the Father.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Romans 8:15-16

12. Righteousness Reigns in Our Life.

A. Righteousness Now Reigns.

Because righteousness is a gift, righteousness now reigns in our life.

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, how much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17

B. Grace Now Reigns.

Because righteousness reigns grace reigns in our life!

so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:21

And that is kingdom living; we can reign over sin and do all things through Jesus Christ because grace reigns.

13. Power Gifts and Righteousness

There are real benefits in getting victory over sin. James teaches us that God hears the prayers of the righteous:

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

James 5:16

Do you notice that the context of this scripture is calling those who are elders to pray for the sick?

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

James 5:13-16

Why does James say to call the elders rather than anybody? It is on the presupposition that elders have passed the test of eldership, which means their life should be more righteous than a new believer’s.

If we walk a life of righteousness, then grace will reign in our lives, and we will be able to do more miracles. Anyone who walks in the power of God MUST live a life of righteousness and holiness if they want to achieve greatness in the healing ministry.

© Use by Permission Awakening Impact Ministries / Dr Neville van Eerten 2022

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