As Christians, we all talk about being righteous or wanting to be righteous. Theologians talk about Christ imputing his righteousness to us. But what is righteousness? What does it mean to be righteous?
A quick survey of dictionaries will give the definition of righteous as follows:
Characterized by uprightness or morality; in accordance with divine or moral laws.
Most of us in the Western Church have tended to view the Biblical concept of righteousness in these terms. However, as N. T. Wright has correctly noted:
Their word for justice, and similar ones like “justify”, and their word for “right”, and others like “righteous”, “righteousness” and so on, came from the same root. Unfortunately, as with “believe” and “faith”, there isn’t an easy way of expressing this in English. Part of the art of reading Romans is learning, when you see one of the words in the group, to hold the others in your mind as well.”
Righteousness in the Bible is not merely the upholding of some divine or moral law (though it does include those things.) It is the faithfulness of God to do what He said he would do. Therefore I propose the following definition:
Righteousness is the faithfulness of God to set the world right through the Abrahamic Covenant and the life, work and ministry of Jesus.
What does it mean for believers to be righteous?
Paul tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21, NIV). Another translation puts it this way, “The Messiah did not know sin, but God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant (Wright, KNT). In other words, our lives, words, and deeds should demonstrate that God is “setting things right.” It means that as believers, we should see progress in areas of life where things have improved.
Now, I am certainly not advocating that coming to Jesus means instantaneous perfection. God works and sets things right on his own timing, not ours. Still, we and others should be able to look on our life and see the areas in which God has been working to mold you into the human being you were always intended to be.
Have you become God’s righteousness? Can others say, they see a marked change which they can’t explain? If not; we might want to consider where our relationship with God stands. But like always, He is standing there ready to start from where ever you are and “set things right.” Yes, you too can “become the righteousness of God.”
Wright, Nicholas Thomas. Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One: Chapters 1-8. Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.
 Nicholas Thomas Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One: Chapters 1-8 (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 12.