Defining ‘Righteousness’

Y’shua (Jesus) in Matthew 5:6 says,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

And, just a couple verses later He says,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Have you ever really stopped to think, ‘What is righteousness?’  Or, ‘How does Scripture define righteousness?’

I read a sermon the other day by someone using the above two quoted verses, and he never quite got to the point or answered the question, so I had to do a little digging…  I wanted answers to the above questions.

‘What exactly IS righteousness?’

I rarely quote from sources other than Scripture, but I want to depart from that for a minute.   Millard J. Erickson, in his tome, Christian Theology (Second Edition) says the following on page 968,

In order to understand justification, it is necessary first to understand the biblical concept of righteousness, for justification is a restoration of the individual to a state of righteousness.  In the Old Testament, the verb צָדַק  (tsadaq) and its derivatives connote conformity to a norm.  Since the character of the individual is not so much in view as is his or her relationship to God’s law, the term is more religious than ethical in nature.

Dr. Erickson just said a mouthful, but you may not hear all of that, or the implications in their fulness from a pulpit!!

‘Conformity to a norm.’  There has to be a standard.  A base line.

Much of christendom looks to the Greek for their definitions, when in fact, ALL definitions for ‘new’ Testament concepts are given in the Tanak (‘old’ Testament).  Since the Greek may be the norm for some readers, here is what Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says:

G1342 : δίκαιος : dikaios


Thayer Definition:

1) righteous, observing divine laws

1a) in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God

1a1) of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined

1a2) innocent, faultless, guiltless

1a3) used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life

1a3a) only Christ truly

1a4) approved of or acceptable of God

1b) in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them

Part of Speech: adjective

A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G1349

Citing in TDNT: 2:182, 168


Again, we see the standard, or baseline to be perfect conformity to the commandments of God.

So how does Scripture define righteousness and what is the standard or baseline?

Let my tongue sing of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness. Ps. 119:172

Your word is very pure,
Therefore Your servant loves it.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
And Your law is truth.
Your commandments are my delight.
Your testimonies are righteous forever;
Give me understanding that I may live. Ps. 119:140-144 sel.

It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us. Deut. 6:25

These verses, among many, establish that the righteous standard is the Law, the commandments of God.  In fact, Scripture defines the breaking of the Law as ‘sin,’ the opposite of ‘righteousness.’

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4

….having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.….For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  Romans 6:18-20

So we see thus far that righteousness is defined by the Law and that sin is the breaking of the Law.

Y’shua, the sinless One, imputed righteousness to us through His atoning death and resurrection.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; Romans 3:21-22

This is the point where many christians ‘jump the track’ in their pursuit of wisdom and understanding.  In their passion for Jesus (rightly placed) they wrongly follow centuries of teaching that errs by saying,  ‘See?  I have the righteousness of Christ and therefore do not need the Law’.’

[ASIDE:  Please let me reiterate, as I have said multiple times on this blog and in teaching, I AM NOT SAVED BY WORKS!!  In fact, nobody in HISTORY has EVER been saved by works!!  Ephesians 2:8-10!!  I am saved by grace, through faith to DO GOOD WORKS.  We are looking at the definition of righteousness!]

Instead of reading beyond the above quoted Romans 3:21-22, the errant reader stops short of verse 31 that says,

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. Romans 3:31

If we establish the Law through faith, then what is the benefit of Messiah?  EVERYTHING!!  He restores us to God so that we may walk in His ways and He, by His Ruach/Spirit, empowers us to do it!!  We are called to repentance to the standard…  i.e., turn TO the standard.

We are freed from the curse of the law, but not freed from the Law!  Rav Shaul says in Galatians 3,

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law,

But that verse is generally quoted out of context!  The context of the whole letter to the Galatians is that they are trying to earn, through works, a place at the table as descendants of Abraham instead of entering by faith as Shaul had had previously taught them.  In chapter 3, Shaul is explaining that Abraham was accepted by God on the basis of faith and in nearly the same breath, Shaul affirms that the Law is righteousness.  Let’s look.

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore,  be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you. So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faithGalatians 3:6-14

Notice!!  Rav Shaul’s discussion is NOT about the Law being baaaaaddddd!  It is about salvation by faith versus salvation through the Law.  See the distinction between verses nine and ten?  We cannot be saved by works.  We are saved by faith.

Shaul goes on to affirm the value and the life that comes from the Law, but not through the Law.  He says,

the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.

He is quoting Torah!  Multiple times, just in the Book of Deuteronomy, we are told that obedience to the commandments leads to life!  Just look at Deuteronomy 5:33; 8:1-3; 30:6, 16 &19!!

The problem with us Gentiles is that we have NOT kept the covenant/commandments (not that anyone can perfectly, but we are particularly adept at being rebellious) and are therefore ‘under the curse of the Law.’  We broke the commandments and deserve the just/righteous punishment that comes as a result.  By faith, through Messiah, we are forgiven, just like Abraham’s faith, and we are credited with righteousness.  But what does that mean?

What did the faith of Abraham DO?  It walked in righteousness!  It was obedient to the commandments.  He was freed TO walk in obedience.  Genesis 26:5 says,

Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My Torah.

James affirms this very point when he says,

are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

In fact, he discusses Abraham’s obedience as evidence of his faith…  Ever read those verses in context?  I recommend James 2:14-26!!

So, we are still defining ‘righteousness.’  We know that it is an adherence to a standard, and we know the standard is the Law.  We know we are brought into covenant by the imputed righteousness of Messiah, and we just saw that faith (in Messiah) without works is dead!

Now what?  Rav Shaul tells us,

having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.  Romans 6:18-19

We are called to walk according to the standard.  To ‘present our members as slaves to righteousness.’

John tells us, ‘If we claim to know (have faith in) Messiah, then we will be obedient to the commandments.’  Here is the fuller context,

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.

Isn’t this what Y’shua the Messiah was saying when He said,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

And, just a couple verses later He says,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We should be hungering to ‘walk as He walked.’  We should be seeking to be obedient as He was obedient.  We are not saved by that, but in that walk, in that ‘doing’ is sanctification and great reward.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
 by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.

Ask yourself, ‘am I hungering and thirsting for obedience to His commandments?  All of them!  Am I persecuted for obedience’s sake?’

Or, are you happy looking like the rest of the world?


As a side note, since ‘sanctification is on the table’ in connection with righteousness, isn’t it a curious thing that the very commandments that are specifically delineated as defining holiness, or ‘set-apartness’ are the ones that Constantine and the Roman Bishops of the 300s A.D. tried to annul? Consider:

Food: Leviticus 11, especially named as holy in verses 44 and 45!

Sabbath: Over and over the seventh day is called ‘holy.’  NEVER is sunday referred to as ‘holy.’  NEVER!!!

Feast Days: These are called ‘holy convocations‘ (11x!) and a ‘perpetual covenant throughout your generations…’ (4X!) in one chapter.  Leviticus 23.

Tzitzits: These are an identifier that the wearer seeks to

remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.’

Very interesting!!  Being called ‘holy,’ being ‘set-apart,’ being ‘sanctified’ as DIRECTLY connected with these four areas that ROME declared illegal and later justified with warped theology that the Protestant fathers inherited and accepted.

Okay, off soapbox.  (That aside was a freebie…  a HUGE lesson all by itself. Do the research!)


So, Rav Shaul says, ‘presenting our members as slaves of righteousness results in sanctification.’  We are called to conform to the norm, thus establishing the law.  We, by walking in obedience to the standard, the Torah, evidence TO the world and establish IN the world the commandments, the covenant of Yahweh!

There are MANY more verse and tangents to prove the point, but I’ll close with just one.

If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him.

What does it mean to ‘do righteousness?’

It means to ‘conform to the commandments of God,’ none of which have been ‘done away with.’

I pray this study has blessed you and challenged you to dig deeper into the Word of God.  Seek truth and reject the doctrines of men!!

Yahweh will bless you and watch over you.
Yahweh will smile on you and be kind to you.
Yahweh will look on you with favor and give you peace.



About Pete Rambo

Details in 'About' page @ Basically, husband of one, father of four. Pastor x 11 years, former business and military background. Micro-farmer. Messianic believer in Yeshua haMashiach!
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4 Responses to Defining ‘Righteousness’

  1. hisloammi says:

    Yes, we have got to get back to defining His Words by His Word! Here’s another, hone in on vs 9 : Consider someone who is righteous, who does what is lawful and right. 6 He doesn’t eat on the mountains or raise his eyes toward the idols of the house of Isra’el; he doesn’t defile his neighbor’s wife or touch a woman during her time of menstrual impurity; 7 he doesn’t wrong anyone; he returns any pledged property a debtor has given as collateral for a loan; he takes nothing by robbery, but gives his food to the hungry and clothing to those who need it; 8 he neither demands nor accepts interest on a loan; he refrains from what is evil; and he judges honestly between one person and another. 9 In short, he lives according to my laws and observes my rulings, so as to act faithfully. Such a person is righteous, and he will certainly live,” says Adonai ELOHIM Ezekiel 18:5-9


  2. hisloammi says:

    Oh, just thought of another one. You now me, haha. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Yah, and His what? Righteousness! Before all else, seek that..we have to define it properly to seek it properly


  3. C says:

    Ezek. 20


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