Most of us have been taught to believe that to be righteous means to do all the right things in the eyes of others. This is a widely-held way of thinking, but it’s the wrong approach to life. Righteousness is defined as being morally upstanding, virtuous, and ethical; many people think they can achieve this status on their own. Even with the best of intentions, we can never achieve these high standards through self-effort; we need God for this.
Without Christ, we’re all imperfect people. We have days when we think we can do everything perfectly all by ourselves, and days when we realize we just can’t get it together to live right. We’d be sunk if we didn’t have a Savior to make us righteous by our faith in Him. “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:22-25). We’re righteous because God said so, not because of our actions.
In the Old Testament, the people had to perform perfectly to be righteous before God. The harder they tried to do right according to the Law of Moses, the more they sinned and felt guilty and condemned about it. When Jesus came, He freed us from this requirement. Having faith in what He did through His death and resurrection, instead of what we do, replaces guilt with peace and joy. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Religion teaches us to hold on to the law and do our best to follow the Ten Commandments, but it’s unrealistic to think that we can keep all of them all the time. Jesus was the only one who could do this. Our good deeds can never make us righteous—only our faith in Christ. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Letting this sink down into our souls and spirits liberates us from feeling like we’re constantly running on a proverbial treadmill to please others.
The fact that we don’t have to rely on ourselves to be in right-standing with God takes a tremendous burden off of us. We don’t have to work anymore to please Him; He’s already pleased with us when we believe in Jesus. Our faith positions us to receive the same promise of righteousness that Abraham received. “If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’” (Romans 4:2, 3, NLT).
No longer having to perform enables us to focus on deepening our relationship with Jesus instead of on constantly having to correct our behavior. Our faith matters more to God than our works. “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). Accepting this liberates us from the bondage that the rest of the world struggles with.