We’ve discussed what righteousness is (a long time ago. For a refresher click here), but it might help if we talk about what righteousness is not.

Here’s the problem with righteousness: we think we have it well defined. When someone mentions righteousness we immediately start thinking about right living, perfect living, living up to what God demands. Righteousness is not perfection in myself through my own willpower.

The Bible tends to be pretty clear that in order to be saved we must be righteous, we must be perfect. Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And later on Jesus says in verse 48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And there are more verses which same similar things.

The problem is that we take these concepts of righteousness and perfection and put our own meaning on them that is not actually there in the texts. Our flawed idea of perfection and righteousness is that I must be completely sinless in order to be perfect and righteous. And the only way to get there is to try as hard as I can, pray as hard as I can for God’s help so that I can become perfect.

The Greek word used for perfect is telos, and a better translation of telos would be mature or complete. When I am complete in Christ I am perfect. Completeness in Christ is utter submission to His will in my life and allowance of His direction and leading.

Righteousness and perfection are not something that we have to attain through our own power. Otherwise Christ’s death on the cross was utter nonsense. Paul makes that clear when he tells the Galatians, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” If righteousness and perfection could be gained through obeying the law in our own power, Christ wasted His time dying for us.

This is one of hardest things to understand because our whole society is built around doing and earning. We live a life full of working to earn. Yet Christ says, “This is My gift to you. Let me be King in your life. Let me be your righteousness.” Being perfect in Christ doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, it means that we have submitted completely to the dwelling of Christ in our lives.

This is the third part on the topic of righteousness. If you want to read the other two: Part I, Part II.