Editor's note: We are continually seeking the truth in God's word. All content has suggestive conclusions. We recommend that all readers of this website search the scriptures for themselves and pray for understanding to prove or disprove all content.
What is Righteousness?
The Greek word that we translate as righteous is dike (pronounced, dee-kay). And while the ancient Greek meaning was tendency, the use of this word in the Bible implies justice and conformance to
established standards. Justice means doing the right thing; and conformance to established standards (in the Bible) refers to following the ways of God. So, the word righteous can also be translated
as just, since righteousness is so closely tied to justice.
Here are a few conclusions about what the Bible says is righteousness, and the scriptures from which these conclusions have been drawn:
If you really want to be righteous, you can be - Matthew 5:6, ‘Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blest because they will be satisfied.'
If you flaunt your righteousness, you won't receive a reward - Matthew 6:1 ‘Be careful not to do righteous things in front of men so they can see what you are doing. Otherwise, you won't have a reward with your Father in heaven.'
Righteousness involves living for God's Kingdom - Matthew 6:33, ‘[If you] put the Kingdom and righteousness in first place, then all these [other] things will be given to you.'
The things you do prove whether you are righteous - Matthew 11:19, ‘Wisdom is proven righteous by the things it does.'
The things that you say prove whether you are righteous - Romans 3:4, So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you are judged.
Someone who deliberately misleads other people can never be found righteous - Matthew 12:36, ‘I tell you that everything people say to mislead
others, they will have to answer for on the Judgment Day.'
Immoral, unclean, and greedy people will not be found righteous - Ephesians 5:5, ‘All those who are immoral, unclean, and greedy (which really amounts to being an idol worshiper) won't have any inheritance in the Kingdom of God and the Anointed One.'
To be counted righteous, you must treat other righteous people very well - Matthew 25:37-40, ‘Then the righteous will ask, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to you? And the king will say to them, I tell you the truth, when you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me.'
Righteous people are at peace with others - James 3:18, ‘The seeds of the fruit of righteousness are planted in peace by those who are making peace.'
You have to be an honest judge to be found righteous - John 7:24, ‘Quit judging from the way things look on the surface; judge righteously!'
Righteousness involves standing up for right things, even if that invites persecution - Acts 4:19, 20, Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
A righteous person has faith in God and His promises - Romans 3:28. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Editor's note: There is evidence that the church in Rome comprised of Israelites and proselytes to Judaism who became followers of Jesus on the Day of Penecost. The law Paul is talking about is the sacrificial laws of Judaism, not all of God's laws. The requirement of animal sacrifices (to have their sins forgiven) was no longer needed. The sacrifice of our Lord and Savior ended that need!
True righteousness requires more than just faith - James 2: 24, ‘A man is called righteous by the things he
does, not just by his faith.'
To be counted as righteous, you can't be immoral or continue in a sinful course - Romans 6:12-14 ‘As the result, don't allow sin to rule your mortal bodies and don't obey its desires. Nor should you offer your body parts as unrighteous weapons of sin. Rather, offer yourselves to God as someone who has been raised from the dead, and [offer] your body parts to God as weapons of righteousness. So, sin must not be your master, because you aren't under Law, but under [God's] loving kindness.'
Most people in the world aren't considered righteous - 1 Corinthians 6:1, 2, ‘Would any of you who think you have been [wronged] by another dare to take it to court [to be tried by] unrighteous men, rather than by the Holy Ones?'
Although faith is required to prove ourselves righteous, speaking about what we believe is what saves us - Romans 10:10 ‘It is this belief in your heart that makes you righteous, but it's your mouth, when it confesses this, that brings salvation.'
If you aren't severely persecuted for being righteous, you won't be accepted in God's Kingdom - Matthew 5:10, ‘Those who have been persecuted for doing what is right are blest, because the Kingdom of the Heavens belongs to them.'
The Greek word for unrighteous is adike. Yet, this word doesn't necessarily imply badness, it only indicates that the person hasn't met the requirements of being righteous. This is why many of such ones will be resurrected, for Paul said (at Acts 24:15), ‘There's going to be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.'
Yet, unrighteous people won't immediately ‘inherit God's Kingdom' upon their resurrection, as do the righteous (see Matthew 25:34), for notice what Paul wrote at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, ‘Don't you know that the unrighteous won't inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't make any mistakes about this: Sexually immoral people, idol worshipers, adulterers, gays, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists, won't inherit God's Kingdom.'
However, there appear to be several levels of unrighteousness, and not all of the unrighteous will be resurrected. For, notice what Psalm 1:4-6 tells us: ‘But for the disrespectful this will never be so; he's like the dust that's blown ‘cross the earth. So, they won't be raised in the Judgment, nor will sinners see the outcome for the righteous, for God knows what the righteous have done, but the ways of the impious will perish.'
Irreverent, Impious, Godless, and Wicked
The Greek word that was translated disrespectful above, asebe, appears to imply a person who knows God and what He requires, but disrespectfully chooses not to do what is right. Certainly those who are guilty of asebe know God, for in the Proverbs, Solomon mentions their offering Him faulty gifts. Asebe is a difficult word to translate with any clarity, because in an irreverent society, irreverence and its synonym impious are passé. In the poetic works (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations) we find the word asebe contrasted with righteousness, and at times it not only implies disrespect for God, but also disrespect for other humans. So, depending on the need and the implication, we have translated it as irreverent, impious, and disrespectful. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees were like that, for Jesus said of them (at Matthew 23:15), ‘Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees - hypocrites - because you travel land and sea to make a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of the garbage dump (gr. Gehenna) as yourselves.' Gehenna was the name of the garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus' time, and it appears as though his use of this term implied that such individuals (the irreverent Scribes and Pharisees) could not expect a resurrection, they will just be gone. For more information, see the linked document, ‘Is there a Burning Hell?'
We can see the difference between those who God considers unrighteous and those who He considers irreverent in the ways that the ancient kings of Judah and Israel were referred to when they died. Most were said to have been buried with their fathers, implying that they had gone to the common grave of mankind (gr. hades), where they would await a resurrection (see Revelation 20:13). However, dogs ate wicked Jezebel, and the implication (by God's causing this to happen) is that she was just gone and would never live again. She was wicked (gr. ponerou), and there is no hope for those who remain wicked.
Ponerou is the Greek word most commonly translated as wicked, and it refers to those who are willfully bad, so like the asebe (irreverent), they are undeserving of a resurrection. Yet, this condemned condition isn't irreversible, because at Isaiah 1:16 such ones are urged to ‘Bathe yourselves and become clean! Remove the wickedness in your lives from My eyes! Stop being wicked!'
The Greek word for bad is kakia, and it may imply the same thing as unrighteousness - those who miss the mark - because it seems to combine both those who will be resurrected and those who are unworthy of that hope. For, we do know that some of the bad will be resurrected, since Jesus said at John 5:28, 29, ‘Don't be surprised at this, because the hour is coming when everyone in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life and those who practiced what is bad to a resurrection of judgment.'
And while some think that these verses are speaking of the separating of the dead after the resurrection and the two outcomes thereafter, this doesn't seem likely, for notice what Jesus said at John 6:40, ‘This is what my Father's will is: that everyone who pays close attention to the Son and believes in him should have life in the age (gr. zoe aionos), and I will resurrect him on the Last Day.' So, those who pay close attention (or obey) and believe in Jesus appear to be already considered among the ‘living.' For, notice what Jesus said (about God) at Matthew 22:32: ‘He isn't the God of the dead, but of the living.' As the result, we are assuming that when ‘the living' are resurrected, theirs is likely the ‘resurrection of life.' But the unrighteous are considered dead in the eyes of God, so theirs appears to be a resurrection during a period when they will be judged.
Other Words for Unrighteousness
Several other Greek words are used to describe the unrighteous in the Bible, and we won't attempt to show the outcome for each of them, because the Bible doesn't tell us any more. These words are:
Anomia - lawbreakers
Hamartia - sinners
Athiest - those who don't believe in God.
The Reward for the Unrighteous
The outcome for unrighteousness is death, for Romans 1:28-32 tells us, ‘He gave them an unrighteous mind, which makes them do things that are wrong. They are filled with unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, badness, envy, murder, arguments, deceit, bad manners, and gossip. [They are] slanderers, God haters, insolent, proud, braggers, inventors of badness, disobedient to parents, without any understanding, agreement breakers, without any natural feelings, and merciless. Although they know the righteous ways of God very well - and that those who do such things deserve death - they not only keep on doing them, but they also approve of others who do such things.'
So, notice that in the above scripture, all forms of the unrighteous are mentioned, both the lesser wickedness of those who will be resurrected, and the greater wickedness of those who won't be - and they are all considered dead.
The Scriptures show that unrighteous acts include:
Greediness, Envy, Murder, Arguing, Deceitfulness, Having bad manners (being rude), Gossiping, Slandering, Not believing in God (atheism), Insolence, Pride, Bragging, Being responsible for badness, Being disobedient to one's parents, Refusing to be reasonable, Not honoring agreements, Not loving your family (gr. Astorge), Not being merciful, Being sexually immoral, Worshiping idols, Committing adultery, Practicing homosexuality, Thievery, Drunkenness, Insulting, Extorting and Being an angry person.
(Romans 1:28-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, James 1:19, 20).
(contributed materials included)