What righteousness really is

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

The first seminary class I ever took was New Testament Greek. One of the insights that I have never forgotten was when the professor told us that the Greek word “diakosune,” commonly translated as righteousness, is best thought of Biblically as “right-relatedness,” i.e. related rightly to God. I have always appreciated that nuance, as righteousness is a word that tends to conjure up images of moral perfection in my mind. In other words, a righteous person is someone who does not sin, who does what is right and does not do what is wrong. But thinking of “diakosune” as more than just moral perfection, but as being rightly related to God, introduces a whole other element.

First of all, when Jesus’ death on our behalf gives us His righteousness (as in 1 Corinthians 5:21), it is not just that God sees us as perfect in His sight (which He does), but that we can enjoy the relationship of a beloved child with his or her Father, just as Jesus does with His Father. There is no longer fear of condemnation (Romans 8:1), but that fear has been replaced by love and favor. As in says in 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Secondly, it makes greater sense of Matthew 5:6, the verse listed above. The “blessed” are not just those who hunger and thirst to be morally perfect. It is those whose deepest desire is to be rightly related to God. For me, that means that I have a yearning within me to do what He wants me to do every second of every day, to not waste time on things that do not matter or fall prey once again to my own self-centered desires. I just want to reach the end of a day and know that I gave my all to Him, knowing Him and serving Him with all I am. And I thank God for the promise that one day, even if it isn’t this side of eternity, I will experience that desire of my heart.

Because of Jesus, we are rightly-related to God. And because of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we can continue to grow in righteousness, becoming more and more rightly-related to God, knowing and trusting in His love for us and favor towards us, and becoming more and more obedient to His will for us.

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