People tend to think of righteousness only in terms of our physical actions. We see righteousness as being ours when we do what is right or when we refrain from doing what is wrong. We think righteousness is a label given to or withheld from people based on the quality of their actions.
In one respect, this point of view is correct. There is a kind of righteousness that people earn through doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. The apostle Paul wrote about it. He called it “my own righteousness, which is from the law” (Philippians 3:9). This kind of righteousness is earned by people when they obey God’s laws.
But the apostle Paul spoke of a different kind of righteousness that is not earned by being obedient to God’s laws. He spoke of it as being a gift (Romans 5:17). He spoke of this kind of righteousness as a gift that comes “through faith in Christ,” and He described it as “the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Comparing one type of righteousness with the other, Paul said there is no comparison. The kind of righteousness that is earned is as rubbish, and the kind of righteousness that is ours as a gift by faith is priceless. He said:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11).
If these things are true, and I believe they are, then we must find a way to look at our righteousness, not in terms of what we do or don’t do, but in terms of what God has done for us on the inside. We are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We delight in the things of God in the inward man (Romans 7:22). We love God with all our hearts (1 John 4:19). And we make it our aim in all things to be well pleasing in His sight (2 Corinthians 5:9; Hebrews 13:20-21). We need to recognize that these righteous desires are our own desires, and they are a gift from God that He will never take away.
God does not expect us to create our own righteousness by being obedient to His laws, He wants us to live out the true righteousness and true holiness that He put in us when He came to live in our hearts (Ephesians 4:24).