The Hebrew tseʹdheq and tsedha·qahʹ as well as the Greek di·kai·o·syʹne have the thought of “rectitude,” “uprightness,” indicating a standard or norm determining what is upright. “Righteousness” is frequently used in connection with a judge, or with judgment, giving the term a somewhat legal flavor (hence, the original-language terms are at times translated “justice”). (Ps 35:24; 72:2; 96:13; Isa 11:4; Re 19:11) In the Mosaic Law, at Leviticus 19:36, tseʹdheq is used four times in connection with business transactions: “You should prove to have accurate [“just,” AT, KJ, Le] scales, accurate weights, an accurate ephah and an accurate hin.”
God Sets the Standard. Greek scholar Kenneth S. Wuest says: “God is the objective standard which determines the content of meaning of dikaios [righteous], and at the same time keeps that content of meaning constant and unchanging, since He is the unchanging One.” He then quotes Cremer as saying: “Righteousness in the biblical sense is a condition of rightness the standard of which is God, which is estimated according to the divine standard, which shows itself in behavior conformable to God, and has to do above all things with its relation to God, and with the walk before Him. It is, and it is called dikaiosune theou (righteousness of God) (Rom. 3:21, 1:17), righteousness as it belongs to God, and is of value before Him, Godlike righteousness, see Eph. 4:24; with this righteousness thus defined, the gospel (Rom. 1:17) comes into the world of nations which had been wont to measure by a different standard.”—Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, 1946, p. 37.
Luke shows the sense of one’s being righteous in saying of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth (the parents of John the Baptizer): “They both were righteous before God because of walking blamelessly in accord with all the commandments and legal requirements of Jehovah.” (Lu 1:6) Righteousness is measured by conformity to God’s will and his commands. His specific commands may vary from one time to another and from one person to another—his command to Noah to build an ark has never been repeated nor does his command regarding circumcision apply to Christians. Nevertheless, God’s personal standards, his personality, and what he is, as expressed in his words and ways, remain ever constant and hence provide a perfect standard, ‘rocklike’ in firmness and stability, with which to measure the conduct of all his creatures.—De 32:4; Job 34:10; Ps 92:15; Eze 18:25-31; 33:17-20.
Goodness and Righteousness. The apostle Paul seems to make a distinction between goodness and righteousness when, speaking of Christ’s sacrificial death, he says: “For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:7, 8) A man can be termed “righteous” if he fulfills his proper obligations, is just, impartial, honest, not guilty of wrongdoing or immorality, hence one known for integrity of conduct and uprightness. Paul’s statement, however, implies a certain superiority in “the good” man. To be “good,” the individual could not, of course, be unrighteous or unjust; yet other qualities distinguish him from the man primarily known for his righteousness. The use of the Greek term shows that the person noteworthy for, or distinguished by, goodness is one who is benevolent (disposed to do good or bring benefit to others) and beneficent (actively expressing such goodness). He is not merely concerned with doing what justice requires but goes beyond this, being motivated by wholesome consideration for others and the desire to benefit and help them.—Compare Mt 12:35; 20:10-15; Lu 6:9, 33, 35, 36; Joh 7:12; Ac 14:17; Ro 12:20, 21; 1Th 5:15.
Thus, Paul evidently is showing that, while the man noted for being “righteous” may win the respect, even the admiration, of others, he may not appeal to their heart so strongly as to impel anyone to die for him. However, the man outstanding for his goodness, who is warm, helpful, considerate, merciful, actively beneficial, wins affection; and his goodness may appeal to the heart sufficiently that, for such a one, a person might be willing to die.
It may be noted that, in the Scriptures, that which is “good” is contrasted with that which is “vile” (Joh 5:29; Ro 9:11; 2Co 5:10), “wicked” (Mt 5:45; Ro 12:9), “evil” (Ro 16:19), and, of course, “bad” (1Pe 3:11; 3Jo 11). The “righteous” one, on the other hand, is contrasted with the “sinner” (the unrighteous person). (Mr 2:17; Lu 15:7) Just as a person may be a sinner (because he fails to meet righteous standards) and yet not necessarily be termed or classed as “vile,” “wicked,” or “evil,” so, too, one may be a “righteous” person and yet not necessarily be termed or classed as a “good” person, in the sense described earlier.
Joseph of Arimathea was known as being both “good and righteous,” these terms, of course, always being used in a relative sense when applying to imperfect humans. (Lu 23:50; compare Mt 19:16, 17; Mr 10:17, 18; see GOODNESS [Jehovah’s Goodness].) The commandments of God’s law to Israel were “holy [being from God] and righteous [being perfect in justice] and good [being beneficial in every respect for those observing them].”—Ro 7:12; compare Eph 5:9.
Jehovah, the Righteous One. The Hebrew words tseʹdheq and tsedha·qahʹ and the Greek di·kai·o·syʹne appear frequently with reference to the rightness of God’s ways: as Sovereign (Job 37:23; Ps 71:19; 89:14), in administering and executing judgment and justice (Ps 9:8; 85:11; Isa 26:9; 2Co 3:9), in the punishing of his professed people (Isa 10:22), in vindication of himself in judgment (Ps 51:4; Ro 3:4, 5), and in vindication of his people (Mic 7:9).
Jehovah himself is called “the abiding place of righteousness.” (Jer 50:7) He is therefore the Righteous One, and all righteousness on the part of his creatures comes from their relationship with him. Jehovah abides by his own standard of righteousness without deviation. Therefore, his creatures can have the utmost confidence in him. Of him it is written: “Righteousness and judgment are the established place of your throne.”—Ps 89:14.
Righteous while exercising mercy. Jehovah’s righteousness, justice, holiness, and purity are such that no sin can be condoned by him. (Ps 5:4; Isa 6:3, 5; Hab 1:13; 1Pe 1:15) Consequently he could not forgive the sins of mankind without satisfying justice—in effect, without a legal basis. But through his undeserved kindness he made this just arrangement by providing his Son as a sacrificial offering, a propitiation, or a covering for sins. In this way he can righteously exercise mercy toward sinners who accept this arrangement. Paul expresses the matter in the following manner: “But now apart from law God’s righteousness has been made manifest, . . . yes, God’s righteousness through the faith in Jesus Christ . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it is as a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus. . . . that he [God] might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man [the inherently sinful man] that has faith in Jesus.”—Ro 3:21-26; see DECLARE RIGHTEOUS.
Seek God’s Righteousness. Jesus admonished his hearers: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:33) A person needs to keep seeking the Kingdom; he must desire that government and be loyal to it. But he cannot forget that it is the Kingdom of God; he must conform to God’s will, to God’s standard of right and wrong in conduct, and he must continually ‘make his mind over’ so that every facet of his life is in accord with God’s righteousness. (Ro 12:2) He must “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Eph 4:23, 24.
The Jews thought that they were safe and would receive God’s Kingdom by seeking to establish their own righteousness, but they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Ro 10:1-3) That is why Jesus said to his disciples: “For I say to you that if your righteousness does not abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” These men had a form of righteousness in their obedience to certain of the requirements of the Law and to their added traditions. But they had actually made the word of God invalid because of their tradition, and they rejected Christ, the way provided by God through whom they could have obtained real righteousness.—Mt 5:17-20; 15:3-9; Ro 10:4.
Righteousness not by one’s own works. Consequently, it is clear that imperfect men could never attain true righteousness—they could not measure up to the righteousness of God—either by dependence on works of the Mosaic Law or by their own works of self-righteousness. (Ro 3:10; 9:30-32; Ga 2:21; 3:21; Tit 3:5) The men whom God called “righteous” were men who had exercised faith in God and who did not trust in their own works but backed up that faith by works in harmony with his righteous standard.—Ge 15:6; Ro 4:3-9; Jas 2:18-24.
The Law was righteous. This is not to say that the Law given through Moses did not contain God’s standard of righteousness. It did. The apostle argues: “Wherefore, on its part, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Ro 7:12; De 4:8) It served God’s purpose in making transgressions manifest and being a tutor to lead the Jews of honest heart to Christ, as well as having a shadow of the good things to come. (Ga 3:19, 24; Heb 10:1) But it could not bring real, complete righteousness to those under it. All of them were sinners; they could not keep the Law perfectly; and their high priest was unable to remove their sins by his sacrifices and services. Therefore, only through acceptance of God’s provision of his Son could they attain righteousness. (Ro 8:3, 4; Heb 7:18-28) Those accepting Christ were declared righteous, not as something earned, but as a gift, and Christ became to them “wisdom from God, also righteousness and sanctification and release by ransom.” Accordingly, real righteousness can come only through Christ. This exalts Jehovah, giving him, and not man or self-works, the credit as the Source of all righteousness, “that it may be just as it is written: ‘He that boasts, let him boast in Jehovah.’”—1Co 1:30, 31; Ro 5:17.
Benefits of Righteousness. God loves the righteous and cares for them. David wrote: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.” (Ps 37:25) Solomon said: “Jehovah will not cause the soul of the righteous one to go hungry, but the craving of the wicked ones he will push away.” (Pr 10:3) God is to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by Jesus Christ, and he will create “new heavens and a new earth” in which righteousness is to dwell. (Ac 17:31; 2Pe 3:13) Eventual possession of the earth is promised to the righteous; the wicked are to be cleared out of the earth as “a ransom” for the righteous, for as long as the wicked are in control, the righteous cannot have peace. And the possessions of the wicked will go to the righteous, as the proverb states: “The wealth of the sinner is something treasured up for the righteous one.”—Pr 13:22; 21:18.
The person who perseveres in righteousness is assured of God’s goodwill and the approval of righthearted men now and for all time to come, for “the remembrance of the righteous one is due for a blessing [and will be “to time indefinite”], but the very name of the wicked ones will rot.”—Pr 10:7; Ps 112:6.
Respect and Heed Righteous Ones. It is the course of wisdom to respect those whom Jehovah counts righteous and to follow their counsel and reproof, which will bring good to those accepting it. David received reproof from Jehovah through righteous men, God’s servants and prophets, and he said: “Should the righteous one strike me, it would be a loving-kindness; and should he reprove me, it would be oil upon the head, which my head would not want to refuse.”—Ps 141:5.
“The Breastplate of Righteousness.” Because the Bible tells us, “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life,” Christians need to have on “the breastplate of righteousness.” (Pr 4:23; Eph 6:14) As a protection against his heart turning bad, it is essential that a person follow God’s righteousness since the heart of fallen, sinful man is treacherous and desperate. (Jer 17:9) The heart needs much discipline and training. The Christian can be assured of this course only by sticking close to the Scriptures, which, the apostle Paul says, are “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” He should accept gratefully the discipline that is received from righteous men who make such use of God’s Word.—2Ti 3:16, 17.