For most people, the word righteous describes a person of extremely high moral quality. It is a sort of an otherworld quality, very religious and respectable, but descriptive of very few people here on earth. People may be good, but only the saints are righteous. Understanding righteousness in this sense makes it easier for me not to pursue it because it is so other-worldly and rarely achieved.
But righteousness is, as Tyndale insisted back in the 16th century, doing the right thing (he used the term “rightways” to translate the Hebrew tzedek which occurs more than 500 times in the Old Testament). So when we talk about a person doing the right thing we are saying that they are righteous. And that is the ethical quality I would like to expand on.
All day long we make decisions. In every moral decision there is one course of action that is right and another that is wrong. We speed up to the traffic signal just after it has gone from amber to red and we have to make a decision. We would probably agree that going through the red light would be wrong and coming to a screeching stop would be right. If we consistently do the “right” thing we are in that decision, righteous.
When we say that God is righteous we are not talking about some abstract moral quality that he posses because of who is, but we are describing him as one who always does the right thing. I know that Christians are declared righteous by faith in Christ but that is because of the “right” thing he did on the cross and is transferred to all who believe. But I’d like to stay on the less theological level of just choosing to do what we know we should and in so doing please God. When the Christian life is for the moment taken out of the cathedral and placed on the street corner, we find that we can be righteous, not in an incommunicable sense, but in the plain sense of consistently deciding to do the right thing. I have found that a life pleasing to God doesn’t have to have the smoke of incense but it does have to describe the ongoing practice of doing the right thing. I believe this is what scripture teaches and puts it on a level where we can understand and achieve it.
Yes, we can actually be righteous today. We can’t earn it but we can do it. You can be a “saint” today simply by making the right choices all day long