What does it mean for us?
I’ve been doing a study of the word ‘righteousness’ in the Bible. The layman’s dictionary describes it as moral correctness or justified morality. But Scripture takes it a step further..
A certain behavioral hierarchy is used in the Old Testament to describe the implications here. Deuteronomy 9 says Israel is not going up to inherit the promised land because of their merit, but because of the wickedness, or lesser merit of the people in the land currently. God reminds Israel of their stubbornness in the desert. So righteousness is here described not as good or right, but better, or best.
In the book of Job, he uses the term to describe not an objective or widely agreed upon sort of righteousness, but one that Job perceives as justifiable, simply because it’s true, and he dares any man to say or prove otherwise. God later comes down to Job, demonstrating how righteousness, for man, begins and ends with the fear of God, because of how worthy of praise God is. True righteousness is not with trying to defend or justify your own perceived righteousness, in your own eyes.
The author of Ecclesiastes didn’t seem to lift righteousness up to the same standard as other places in Scripture. However, he does continue the theme with the fear of God. “Be not overly righteous and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” He goes on to say, that although righteousness is a coveted position, it is nothing without the fear of the Lord, which truly is saving grace.
When the book of Matthew accounts Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized, Jesus said to John that his baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness”. I suppose only the Son of God could make such a statement, but as I see it, baptism is here signed and sealed as the mark of conversion for believers from then on, as we see later in the early church chronicled in Acts. Also, Jesus’ submission to the Father at his baptism was a precursor of his ultimate submission on the cross, which was the greatest act of righteousness of all time…the perfect lamb, led to the slaughter, though he committed no crime.