Like faith and salvation, righteousness is a continuum. Merriam-Webster defines a continuum as a “coherent whole characterized as a collection, sequence, or progression of … elements varying by minute degrees….” It is a big idea with many subparts. Paul taught that God declared the believer to be righteous because of the believer’s first moment of faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:16-17). Our justification (declaration of righteousness) is a gift of His grace (Rom. 3:24). God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Our faith is accounted as righteousness (Rom. 4:5). At that first moment of faith, we were sanctified and qualified to enter into fellowship with God. After being declared righteous, we are also declared to be a holy Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:17), in which the Holy Spirit forever resides (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13). In Christ, we have righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). In fact, because of that first moment of faith, we are thereafter and forever qualified to enter into fellowship with God. Like many others, I call this positional righteousness.
The big idea of righteousness also includes God’s description of a human’s walk of faith, which can include many moments of faith which are consistent with God’s will, or, experiential righteousness. Every moment of faith in God is a righteous moment. Hosea taught, “For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them” (Hosea 14:9). Noah was described as a righteous man, who walked with God (Gen. 6:9). The Hebrew word tsaddiyq is an adjective, most often translated as “righteous or just.” Noah was experientially righteous because he walked with God (Gen. 6:9). When someone walks with God, he or she has an ongoing trust in God and an ongoing obedience to God (Gen. 6:22). The righteous believer serves God. Malachi taught that God will “distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve Him” (Mal. 3:18). To be experientially righteous, we must serve God. In Proverbs, we learn that there are righteous humans who hate lying and walk in their integrity (Prov. 13:5, 20:7). Historically, there is an anonymous group of believers called the assembly of the righteous (Ps. 1:5). In the Book of Revelation, they are symbolically described as the 144,000 (who I call the Fraternity of Faithful Believers). Our consistency of walking in faith is a product of our spiritual growth. The believer is commanded to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). But we also know that none of us (including the 144,000) are sinless. We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Without the imputation of God’s righteousness (at the moment we first believed), none of us would be qualified to enter into God’s presence and fellowship. In other words, none of us could walk with God unless we had first been declared righteous at the moment we first believed. As believers, we cannot be sinless, but we can be blameless in love (Gen. 9:6; Eph. 1:4). We are required to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We are commanded to remain faithful until our death. Believers who remain faithful unto death are called “righteous.” Their names are recorded in the Book of Life, and they receive the Crown of Life (Ps. 69:28; Rev. 2:10). Such believers discover and practice true living, which is also called walking in faith. Therefore, there is an imputed righteousness that occurs at the moment of first believing (positional righteousness), and there is also a relative righteousness that can be associated with the believer’s walk of faith (experiential righteousness). In our next life, we will experience a perfectly righteous and sinless life.
At Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed God’s promise that Abraham’s offspring would be innumerable, and God declared (or accounted) Abraham’s belief as righteous. It is a mistake to assume that Genesis 15:6 was Abraham’s first moment of faith. Clearly, Genesis 12:1-7 also described an example of Abraham’s faith. In fact, the great believer Stephen described Abraham as being a believer while Abraham was still in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:1-4). Every moment of belief and trust in God is accounted as a righteous moment or act. Trusting in God is the basis of our relationship with God. We gain God’s approval by trusting in Him through a myriad of life’s circumstances. Because we are finite and God is infinite, we will always be in a state of unknowing, weakness, and dependence. We will always be infinitely ignorant, no matter how much we have learned. In other words, what we do not know will always be far more than what we do know. Therefore, we must always be in a state of humility and trusting God. This will be true for all of time and eternity. However, our walk of faith always starts with a moment when we first believed. As Paul explained, we are declared righteous at the first moment we believed in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22). It is a gift of God’s grace (Rom. 3:24). However, every moment of believing and trusting in God is also a righteous moment in the believer’s walk.
The Apostle Paul taught that Abraham was reckoned or accounted as righteous because of his faith (Gal. 3:6). This is the established pattern for gaining God’s approval and acceptance. As stated by the writer of Hebrews, “[W]ithout faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). By faith, Abraham left his homeland and traveled to the Promised Land (Heb. 11:8). By faith, Abraham lived in the Land of Promise (Heb. 11:9). Spiritually, Abraham was looking for a city whose architect and builder was God (Heb. 11:10). This spiritual city was going to be a new way of living with God and each other. This is an allusion to the future New Jerusalem, which is symbolic for the New Covenant Spiritual Life.
Abraham’s offering of Isaac was Abraham’s supreme moment of faith. This moment, like God’s offering of His Son on the cross, was a unique and unrepeatable event. No other hero of faith was or will ever be put to such a test. Abraham was promised that God’s special blessings to Abraham would come through Isaac. Therefore, when Abraham was asked to do the unthinkable, Abraham reasoned by faith that if Abraham killed his son (as ordered by God), God was going to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). Isaac was a foreshadowing of God’s Son. It is very important for the reader to understand the uniqueness and unrepeatable nature of this incredible moment of faith. The works of Abraham manifested the faith of Abraham (Jas. 2:21-24). In a similar way, Christ’s, death and sacrifice on the cross was a unique and unrepeatable event, which manifested the Son’s trust in His Father and the Father’s love for the Son.
The Old Covenant taught us about mankind’s separation from God. Under the Old Covenant, the ordinary believer was never allowed to enter inside the Tabernacle or Temple (where God’s presence on Earth was located). In fact, the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies only one time per year. There was a great separation between God and humanity because of our sinfulness. But now, under the New Covenant, upon our faith in Christ, we enter into a new relationship with God. Because of our association with Christ, we have access to God, and our access is immediate and eternal. At the moment we first believed, we received the Holy Spirit as a gift from God (Gal. 3:2). Although we may not always walk by the Spirit, we will never lose the indwelling Spirit. In our ongoing spiritual life, we can gain God’s approval and acceptance only by walking in faith and trust in Him. When we have faith and trust, we are obedient.
The Bible provides many passages that describe the experientially righteous. For example, the Psalmist proclaimed that the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed (Ps. 1:6). Jeremiah taught that God tests the righteous (Jer. 20:12). The Psalmist also taught that God establishes and blesses the righteous (Ps.7:9, 5:12), that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, that He hears their cries for help, and that He delivers them (Ps. 34:17-19). The righteous will inherit or take possession of the Earth (Ps. 37:29). The righteous speak wisdom (Ps. 37:30). The Lord is the strength of the righteous in times of trouble (Ps. 37:39). There is a special reward for the righteous (Ps. 58:11). The horns of the righteous will be lifted up (Ps. 75:10). The righteous will flourish like a palm tree (Ps. 92:12). “The righteous will be remembered forever” (Ps. 112:6). The Psalmist declared, “Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; the upright will dwell in Your presence” (Ps. 140:13). The righteous human is a servant of God, but he or she is far from perfect (Ps. 143:2). In the book of Ecclesiastes, we are taught that there is no such thing as a righteous man who always does good and never sins (Eccles. 7:20). Ezekiel plainly taught that the righteous believer can turn away from God and be judged for his or her apostasy (Ezek. 3:20, 18:24-26, 33:12-18). The writer of Hebrews warned that God very much disapproves of the righteous believer who shrinks back or falls away from his or her walk of faith (Heb. 10:38). In Proverbs, the believer was warned to keep to the path of the righteous (Prov. 2:20), and the believer was encouraged to understand that the path of the righteous becomes brighter and brighter like the sun from dawn to midday (Prov. 4:18). As stated earlier, Hosea taught that the righteous believer must walk in the ways of God (Hos. 14:19). As stated in Proverbs, in this way, God’s blessings are upon the righteous (Prov. 10:6). Famously, Habakkuk taught that the righteous walk or live by faith (Hab. 2:4). Proverbs 10:7 states that the “memory of the righteous is blessed” (Prov. 10:7), and Proverbs 10:28 proclaims that “the hope of the righteous is gladness ” (Prov. 10:28). Both Peter and James taught that the Lord is attentive to the prayers of the righteous (Prov. 15:29; Jas. 5:16, 1 Pet. 3:12). However, seeking righteousness should not lead us to pridefulness. We should remember the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” (Eccles. 7:16). We must never forget that self-righteousness can destroy the believer (Rom. 10:3). Finally, the Apostle Paul taught that there is a crown of righteousness that will be awarded to those who loved the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:8). The Book of Revelation symbolically refers to the experientially righteous as the 144,000. They remain faithful unto their death.
It should also be mentioned that there is a common righteousness that can be exhibited by both the believer and unbeliever. For example, Proverbs teaches us that a “righteous man has regard for the life of his animal” (Prov. 12:10). There are some unbelievers who provide better care for their animals than some believers. Additionally, many unbelievers are excellent spouses, parents, co-workers, employees, patriots, etc. There is both a common righteousness and common good because there is a common design of how God made us to be. There is a Divine Order, which to some extent, is embraced by many unbelievers. However, every unbeliever, like every believer, falls far short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). All are under sin (Rom. 3:9). In humility, we can see that we all fail in many ways. All of humanity is called to a higher living in Christ. This higher living is rejected by the vast majority of both believers and unbelievers. The higher way of being can be described by the following: walking by the Spirit, wherein the Word is a light to our feet, trusting in Christ Jesus, while having no confidence in our inherent capacity to live this supernatural way of being.
In summary, our walk of faith had a beginning. At that moment of first believing, God declared the believer to be positionally righteous. From that moment forward, we are qualified to enter into fellowship with God. If we sin, we should simply acknowledge our sin to God and enter back into fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). Our first moment of faith established an important pattern of how we gain God’s approval. We can gain God’s approval only by faith. Following the same pattern, we are experientially righteous when we trust in God through the myriad of circumstances in our lives. Like Abraham, our works should manifest our faith. When we function in trust of God, we function in obedience. We are required to walk in faith and remain faithful unto our death. If we do so, we will receive the Crown of Righteousness and the Crown of Life, and our names will be recorded in the Book of Life. Walking by faith is authentic and righteous living.
 “Continuum.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/continuum. Accessed 21 January 2020.
 “H6662 – tsaddiyq – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Mar, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H6662&t=NASB>.