Righteousness is often associated with the law or a certain fixed moral system. While this association is not entirely inaccurate, we commonly make the mistake of attempting to be righteous through obedience of the law. It is indeed possible to achieve righteousness by following the furthest extent of the intent of the entire law in thought, word and deed. In fact, it has been done before by one person: Jesus Himself. He came to fulfill the law. This means that beyond strict obedience, He defined the intent of the law through His very being. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4) This is great news for believers, for no longer do we pursue righteousness through the law but through the person of Christ! Because we have severed our identity from the image of God, it is impossible to achieve righteousness through the law. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) He is righteousness to us and for us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Our righteousness is a gift of grace through the necessary work on the cross. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)
As mentioned previously, Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst after righteousness with the promise that they would be satisfied. The pursuit of righteousness finds fulfillment in becoming righteous. Some may have the expectation that there is a reward for righteousness other than righteousness itself; and to them, other means better. But if Christ Himself is our righteousness, what reward could be more valuable? George MacDonald writes: “Let no one start with dismay at the idea of a reward of righteousness, saying virtue is its own reward. Is not virtue then a reward? Is any other imaginable reward worth mentioning beside it? True, the man may, after this mode or that, mistake the reward promised; not the less must he have it, or perish. Who will count himself deceived by overfulfilment? Would a parent be deceiving his child in saying, ‘My boy, you will have a great reward if you learn Greek,’ foreseeing his son’s delight in Homer and Plato–now but a valueless waste in his eyes? When his reward comes, will the youth feel aggrieved that it is Greek, and not bank-notes?”
As a peripheral comment, righteous anger is a concept that often remains undefined and loosely used to justify certain actions. Various violent actions of judgement by God and old testament prophets are relegated to this realm of controversially permitted conduct. With Christ as the definition of righteousness, any transgression from His nature is unrighteous and reprehensible. It certainly makes sense that these sins warrant the wrath of God. But we as mere humans fall drastically short of the definition of righteousness. Righteous anger is only justified in response to a direct infraction against the definition of righteousness itself, which is Christ Himself. It is natural to feel dismay in reaction to the misdemeanors of others, but it is not justified to act in anger in response to malice even against ourselves. It is appropriate to feel anger when someone clearly deviates from the righteous standard of God, but every single one of us is guilty of that. As soon as we condemn others, we condemn ourselves. James reminds us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) While anger may indeed be warranted, it is easy for us to overlook our own offences in judging other. The deplorable condition of the world should lead us to sorrow and lament as we ask we pursue the righteousness of Christ.