The Greek Geek: Holy and Righteous

By Laurel J. Davis
See Laurel's blog at The Reluctant First Lady

Holiness and righteousness are two different things in Scripture. Understanding what the Bible says about them will help you improve the quality of your spiritual life in Christ.

The basic difference between holiness and righteousness in the Bible is that holiness is a state of character, while righteousness is a state of position. Holiness points to how you are, and righteousness points to where you are. Holy is more what you make yourself; righteous is what God makes you. Holiness depends on you; righteousness depends on God.

Let's explain with definitions. To be "holy" means, in both Hebrew and Greek, to be clean, good, pure, godly, sacred, sanctified (set apart). In the general sense, a synonym for "holy" is "moral," and in the strictest, biblical sense it describes an attitude and corresponding behavior — that's character — that show reverence toward God and respect for His moral standards.

In clear contrast, to be "righteous" in the Bible means, simply, to be in "right-standing with God." Synonyms might be "saved," "justified," "redeemed." In the proper biblical context, a "righteous" person is someone who has been justified before God, by God, upon the simple possession of true faith in what He's done for us in Jesus Christ.

Righteousness has nothing to do with our morality or goodness. God justifies, or makes righteous, every sinner who receives Christ, thus granting him or her eternal fellowship — that's position — with Him in heaven.

So then, every Christian is righteous, and every non-Christian is unrighteous.

But then, is every Christian therefore automatically holy, and every non-Christian unholy? Not necessarily.

In the Bible God never tells believers to be righteous but, over and over again, to be holy. Holiness refers to a person's own moral character, Christian or not (this is generally speaking, since in the strictest biblical sense it also infers one's proper attitude toward God). Righteousness actually describes what a "Christian" is, holy or not.

Holiness is an endeavor of man. Righteousness is a gift from God. God desires to make the whole world righteous; but He expects believers, whom He has already made righteous, to therefore be holy.

We can conclude then that:

1) Holiness is not a prerequisite for righteousness but, rather, a subsequent requirement for the righteous.

2) All believers are equally righteous, but some believers can be, in truth, "holier than thou."

3) All non-believers are equally unrighteous; and, to keep it real, some non-believers act more "holy" — that is, moral — than some believers.

4) Holiness is a required continual endeavor for every Christian, but righteousness is the Christian's immediate and continual, God-bestowed positional state.

5) You can be "holy" — that is, behave morally — and still not be righteous (justified, saved, heaven-bound). Your so-called "holiness" does not make you righteous. Only Christ's work on the Cross does that.

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life

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Published on 11-30-15