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What is righteousness?

In a culture that is constantly working to convince us that our joy is found in clothes, gadgets, parties, sex, or achievement, the book of Philippians is a refreshing dose of reality for us. At The Well we have been working through this letter as Paul points us again and again toward rejoicing in Jesus, and not the fleeting pleasures of the world, or the selfish ambitions within us.

This week we begin chapter three, and look at the idea of righteousness. How is a sinner brought into right-standing with God? Why should this bring us joy? These three theological terms help us answer these questions.


“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9)

Justification is when God declares a guilty sinner like you or me to be righteous, or right with God, based on faith in Jesus. But after becoming Christians, we know that we don’t live perfectly righteous lives and still struggle with sin, so what does it mean to have “righteousness” from God then? It means that the righteousness of Jesus is imputed, or credited, to us as a free gift when put our faith in him. Jesus, the God-man, lived a perfect, sinless life, and was completely righteous in every way. On the cross, he exchanged our sin for his righteousness.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. That is good news!

That means that when God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. As a judge, God can declare us “innocent” because Jesus absorbed God’s wrath in our place on the cross, and rose from the dead. Paul is very clear that this righteousness comes through faith in Jesus alone, and not through any good work that we do, or religious achievements we have accomplished (v.2-8).

Justification is NOT: I grew up in church, I was baptized, I never did drugs, I am a virgin, etc.
Justification IS: I have faith that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead. That’s all.

Trying to add our efforts to the finished work of Jesus is self-righteous, and essentially says, “Jesus, what you did wasn’t enough, let me help you out”. Instead, we can rejoice that Jesus paid it all for us, and we don’t have to earn God’s love or approval!


“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10)

The word “sanctify” comes from the Latin word sanctus which means holy, separate, or set apart. Sanctification refers to the process of God working in us to make us more holy, and set apart for Himself. When we are justified, and declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus, we receive new life. We are “born again”, and receive new, regenerate hearts with new desires (Ez. 36:26). The same Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead indwells us, and begins a work of changing us from the inside out (Rom. 8:11). This leads to righteous living where we begin choosing God’s will over our own.

What about when I struggle with sin?

Since we can’t do anything good enough to be saved, we can’t do anything bad enough to lose our salvation. Once justified, always justified. So when we struggle with sin, God doesn’t give up on us! The Holy Spirit convicts us and speaks to us, leading us to repentance, and reminding us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39). He works in us to conform us to the image of Jesus, making us more and more “like him” (v.10). The goal of sanctification is Christ-likeness. This is what Paul desired, and what God works in us to accomplish (Phil. 2:13) for His glory and our joy.


“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6)

We are joyfully reminded too, of Paul’s words from chapter one. God finishes what He starts. All those who God justifies, He glorifies (Rom. 8:30). Justification happens once in our life, sanctification happens for all of our life, and glorification is the promised completion of God’s good work in us at the end of this life. When Jesus returns, we will be made like Jesus, perfected in glory, completely free from the presence of sin. He will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). We will live forever with our Savior in heaven, rejoicing and worshiping the “Righteous One” (Acts 22:14) “ Jesus.

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