“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness …”
The second piece of spiritual armor is righteousness. This is truth in action. Do not think of righteousness in some kind of super-spiritual way. It simply means: Do the right thing, especially when it is difficult. In response to the situations you face, it means pressing pause and asking yourself: What does this situation require of me? As a follower of Christ and agent of the kingdom of God, what is the right thing to do?
“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21.3)
Righteousness and justice are central themes in all of scripture. Righteousness — which is better translated “rightness” — describes alignment with God’s standards. Justice is rightness that is wisely and consistently applied to the situations of life.
Those two core principles are essential for an effective life. They are also necessary for an effective society. For a nation to prosper, it must be built on the foundation of: 1) right standards, and 2) the wise and consistent application of the standards. If a nation rejects objective standards, and/or fails to consistently apply the standards, it is a society at risk.
The bible speaks of two kinds of righteousness: positional and practical.
Positional righteousness. This is righteousness that we receive from God. It is given to us when we trust in Jesus, and it is based on Christ’s sacrificial death. Theologians often describe it as imputed righteousness. Positional righteousness is not earned, it is given. It is a gift of grace that we receive by faith.
Here are three scriptures from the New Testament that describe positional righteousness:
“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)
“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4.4-5)
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, 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.” (Philippians 3.8-9)
Practical righteousness. This is doing what is right. It is when Christians practice their position. It is trusting God, acting with discipline, building skill, and living in alignment with God’s standards. Scripture repeatedly admonishes us to pursue what is right.
“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6.11)
“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4.1)
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.14-16)
The ultimate book of practical righteousness is the book of Proverbs. It is a library of real-world things we should do and things we should not do. It provides the people of God with instruction on how to be wise, insightful, and skillful in life. It is a guide for doing what is right and practicing your position in Christ.
“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.” (Proverbs 11.4-6)
Trust God, do the work, and pursue what is right.