"Righteousness" is a religious term.
Ordinary language does not properly convey it's meaning because ordinary language mostly exists outside the realm of religious beliefs. It seems to me that this is becoming more and more the case in western society. My concern is that ordinary people may switch off when terms like this are used.
Most of us relate to nature.
The beauty and grandeur of nature is able to reflect the greatness and majesty of God, to any person, religious or not, but nature does not, in my opinion, give us a “natural” understanding of God’s righteousness, or righteousness in general.
Justice and truth are concepts we grasp more easily than righteousness, even though nature does not necessarily reflect justice or truth. But as members of human society, most people have an understanding of justice and truth, especially when we experience the opposite of these, ie injustice and deception (ouch).
Righteousness could be understood as perfect justice and truth in a person's character, which remains consistent and unchanging.
Righteousness is not something easily attained. It does not come naturally. In fact, in the strict sense, it is impossible to achieve, due to what Christians refer to as fallen nature, which apart from anything else describes the tendency for every human being to rebel/disobey/take the selfish road/sin.
“Sinless perfection” is a term sometimes mentioned in Christian teaching. Implying a state of being that is morally impeccable.
Righteousness could also be thought of as something like that.
What this is all getting to is that righteousness is a state of being which applies only to God.
God is righteous. He is completely, perfectly and unchangeably righteous.
Unrighteousness is what actually applies to the rest of us. Although we were created perfect, and I would include righteousness in that description, we rebelled and lost it all. Like a chipped or broken plate, it can never be perfect again.
But God is able to make us righteous!
He does this only through sacrifice, atonement and propitiation (more religious words, but important ones, see later).
He exchanges (swaps) his righteousness for our unrighteousness on the cross of Golgotha, 2000 years ago, in the person of Jesus.
It is a gift, totally unattainable, but freely given! (This is a gigantic assertion, and is otherwise known as “the gospel”)
As Christians, we have some understanding of righteousness, but we may mistake our religious way of life as somehow solidifying the righteousness that we have been given in Christ.
We may give the impression that living our lives as Christians achieves a form of righteousness that God is pleased with.
The Pharisees had this impression.
It is incorrect.
As Christians, we are righteous, and remain so, but all of this is a gift that we cannot do without.
The lives we live are a witness of what God has given us, but do not achieve an ounce of righteousness. Even the courageous sharing of our faith, which can help others come to faith, is wonderful but certainly does not achieve righteousness. Prayer, fasting, attending church, bible study, theological dedication etc, do not achieve righteousness.
Jesus alone, as a human, in all of history, was the only person able to live a life of sinless perfection (Christians believe this strongly). He was, and is (he rose from the dead and remains active and alive right now) righteous, in himself, but never independent from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Our righteousness is a gift we must have in order to be in continual loving fellowship with God. God the Father gives this gift by sending his Son, Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, atonement and propitiation (words that mean that our sin and rebellion is completely extinguished), so that we who are unrighteous can be made righteous. What an amazing gift.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.