Righteousness is not a matter of doing, but of being.
A person is either righteous or not. Their actions are the fruit of their inner reality.
Jesus said a good tree is known by its good fruit. Christians often forget the first part of that principle and focus only on the behavior of people rather than their nature. We see people mimicking righteous actions and believe them to be righteous people. In fact, we expect people to behave right first and foremost as if little else matters.
A pear is going to be a pear without trying. It doesn’t try to be a banana. It does not have to. It is a pear. Christians are often trying to be like Christ instead of realizing they already are like Christ, having been given a new nature. We live like forgiven sinners, instead of saints. We struggle against a sin nature that was crucified with Christ because we do not know who we really are.
Scripture very clearly states in II Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” It does not say this was done so that we can do the righteous deeds of God. Actions follow being. Thus, the work of Christ upon the cross made it possible for people to become through Him the righteousness of God. We take on the nature of Christ and are made new. Only from this place can our deeds be truly righteous.
The quest of the Christian life is producing that righteousness already resonate in our nature on the outside. This happens when we first realize who we are in Christ. If we do not know we are the righteousness of God, it is unlikely we will live out that reality. If we are told that the only thing that separates us from unbelievers is that we are forgiven we will live like our old selves.
The truth is, we are not our old selves.
We have been made new. It is not arrogant or proud to believe that reality. We must, for we are to rejoice in the truth. The walking that outcomes, not by trying to live righteously, but by fellowshipping with Him who is our example of what that looks like. The more we behold Him, the more we will become like Him on the outside.
We are to rest in Him, seeking only Him and His Kingdom.
When we do this, we will see that reality we seek manifested in our daily lives and affecting those we come in contact with without trying.
If we are laboring, struggling, beating ourselves up for our failures, and pleading with God to forgive us for not measuring up, something is wrong. God is already pleased with us. He looks at us and sees His Son shining through us. He sees our righteousness and desires us to see it too, so we can experience the fullness of what He has done for us.
Jesus is our perfect example of what kind of life can be lived when a man is in the right relationship with the Father. It comes not from trying to do the righteous thing, but being the righteous person uniquely fashioned by the Father with great love and purpose.