Righteousness is not the same as self-righteousness. A person under the Old Covenant (before Christ) would have understood righteousness to mean a godliness that reflects the character of God. Therefore, a person acting rightly before the Lord in thought word and deed will never exalt self before the Lord. Righteousness partners with humility.
Under Christ, we are given (or rather ‘imputed’) righteousness, His righteousness, as we trust in His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. But we are still called to act rightly. As James (1: 22) reminds us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
So let me suggest this definition of righteousness for our purposes today – it is a free gift from God, received through repentance of sins and faith in Christ, resulting in conscious decisions to act rightly with humility.
Psalm 112 describes the one who is righteous. What sort of things will characterize his or her life?
Verse 5 tells us they are generous and lend freely. They give expecting no favour and they lend without interest. Their gifts are scattered in abundance towards the poor (v 9). All their affairs are executed with justice, that quality of doing right before God, equitable for all those who feel the ripples of their decisions.
A righteous person has conquered fear in verses 7 and 8 because his heart is secure, steadfast and trusting in his God. He stares fear in the face, unwavered by what may come. “Surely He will never be shaken” (v 6).
Instead, they fear the Lord, finding great delight in His Word (v 1). As a result, the righteous one is gracious and compassionate. His heart may “look in triumph on his foes” (v 8), but it is soft and generous towards the vulnerable.
No wonder their lives profoundly affect those around them. Those in defiance of the Lord’s commands “will see and be vexed” (v 10), but those in his house will be “mighty in the land. The generation of the upright will be blessed” (v 2).
The psalm ventures even deeper. “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright” (v 4). Even in our worst moments when the enemy seems to have the upper hand, the Lord sees the righteous and shines His warm, penetrating rays of hope and love. The Lord will not dishonour him – the psalmist’s “horn (dignity) will be lifted high in honour” (v 9).
And none of this is momentary. Twice the psalmist assures us that “righteousness endures forever” (v 3, 9) and “will be remembered forever” (v 6). The seeds of faith and obedient, humble service have eternal impact.