Holiness and righteousness may sound like they have the same meaning, but it is essential to understand the difference. In understanding the difference, you can better comprehend your standing in Christ and examine yourself so that you may live the life that is pleasing to God.
When we think of the word “Holy”, we can immediately think of righteousness and morality. Although throughout scripture we see holiness associated with right living, the first and foremost meaning of holy “is to be set apart from what is common“. So when we think of God as holy, it primarily distinguishes Him as being set apart from His creation more than anything or anyone else. It is a separation from all that is human and earthly. Nothing in all creation can even be compared to His glory, power, and purity. Exodus 15:11 says, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
Holiness can also be associated with people, places, time, and objects. When something is connected with the worship of God, then it is also to be holy. It is not that anything is holy in itself, but it is made holy because of its consecration to God. For example, Aaron was “set apart” or separated from the Israelites to offer sacrifices as a priest (1 Chronicles 23:13). In Exodus 3:5, the ground where God manifests His presence is declared holy. In Lev 16:1-2, the room where the ark of the covenant was situated was the “Holy Place”. In Exodus 20:8-11, the Sabbath is holy since it is the Sabbath of the Lord. Anything or anyone “set apart” for the service of Jehovah God is holy.
In terms of the people of God being holy, they are to be separate from all the nations and peoples, like how God instructed Israel to be holy in Leviticus 11 to 19. Since they were God’s chosen people, God gave them instructions and regulations to govern their lives because they were set apart for God. Likewise, we who are separated from the world are to live out that truth in our daily living (1 Peter 1:13-16). 1 Peter 1:16 says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are no longer of this world or conform to the standards of this world; rather, we are to live according to God’s word because God has “set apart” all those whom He has called unto Himself. Amen!
On the other hand, righteousness is doing what is right in the sight of God. It is an attribute of God, and no man can achieve perfect righteousness by themselves (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Righteousness is any action or behaviour that is morally right and just. Righteousness is God’s perfect standard that is acceptable before Him. We may fall into thinking that the works we do produce righteousness in our life. Although good works are “good”, the righteousness required by God is only produced by His righteousness given to us. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
None of our righteousness or works will ever measure up to the standard of God. While it was impossible for man, God made it possible through Jesus Christ. For our sake, Christ took on the punishment for our sin so that we might become the “righteousness of God“. Amen! Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have been justified before God based on faith in Christ. This is all God’s doing and none of our own. Philippians 3:9 says, “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—”
Any good work that we do is a fruit of this righteousness that has been graciously gifted to us. Philippians 1:9-11 talks about the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ. This fruit is only produced because the seed to produce this fruit was implanted in our lives at the moment of salvation. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit creating new life, new attitudes, new behaviours, and everything pertaining to the glory of God. Again, this source of this righteousness is not us but Christ. His righteousness covers us.
In conclusion, there is a difference between holiness and righteousness. Holiness is being set apart from what is common. Anything that is consecrated to God is set apart and holy. On the other hand, righteousness is doing what is right in the sight of God. This is not possible for mankind on their own because they all fall short of the glory of God. Righteousness is only made possible through salvation in Christ, and the fruit of this righteousness produces the works that glorify God.
Ultimately, holiness and righteousness are God’s sovereign acts in a believer’s life. He chooses, gifts us salvation in His sovereignty and grace, and sets us apart. Likewise, righteousness is a gift of God given through Christ and helps us glorify God in our word, deed, thoughts, and actions through the powerful work of His Holy Spirit in us. Amen!
So I encourage you, if you are a believer, to be set apart from this world and be a holy vessel unto God, and may the Holy Spirit produce the fruit of righteousness, bringing all glory and honour to God. Amen!