He used this term “the righteous,” which is found all throughout the Scriptures back to the book of Genesis. It is found before, during, and after the Law of Moses in the New Covenant, so it is not a legalistic term. For all that the righteous do is by faith, as Paul said, “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’" (Gal 3:11)
This term, “the righteous,” refers to those who serve the Lord, and live in such a way that has His approval. They live according to the pattern of God's Word, doing His will. As I explained in my previous article, “Practicing Your Righteousness”, these are the ones who are doing righteous deeds, such as prayer, fasting, worship, Bible reading, giving tithes and offerings, not stealing, not accepting bribes, serving in the Church, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, entertaining strangers, visiting those in prison, and giving to the poor.
When Jesus described the final judgment, He said, "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Mat 25:34-40)
Whenever the righteous do these things to one of the least of the Lord’s brothers, they do it unto Him. However, the wicked are the ones who do not do these things. "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mat 25:46). We like the part about the righteous going away into eternal life, and shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. We as Christians all like to assume we are among the righteous. But the Lord looks at our deeds, not just our beliefs. Are you truly one of the righteous?
Peter said, “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” (1Pe 4:18) Therefore, we know that it is with difficulty that the righteous are saved. It’s through many hardships and trials that we enter the kingdom of God. Peter was referring to the suffering of the righteous when he said that, and the fact that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pe 4:17). But he also referred to the Lord’s righteous ways that we must live by. This is evident in other parts of His epistle, when he speaks about obeying Jesus Christ (1 Pe 1:2), obeying the truth (1 Pe 1:22), being holy even as the Lord is holy (1 Pe 1:16), putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander (1 Pe 2:1), abstaining from fleshly lusts (1 Pe 2:11), living as aliens and strangers, keeping your behavior excellent (1 Pe 2:12), doing good deeds (1 Pe 2:12; 3:11), doing right (1 Pe 2:15,20), and living to righteousness (1 Pe 2:24), keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies, and being zealous for what is good (1 Pe 3:13), being of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer (1 Pe 4:11), and remaining fervent in your love for one another (1 Pe 4:8). And Peter says that God impartially judges each man’s work (1 Pe 1:17). Therefore, it is evident that when Peter said it is with difficulty that the righteous are saved, he was referring to the exemplary kind of behavior required of the righteous.
In the third chapter of his epistle, he says:
For, "The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the lord is against those who do evil." (1Pe 3:10-12).
In this passage, Peter was quoting Ps 34:12-16, in which David used the term “the righteous” four times (Psa 34:15,17,19,21). So Peter was very intentional in his use of the term “the righteous” in his epistle, and he used it with the same meaning that David did when he used it. He was not merely referring to those who possess positional righteousness, but to those who practice righteousness.
Other Scriptures About the Righteous
Before my conclusion, I would like to list for your benefit most of the Scriptures in the Bible, which I have not already mentioned, that refer to “the righteous.” If you will take the time to read through these, I believe you will be edified, and then I will make my closing remarks.
Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (Gen 18:23)
"Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25)
"Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exo 23:7)
"You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. (Deu 16:19)
"If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, (Deu 25:1)
then hear in heaven and act and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. (1Ki 8:32)
then hear from heaven and act and judge Your servants, punishing the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. (2Ch 6:23)
"Nevertheless the righteous will hold to his way, And he who has clean hands will grow stronger and stronger. (Job 17:9)
"The righteous see and are glad, And the innocent mock them, (Job 22:19)
"He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous; But with kings on the throne He has seated them forever, and they are exalted. (Job 36:7)
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (Psa 1:5)
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield. (Psa 5:12)
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous; For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds. (Psa 7:9)
If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?" (Psa 11:3)
The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates. (Psa 11:5)
There they are in great dread, For God is with the righteous generation. (Psa 14:5)
Let the lying lips be mute, Which speak arrogantly against the righteous With pride and contempt. (Psa 31:18)
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous And His ears are open to their cry. (Psa 34:15)
The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. (Psa 34:17)
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Psa 34:19)
Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous will be condemned. (Psa 34:21)
The wicked plots against the righteous And gnashes at him with his teeth. (Psa 37:12)
Better is the little of the righteous Than the abundance of many wicked. (Psa 37:16)
For the arms of the wicked will be broken, But the LORD sustains the righteous. (Psa 37:17)
The wicked borrows and does not pay back, But the righteous is gracious and gives. (Psa 37:21)
I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. (Psa 37:25)
The righteous will inherit the land And dwell in it forever. (Psa 37:29)
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, And his tongue speaks justice. (Psa 37:30)
But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble. (Psa 37:39)
You love evil more than good, Falsehood more than speaking what is right. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down forever; He will snatch you up and tear you away from your tent, And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah. The righteous will see and fear, And will laugh at him, saying, "Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, But trusted in the abundance of his riches And was strong in his evil desire." But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. (Psa 52:3-8)
Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psa 55:22)
The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Psa 58:10)
And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!" (Psa 58:11)
The righteous man will be glad in the LORD and will take refuge in Him; And all the upright in heart will glory. (Psa 64:10)
But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness. (Psa 68:3)
May they be blotted out of the book of life And may they not be recorded with the righteous. (Psa 69:28)
In his days may the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace till the moon is no more. (Psa 72:7)
And all the horns of the wicked He will cut off, But the horns of the righteous will be lifted up. (Psa 75:10)
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psa 92:12)
They band themselves together against the life of the righteous And condemn the innocent to death. (Psa 94:21)
Light is sown like seed for the righteous And gladness for the upright in heart. (Psa 97:11)
For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered forever. (Psa 112:6)
The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. (Psa 118:15)
This is the gate of the LORD; The righteous will enter through it. (Psa 118:20)
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous, So that the righteous will not put forth their hands to do wrong. (Psa 125:3)
Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; The upright will dwell in Your presence. (Psa 140:13)
"Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Your name; The righteous will surround me, For You will deal bountifully with me." (Psa 142:7)
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; (Psa 146:8)
So you will walk in the way of good men And keep to the paths of the righteous. (Pro 2:20)
The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the dwelling of the righteous. (Pro 3:33)
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. (Pro 4:18)
The LORD will not allow the righteous to hunger, But He will reject the craving of the wicked. (Pro 10:3)
Blessings are on the head of the righteous, But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Pro 10:6)
The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot. (Pro 10:7)
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Pro 10:11)
The wages of the righteous is life, The income of the wicked, punishment. (Pro 10:16)
The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, The heart of the wicked is worth little.
The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding. (Pro 10:21)
What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted. (Pro 10:24)
When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, But the righteous has an everlasting foundation. (Pro 10:25)
The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes. (Pro 10:28)
The righteous will never be shaken, But the wicked will not dwell in the land. (Pro 10:30)
The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out. (Pro 10:31)
The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted. (Pro 10:32)
The righteous is delivered from trouble, But the wicked takes his place. (Pro 11:8)
With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered. (Pro 11:9)
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, And when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting. (Pro 11:10)
Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered. (Pro 11:21)
The desire of the righteous is only good, But the expectation of the wicked is wrath. (Pro 11:23)
He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. (Pro 11:28)
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls. (Pro 11:30)
If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner! (Pro 11:31)
A man will not be established by wickedness, But the root of the righteous will not be moved. (Pro 12:3)
The thoughts of the righteous are just, But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. (Pro 12:5)
The wicked are overthrown and are no more, But the house of the righteous will stand. (Pro 12:7)
The wicked man desires the booty of evil men, But the root of the righteous yields fruit. (Pro 12:12)
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, But the righteous will escape from trouble. (Pro 12:13)
No harm befalls the righteous, But the wicked are filled with trouble. (Pro 12:21)
The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, But the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Pro 12:26)
The light of the righteous rejoices, But the lamp of the wicked goes out. (Pro 13:9)
Adversity pursues sinners, But the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity. (Pro 13:21)
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. (Pro 13:22)
The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, But the stomach of the wicked is in need. (Pro 13:25)
The evil will bow down before the good, And the wicked at the gates of the righteous. (Pro 14:19)
The wicked is thrust down by his wrongdoing, But the righteous has a refuge when he dies. (Pro 14:32)
Great wealth is in the house of the righteous, But trouble is in the income of the wicked. (Pro 15:6)
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. (Pro 15:28)
The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous. (Pro 15:29)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. (Pro 17:15)
It is also not good to fine the righteous, Nor to strike the noble for their uprightness. (Pro 17:26)
To show partiality to the wicked is not good, Nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. (Pro 18:5)
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe. (Pro 18:10)
The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, But is terror to the workers of iniquity. (Pro 21:15)
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, And the treacherous is in the place of the upright. (Pro 21:18)
All day long he is craving, While the righteous gives and does not hold back. (Pro 21:26)
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, And he who sires a wise son will be glad in him. (Pro 23:24)
Do not lie in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; Do not destroy his resting place; (Pro 24:15)
The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion. (Pro 28:1)
When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, But when the wicked rise, men hide themselves. (Pro 28:12)
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves; But when they perish, the righteous increase. (Pro 28:28)
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan. (Pro 29:2)
By transgression an evil man is ensnared, But the righteous sings and rejoices. (Pro 29:6)
The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern. (Pro 29:7)
When the wicked increase, transgression increases; But the righteous will see their fall. (Pro 29:16)
An unjust man is abominable to the righteous, And he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked. (Pro 29:27)
I said to myself, "God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man," for a time for every matter and for every deed is there. (Ecc 3:17)
Say to the righteous that it will go well with them, For they will eat the fruit of their actions. (Isa 3:10)
"Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter, The one that remains faithful. (Isa 26:2)
The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level. (Isa 26:7)
The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; And devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, (Isa 57:1)
Yet, O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, Who see the mind and the heart; Let me see Your vengeance on them; For to You I have set forth my cause. (Jer 20:12)
Because of the sins of her prophets And the iniquities of her priests, Who have shed in her midst The blood of the righteous; (Lam 4:13)
"However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself." (Eze 3:21)
"Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief, but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life, (Eze 13:22)
"The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Eze 18:20)
and say to the land of Israel, 'Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am against you; and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked. (Eze 21:3)
"Because I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked, therefore My sword will go forth from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. (Eze 21:4)
"When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die. (Eze 33:13)
"When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. (Eze 33:18)
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them. (Hos 14:9)
Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for money And the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amo 2:6)
For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes And turn aside the poor in the gate. (Amo 5:12)
Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted. (Hab 1:4)
"Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. (Hab 2:4)
So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Mal 3:18)
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mat 5:45)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, (Mat 23:29)
"It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luk 1:17)
"And you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luk 14:14)
having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Act 24:15)
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." (Rom 1:17)
Jesus Did Not Come to Call the Righteous to Repentance
One final point I would like to mention is that Jesus said He did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.
In Matthew's gospel, He said, "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mat 9:13).
In Luke's gospel, He said, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Luk 5:32)
In Mark's gospel, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mar 2:17)
I realize someone might use that as a reason to argue that somehow the Lord loves sinners and not the righteous. But that's not what He meant. The abundance of Scriptures I have just cited from the Old and New Testaments, including the words of the Lord Himself, prove that He loves the righteous. So what did He mean then?
The Lord meant by this that if someone considers himself righteous in his own eyes, as did the scribes, Pharisee, and experts in the law, then He was not calling them to repent and follow Him. Those who are self-righteous, content to have a righteousness of their own that comes from the Law, and outwardly pious cannot be saved, because they rely on themselves and do not submit to God's righteousness. They reject God's authority.
Therefore, He was calling sinners to repent and follow Him. These are the people He spent time with, because they were heeding His call to repent and follow Him. The reason is that as long as you think you are a good person or a righteous person, and you do not see your need for Jesus, you cannot be saved. You must admit you are a sinner and repent of your sins, asking the Lord to forgive you and to come into your heart as your Lord and Savior. Only then can He cleanse you of your sins and give you His perfect righteousness. Once you do so, then you are righteous in God's sight, and the righteous should not sin, according to Ezekiel 3:21; 18:24; 33:12; and 1Jn. 2:1.
The apostle John said you may not sin:
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous;" (1Jn 2:1)
"If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." (1Jn 2:29)
"Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;" (1Jn 3:7)
"not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous." (1Jn 3:12)
It cannot be more plain and clear that the righteous practice righteousness and the wicked practice evil. Therefore, Jesus never condoned sin when He said he came to call sinners. For He came to call sinners to repentance, which requires that you depart from sin and follow Him. The righteous walk by faith in the ways of the Lord.
Putting it All Together
There are so many wonderful promises for the righteous contained in God’s Word. I hope that these have blessed you, and I hope that you will lay hold of these promises for yourself, appropriating them to your life by faith. But more importantly, I hope that I have proven from Scripture that the righteous are those who practice righteousness. Everyone who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous (1Jn 2:29; 1Jn 3:7). Not every so-called Christian or person who was once "saved" is among the righteous. So let us make every effort to be found spotless and blameless in the Lord Jesus Christ when He returns. As Peter wrote:
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Pe 3:13-14, NIV)
Only the righteous will inherit eternal life. Only the righteous will dwell with the Lord in glory forever. Only the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The Scripture says that heaven is home of the righteous whose spirits have been made perfect.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” (Heb 12:22-25).
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. They did not escape when they refused to obey Moses who warned them on earth, and much less will we escape if we refuse Him who warns us from heaven. He is coming right away, but He is only coming for the righteous, those who are truly holy. You ought to live holy and godly lives. Bear in mind that it's difficult for the righteous to be saved. Therefore, repent and seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near, so that you may live a life worthy of His glory, worthy of the calling you have received, and receive the reward of the righteous to enjoy throughout eternity.
Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted. The Good Samaritan by Dan Burr of Dan Burr Illustration copyright 2013 used by permission. "Welcome My Child" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this article, I also recommend Righteous Deeds and White Robes, Practicing Your Righteousness, Doing What is Right, Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice, Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?, Faith Works!, The Judgment Seat of Christ, The Obedience of Faith, Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God, and The Difference Between a Disciple and a Believer. Other related articles are available on the Home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.