Righteousness Defined

Most people desire to be righteous, but there are different definitions of what righteousness is. In this article, we look at two definitions: the traditional Chinese definition and the Biblical definition.

Chinese Definition

From a Chinese point of view, righteousness (義) is about man having the character or personality of a sheep.

A study of the evolution of Chinese characters, reveals that the traditional Chinese meaning of righteousness (義) is a man meekly submitting to authority like a sheep.

Sheep are basically submissive, gentle and meek and like to flock together. In contrast, goats do not like to submit. They are naughty and have minds of their own and don’t want to follow a shepherd. Jesus Christ contrasts their character in His parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 24:13-51).

Biblical Definition

From a Biblical point of view 義 also pictures man acting in a meek, submissive way like a lamb, keeping his mouth shut and not complaining or resisting authority. This is what Jesus Christ demonstrated to us all on the cross as an example for an example for us to follow, especially in times when we suffer for our faith in Him:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. - Isaiah 53:7

For what credit is it if upon sinning and being beaten you endure patiently? But if upon doing good and suffering you endure patiently, this is commendable before God. Now you have been called to this, really, because Christ also suffered in our behalf, leaving you  an example that you should follow in His footsteps: who did not commit sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth; who being reviled did not revile in return, suffering did not threaten but committed it to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body  on the tree, so that we, having died to those sins, might live for the  righteousness; by whose wound  you were healed. Yes, you were like straying sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. – 1 Peter 2:20-25

Or even better, 義 is man in submission to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” - John 1:35,36

The byproduct of submission is God imputing (crediting) His righteousness to the person who believes and submits. Some people call this "being under the blood of the Lamb." It also includes all the benefits and protection of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

God's righteousness vs. Self Righteousness

For the consummation of the Scripture teaching is the Messiah, so everyone who trusts can obtain righteousness. - Romans 10:4

This is in contrast to man's own self righteousness, which man defines on his own apart from God:

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. - Romans 10:3

Apostle Paul wrote Romans, and he was a Jewish leader prior to his trusting into Jesus Christ, so he understood righteousness well.

Natural human (sinful) instinct is to try to define God and a relationship with God on our own terms, but the righteousness of God requires that a man yield to God on His terms and allow Him to define right and wrong.

An Example of Self Righteousness

An example of man defining righteousness on his terms is 起義, which is the Chinese phrase for righteous revolution. The problem is, who gets to decide if a revolution is righteous or not? From a Biblical point of view, the follower of Jesus Christ must be submissive to governing authorities, because God Himself establishes them, so resisting them or rebelling against them is rebelling against God Himself! (See Proverbs 24:21,22; Psalm 75:6,7; Matthew 22:21, 23:2,3; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1,2, 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17.) The only exception is when the governing authority requires that a person disobey God. For example, if the governing authority requires a person to renounce his or her faith in Jesus Christ or worship a false god or receive a vaccine that would change his or her DNA, then the person should obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). A related matter is trust. We should never trust in princes, in whom is no salvation (Psalm 146:3). Submit to them, pray for them and thank God for them, but don't trust in them. In general, people tend to either obey and trust authority or disobey and mistrust authority. However, the Bible says that we should obey but not trust. This is radical thinking, but it's Biblical doctrine.

Biblical Hierarchy of Authority

Thus, the Biblical hierarchy of authority is:

  1. God the Father
  2. King Jesus and His commandments
  3. Kings and all who are in authority
  4. Written laws of kings and all who are in authority

This is contrary to what most people think, but this is what the Bible teaches. Note that the Magna Carta and the US Constitition greatly confused people's view of reality, as they made people think that written laws somehow superceded the kings and all who are in authority.


In light of how god defines righteousness, we desperately need the Bible to help us train our consciences to follow God's definitions of right and wrong. Otherwise, we'll probably be walking in self righteousness. Initial entrance into the Kingdom of God requires unconditional surrender to God and repentance of all known sins. Then, the process of sanctification is a life-long process that requires continually being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), so that we think and act more and more like Jesus Christ. This includes becoming righteous in our thinking, words and actions. Heaven is not communist, so our standard of living will be determined by how we invested our time in this life in our relationship with God in helping people enter the Kingdom of God and our application of the Word of God

Jesus Christ said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (temporal hopes) will be given to you as well." - Matthew 6:33.