On the one hand, there is the message of Romans 3:10. We cannot deny it, and we cannot run away from it. It is right there in our Bible. What is the message of that verse? “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one.” What should we make of the declaration that there is none righteous?
First, look at the context of that statement. It comes immediately after Paul wrote these words: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (3:9). A few verses later, we read that “all have sinned” (3:23). So, Paul is highlighting the fact that all are sinners. What does that imply? If all have sinned, then all stand in need of God’s redemption. By His kindness, He supplies it through Jesus: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). Let us not miss this fact: there is no person who, because of his/her moral goodness and strength of character, can be righteous without God. Not one human being can say to the Lord, “I do not need You in order to be righteous, because I am righteous on my own accord, all by myself.” Such senseless arrogance will cause a person to remain lost before his Maker.
Here is a second thought from Romans 3. After Paul declares, “There is none righteous, no, not one,” he goes on to say that “There is none who does good, no, not one” (3:12). Should we conclude that there is not one person anywhere who has ever had a heart that causes him to do some good things? Surely not. In the same breath, so to speak, Paul also said, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Does that mean that there was not a single Jew or Gentile who did not have a healthy reverence for God? No. Paul is emphasizing that, in general, humanity rejects God and lives wickedly. And, because of our sinful ways, we stand in need of God’s righteousness, that is, His way of making sinners righteous.
Back to the question that stands as the title of this article: Is it possible to be a righteous person? The Bible gives an affirmative answer. In many cases, when we read the word “just” in the New Testament, it is from the same Greek word (“δίκαιος/dikaios”) which is translated as “righteous” in multiple cases. It means “in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God” [Thayer via e-Sword, word no. 1342]. So, when we read that “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), that is the same as saying the righteous shall live by faith. Is it possible to live by faith? Yes. Who does that? Answer: the righteous/the just. Thus, it is possible to be a righteous person. The Bible confirms that Noah was such a man (Genesis 7:1). So was Abel (Hebrews 11:4).
What about this? Jesus said, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Who will enter into life eternal? Jesus said it will be the righteous. If no one can ever be a righteous person in God’s eyes, then no one will be able to go to heaven. Again, the Bible teaches that God hears the prayers of certain people. Which ones? Answer: the righteous (1 Peter 3:12). So, if there are no righteous people, then there is not one person who has his/her prayers heard by God!
What does a righteous person do? “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). One is righteous who does righteousness. Since all of God’s commands are righteousness (Psalms 119:172), then one is righteous before God when he practices what God instructs him to do. His life is a pattern of ongoing righteous living. It is not easy to be such a person, but it certainly is possible. As Christians, when we continue to walk in the light, then we continually are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and stand righteous before the Godhead (1 John 1:7).
Not one person is perfect. Each of us has flaws, which means we need to humble ourselves before God, turn from our sins, and submit to His will. It is God alone Who is the Justifier/Righteousifier of those who believe in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Those who believe in God’s Son are those who live by faith, practicing His instructions.
While no one stands righteous before God by his own inherent goodness or earthly accomplishments, by God’s grace and saving gospel, it is possible to be a righteous person. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).
— Roger D. Campbell