In Genesis 15:6, God’s Word says, “And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness.”
Later in Romans 4:22-24, Paul references this event when he says, “That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.”
Righteousness is therefore an important word for us, since it is said we are counted righteous for believing in Christ. (See also 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:6, 11; 5:19; 10:3)
In both Greek and Hebrew the word is full of meaning: 1) Part of its meaning is, doing what is right, that is, obedience to God, and doing justice in the world. 2) The second part of its meaning, and just as important, is the connotation of having a legal right standing before a judge. Both of these meanings are inseparable from each other in the Biblical sense of the word. To obey God is to be in right standing. To be in right standing is to obey God.
The problem for us is that God’s requirement as Judge is that we be perfectly obedient in order to have right standing before Him. (Galatians 3:10, Romans 8:4, James 2:10) Jesus said “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Peter also reminds us that we are to be holy just as God himself is holy! (1 Peter 1:15-16) That is our requirement for right standing. Perfect righteousness and holiness.
Since all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and continue to struggle with sin (1 John 1:8) and since the punishment for sin is spiritual death (Romans 6:23), that puts us all in quite a bad situation.
The only remedy and our only hope therefore is faith in the perfection of the righteousness of Christ, who had both: perfect obedience, and perfect right-standing before God. Having an infinite worth to his life as God the Son, he paid the penalty for our un-righteousness by his death, and being united with him by faith, we will share in his resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11) That is why these words are so important to us: “It [righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 4:24)
That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to be obedient, and even aim for perfection. Why would we insult God by aiming for less than perfect obedience? But we do this understanding we will fall short of the glory of God, and that we continue to have right-standing before God based on His righteousness and not our own. If it depended on our righteousness, none of us would make the cut. Our personal obedience is therefore always a thank-you to God, because it is not accepted as a payment for our sin. Our obedience is a way to love God and love others, and what we primarily receive in return is the satisfaction of worshiping the One who has already given us everything.