Jesus said in Matthew 5:20 "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." The Pharisees by human standards were very righteous. They took great pains is observing the letter of the law and in burdening the people with traditions and standards. Yet Jesus said your righteousness has to exceed them in order to be saved. The only way to obtain this level of righteousness is by grace.
Paul said in Romans 3:21-22 "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference" Previously we have maintained that the goal of our salvation is to know God and experience this life here and now. Secondly we have discovered that Salvation comes as a gift of God by His grace and all we have to do is believe and accept this gift. After we've done this, we must realize that the righteousness that Jesus said we must have to enter the kingdom of heaven has been given to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that this righteousness comes through faith in Jesus to everyone who believes.
This is the righteousness to which the Law and the prophets testified about. The righteousness of Christ not by the letter of the Law. Paul also stresses this in Philippians 3:9, "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Therefore we know that we obtain the righteousness needed to see the kingdom of heaven by faith in Jesus.
Righteousness can be defined as right standing with God. Our faith is what brings us into this position with God. Romans 5:1-2 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." The gift of God not only brings us into relationship with Him, it also brings us into right standing with him.
II Corinthians 5:17-21 is a powerful passage of scripture pertaining to this very idea. This is speaking to the change that takes place inside of us after our salvation. It says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." this passage is clearly teaching that we exchanged our sin for Christ's righteousness. Because of it we are reconciled to God and God is not counting our sins against us. This is great news!
Because we are reconciled and in right standing with God we are forgiven, presented pure before him and free of any accusation that comes our way. Paul said in Colossians 1:21-22 "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation" and again in Hebrews 10:14, "because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." So part of our salvation is knowing that we are already perfected and holy in Christ. Therefore we should live like ones called out and separated unto Christ Jesus. "and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. " ( Ephesians 4:24 ).