Q: What is righteousness and what does it mean to “live a religious life?”
A: Thanks for these very good questions. I suspect that some people, when thinking about righteousness, or living a righteous life, may consider righteousness as something that only certain people can do, or aspire to. When I was younger, the very word inspired a kind of awe, and I reckoned that only priests or other so-called holy people could achieve it. I now know different. The Urantia Book has over 170 references containing the word righteousness and I will be using some of those references to answer your questions.
Righteousness as a dictionary definition is as follows: “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.” Pretty simple, but certainly secular.
In the teachings of The Urantia Book, and most especially the teachings of Jesus, we see that righteousness is something that we all are called to do.
101:2.14 Your deepest nature—the divine Adjuster—creates within you a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a certain craving for divine perfection.
140:6.3 “I demand of you a righteousness that shall exceed the righteousness of those who seek to obtain the Father’s favor by almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. If you would enter the kingdom, you must have a righteousness that consists in love, mercy, and truth — the sincere desire to do the will of my Father in heaven.”
And more from Paper 140: The Ordination:
140:5.8 2. “Happy are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Only those who feel poor in spirit will ever hunger for righteousness. Only the humble seek for divine strength and crave spiritual power …
“Experiential righteousness is a pleasure, not a duty. Jesus’ righteousness is a dynamic love—fatherly-brotherly affection. It is not the negative or thou-shalt-not type of righteousness. How could one ever hunger for something negative—something “not to do”?
Later, Jesus teaches further about righteousness:
150:5.5 In summing up his final statement, Jesus said: “You cannot buy salvation; you cannot earn righteousness. Salvation is the gift of God, and righteousness is the natural fruit of the spirit-born life of sonship in the kingdom. You are not to be saved because you live a righteous life; rather is it that you live a righteous life because you have already been saved, have recognized sonship as the gift of God and service in the kingdom as the supreme delight of life on earth. When men believe this gospel, which is a revelation of the goodness of God, they will be led to voluntary repentance of all known sin. Realization of sonship is incompatible with the desire to sin. Kingdom believers hunger for righteousness and thirst for divine perfection.”
And finally, from Paper 170, The Kingdom of Heaven, from the section called “In Relation to Righteousness”:
“The righteousness of any act must be measured by the motive; the highest forms of good are therefore unconscious. Jesus was never concerned with morals or ethics as such. He was wholly concerned with that inward and spiritual fellowship with God the Father which so certainly and directly manifests itself as outward and loving service for man.”
Now, this is in direct contrast to the idea of “self-righteousness,” which is to be avoided. It manifests in a sense of entitlement and superiority. I found two examples of that in the behavior of certain Pharisees.
You can easily see self-righteous behavior and thinking in this story, titled Breakfast with the Pharisees:
And here, in the story of The Pharisees at Ragaba
As for your question about what constitutes “living a religious life…” again from Paper 170:
170:3.9 [Jesus] taught that the religion of the kingdom is a genuine personal experience which no man can contain within himself; that the consciousness of being a member of the family of believers leads inevitably to the practice of the precepts of the family conduct, the service of one’s brothers and sisters in the effort to enhance and enlarge the brotherhood.”
101:10.7 Religion effectually cures man’s sense of idealistic isolation or spiritual loneliness; it enfranchises the believer as a son of God, a citizen of a new and meaningful universe. Religion assures man that, in following the gleam of righteousness discernible in his soul, he is thereby identifying himself with the plan of the Infinite and the purpose of the Eternal. Such a liberated soul immediately begins to feel at home in this new universe, his universe.
And so we see that righteousness and living a religious life are clearly connected; both stem from a choice to seek God through personal spiritual experience. That personal experience inevitably leads to righteousness. Moreover, the religion of personal spiritual experience is what Jesus himself practiced. One of the most important measures of righteousness is the desire and practice of loving and being of service to our brothers and sisters. We can do that, too, if we so choose.
Thanks again for your questions; I hope that my reply has been helpful to you. I have included a good number of Urantia Book references. I hope you’ll take some time to check them out. Please feel free to write again anytime!