Both holiness and righteousness are used to describe God. Additionally, we as Christians are called to be holy and righteous as well. These are two distinct words, so they must have distinct meanings.

So, my question is what distinguishes holiness from righteousness?

You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. Leviticus 20:26 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 1 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,[f] which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. This is a great question, however I have some reservations about it fitting our format or being asked in the right place. I know the tempo around here takes a while to get used to because it's not your normal forum or even everything-goes QnA site. This is border-line on a question seeking ultimate truth on an issue. Please be aware the only thing we can really do is provide Christianities take(s) on an issue.
    – Caleb
    Dec 6, 2012 at 7:24
  • In this case I'm not sure how much variation there is between traditions on interpreting these words, so I'm not sure if it is reasonable to ask this without specifying what theological framework you are working with and want to hear from. (See our faq, but "Christian" is a pretty meaningless term on this site because we have scoped it to be any established group claiming to be such.)
    – Caleb
    Dec 6, 2012 at 7:24
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    Perhaps you would be interested in editing this question to learn what doctrinal perspectives there are on this issue and what distinctions different traditions see between these words; and at the same time ask a variant question over on Biblical Hermeneutics about the definition of the specific words in the context of one or two of the verses.
    – Caleb
    Dec 6, 2012 at 7:26
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. It asks for the difference between terms, but gives no way to judge answers, ultimately making it opinion based. Furthermore, it seems to be asking purely about the English terms, not the Hebrew or Greek of the source texts, but the choice of those English is terms is accepted uncritically. To improve the question it should focus either on specific texts which include both terms, or it should ask about either the Hebrew or Greek words.
    – curiousdannii
    May 13, 2015 at 3:09

7 Answers 7


"Holy" means "set apart", as in set aside for a particular purpose, and implies being "special" and acting accordingly. In particular it means "set aside for God's service".

"Righteous" means "made right" (justified), or "being right", not in the sense of "correct", but as in "not wrong" - being pure, honest, sinless. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be "not guilty" or "blameless".

The two should go hand in hand.

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    +1 The words go together like peanut butter and jelly, but they are different things. Dec 6, 2012 at 12:45

First, to be holy, one must reconcile with God by being Baptized in Christ (cf. Gal 3:23, Romans 6:3-5), that way the person will put on Christ and his Adamic nature will be broken. After that, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:16-17, Acts 19:4-6), the person is qualified to live a holy life.

Righteousness is basically behaving rightly and may not necessarily mean that the person is a Christian, as in the case of Cornelius in Acts 10.

  • Romans 3 says no one is righteous. Cornelius's messengers may have called him righteous but that doesn't mean he was.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 19, 2014 at 6:08

Holiness is what we strive for and is gradually improved in us by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. This is not something imputed to us, but something which we are commanded to become:

since it is written, "you shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:16

Righteousness is something imputed to us by the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ. While we will often talk about striving for righteousness, I believe the best context to understand it is that our

"righteousness is as filthy rags" Isaiah 64:6

and that the only way we are considered righteous is by the imputed righteousness of Christ upon us.


Righteousness is a gift from God through Jesus Christ (2Cor.5:21) Holiness is a responsibility (2Cor.7:1) as kings in the kingdom of God.

  • Welcome to the site! This is a good answer, but would be a better answer if you could edit in the actual Scriptures and maybe link to them at an online Bible like BibleGateway.com Also, as a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? Sep 28, 2013 at 22:15

When the Bible says no one is righteous it means that no one could deserve salvation on their own. No one was right enough without Christ to be in right standing with God. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ."

People confuse righteousness with right living. These are two different things. Righteousness is a position. When you become saved you are considered in right standing with God. The word says, "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6). No one is considered righteous based on their behavior. Their righteousness is based on their belief in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20-22). You don't do right things to become righteous. Because you are righteous you do right things.

  • Welcome to the site. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? (in particular, "we are not a forum.") This doesn't really answer the question because you've only addressed righteousness and not holiness. If it were shorter it could be a comment on another post, but you haven't yet earned enough reputation to leave comments (see the help page). Hopefully, soon! Dec 29, 2014 at 20:55

Righteousness leads to holiness. If we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will be filled with the Holy Ghost, which makes us holy. If we do the will of God, we will know of His doctrine by revelation. If we keep the Lord's commandments, He will put His spirit in us.

Righteousness is choosing to have faith, repent and receive baptism, enduring in the word of God. Those who pursue these with full purpose of heart will afterwards receive the Holy Ghost as a gift from God, according to His promise.

Therefore righteousness is a precursor to holiness. Holiness accelerates the growth of righteousness.


Holiness is the quality of being holy,a life that is full of godly character.Righteousness is to be upright in God, to be blamless. A righteousness man is also a holy man,both of them works together.

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    Where did you get these definitions? What evidence is there that supports them?
    – curiousdannii
    May 12, 2015 at 4:42
  • Welcome to the site and thank you for sharing. The community here prefers answers that can be substantiated, as in sourced. The site strives for an academic quality and unfortunately this answer falls short of that. You can click edit to make it better, or just don't worry about it. It's not really that important. What I would like to see is your continued participation. Ask questions, if you have them, or answer questions if you know the answer. We're glad you're here.
    – user3961
    May 12, 2015 at 15:20

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