Meaningful righteousness is not an acquired state; it is a lived state. One does not achieve righteousness as a divinely endowed status symbol or through religious processes.
Righteousness is not a divine requirement under threat of punishment; it is instead an essential aspect of personal fulfillment. We act out of righteousness for the sake our own well being. Righteousness is necessary, not as a divine duty, but as a complement to our very nature.
Righteousness serves the welfare of the individual by integrating the individual into the human community. Righteousness therefore benefits individuals personally and the society within which they operate. There is no righteousness removed from the collective community, no righteousness which can be achieved or maintained in isolation from other human beings.
The very concepts of righteousness and virtue are meaningless for a man on a deserted island. That lonely man may well address God as Creator and draw hope and purpose from that acknowledgement, but that will not make the man righteous or virtuous because he cannot live in virtue in relationship to others. Such a man could be pious and display faith as a necessary element in his personal life, but I don’t believe that would qualify as righteousness.
Righteousness is virtue acting within the body of humanity. That is the reason why piety is no measure of righteousness as Jesus so pointedly stated. Piety is man’s effort to appear righteous. Virtuous living is man actually being righteous, with or without the approval of religion.
The so called righteousness of right religion is an illusion. All too often such righteousness demands that we forsake virtue and integrity in some sort of divine warfare. Righteousness apart from virtue and integrity is a hollow shell of pretense.