Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
In Psalm 143, the psalmist pleads with the Lord for mercy. In his plea, he confesses a truth about himself and about all humanity that we would do well to understand. No one is righteous before the Lord.
Since the fall of Adam, excepting Jesus, there has not been a truly righteous man or woman walking the earth. I am not here suggesting that there have not been people who are significantly more righteous than others. Nor am I suggesting that there have not been good deeds done by quite loveable people. What I am saying, what Scripture is saying, is that there is not been, apart from Jesus, a single person who can stand as righteous before the Lord.
Why does this matter?? Consider the complaints that some wish to raise against things in the doctrine of salvation. Why did Jesus have to come and die? Why would God judge the poor man on the island who has never heard the gospel? Why would God elect some to salvation? All these questions have an answer in the fact that no human being, on his own, is righteous. All people fall short of the infinite righteousness of God. All fall infinitely short. The only way for unrighteous men to be redeemed is through the death of Jesus. The reason the man on the island is judged, hearing the gospel or not, is because he is unrighteous. The reason God elects some to salvation is that, had he not done so, none would be saved.
God is utterly and absolutely perfect. To please him—as if this were possible—one would have to live up to the standard of absolute perfection. None can. Besides, all of us have already entered the category of unrighteousness by being descendants of Adam who plunged our race into unrighteousness. No, we are in desperate need of a Savior. WE must have an alien righteousness applied to our account, or we die.
Once we understand the fallenness of mankind, we also can think more properly about the world in which we live. Why do we need political systems with checks and balances? Why do we need fences, guards, and armies? Why do we not assume that all people will simply do the right thing? None is righteous.
This would be a bleak worldview were it not for the grace of Almighty God. God has sent his Son. Jesus has lived the righteousness we could not. Jesus fulfilled God’s demand of perfection. Jesus died to pay our penalty for failure. Jesus rose to bring us life. Jesus grants to all who trust in him his record of absolute perfection. God views us with the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. The glory of the gospel is that God makes the unrighteous righteous through the gracious work of Jesus.