Holy means “set apart” and is purpose-related. For example, my pen is set apart unto me. It is mine and use it for my purposes in writing checks and making lists. In the same vein, God’s Spirit and His people are holy or set apart from the world unto Him. We are His and He uses us for His purposes and glory.
Righteous means “perfect or complete,” and is nature-related. Through salvation in Christ, God supernaturally cancels out and replaces our unrighteous nature with His own perfected or righteous nature. We are righteous because we have been placed in Christ.
Firstly, God sets us apart from the world for His purposes making us holy. (In fact, He did this before the foundation of the world. But living inside the dimension of time we have trouble understanding that, so for our purposes we’ll just say He has set us apart.) Secondly, He fully imputes the perfection or completeness of Christ to us. It is ours for the taking. The problem is that we don’t truly receive it, but in our growth spend years trying and striving to manufacture our own righteousness by “obeying” or “being good.”
When we come to find that we have no righteousness of our own and that we cannot be good, our eyes are opened and we surrender to receive God’s righteousness. This is the major thrust of the sanctification process as described in Galatians 2:20. Once having fully received His righteousness as our own, we come to realize that He has already taken our sin away. Before then we were just too full of ourselves to see the cleanliness. (Psalm 103:12; John 1:29; Romans 8:3 Amp.; Hebrews 10 whole chapter).
Even during the messy and never-ending sanctification process, we are fully clean simply by our faith in Christ (John 13:10; John 15:3). In other words, we are simultaneously in formation and fully formed (2 Corinthians 5:17 Amp). The difference is that soulically and temporally we are continually in formation being transformed by our circumstances, and at the same time having been fully formed spiritually, having the Spirit of God living within and already translated from darkness to light.
My friend, Micky Land, joked with me in church one Sunday comparing the latest (at the time) IKEA commercial with God’s salvation package. In the commercial a couple, both with hands full of IKEA shopping bags, returns to their car from shopping while the woman carefully studies the receipt. As they buckle up and pull out, she stares wide-eyed at the receipt in total unbelief at the tremendous savings. Suspecting that the huge savings had to be in error, she exclaims to her husband, “Go!…Go! Go!” They proceed to speed out of the parking lot like two thieves when their savings had been perfectly legitimate.
When God unites us to Himself through Christ, He makes us holy and righteous automatically. Pretty good deal, huh?
Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.
Colossians 1:21-23 NLT This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News…
1 Corinthians 1:30
But it is from Him that you have your life in Christ Jesus, Whom God made our Wisdom from God, [revealed to us a knowledge of the divine plan of salvation previously hidden, manifesting itself as] our Righteousness [thus making us upright and putting us in right standing with God], and our Consecration [making us pure and holy], and our Redemption [providing our ransom from eternal penalty for sin].
2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [ endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness].
1 Thessalonians 5:5
For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we do not belong either to the night or to darkness.