God’s Righteousness for My Righteousness

Do not be ignorant of God’s righteousness, seeking to establish righteousness on your own.

Photo by Tim Butterfield

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved for I bear them witness that they have a Zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)

Paul is speaking to the Romans of the Jews, but this message could apply to anyone who seeks to establish his own righteousness and does not submit to God’s righteousness. Paul had a particular authenticity to be able to say this about the Jews, because they were his people. He was one of them. He was not just Jewish, but trained as a Pharisee by the greatest of the contemporary teachers of the time and zealous for the Jewish law to the point of persecuting the followers of Christ (Phil. 3:6) – before he was confronted by the living, resurrected Jesus.

Paul knew something of the righteousness of his former life and of the righteousness of the Jews in his time. Their righteousness consisted of zealously keeping the law. The Pharisees, the protectors keepers of the law, were the people with whom Jesus had the harshest confrontations. He accused them of imposing impossible burdens on others, burdens that they, themselves, didn’t even keep. Primarily, though, they were attempting to establish their own righteousness in reference to the law.

Anyone who seeks to establish his own righteousness, by virtue of that fact, does not submit to God’s righteousness. We do not need to establish our own righteousness once we understand God’s righteousness and the fact that he offers it freely to us.

The fact is that none of us are righteous. (Romans 3:10) Paul knew full well of his own failures and of the failures of the Jews in keeping the law and attempting to establish their own righteousness in respect to the law. I person fails at just one point, a person has failed at keeping the law. The fact is that we have all failed. Some people may be morally better than others, but we have all failed at some point.

Even if we could be successful at leading a perfectly righteous life in respect to the law (morality), if we hold on to our own righteousness, and continue to strive to achieve righteousness in our own efforts, we do not and cannot grab onto God’s righteousness. We have chosen our own righteousness over God’s righteousness that he offers to us.

God offers us substitutionary righteousness. He offers His righteousness in place of our righteousness, just as He offered Himself in the form of Jesus in place of us for punishment for sin. But we cannot have the righteousness He offers us, if we hold on to the righteousness we are trying to achieve on our own.

This is all hard for us to grasp. It turns the inertia of the human impulse to make her own way on its head. We are ingrained to feel that we must earn what we have and we take pride in the things that we earn. We seem to think it better to earn whatever we can obtain for ourselves rather than receive and submit to what God offers us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What God offers us is of greatest value of all. The substitutionary atonement and substitutionary righteousness that goes with it is something that we could never have learned in our wildest dreams

Christ is the end of the law to all who believe. Christ offers us the end to striving in our own flesh. Jesus offers to make us right before God, something we could not achieve on our own, and it comes at the price of our own striving, our own righteousness and our own pride.

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