by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." Romans 10:3
We have, so far, been dealing with the first two verses, and have seen that certain general lessons are taught there by the Apostle. These not only concern his contemporaries, the Jews, but are of universal application in the life of the church up to the present time.
We have seen that the Apostle's particular concern here is to explain why the Jews were, in the main, outside the Christian church, whereas the Gentiles had been coming in. The general trouble was that the Jews had a zeal for God but it was 'not according to knowledge'. Now the word that Paul uses here which is translated 'knowledge' is very interesting. It is the strongest word used in the Scriptures with regard to knowing. It does not merely mean a general acquaintance with something. It goes beyond that. It means a full, a correct, a precise and a vital knowledge, and the trouble with the Jews, says the Apostle Paul, is that they lacked it. And there is one further idea in the word. It refers to a knowledge which has been arrived at as the result of a good deal of investigation and effort. So then, Paul says, the Jews lacked that full apprehension, that certain knowledge which is the result of a careful and a thorough examination of a teaching. They had a zeal, but not such a knowledge.
Here, then, Paul again puts before us a most important principle, Which is that an exact knowledge of the truth is essential to salvation. The Jews had not got it, so they were outside; they were lost and he prays and longs for their salvation. Now this matter of knowledge is most important. I am of the opinion that the greatest danger confronting the Christian church and every individual Christian at this moment is to fail to understand and appreciate the absolute necessity of a precise, clear knowledge of the truth. I say this because we are living in days when there is a powerful reaction against all this.
We are living in an age that dislikes precision and definitions. It is an age that is anti-theological, anti-doctrinal and which dislikes propositions and exact knowledge. It is a lazy age in every respect, a sentimental, sloppy age, an age that wants entertainment and dislikes effort. In the whole of life today the principle is 'something for nothing'. We are ready to take but we are not ready to work; we are not ready to give ourselves. It is true all round and it accounts for most of our problems. It is particularly true in the realm of the Christian church. We must therefore deal with this very carefully.
This tendency shows itself in many ways which are generally very plausible. One way is to say that Christianity is something that is so wonderful that it cannot be defined, that it baffles analysis or any attempt to state it in propositions. I am sure you are familiar with that particular view. People say you might as well try to dissect beauty, or an aroma, as to define the Christian faith. It cannot be done, they say. You experience it marvelous and wonderful! But if you try to analyze it, then you destroy it, there is nothing left. You must not bring the rude hands of analysis here.
Another way in which it is put is this: that Christianity is only a matter of one's spirit. What makes us Christians is our spirit, and if we have an appropriate spirit, then we are Christians. Christianity is an attitude, a view of life, a general statement concerning our personality and our being. There was a slogan not so long ago which said, 'Christianity is caught, not taught'. You catch the spirit. You feel it in the meeting and you get it. But what is it? Well, you do not know, but that does not matter. You have got it! That is the great thing and you feel much happier and much better than you did before.
Then a third way in which it is put is this: that after all what matters is our general reaction to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is one of the most popular views of all. People say, 'You read the Gospels and there you see this portrait of Him and, as it were, you meet Him. Now what decides whether you are a Christian or not is this: Do you like Him? Do you want to be like Him? Do you try to imitate Him? What is your reaction to Him?' You must not come and dissect, and bring your propositions and your theology and say you have got to believe this and not believe that. What matters is your total response to Him, and if you react favorably to Him, then you are a Christian.
The fourth way is the approach that describes Christianity in terms of living. What does it matter what people believe as long as they are living good, Christ like lives, as long as they are generous, ready to make sacrifices, ready to help others, and concerned about the uplift of the race? That is what makes people Christians.
Now this dangerous attitude takes one other form. I put this in a category on its own because I am beginning to think that in some ways it is the most subtle form of all among evangelical people. It is the tendency to estimate whether or not people are Christians, not by what they actually say about their beliefs but by what you feel about them. Now, I do want to make this clear, because I have encountered it a great deal. We attach greater importance and significance to this 'feeling' that we may have about them than to the very words that the people themselves use about the Christian faith.
I want to give an example or two of this, because I confess that I am becoming alarmed about it; indeed, I am almost discouraged because it seems to me that if we proceed much further along this line, the evangelical faith is going to disappear. Let me give you an illustration. On a visit to London some years ago, I went into a certain bookroom which was managed by an evangelical organization in one of the major Christian denominations. To my astonishment, I found that they were selling there a secondhand book by a man who was notorious at that time. He was no longer alive, but he had written this well known book about Christianity in which he virtually denied all the cardinal articles of the Christian faith. As I was looking round, the secretary of this society came to speak to me, so I called his attention to this book and expressed my amazement.
'Ah,' he said, 'wait a minute. You know, we must be very careful.'
'What do you mean?' I asked.
He said, 'Have you ever met this men?' end when I told him I had not, he replied, 'Well, I have. I stayed with him a few months back. I was on deputation work and he entertained me for the night, and the next morning we went into a little chapel attached to his house where he took family prayers. And you know, I don't think I have ever been in such a spiritual atmosphere. It was a blessing to my soul to hear him taking family prayers on that occasion.'
'Yes, but my dear sir,' I said, 'what does he say in this book?'
'Oh, I know that,' he said, 'but you see, if you had heard him taking those prayers! I have never known a more devout man. I have never been in a more devotional atmosphere.'
My reply was this: 'But I don't care what you felt. This is what the man says about the Lord Jesus Christ and His work and it is a denial of the Scriptures!' But I found it very difficult to persuade him.
Then recently, a speaker was about to give an address on a certain religious book which had achieved some notoriety, and he prefaced his remarks by saying something like this. 'Now I am going to criticize this book, but I must say this. A friend of mine who saw this man on television said to me, "If ever I have looked at a bornagain man there he was."'
You see, he was suggesting that what is said in the book does not matter! Though the writer denies the teaching of the Scripture and the creeds of his church, though he denies the being of God, the deity of Christ, and all the essentials of Christianity, in spite of that, what is being put first is our subjective feeling 'The man looks to me to be a bornagain man.' So in spite of what he says in his book 'I therefore have a feeling, somehow, that the man is all right after all'!
This is happening in other ways, too. A few years ago there were various campaigns at which all kinds of people had come together who had never been together before. And evangelical Christians were saying, 'You know, these others are such nice people, they are much nicer people than we ever thought.' Why they should ever imagine that people who are wrong in their doctrine are of necessity not nice I do not know! But the argument had reached the point at which it was being said that, because they were so surprisingly nice, it did not matter very much, after all, that they were so wrong in their doctrine.
Or, to give one final illustration, I once had a lengthy discussion with an evangelical Christian in which I asked him why he had used a certain man in connection with his work. 'Well,' he said, 'I know what you mean, I know what he has written in his books, I know what he preaches, but I have got to be honest. I find that I can have more fellowship with him than I can with many conservative evangelical Christians.'
I said, 'What you really mean, of course, is that he is a nicer man by nature than many evangelical Christians. But,' I went on, 'you must not call it fellowship. You find that he is more affable and that you can get on more easily with him. But that is not spiritual fellowship!'
Now that is the kind of thing that is being said at the present time. It does not matter what people may teach. Though they may deny the very essence of Christianity, if I like them, if I am attracted to them, if I can talk easily to them, then that is what counts. It is what they are that is important and thus they make an appeal to you.
Here, then, is the very thing to which our attention is being drawn by this statement of the Apostle Paul. So what do we say about this modern tendency? Here is the answer.
First, that Christian people are mistaking natural qualities, niceness, a cultural veneer or politeness, for true Christian grace. It seems that we are no longer capable of differentiating between the two. How often today is affability mistaken for saintliness! 'What a gracious man he is,' they say. What they really mean is this: he never criticizes and he agrees with everybody and everything. I know of nothing more dangerous than that. These so called gracious men are, of course, altogether nicer than John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul! I do not hesitate to go further they are very much nicer than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who denounced the Pharisees! Affability is not saintliness. A mere intellectual, moral flabbiness, is not synonymous with graciousness and with the possession of grace!
Secondly, the fact that people are devout tells us nothing about the truth of what they believe. There are very devout Jews, devout Muslims, devout followers of Buddha, Confucius, and so on. A devout attitude in and of itself tells us nothing.
Thirdly, the moment we begin to talk in these terms, it means that we have abandoned all objective standards. We are now judging only by our own subjective feelings, by our impressions and reactions. Is there anything so dangerous?
Fourthly, and much more important, it is a complete denial of what the Apostle is teaching at this very point, and indeed in the whole of his Epistle. The Jews, he says, are lost and they need to be saved. Why? Because they are lacking in exact knowledge of the truth. This is the reason for their condemnation. So we must never put anything before exact knowledge. It is the most important thing of all.
My fifth argument is this: to speak like that is a violation not only of what the Apostle teaches here, but also of the whole of the New Testament teaching with regard to the way of salvation. What does it teach? Well, it talks about coming 'unto the knowledge of the truth' [I Tim. 2:4]. Everything in the New Testament is put in terms of truth. What is preaching? Preaching is a proclamation of the truth. And it is an exact proclamation. Preaching is not talking about a vague feeling, but is the presentation of a message, of a case. Preaching is something that is reasoned and argued from the Scriptures. It is truth, and therefore it must always be in the first position.
The Apostle says this clearly and specifically in 1 Timothy 2:35: 'For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved' he means all types and kinds of men 'and to come unto the knowledge of the truth'. That is salvation, this exact knowledge of the truth. 'For there is one God' there it is! 'and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.' There is the truth specified. And yet the whole tendency today is to say, 'It doesn't matter!'
Furthermore, this is a truth that can be defined in detail, indeed, it must be defined in detail. The first chapter of Galatians brings out this point. 'I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another. . .' [Gal. 1:67]. But how can Paul say that? You can only make a statement like that if you know what the gospel is. There must be some objective standard, and he says that these people have departed from that. They say they are preaching a gospel. But it is 'not another', he says, there cannot be, this is the one and only gospel.
In other words, you can tell whether a man is preaching the gospel or not, or whether he believes the gospel or not, by what he says! It does not matter what he is in his appearance or in his personality-what does he say ? Is it the gospel, or something that is passing as gospel, which is not the gospel? Then Paul makes it still more explicit: 'But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed' [v. 8]. Could anything be plainer or stronger?
Or take it again in 2 Timothy 2 :78: 'Consider what I say,' says the Apostle, 'and the Lord give thee understanding.' that is what people need; it is understanding. Get rid of this sloppy sentimentality that talks about 'niceness' and lives on its feelings. 'Remember,' he says, 'that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.' What did he mean by my gospel? Well, he goes on to tell us. He contrasts it with the false teaching in which some people were indulging. They taught that 'the resurrection is past already' and they 'overthrow the faith of some' [v. 18].
I once read a printed sermon on Paul's words, 'my gospel', in which the preacher put forward this erroneous view. He said, 'The Apostle says, "My gospel", and the question for you, friends, is: Can you say, "My gospel" ? Of course, it may not be mine, it may not be somebody else's, but the whole point is, can you say, "My gospel" ?'
The whole purpose of that sermon was to show that the Apostle did not mean to suggest that he was right and everyone else was wrong. The preacher argued that such a thing would be unthinkable for a Christian man to say. What Paul meant, said this preacher, was that he had not got a secondhand faith but had found something which had made all the difference to him, and all he was concerned about was that everybody else should have something that made all the difference to them something about which they could say 'my gospel'. It would not be the same thing in every case, of course. It would be one thing for one person and another for someone else. One would believe in the deity of Christ, and another would not; one believes that Christ bore his sins and was punished, someone else believes He was just dying the death of a pacifist. But what does it matter? We all get a good deal out of that death. 'My gospel'! And this is, of course, nothing but a complete denial of what the Apostle was teaching!
The Apostle's case was always this: there is only one gospel. It had been committed to him and he preached it. Any departure from it was a lie, and whoever preached a lie deserved to tee 'accursed'. And, of course, this teaching is not confined to the Apostle Paul. In Jude 3, we read this: 'Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once [and forever] delivered unto the saints.' The faith is something that you can contend for and if you do not know what it is, or if people can believe what they like, then you cannot contend for it. The New Testament denounces heresies; and there would never be such a thing as a heresy if you did not have a truth that can be defined and stated in the form of propositions. So this modern idea which puts personality, or niceness, or 'whet I feel' about a person, before exact propositions and definitions, and precision in knowledge, is a denial of the whole of the New Testament teaching.
But still further: the Bible teaches us that continuation in the Christian life is always as the result of truth, and knowledge of truth. Our Lord prayed in His high-priestly prayer: 'Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth' John 17:17]. Or take what He said on another occasion to those Jews who believed on Him, 'If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' John 8:31]. It is the truth, not feelings, that makes you free!
My final argument is this. The Apostle Peter, in the third chapter of his First Epistle, verse fifteen, says, 'be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.' A man comes to you and says, 'Look here, why are you a Christian?' He wants you to give an explanation. If you adopt this modern teaching, all you can say is this: 'Well, I don't know that I can tell you but I just feel like this. I began to feel like this suddenly in a meeting, and I am glad to say that I have been feeling like this ever since. It is a wonderful feeling, though I don't know what it is.'
Then the man says, 'What is this "hope" you have?'
'Well,' you reply, 'I don't know, I am just hopeful, that is all. I have taken a more optimistic view of life ever since I had this wonderful experience and I feel happier and bright and cheerful.' You cannot give him a reason. In that case, says Peter, you are no use to him; he will now, poor fellow, try to get this 'feeling' that you have had and he will go the round of meetings hoping that he is going to get it. That is not the way, says Peter. Give him a reason for the hope that is in you. And that means a detailed knowledge of the truth.
I am not saying, of course, that a Christian is someone who has a complete understanding about the whole of the Christian faith. Of course not! Nobody has that. We are all still learning. All that I am saying is that there must be a clear understanding about an irreducible minimum. You cannot be a Christian at all unless you have that. I am not, in other words, saying that we must turn this gospel into a requirement, and that unless we all agree in every detail about prophecy, or the mode of baptism, or many other subjects, that we are not Christians. That is sheer legalism! There are many people who have fallen into that error.
But that is not the danger today! The danger today is that we are so afraid of legalism that we have become utterly nondescript. We have knocked down all the barriers and the signposts; anything is all right. We are a happy lot together and we have a wonderful spirit. Roman Catholics are suddenly now changing. Everything is marvelous. We are going to have a great universal church and there will be no more trouble.
But that is the very opposite of the New Testament teaching. No, I am not arguing for a legalistic precision. All I am arguing for is what the Apostle Paul is putting before us here in Romans 10:3. These Jews, he says, are outside because they have not got this exact knowledge that saves! There are implications and aspects of this great truth about which we cannot and must not speak dogmatically. But about the thing that saves us we must be as dogmatic as we can be This is absolutely essential to salvation.
The Apostle's whole point is that the Jews are lost, and he is anxious about them, concerned for them and praying for them. They are in that position for one reason only their lack of a precise knowledge as to the way of salvation. Therefore I do not hesitate to say that if you tell me that such an exact knowledge is not essential, that people can be Christians without it, then I say that you are denying the New Testament gospel. I do not care what experience they have had, how much better or nicer they are than they once were I am not interested. Men and women are saved by coming to a knowledge of the truth!
The Apostle says all that to us in this word 'knowledge'. But in verse 3 he works it out in detail, and he has three things to say about the Jews. The first is that they were 'ignorant of God's righteousness'. That is the first respect in which this lack of knowledge caused their condemnation. Now what does Paul mean here by the term 'God's righteousness'? There is a slight difficulty about this. It is not important ultimately, but we must look at it in order to get our minds clear. There are two views.
Most of the commentators are agreed in saying that by 'God's righteousness' Paul means the righteousness that God has prepared for, and gives to, the Christian. They say that it must be that because of what Paul says at the end of the verse: 'They being ignorant of God's righteousness .. . have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.'
Now there is no doubt about the meaning of 'the righteousness of God'. It means that they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness that God has prepared and gives, about which Paul has spoken in chapter 1:17 'the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith'. So, the commentators say, it must have that meaning at the beginning of 10:3 also, because if it does not, then the Apostle is using the same word in two different senses in the same verse.
If that view is correct, the Apostle is saying that these people are lost because they have a great zeal but it is not according to knowledge. They do not know about the righteousness that God has provided and have not submitted to it. Instead, they have gone about to establish their own righteousness. That is the commonly accepted interpretation.
But with considerable trepidation, because of the authorities, I feel constrained to say that even if I do accept that, I cannot accept it as being the total or indeed the adequate explanation of this term. What, then, does it mean? Well, I suggest it means the righteousness that God demands of me. Paul is saying that they were ignorant of this righteousness that God demands. Why do I say that? Partly because, taking the other view, Paul is guilty of tautology, and he is not normally guilty of that. So it seems to me that in order to show how the argument advances here we must accept this second interpretation.
But there is an even stronger argument. What was the main trouble with the Jews ? Well, our Lord Himself has answered the question for us. It is to be found in Matthew 5:20, part of the Sermon on the Mount: 'I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.' And then He goes on to interpret what He means by that. The whole trouble with the Pharisees was that they had misinterpreted the Old Testament teaching about the righteousness that God demands. That is what the Sermon on the Mount deals with, especially in chapter five: 'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . But I say unto you' [see, for example, w. 2122, 2728, 3132].
The Pharisees rejected Christ because they had misunderstood God's real demands, the demands of God's law, the demands of God's righteousness. So in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord preaches to them on the meaning of the law that was given through Moses, and what He keeps on saying to them, in effect, is this: 'You have misinterpreted it. You are taking it only in the act, but God means it in the spirit, in the mind, in the heart. You say, "I have not committed adultery." I ask you, have you looked at a woman to commit adultery in your imagination? If you have, you are guilty.' And so on with murder and all the rest.
In other words, our Lord's whole case against the Pharisees and scribes was that they had got muddled about the meaning of God's demands upon them in terms of righteousness. There are many examples of this very thing in the Gospels, for instance, what the Lord said about the support of parents in Matthew 15 :39 and about tithing in Matthew 23:2328. The final proof of this is the famous case of the Pharisee and the publican: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are' [Luke 18:1011]. Here is the picture of a man who thought that he had completely satisfied the demands of God.
So I argue that when the Apostle says in Romans 10:3 that the Jews were ignorant of God's righteousness, he means that they were entirely ignorant of what God really was demanding of them.
This leads us to the word ignorant, which is a most interesting word. It implies that they had some knowledge. Paul does not say that these Jews were completely ignorant about the righteousness of God. No. Their trouble was that they knew something about it but they did not have an exact knowledge of it. In other words, 'ignorance' here is the exact opposite of the full and precise knowledge of verse 2.
You see, you can have a certain amount of knowledge, but it is not enough. You must have precise knowledge. The Jews had a knowledge. But they were ignorant! It was not a full knowledge but was partial and vitiated. That again, of course, was the trouble with the Pharisees and was it not also the trouble with the Apostle Paul himself before his conversion? Take Philippians 3:46:'Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.'
That is what Paul used to think. He really did believe, like all the Pharisees, that he had fulfilled the law of God, and was absolutely blameless. So what was his trouble? It was that he had a knowledge of the law but not an exact knowledge. It was all right up to a point, but then he ruined it all by misinterpretation. He himself was a perfect illustration of the very thing that he says here.
And then 1 Timothy 1:13, where Paul expresses amazement that he is in the ministry. He recalls that he 'was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious', but he 'obtained mercy because,' he says, 'I did it ignorantly in unbelief.' And when he says that he was ignorant he does not mean that he knew nothing. He was a Pharisee, he knew a great deal about the law and the Scriptures. But, he says, 'I did it ignorantly.' Yes, it is exactly the same word.
The Apostle's own experience, therefore, and that of all the Pharisees, I think confirms this exposition that I am putting before you. The whole trouble with the Jews was that they thought that they knew what the law of God demanded. But they did not. Their knowledge was so imperfect that it had become a lie, and it was standing between them and the knowledge of salvation in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So you see the point at which we have arrived. This precise knowledge is absolutely essential. Not only must you have knowledge, you must have precise knowledge. Ignorance (a little knowledge) is the enemy; it is the cause of the lost condition of Paul's fellow countrymen, the Jews. May God once and for ever rid our minds of this dangerous, terrible tendency to discount exact knowledge, definition, propositions, doctrine and theology.
And may the Lord help us to see that what passes as charity is at the expense of denying precise knowledge of the truth and is not charity but laxity. Ultimately, it is a betrayal and denial of the truth of God.
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Romans 1O:1-3
We have been examining these three verses in some detail because they are, of course, one of the crucial statements in this great Epistle and a very vital part of the Apostle's whole argument. At this point, we are particularly concerned with Paul's emphasis upon lack of knowledge, and we are emphasizing that because it is the sole explanation of the condition of the Jews at the Apostle's time and even up until today.
Secondly, lack of knowledge has continued, throughout the centuries and up to the present, to be the main stumbling-block to all people and especially to those who are pharisaical by nature, by which I mean people who take their religion seriously and who are concerned about pleasing God.
My third reason for emphasizing all this is the present, foolish tendency in the church to decry definitions and an exact knowledge of what we believe. This even afflicts evangelical people.
Then the fourth, and the greatest reason of all, for emphasizing this point is that it relates to the only way of salvation. There is no other. We are saved by 'coming to a knowledge of the truth'; so that if we have not got that knowledge, we are not saved.
Now this has always been the great matter, and history proves that abundantly. This was the grand discovery that was made by Martin Luther, the thing that led to the Protestant Reformation; and this was the very thing also that led to the great Evangelical Awakening and Revival of two hundred years ago.
We are, therefore, considering the ways or the respects in which the Jews were ignorant. That was their trouble, says Paul, they were lacking in this knowledge, were ignorant at the vital point. And we have already seen one respect in which they were ignorant, and that was that they were 'ignorant of God's righteousness', which I interpreted as meaning 'the righteousness that God demands'. They were ignorant of what the law of God really demanded, and because of that they went wrong elsewhere.
But the ignorance of the Jews did not stop at that point, so we go on, in the second place, to point out that they did not know that the righteousness of which they boasted so much, and which they had been building up, was simply their own righteousness. 'Going about,' says Paul, 'to establish their own righteousness.' that is the emphasis, and it is a most important point. This was the very essence of the tragedy of the Jew. The Jew, and particularly the Pharisee, was so pleased with himself. He looked at the others - Gentiles - as 'dogs', 'lesser breeds without the law'. They had not got the oracles of God; they knew nothing about the righteousness that God demanded. There they were - pagans!
But the Jews had got the Scriptures. They were godly, they were righteous; and they were very proud of their own righteousness. But the trouble was that they fondly imagined that by working up this righteousness and amassing it, they were pleasing God and were satisfying God's holy and righteous demands. That was their whole tragedy They really were very pleased with themselves, and they were resting in their self-righteousness and their self-satisfaction.
Now the Apostle uses a very interesting word here and it is most important in this whole connection. 'they,' he says, 'being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness . . .' 'Going about' is a strong word. It does not only mean that they were seeking righteousness. It does mean that, but it carries the notion of a strenuous effort and toilsome labor. You can see it, can you not, in the very word 'going about'? 'Fussing about', if you like. As Martha was 'cumbered about', 'troubled with many things', and not the 'one thing needful' [Luke 10:38-42]. There they were -'going about'.
The same thought is seen in our Lord's condemnation of the Pharisees who, He says, 'compass sea and land to make one proselyte' [Matt 23:15]. And that is the characteristic of this false view - it involves toil, labor, great endeavor. And Paul grants the Jews that they have a zeal for God, and that they really are working very hard in order to amass this righteousness which they think is going to satisfy God. They 'go about' to do it.
I must refer at this point to a notable example of this very thing. If ever a man went about to establish his own righteousness, it was John Wesley!' There he was, a very brilliant man, doing well in his career in Oxford, and a fellow of his college. But even while he was there he was not satisfied. With his brother and others he formed the Holy Club: 'going about to establish their own righteousness'. They gave alms to the prisoners in the prison; they spoke to them and preached to them. But even that was not enough. Wesley had to make himself righteous with God, so he gave up his fellowship, his brilliant prospects and opportunities, crossed the Atlantic - it was something to cross the Atlantic two hundred years ago! - and preached to natives in Georgia in America.
And what he was trying to do was to put himself right with God. He believed that he had to make himself righteous. So he went back and forth to America trying to do it. What a perfect picture that is of this 'going about'.
The same thing had happened to Luther two hundred years earlier. He was there in his cell, fasting, sweating, praying, 'going about to establish his own righteousness'. It is astounding to contemplate what people are prepared to do in order to work up this 'righteousness'. There have been notable examples of self-sacrifice; men and women have given up great prospects and they are praised, they gain great adulation, and people say, 'What fine Christians!' But the whole time they are simply going about to establish their own righteousness
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, you find another statement of it. What sacrifices men and women are prepared to make - even their own lives - in order to establish their own righteousness before God! And, again, it is summed up perfectly in the introduction to that parable of our Lord's on the Pharisee and the tax-collector. 'He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous' [Luke 18:9]. But here in Romans 10 the Apostle shows us so plainly that It is of no value at all, and he does it in these words, 'their own righteousness'. For that is what it is, and nothing else, so let us look at it.
' This lecture was given on May 24th, 1963 - the anniversary of Wesley's experience.
Why does he say that it is their own righteousness? Well, the first answer is that it was not the righteousness that God demands. Here they were, working very hard at it, but it did not happen to be what God asked of them. And this, of course, is the main problem that confronts all of us who have to preach the evangelical gospel. The main heresy is still justification by works. 'What I say,' says the average person, 'is that if you are living a good life, if you are doing good, if you are attending a place of worship, that is what God wants of you.' But it happens not to be the truth! It is not what God asks. But people think it is. If only you do these things, they say, you are a Christian.
To this there is only one reply - Who told you so? On what authority are you making that statement? It is not what God demands. We saw in the last chapter that what God demands of us is not a bit of morality and decency and goodness. No, what God demands is this: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself' [Mark 12:30-31]. That is God's demand. Not what you and I think, not what the world thinks, not what the church so often thinks. That is man's idea, not God's.
The second way of showing that it is nothing but their own righteousness is to demonstrate that it is based, of course, on a completely false view of human sin. You see, it rests on the supposition that we are capable in ourselves of pleasing God; that by putting our backs into it, by 'going about', we can produce a righteousness that will satisfy God. Is that not what you find most people believe today? They say, 'You do this, that, and the other and you are all right with God.' In other words, you can do it, you are capable of doing it.
But then you say, 'What about Jesus Christ?'
'Ah, well,' they reply, 'He came to give us an example, that is how He helps us. An example is always helpful.' So what you must do is 'imitate Christ'; live like Him; make sacrifices as He did. But you are doing it! Of course you are capable of doing it! They do not like the doctrine of sin, and if you mention original sin they will hold up their hands in horror- 'Fancy believing in that!' Human nature is not fallen, it is essentially good. Men and women are not sinful, they do not need to be born again. They just need to put their backs into it and that is all - they can do it.
So this whole notion of justification by works, or, to put it in other language, the view that men and women can make themselves righteous in the sight of God, is a complete denial of the great biblical doctrine of the fall, and of our total inability to justify ourselves before God. It denies that completely. It acts on the assumption that people can make themselves Christians and that they really can satisfy the demands of God.
The third objection is that, of course, it inevitably leads us to something which is, of all things, most hateful in the sight of God and that is self-righteousness. Nothing is so condemned in the New Testament. That is why our Lord spoke that parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. There He gives you a picture of this proud self-satisfied man who does not ask for anything - he has no need to. He simply thanks God that he is what he is, and that he is so much better than the tax-collector. That is complete self-satisfaction and self-righteousness and our Lord condemns it in the plainest manner possible.
But then, of course, He condemns it still more explicitly, not by a parable but in his denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5-7: 'All their works they do for to be seen of men.' The Pharisees were the leaders, the religious teachers. They fasted twice a week, and gave a tenth of their goods to the poor. They were not merely talkers, they really put it into practice. But this is what He says: 'All their works they do for to be seen of men'. It is the most severe denunciation of any type of person that you will find anywhere in the whole of the Bible. Our Lord denounces them for this self-righteousness, which is the most hateful thing of all in the sight of God
And then, in the fourth place, we see the utter uselessness of this righteousness they produce, in that it ignores completely what God has said about it, and what our Lord, especially, has said about it. Now Paul himself has already said a great deal about this in the third chapter of Romans. The thing is so plain, it is astounding that anybody can miss it. In Romans 3: 19-20, Paul says, 'Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.' Then in verse 23: 'All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.'
Now that is the teaching of the Scriptures, that is what the law says so clearly. As Paul puts it again in Philippians 3:7-8, 'What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.'
So there it is in the words of the Apostle, but our Lord had taught the same thing: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' [Matt. 5:3]. But, you see, people who believe that they can put themselves right in the sight of God by their works are not poor in spirit. They are proud of themselves, as the Apostle was before his conversion, as our Lord depicted the Pharisees. 'What you need,' they say, 'is not poverty of spirit but self-confidence, a belief in yourself, a belief that you can do it. Set out to imitate Christ, you have it in you.' this is the opposite of being 'poor in spirit'.
You find the same thing again, in another form, in Matthew 9, when our Lord says quite plainly, 'I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance' [v. 13]. 'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick' [v. 12]. The reason why the Pharisees did not believe in Him was that they thought they were whole and did not need a physician! That is why He infuriated them - He made them see that they did. And they hated that. They felt they did not need rebirth; they did not need Him to die because they were already satisfying the demands of God.
And then, of course, our Lord put it like this in a terrible phrase in Luke 16:15: 'Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.' There you are, look at this great mound of righteousness that the Pharisees had built up: 'That is what I have done. Look at my deeds, look at my good life, look what I have sacrificed, look what I am giving away of righteousness.'
And our Lord's comment upon it is that it is nothing but 'abomination in the sight of God'. 'All our righteousnesses,' says Isaiah, 'are as filthy rags' [Isaiah. 64:6]. The Old Testament had already said it - our Lord repeats it. It is useless; it is valueless. Our best deeds are impure, polluted, unworthy. Any man who talks about his goodness and his righteousness has completely misunderstood the whole of the biblical teaching. His words are abomination in the sight of God, who does not see as man sees nor judge as man judges.
So then the end of all that is that these tragic Jews were ignorant of the fact that having gone about and expended so much energy and labor, they had succeeded only in pleasing themselves; they had not pleased God at all. They had established their own righteousness and nothing more. They were like a man entering a competition. He has produced his work and he is tremendously pleased with it. Then the day comes for the competition to be judged and the man goes forward with great confidence, only to find that his composition has been excluded. It does not have a single mark. Why ? Well, the foolish man had not read the syllabus carefully. He had certainly given a lot of time to this thing, he had shown considerable cleverness and ingenuity, but his entry was not what the adjudicators had asked for It is disqualified. He has pleased nobody but himself.
In the words of our Lord Himself, 'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity' [Matt. 7:21-23]. He does not dispute the facts that these people put forward - they have done all these things. All He says is, 'I am not interested, I never was.' He will have nothing to do with them. There they are, very pleased with themselves, and expecting the chief place but are excluded. 'Going about to establish their own righteousness'- that is all it is.
And that is the whole tragedy in the world today. That is precisely what is being believed, alas, in the church as well as outside it: that Christianity is an encouragement to people to produce their own righteousness. And at the end it will all be utterly useless, our Lord will disown it. Though we say, 'Lord, Lord,' it is of no value. It is not the righteousness that He demands; it is not the righteousness that can satisfy Him; it is useless.
So that brings me to the third and last respect in which they were ignorant, and it is this: they were ignorant of God's way of righteousness and of salvation. 'They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.' Now this is the final tragedy, you see. It is the result of the two previous forms of ignorance. These things, of course, interact. If they had known what God really demands they would never have been foolish enough to go about to try to establish their own righteousness. They would have realised from the beginning that it could not be done. And then, because they thought they were satisfying God, they did not listen to the demands of God's righteousness. They were prejudiced against it and rejected it, even as the Pharisees rejected our Lord, His teaching and all that He had to offer.
And it is still the same, as it has been throughout the running centuries. The last people to believe the gospel, and to be saved, are always those who think that they can save themselves. Our Lord looked at the Pharisees, who were good, moral, godly, religious people, and said this terrible thing, 'The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you' [Matt. 21:31]. It has always been true. There is no greater sin than the sin of the Pharisee, the sin of self-righteousness. It is, of everything, the thing that most blinds a man to the glory of the gospel. It sounds as if the gospel puts a premium on sin, but it does not. What the gospel does is to show the horrible, terrible danger of self-reliance, self-justification, self-righteousness. 'The publicans and the harlots' - the complete outsiders, the most hopeless in society- actually did go into the kingdom before the others. Why? Because they were more ready to admit their need; they were more ready to acknowledge their own utter helplessness and hopelessness.
Now the Apostle says that this ignorance of God's righteousness was utterly inexcusable because it is taught in the Bible from beginning to end. Look how Paul puts it in Romans 3:21: 'But now,' he says, 'the righteousness of God without the law'- apart from the law -'is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.' That, he says, is what makes the Jew so utterly inexcusable. The Jew boasts about his knowledge of the Old Testament, and yet his very Old Testament is the thing that tells him about this way of God's righteousness. The Jew had not understood that. He had completely misunderstood the whole of the Old Testament; he had misunderstood the meaning of the law. We have looked at that. The Jew thought that when God gave the law He said, 'Now keep this law and you will be right in my sight.' Whereas God had given them the law to show them that they could not do that!
It was exactly the same with the prophets. The prophets pointed to the coming of a Deliverer because they could not deliver themselves. Indeed, that is even found in the law - the lamb offered, the burnt offerings and sacrifices. What are they for? They are my schoolmaster to bring me to Christ; they point to the great antitype that is coming. So the law and the prophets witness to salvation in Christ. The Jews were without any excuse at all.
God's method of salvation is always of grace. In chapter 9 the Apostle has proved that to the hilt by his many quotations from the Old Testament. 'For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth' [v. 11]. It had always been so in the Old Testament, of which the Jews were so proud, and yet they had not seen it. They were entirely without any excuse. The Old Testament condemns them; the coming of Christ, His teaching, His death upon the cross and His resurrection condemns them still more. Then on top of it all there was the preaching of the Apostle. And yet in spite of everything, the Jews persisted in their rejection of the gospel and its way of salvation: there was no excuse for them.
And there is, likewise, no excuse for anybody in any country whatsoever who has ever read the Bible. The Old Testament alone is enough to condemn those who think they can make themselves Christians or who think they can satisfy God. The Old Testament tells them that it is wrong, that it is impossible. The New Testament - why, it tells them nothing else! The gospel - the good news - in itself tells them that it is useless to attempt anything else. They talk about being Christians, and yet the whole time they mean by that, living a good life in order to be right with God. It is almost incredible! There is only one explanation - it is the devil! 'If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world bath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them' [2 Cor. 4 :3-4].
But not only is it inexcusable, it is utterly ridiculous. Let us work it out. What were these Jews ignorant of? And all these modern people who still believe that they make themselves right with God and make themselves Christians, what are they ignorant of ? Well, the first thing is that they are ignorant of the fact that God Himself has provided the very righteousness that He demands. Is that not the whole message of salvation? 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.' Why? Well -'For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith' [Rom. 1:16-17].
That is why Paul is so proud of the gospel. This is the good news that God Himself has provided for us the very righteousness that we need. What good news it is! It is especially good for those who have been trying to work up a righteousness that is adequate. God provided a sacrifice for Abraham instead of Isaac, and there we see the gospel. Abraham did not need to offer Isaac. You do not need to offer your Isaac. God offers His own Son! God provides the sacrifice; God provides the way of salvation.
Secondly, the Jews were ignorant of the fact that God offers us this righteousness as a free gift, and we shall go on to consider how He has done this. But here I am simply emphasizing that there is a righteousness from God -'They being ignorant' of the righteousness that God has made, that He has provided, that He is offering as a free gift.
And, thirdly, they were ignorant of the fact that you do not need to 'go about' in order to get righteousness; you just submit to it. Going about to establish your own righteousness is condemned completely and utterly by the gospel. Paul says: 'But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ . . . For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast' [Ephesians. 2:4-9].
'Not of works'! Do not trouble any further. Do not 'compass sea and land', do not give up this and that. It is of no use to you. Stop! 'By grace are ye saved!' No 'going about' here! But what then? Well, as the Apostle puts it here: 'They going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves' - the opposite of 'going about' is 'submission'-'to the righteousness of God.' This is a military term. A man who joins the army has to submit himself to the rules and regulations. It does not matter how much of an individualist he is, if he goes on speaking his own ideas he will soon be punished. He must obey orders. So he submits to the rules and regulations, to the discipline. He is no longer his own master; he has handed himself over.
And that is precisely how we are saved. We submit ourselves 'unto the righteousness of God'. The Jews would not do that because they thought they had got their own. But you cannot be saved, says Paul, until you submit yourself unto the righteousness which is provided by God. It means to give in, to surrender. It means that you stop saying, 'I am going to do this and that, then I shall be a Christian, then I will satisfy God.'
No, you do nothing. You admit that you are in a state of utter condemnation; you admit that all your 'righteousnesses are as filthy rags' [Isaiah. 64 :6]. You stop arguing and trying to justify yourself - 'But I don't see . . .' You stop all that. You say, 'It is absolutely right. I thought I was good, but I find I am not.' You stand before God and His holiness, and you admit your vileness.
Just and holy is Thy name: I am all unrighteousness.
Vile, and full of sin I am.
Have you said it? Have you submitted to that? That is the verdict of the gospel and of the Bible upon you.
'What!' you say. 'But I have always lived a good life.' But if you say that, you have not submitted, you are still standing up, and defending yourself. Until you have seen your vileness and have admitted it, you have not submitted. You must admit the condemnation; you must go further and confess that you are completely incapable, completely helpless. Oh, you must learn to say with Augustus Toplady,
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law's demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
You must admit that. You must believe it and feel it and know that it is true. And then you look up and say,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
You accept God's way. This is His way in Christ:
Foul, I to the Fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die!
That is submission! No defenses, no arguments, no attempts at self-justification. You see that God's way is this that He has provided. You see that there is no other, and you gladly and willingly yield yourself to it and thank God for it. But here is the test: you do it at once! If you see that it is altogether of God and nothing in you, then what is the point of delaying? What is the point of doing anything? Nothing that you can do is of any value, so you believe it now and you say,
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come!
The moment men and women see this, they do it at once; and if this element of immediacy is not there, there is some misunderstanding somewhere. It is a righteousness provided by God. It is a free gift, and all I do is to hold out my hands to receive it; nothing else. Just as I am, without a moment's delay.
My dear friend, do you know that your sins are forgiven? Do you know that you are a child of God? Trust utterly, only, entirely to Him; submit yourself just as you are to God's way of righteousness and of salvation, and do not rest satisfied until you have the witness in yourself. Have you got it? Are you rejoicing in it? This is true Christianity.