The apostle Paul prayed to God for the salvation of those who “have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).
The apostle Paul was making his plea to his own people who in their religious zeal had rejected God’s provision of His own perfect righteousness for their own self-righteousness. They were intensely religious in their own eyes, but not with the true knowledge of God. They were running well but in the wrong direction. They labored to do good deeds, but for the wrong goal. They were religious, sincere, dedicated, but in their anxiety, they would miss their eternal reward.
“They have a zeal for God.” I meet people like that every day. In their religious zeal, they knock on your door, too. Like the apostle Paul, I am not against religious zeal or enthusiasm. However, they are zealous in their religious ceremonies, prayers, observances, holy days, fasts, visitation, teaching, etc., “but not in accordance with knowledge.” There is no use being zealous if you are zealous for the wrong reason. It will not help you if you are going in the wrong direction spiritually.
The apostle Paul was writing from his own personal experience. He had been very zealous for the Law, and in that enthusiasm, he killed men and women who had a different “knowledge” than his. He had a mistaken zeal for God. He believed sincerely, but he was sincerely wrong. He had been zealous, but his zeal was focused on the wrong object.
Then there came a day when he gained a true knowledge of the righteousness of God, and he counted all his self-righteousness as dung and received salvation by free grace alone.
Paul’s zeal became refocused “with knowledge” when he met the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. Knowledge of what?
Before the encounter with Christ, he did not know about God’s righteousness and sought to establish his own. In Philippians 3:4-6 he tells about that self-righteousness. He said, “I still count all things to be lost in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . that I may gain Christ” (v. 8). He gave up his zeal for self-righteousness by good works “that I may know Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (v. 9).
That is Paul’s “knowledge.” “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).
Spurgeon once said, “It is easier to get a sinner out of sin than a self-righteous man out of his self-righteousness.”
Have you tried to share the gospel of Jesus the Christ with someone who thinks he can earn or merit a right relationship with God by his religious zeal?
What is the problem? In their zeal they “know nothing about God’s righteousness, and seek to establish their own, they do not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (v. 3).
Any form of self-righteousness will never save you. In contrast, the Lord God has provided His own perfect righteousness by which He justifies the ungodly. Jesus the Christ was obedient to the Law at every point, even to the point of death. God in His righteousness imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus the Christ to the believing sinner. He imputes to the believer what Jesus did for you on the cross. God will accept the believing sinner because of what Jesus is and what He did. Jesus the Christ shall be your righteousness.
If you say, “No, I will not have His righteousness; I will have a righteousness of my own,” you are ignorant of God’s righteousness, and you shall perish.
God would never have sent His Son to the cross if you could be saved by our religious zeal. The death of Jesus on the cross was needless if you could be saved otherwise (Acts 4:12). If you are trying to have a righteousness of your own by being zealous for God, your church or denomination, baptism, church membership, emotional experiences, etc. then you are in competition with Jesus the Christ.
Your eternal salvation lies absolutely outside of yourself, in the person and atoning work of Jesus the Christ. Salvation is not in what you do in your religious zeal, but in what Christ Jesus has done on your behalf.
If you try to add anything to that finished work by your own thought, feeling, good works, baptism, church membership, etc., you have spoiled the work of Christ on your behalf. It shall never be Christ plus your _________, regardless of what you may write to fill in the blank. If you are to be saved, you must get out of the way and let God alone do it. The spiritual birth is all God’s doing, not yours or mine. Sinners saved by grace through faith will glorify Jesus the Christ alone. Salvation is all by free grace of God in Jesus the Christ. You can do nothing to earn salvation, or pay for salvation.
“Going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Christ. Sinners are saved by God’s grace. Salvation is through faith in Christ. It is based on grace and free grace alone through faith alone which is in Jesus the Christ alone! It is a gift from God freely received by the sinner.
The ONLY unforgivable sin is to refuse the free gift of free grace and salvation. Stop making up excuses. Receive The Christ into your life and receive salvation.