Preached in 1963-1964 and very true today...

© Romans
Exposition of Chapter 10: Saving Faith
Chapter Four
By Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth

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.

You say,

Vile, and full of sin I am.

Charles Wesley

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!

Charlotte Elliott

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.

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth