Have you pursued righteousness without success? Have you said, “That’s the last time I’ll commit this sin,” only to commit it the next day? Have you prayed, “Lord, whatever it takes, I’m going to stir up zeal in my heart,” only to cool off and fall into your old habits? When you didn’t succeed, did you try harder? And did you keep failing?

At some point in all this you may have wondered, “Why didn’t God help me? I have such a passion to be righteous, but I fail time after time.” So, where is God when it comes to our sanctification? Where is His help when it comes to leading a holy life?

“They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2, ESV). Paul was saying that Israel was wrong in their view of God’s righteousness. They thought they needed only to know what to do, but Paul says that attaining righteousness is about Who we know. Like Israel, by faith in Christ we have access to God’s all-prevailing righteousness. But we can reject that access as easily as they did—by relying on our performance instead of on faith in Jesus’ work for us.

God will not bless an effort to establish one’s own righteousness. He blesses only the work of His Son, Jesus. We are sanctified—our holy walk is sustained—only by faith in Christ and His shed blood on our behalf. In this way, Paul says, Israel refused to “submit to God’s righteousness.” How often do we tell ourselves, “I can live righteously,” but then we do not trust in Jesus’ provision for righteousness? Here are four indications that we are zealous for our own righteousness instead of God’s:
  • We get angry when we fail. We think, “I expect better of myself.” 
  • We get proud when we succeed. We tell ourselves, “I’m more spiritual than before.” 
  • We judge others’ failures. We think, “Thank God, I’m not like him.” 
  • We get jealous of others’ successes. We think, “Why doesn’t my pursuit of righteousness work like theirs?" 

When we fail, we ratchet up our efforts. The problem is, we didn’t establish our righteousness in the first place—God did. Being restored to right standing with Him does not happen because of anything we do. It happens by faith in Him. This calls for a repentant heart and brokenness—a humble acknowledgment that His power alone restores us to right standing.