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Romans 9:30-33

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble

and a rock that makes them fall,

and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”


Faith versus works. That’s what it comes down to. We need to pause here once again and allow it to sink in. Faith saves; works don’t.

Israel’s pursuit was a good one. They wanted to attain righteousness. In other words, they wanted to be right with God, to live in his favour, to be alive in relationship with him. It was a good desire. Who could knock it?

Paul himself had pursued this passionately. He was devoted and determined, keeping his eye on the ball, living life with care and deliberation because at every step he was seeking God’s approval.

The goal was noble, but the starting point was all wrong. Paul, and Israel itself, put toes to the start-line assuming they had the wherewithal to run the race and succeed, in their own strength. They expected they could earn God’s favour on their own, if only they put muscle to it.

Of course, behind the scenes, we know from Romans 7 that Paul was disillusioned by his own inability to avoid sin. “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died”(Romans 7:9). Yet he struggled on, striving to pile up enough good works to tip the balance.

But it wasn’t possible.

And when the Saviour appeared, coming as the Lamb of God who takes away sin, doing so on a shame-filled Roman cross, the offense was too great. Those who relied on their own efforts, stumbled over the sacrifice of Christ. How could they not? The shame of the cross highlighted the depth of human need, spelling out in extreme cost the absolute ineffectiveness of any attempt to attain righteousness otherwise.

Gentiles, on the other hand, hadn’t been intent on pursuing righteousness at all. It simply wasn’t in their line of sights. But when the message of salvation broke through, those who embraced it, placing trust in Jesus alone, received a righteousness they’d never pursued, a “righteousness from God (that) comes through faith”(Romans 3:22). Rather than stumbling over Jesus, they gladly trusted.

Works don’t cut it. Faith simply receives.

It’s true at the starting-line. It’s true for the whole of life. Now, finding ourselves “in Christ,” we take joy in pursuing righteousness. But the pursuit is always simply a matter of faith. So, lean into Jesus afresh. Trust the presence of his Spirit to strengthen you in your inner being. When sin arises, turn back and confess it. Trust him again. He’s promised cleansing from all unrighteousness.

“The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”


Lord Jesus, I rejoice again in your salvation. My own efforts could never be enough. Faith is all you ask. So, I affirm it again. I entrust the whole of my life to you. Thank you that you have clothed me in your own righteousness. Praise your name.



When you consider, “Am I right with God?,” does anything come to mind besides Jesus himself. If so, surrender it to him. You can’t do it on your own. Only Jesus.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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