How to Submit to the Righteousness of God
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Let’s put today’s text under the banner of motherhood. Every text in the Bible is a Mother’s Day text if you believe that all Scripture is profitable for teaching and reproof and correction and training in righteousness, and if you believe that mothers need all that for the sake of their weighty calling. And if every text is relevant for motherhood, it is also relevant for fatherhood and singleness, and marriage without children, and widows and widowers. All Scripture is profitable for all people in all roles when the texts are rightly understood and applied.
Lois and Eunice
But there is a text that links this one with motherhood in a very helpful way. Let’s look at it together. The text is important to confirm what we are going to see in today’s text, and connect the Romans text to motherhood. In 2 Timothy 3:14 Paul says to Timothy,
"Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it . . ."
We know from 2 Timothy 1:5 who that is, namely, his mother and grandmother. Paul says,
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well."
His father seems to have been an unbelieving Greek (Acts 16:3). So he learned his Old Testament Scriptures from his devout Jewish mother and grandmother.
Through Faith in Christ Jesus
Now hear 2 Timothy 3:14-15 again with this in view:
"Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [your godly mother and grandmother] 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
What makes this passage so relevant for our text this morning is not just the connection with Timothy’s mother and grandmother, but those last few words in verse 15: "through faith in Christ Jesus."
Notice how Paul connects the Old Testament Scriptures taught to Timothy by his mother and grandmother with faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 15 again: "From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." The Old Testament Scriptures guide you wisely to salvation, if and only if they guide you to faith in Christ Jesus. Lois and Eunice had been so faithful and true in teaching Timothy the Old Testament Scriptures that when Christ was preached, Timothy believed on him. He did not stumble over the stumbling stone. He saw Christ as the goal of the law, and he believed, and was saved. The Old Testament had made him wise unto salvation "through faith in Christ Jesus."
How Are We Teaching the Bible?
Now this is exactly what did not happen in Romans 10:1-4. And, even though we can never blame mom and dad completely for the unbelief of their children (even God has disobedient children who act out of character, and struggle with unbelief!), nevertheless, we should ask, Were the Jewish mothers and grandmothers, and the fathers, teaching their children in Paul’s day with the same insight and faithfulness that Lois and Eunice had? That is, were they teaching that the Scriptures are meant to make us wise unto salvation through faith in the Messiah-Savior –Christ Jesus?
And to make it more pointed, mothers – and all those charged with training up the younger ones in the family and the church – are we teaching the Old Testament and the New Testament to make our children wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? The emphasis is on "faith in Jesus Christ"! Or are we turning the Scriptures into a collection of little morality plays? Do the stories of the Bible point again and again to the need for a Savior or do they point only to the need for you to get your moral act together? Are children getting the impression that Christianity is mainly a list of do’s and don’ts or mainly the story of how God justifies the ungodly through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are they getting the impression that the foundation of their acceptance with God is their good behavior or the perfect behavior and death and resurrection of Jesus received by faith alone? Are they learning to win God’s favor by a righteousness they perform, or by a righteousness that Christ performed for their sake?
Or to make the question more complete, and draw in the larger issue of how the obedience of believers – their sanctification – relates to their justification, we ask: Are the children learning from us that the practical, personal obedience God requires of believers is the way to become a justified person or the way a justified person becomes? When you tell a child to do something, and insist on his obedience – which you should – are you leading the child to think that his good behavior is the root that grows into justification, or a fruit that flows from justification by faith alone? Are we helping the children see saving faith both as the way we have Christ’s righteousness as the basis of our acceptance with God, and as the way we have Christ’s power to become like him in daily life? Are we keeping both those things together but in the right order: faith in Christ as the link first to his perfection and pardon, and second as to his purifying power – the one for justification (his perfection and pardon), and the other for sanctification (his purifying power)? The same faith linking us to Christ for both.
Lois and Eunice taught the scriptures to Timothy so faithfully that when Timothy heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, he saw that this is what the Scriptures were all about: "salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
Now in Romans 10:1-4 we will see the broken-hearted Paul describe what happens when the Scriptures are not understood in this way.
"Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."
Here is a sad thing. Paul’s Jewish kinsmen not saved. He is praying for their salvation. Timothy had learned from his mother and grandmother something that made him wise unto salvation, namely, that it would be through faith in Christ Jesus. But here we have Jewish people who are not "wise unto salvation." Why? Their zeal for God is not rooted in right knowing. What don’t they know?
Verses 3-4 give the answer.
"For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God [literally: the righteousness of God], and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes [or more literally: for the goal of the law is Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes.]"
What are they ignorant of as they fail to submit to God’s righteousness and seek to establish their own? They are ignorant that submitting to God’s righteousness means, first and foremost, receiving by faith alone the gift of "Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes."
But you can almost hear the zealous kinsmen of Paul cry out in defense: "Wait a minute! You do us entirely wrong. It is precisely our effort to establish righteousness in our lives that IS our submission to God’s righteousness. What else would submission to God’s righteousness look like, except the zeal to establish righteousness in our lives so that our lives come into conformity to God’s commandments? What would you want us to do, be indifferent to whether we are righteous or not?" Thus spake the Paul’s kinsmen, and the early Martin Luther, and millions of church-going people today.
But Paul says that when you live this way – when you labor to keep the commandments as the way to be justified before God – you are not submitting to God’s righteousness. Why? It feels very submissive. I am trying to obey your law! I am even looking to you for help in obeying your law! How much more submissive can you get? Why isn’t such obedience a sufficient submission to God’s righteousness to count for justification?
God’s Righteousness Now Manifest as a Gift through Faith in Christ Jesus.
I will read you the answer first from Romans 3:21-22 and then Philippians 3:8-9 and then Romans 10:4. It’s the same answer in all three texts: God’s righteousness is now manifest as a gift through faith in Christ Jesus, and the only way to submit to it is to receive it by faith.
Romans 3:21-22, "Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."
Philippians 3:8-9, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."
Romans 10:4, "For the goal of the law is Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes."
The reason it is not submission to God’s righteousness when we seek justification by trying to obey God, even with God’s help, is that it dishonors "Christ as our righteousness." It says to God, "My humble, Spirit-empowered behavior will be the ground of my righteous standing before you," while God is all the while saying,
"No it won’t. I have assigned that glorious role to the righteousness of my Son, Jesus Christ. When I accept you and vindicate you and declare you righteous in my sight, I will accept you and vindicate you and declare you righteous in my sight because on the ground of his righteousness alone. Perfect divine righteousness, performed by my Son, is the only righteousness that will justify in my court. You shall obey me through faith! But all your imperfect obedience will be the fruit of your justification, not the root. My Son alone will have that honor.
The submission to God’s righteousness that God requires of us is not simply that we submit to Christ’s enabling power as the key to our sanctification, but that first we submit to Christ’s perfection and pardon as the key to our justification. And if we try to merge them, we will cut Christ’s honor in half.
So, mothers – and all who care about the next generation of faith – what shall we do?
Four Implications of What We Have Seen
Get right with God through faith in Jesus Christ as your righteousness.
Settle it once for all. You will not ever be good enough to provide a righteousness of your own that could be the ground of your justification. Either Christ will be your righteousness, or you will perish. And when you have settled this with God, and trusted Christ for righteousness, then by that same faith savor him so supremely that you make progress in severing the roots of sin in your life. In other words, fight the fight of faith not in order to be justified, but because you are justified. Your children will see the difference.
Teach the children to look to Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and for the righteousness they need to stand before God.
Help them see that Christ is their only hope. Show them what it means to cleave to him and hope in him and cherish him as more precious than life.
Teach them that trusting Christ as the king of righteousness not only brings them a right standing before God, but also dethrones sin in their lives.
Help them see how two things happen when faith connects them to Jesus: one is that his righteousness counts for ours before God, so that we are fully accepted in Christ; and the other is that power begins to flow though this connection to overcome sin. So a progressive personal righteousness is the necessary fruit of a perfect imputed righteousness.
Of course, we won’t use that language (progressive, personal, imputed) with a seven-year-old. What will we say? We will say:
"Talitha, mommy and daddy have lived a long time and have learned from the Bible and from our lives that we and you will never be good enough to meet God’s perfect standards. We still make mistakes after all these years. We sin. That’s why the Bible says that God gave us his Son to die for our sins and to be our righteousness. His perfect death counts for our punishment, and his perfect obedience counts for righteousness, if we trust him. So always look to Jesus. Always trust Jesus. And remember, Talitha, since God didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him for us all, he will surely give us everything we need in this life and the next (Romans 8:32; Philippians 4:19). All the promises of God belong to us because of Jesus. So when you trust him, be sure that you trust him for everything he has done and everything he has promised and everything he has purchased. And that faith will help you not to sin, because when you trust Jesus to give you the best future, you won’t want to sin to make a better future. So always trust Jesus for everything he’s done and everything he promises. By faith he will be your perfect righteousness, so that you don’t have to fear, and by that same faith he will help you do what’s right."
Finally, pray for the children.
Pray for the little ones. Pray for the prodigals without ceasing. Let Romans 10:1 be your daily testimony: "Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved." Don’t grow weary. Don’t let go. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Tell it often, tell it well. Be patient and pray. Amen.
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