The Jews are considered to be one of the very religious people in the world. But does that mean they are saved? The Jews are known to be the chosen people of God and according to the Apostle Paul, they have an advantage because the oracles of God were given to them. (Romans 3:1-2).

If we conclude that their religion is the way to heaven, then why did Paul express his concern to them about their spiritual condition?

This is what Paul wrote in Romans 10:1-4, “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. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

Paul's desire and prayer for Israel is that they might be saved. So according to his statement that regardless of their religious fervor, they cannot be saved. Paul was a witness to their zealousness that they are trying their best to establish their own righteousness by obeying the law of Moses.

For even Paul testified that he was one of them and was also very zealous of his Jewish religion to the point that he persecuted the Church of God believing that it is fraud and his religion was right. You can read his story in Acts 9.

Later on, Paul wrote to the Philippian believers and told them about his personal testimony:

"Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But 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, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Philippians 3:4-9).

When he wrote to the Church in Rome, he emphasized that no one is righteous (Romans 3:10), so no one can establish his own righteousness in order to be accepted by God.

He wrote in Romans 4:1-5 how Abraham, the father of the Jews, was justified, “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

He added further what King David believed about God’s righteousness, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” (Romans 4:6-10).

What the Apostle Paul teaches is that we cannot gain righteousness by doing it ourselves, especially thinking that having religion and trying to obey the law might be the way to our acceptance to the throne of God.

Paul tells us that no one of us is righteous because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10, 3:23). Even he himself testified that his righteousness was like dung in the sight of God. He said that true righteousness that is acceptable to God is the righteousness of Christ and can only be ours if we believe in Christ by faith.

As what happened to Abraham and as David had said that it will be imputed to all who believe. To impute means to put into one's account. It means that all of us have zero righteousness in the sight of God, and God will put the righteousness of Christ in our hearts when we believe in Him as our Saviour and Lord.

Paul tells us that as he told the Roman believers in Romans 10:9-13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The Scripture is clear that to be righteous in the sight of God is to have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and to have it is to make a personal decision to accept Him as our Saviour and Lord. God will impute to us the righteousness of Christ when we believe. That is why no one can boast about his salvation because it is not attained by our works, but by what Christ has done for us. “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 2:8-9).

We might be religious but still lost in the presence of God. The death of Christ on the cross is the only way that our sins can be paid and make us righteous before God. There is no other way, as Christ claimed in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Friend, you might be religious, but still lost.*


Pastor Pedro Etabag is the regional director of Lifeword-Asia Pacific and senior pastor of Tangub Missionary Baptist Church in Bacolod City.