By Faith, Not By Works

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 9:30-33

Second grade wasn’t easy. I left the school where I had spent a wonderful year in first grade and had begun second grade to enter a whole new world. I had been in a city school; now I was out in the country. My school before had familiar faces; here there were only a few that I recognized. I was the new guy and I had to make my own way. It took effort, time and patience, but eventually I found a home among that group of students and together we endured the next several years through elementary school, junior high and high school.

I started playing on the school’s basketball team when I was in fifth grade. I never was much of an athlete, but I enjoyed the competition and besides, that’s what you did as a fifth grade boy: you played on the basketball team. I couldn’t dribble, shoot, or pass, so I practiced. I practiced with the team and I practiced at home. Eventually, my skills improved and my understanding of the game improved such that I was on some level at least a contributor to the team through junior high and into high school.

When I turned 14, my dad began teaching me more specifically how to drive the car. As I was learning, I began to drive our Dodge Caravan to and from school and church working up toward driving on family outings. I recall the first time I was able to drive an hour or so on a family trip: I had really moved up in the world! With time, effort, focus, and practice my skills improved and now I’ve been a proficient, independent driver for more than half my life.

While home from college on weekends and over extended breaks, my brother began to show me how to play the guitar – a chord here, and a chord there until one Christmas break, after a particularly challenging semester at school, Jeff showed me about 4 chords and loaned me his classical style guitar to practice after I returned to school. I made the commitment to myself that I would practice at least 10 minutes each day. I did so day after day, week after week and within two months I had purchased a guitar for myself. The 10 minutes a day added up, my drive to learn increased, and the pleasure I derived from learning drove me to work more and more, play more and more, and improve little by little. It took time, effort, practice, patience, pain (steel strings are hard on fleshy fingertips!), consistency, study, focus and determination. At this point I’ve been playing for 13 years and hardly remember my life before playing the guitar.

Changing schools, playing team sports, learning a musical instrument, learning to drive, taking challenging classes in school, completing a college degree, entering the professional world, becoming married, parenting: all require effort and effort coupled with study, time, patience, focus and determination you will see results. It stands to reason that such effort also works to achieve a state of righteousness, right?

We, as humans, seem to be built for accomplishment. God has put within us a drive to know, achieve, and complete. Adam was given work to do in the garden of Eden. I think that inner drive to work and to accomplish is placed within us by God.

But, when we are using the same logic and effort in order to attain righteousness, it is counter-productive. We are error-filled. Even the best of our works are still only filthy rags. We cannot achieve a right standing with God on our own. Though humanity may build the hanging gardens of Babylon, the Great Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza, the Colloseum in Rome or whatever you fancy, we do not have it within our ability to achieve righteousness on our own. This, too, is God-designed. We need Him.

Look back to Romans 9. The Jews pursued a law that would lead to righteousness but did not succeed in reaching it. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.

Are you relying on your own power? It will fail. Will you lay down your pride and trust in Jesus and Jesus alone? As Romans 9 says in verse 33: whoever will believe in him will not be put to shame.

Lay down your pride. Do not attempt to pursue a law as if it would lead to righteousness, but have faith in God. Pursue him – you will not be put to shame.

Check out the lyrics to this old hymn by John Yates:

Faith is the Victory

Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise.
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled.
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.

His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God.
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath,
Swept on o’er every field.
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.

On every hand the foe we find
Drawn up in dread array.
Let tents of ease be left behind,
And onward to the fray.
Salvation’s helmet on each head,
With truth all girt about,
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread,
And echo with our shout.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.

To him that overcomes the foe,
White raiment shall be giv’n.
Before the angels he shall know
His name confessed in Heav’n.
Then onward from the hill of light,
Our hearts with love aflame,
We’ll vanquish all the hosts of night,
In Jesus’ conqu’ring Name.

    “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:14 ESV
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