Would you say that you are a righteous person? Would your family and friends agree with your assessment? Do you think you are righteous enough to enter Heaven?
Scripture makes it perfectly clear that there is only one way to become righteous in God's sight. The Apostle Paul described it this way:
"Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Romans 10:1-4).
Paul loved the Jewish people and wanted them to be saved. Sadly, many rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They had religious zeal, but zeal and sincerity cannot atone for sin. "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). Jews and Gentiles alike need the righteousness God has made available through the sacrificial death of the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
You could perform 100 religious acts and 100 good works every week, but it still would not cleanse you from even one of your sins. The blood of Jesus is the only thing powerful enough to wash away sins (1 John 1:7). Believers "have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). "In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
In the book of Revelation, John describes his God-given vision of Heaven: "Then one of the elders asked me, 'These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?' I answered, 'Sir, you know.' And he said, 'These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'" (Rev. 7:13,14).
So, are you righteous enough to enter Heaven? Unless the blood of Jesus washes your robe and makes it white, you remain spiritually naked before God due to your sin. Jesus told some church attenders in Laodicea, "You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17). The only answer for spiritual nakedness is the white robe of Christ's righteousness.
Man naturally assumes that God will accept him as long as he does some good things. And so, he engages in various deeds and religious acts trying to make up for his sin before a holy God. Adam and Eve were aware of the need to cover the sin they committed in the Garden of Eden. "So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Genesis 3:7). This is essentially what man has done for thousands of years. He sews together the "fig leaves" of his pious efforts as he tries to cover his sin and become acceptable to God.
Do these religious fig leaves please the Lord? No. Do they hide man's sin from a holy God? Not at all. The prophet Isaiah wrote, "How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). Man's attempt to earn eternal life in Heaven by his good works is called "works righteousness." Our Creator rejects this manmade invention because it is putrid, contaminated and utterly filthy in God's sight. After all, "If righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).
Isaiah asked a critical question: How then can we be saved? There is only one way. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). God's righteous covering for sin was initially revealed in the very first book of the Bible: "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
God credits righteousness and forgiveness to your account when you believe the good news that Jesus died for your sins on the cross. The Messiah suffered the horrible agony of crucifixion in order to redeem you and provide you with eternal life in Heaven (John 3:16).
When Paul wrote that the Israelites "did not submit to God's righteousness" (Romans 10:3), what did he mean? Simply this: They were clinging to their works righteousness rather than God's righteousness, which is found only in Christ. They failed to submit to the fact that "in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Romans 1:17).
The Holy Spirit used that passage in Romans to open Martin Luther's eyes to the Gospel. Up until that point, Luther was immersed in works righteousness. He was depending upon the Law and his religious activities as he worked tirelessly to become righteous in God's sight. As he later commented, "If anyone could have earned Heaven by the life of a monk, it was I." Luther was miserable because he knew only the Law, but not the Gospel. He understood he deserved God's wrath and punishment for his sin, even as he desperately labored in vain to earn God's favor.
And then miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit, Luther came to understand and believe the good news of the Gospel. Luther explained the seismic shift in his thinking: "At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered Paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open."
The gates of Heaven are open as a result of the Redeemer's sacrificial death on the cross. He rose from the dead on the third day to guarantee eternal life in Heaven to everyone who receives Him as their Savior (John 1:12). This free gift is given to those who submit to God's righteousness.
Those who refuse to believe God and submit to God's righteousness find out the hard way that it truly is "impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). Jesus emphasized time and time again that the only two destinations in eternity are Heaven and Hell (Matthew 7:13,14). Jesus said, "This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:49,50).
Will you submit your soul and your religious agenda to God's plan of salvation, or are you still living under the delusion that your works can somehow make up for your sins and get you into Heaven? Millions of people over the centuries have been delivered from that demonic deception by submitting to God's righteousness. If you have not yet trusted Christ alone for salvation, will you turn to the Lord today as you repent of your sins and believe the good news of the Gospel?
Tomorrow may be too late.
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.