There are two fundamental problems with the religious outlook of most people in the world, and Romans 10:3 reveals both of them: “For not knowing about the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
— The first problem most people have is that they have no concept of just how holy God is: “not knowing about the righteousness of God.” He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Habakkuk 1:13 says “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” God is an absolutely holy God. He cannot just lightly pass over our sins, as He is a holy and righteous Judge. He is not like some smiling grandfather up in the sky who lets his spoiled grandkids get away with anything they want to do. He is the perfect God before whom the angels of heaven never cease to say “holy, holy, holy …” (Revelation 4:8). His standards of righteousness are not like ours. Jesus gives us an idea of what His righteousness is when He proclaims in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” This is an impossibly high standard for us, as we are each flawed and sinful. It should drive each of us to mourn and despair and to seek God’s mercy. But most do not, because they are “not knowing about the righteousness of God.”
— The second pervasive problem in popular religion is that, not knowing about the righteousness of God, people attempt to be good enough to earn God’s favor. As the text says, they then are “seeking to establish their own (righteousness).” Because they are ignorant of just how holy God is, they go about trying to deserve heaven by their deeds. This is the basis of most religious works that go on in our world. Religious devotees attempt to placate God by giving money, multiplying prayers, doing good deeds for the less fortunate, etc., all in an effort to make themselves acceptable in God’s eyes. They are “seeking to establish their own righteousness”.
But the Bible makes it clear that this cannot be done. Isaiah says “all our righteousness is filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) compared to God’s holy and perfect standard.
So what is the solution? It is beyond us. But God Himself manifested the only possible solution, by sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. Romans 3:21-22 may explain it better than anywhere else:
“But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe …”.
This passage shares the Divine arrangement, by which God will GIVE us the righteousness that we do not inherently possess, and can never attain on our own, if we will put our faith in Jesus Christ. This is “even the righteousness of God”, not our flawed substitutes. And it is not “earned” by us in any way, but freely GIVEN to us, when we put our faith in Jesus as Lord & Savior. No more inadequate righteousness. No more futile attempts to somehow be “good enough.” Given to us freely.
No wonder this message is called “the good news”!