Pray for the Self-Righteous

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, August 19, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

Have you ever wished so badly for somebody to “see the light” that it just wrecks your heart when they can’t get it no matter how obvious things should be to them? I’m sure most of you would answer “yes” to that question. You may be thinking about your child, your parent, your spouse, or someone else close to you. You want so badly for them to see and know the truth, not because you want to be seen as “right,” but because you know the freedom, peace, and joy that they don’t know because they are not willing to accept the truth. So, you have to sit back and watch them suffer the consequences, knowing the answer is right in front of them if they’d only reach out and take it. You’d prefer just to force them to get it, but you know it doesn’t work that way. They have to throw away whatever is hindering them from the truth and surrender to the ways of the Lord.

That ought to give you a very small glimpse of the pain that God feels when we can’t get out of our own way or accept that the way we see things is wrong and destructive. He knows what we need and sees us destroy ourselves time and time again. He loves us even more than we love ourselves, but out of that love he gives us the freedom to reject him even when he knows it will only hurt us more. Jesus encompassed that love when he was tortured and hung on the cross, yet still said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr in the Bible, similarly prayed, “Lord do not hold this sin against them” as he was being stoned by his opponents (Acts 7:60). They didn’t hate their opponents because they harmed them, but instead were grieved at the potential consequences for their choices and cried out to God to spare them.

The Apostle Paul witnessed the murder of Stephen by the Jewish mob when he was still known as Saul, a persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:1). Whether that incident had a direct influence on Paul coming to faith in Jesus is not completely known, but years later Paul would certainly reflect a similar heart for the very Jews who were persecuting him. We see his love for them in Romans 10:1-4. First, he says that his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (v. 1). Paul cares deeply for his people, echoing what he already said in Romans 9:3 about wishing he could be cut off from Christ for their sake. But he doesn’t just stop at saying he cares for them. He also PRAYS to God for them. Go back to the person you were thinking about at the beginning of this post. Your care for them may be obvious, but have you sought God on their behalf? Paul’s prayer to God for his people is current. If you prayed for your person at one time, have you given up? Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44). So why do we stop praying and assume it’s up to us? Paul was willing to do this even for the very people who had persecuted him so much!

The apostle then gets into the problem that his native people are having. He applauds their zeal and can testify about it to his audience (mostly Gentile believers), but he explains that their zeal is based on self-righteousness and not on the knowledge of Christ. He has already explained in this letter that no one can be saved by their own works of righteousness (Romans 3:20), but that didn’t stop the Israelites from trying. Paul continues that their desire for their own righteousness that they could earn through obedience to the law is actually what held them back (10:3). In other words, they were so zealous to prove that they could “do right” that they were defeating themselves by rejecting true righteousness found only through Christ.

The Jews may have had a knowledge problem, but it wasn’t their biggest issue. Paul tells us that they “did not SUBMIT to God’s righteousness” (v. 3, caps mine). Knowledge is important, and the Jews definitely needed to know God’s righteousness rather than their own. But even once the righteousness of God through Jesus was made known to them by Paul and others, they were unwilling to surrender their own ideas. We may wonder why they would reject righteousness that came so freely and easily. I believe the hint is in the last verse of this week’s section: “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4). That word “everyone” is what the Jews would’ve hated the most. Sadly, their arrogance led them to believe that they were better than the Gentiles. They had no problem with the idea of Gentiles being saved, but the thought that they would be saved by the same standard as the Jews is what led them to stumble over the truth.

Is this the way you view anyone in your life? Think about it, because we may not even realize some of the demeaning views we hold towards others until we have failed to submit to the righteousness of God. We may have a sort of “Christian arrogance” that makes us feel superior to others, even though sin has made us equal to even those that appear to be “worse.” As you deal with someone in your life who is not submitting to the truth, remember that you had to come to that point yourself. Resist the temptation to label them as lost causes just because of their refusal to surrender. Continue to speak the truth in love and continue to pray for them. They probably desire righteousness just as you do, but they have to come to the point of accepting that they can’t achieve it on their own. God is patient with them, just as he was with you. Believers must never lose sight of this. Obey the Lord by speaking the truth in love, and trust him in prayer that he will draw those who are lost to himself.

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