“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 9:30-33).
There are only three ways you can attempt to be righteous before God: by merit, by law, or by faith.
“By merit” ought to be eliminated immediately by any sane person, because “there is none righteous; no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
“By law” ought to be eliminated shortly thereafter because it is only possible if you never transgress the Law in any way. Otherwise, “cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things written in the book of the Law to do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10).
“By faith” is the only sane and do-able approach to righteousness. “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17) does not require the impossible—i.e., personal merit or perfect obedience. As given in the gospel, it requires you to be in Christ Jesus and walk according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1).
Walking by faith in God and being justified by faith are not some new-fangled ideas, foreign to human history. It is how Abel lived righteously before God (Genesis 4; Hebrews 11:4), and Enoch (Genesis 5; Hebrews 11:5), and Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others (Hebrews 11:7-38).
The Gentiles of Paul’s day got it; they pursued righteousness by obedient faith in the faith (Romans 9:30). The Jews of Paul’s day did not; they pursued righteousness by the Law and rejected the gospel (Romans 9:31-33).
What about you?