“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 9:30-33, NASB)
Being good enough does not get you to heaven. Paul illustrates this point by quoting the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed.” He was quoting the words of Prophet Isaiah when he rebuked the proud people of Ephraim who believed that they were going to heaven because they were pursuing righteousness according to the Law. They believed they had made a deal with death and Sheol (grave) to be exempt from judgment since they were a very religious people. However, God rejected their self-righteous religion by saying, “Your covenant with death shall be canceled, and your pact with Sheol shall not stand” (Is.28:18). Paul explains that the reason why their religion failed is that although they were pursuing a law of righteousness, “they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” On the other hand, the Gentile believers were justified in the eyes of God, not because they trusted in the Law, but they “believed in him” who saves. In other words, the Jews trusted in their religion to save them, but the Gentiles trusted in their relationship with Christ to save them. There are a night and day difference between the two. It is as if God said, “I will give you the perfect righteousness of My Son as a free gift if you will throw away your own righteousness.” It is easier for someone who is a great sinner to accept this offer than those who are less of a sinner. It is because those who are weighed down with many sins know that they cannot save themselves and are more than willing to make the trade. On the other hand, those who consider themselves pretty good have a hard time trading their own righteousness for the righteousness of Christ. They feel that if they are good enough, God will accept them into His kingdom. They do not realize that “good enough” is not enough to enter heaven. God will only allow perfect righteousness like that of Christ to enter. Good enough people tend to look down upon those who accept the righteousness of Christ because they feel that their passage to heaven is too cheap. Good people have a hard time letting go of their righteous deeds because it makes them look somewhat good. But no matter how good they are, they are still “like a filthy garment” to God (Is.64:6). The “stone” that God has placed in Zion is obviously talking of Jesus and his sinless life, which he freely offers as a gift to anyone who wants it. So, either you trade your righteousness for Christ’s righteousness, or you can keep your righteousness and continue hoping that it will be good enough. It’s one or the other. You cannot have it both ways. This is why both Isaiah and Paul say that God’s “stone” (Christ’s righteousness) is both a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense—a stumbling-stone to the self-righteous people, but a stepping-stone to the faith-based people who seek to build their lives upon the righteousness of Christ. Is Jesus a stumbling-stone or a stepping-stone to you?