Sunday School Lessons

We Can’t Certify Ourselves

Over the past couple of years, when the world turned upside-down, lots of things changed.  One of those things was in-person visits.  As a result of travel constraints and limitations on face-to-face interactions, I suspect that a some government and industry inspections had to be cut back.  When this happened, those who were obligated to meet certain requirements may have instead been asked to “self-certify” that they were continuing to maintain those standards.

And, in fact, self-certification is fine for groups who already hold themselves to high standards, and for those whose standards are pretty easy to meet (or don’t directly impact others).  If the vendor at the craft store says that she made the wares herself, it’s not as huge deal (with regard to making the sale) whether she’s telling the truth or her sister in the back is doing all of the hard work and splitting the profit, so long as the price is fair.  However, when it comes to something like an airplane that I’m flying in, or food that my family eats, I’d like to have an outside, independent party confirm that it is safe.

After describing how some of Paul’s first-century contemporaries (people from his own nation) were chasing after righteousness in the wrong way – a way that wouldn’t succeed – he continues in Romans 10.  To further drive Paul’s earlier point home, we learn here about what it does not mean to receive righteousness by faith.

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Romans 10:5‭-‬7 NIV

A commentator (Cottrell) suggests that Paul is using variations of examples from Deuteronomy 30:11-14, to illustrate that we don’t have to go to great extremes to find God’s will.  Instead, God has made it readily available to us.

While I don’t disagree with that interpretation, I was also thinking about the following (whether or not these were Paul’s intentions here).

We didn’t get to tell God that He had to send Jesus to die for us.  Of course not.  As those who are created by God, we didn’t have any sort of authority to force Jesus to pay for our sins.  We are fallen sinners, and the same sins (those that prevented us from being good enough to claim righteousness before God on our own) further separated us from God and from any right to demand any special favors from Him.

Isn’t that what some people try to do, though?  When good works become our claim to justification before God, isn’t that kind of like telling God that He has to save us because we’re “pretty good” or “good enough”?  The reality is that it doesn’t work that way.  The book of Romans makes it clear that if we trust in our works for our righteousness, we need to be perfect…and we aren’t perfect.

I think of this as kind of like trying to tell God to “certify” something else as being worthy of our salvation.  When someone is religious, and defines their own rules through which they think God must take them back, if they trust in those man-made rules for their righteousness, they are implicitly telling God that He must accept their behavior as good enough for salvation.  It still doesn’t work that way, though: God determines who is righteous, not us.

In fact, we didn’t even get to “certify” Jesus’ salvation as being the one thing that could restore our relationship with God.  We don’t have the ability – or the authority – to do something like that.  Instead, God did that when He raised Jesus from the dead.  (I suppose that God is the only one in the universe who can self-certify His own promises.  See Hebrews 6:13-15.)

For the flip side of this, though, let’s see how God does expect us to receive salvation (or, you can read ahead to Romans 10:8-10).  In fact, for those who are tempted to “self-certify” that they are not worthy of God’s grace, there’s hope in God’s truth here.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 27, 2022


  • The Lookout, February 27, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.

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