If anyone could get to heaven apart from Jesus Christ, it would have to be the Jews. God chose their forefathers, gave them land, revealed to them his ways, instituted sacrificial worship for them, gave them his Law, and promised to send them the Messiah. This is special treatment that no other people group ever received!
And many of the Israelites gave it their best. Religious groups were formed who were absolutely dedicated to strictly observing God's Law. Their entire culture revolved around the Temple and worship of God. Compare this devotion to the Gentile nations who worshiped false gods, idols, or themselves. Surely, if anyone at all was good enough - sincere enough - to be acceptable to God, it must be Israel!
But when Israel as a nation rejected Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah sent by God, all of their advantages did them no good. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, the Temple and the entire Old Testament!
Listen to how clearly Paul explains this:
Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them (Israel) is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:1-4, ESVPaul agreed that Israel was very religious; he called them zealous for God. But notice what Paul says about their zeal for God - he said that it was "not according to knowledge." In other words, they were very sincere (more sincere than anyone!), but they were sincerely wrong. How were they wrong? They were ignorant of God's righteousness. Not that they didn't know God himself is righteous - they firmly believed this! But they didn't know that it is only by having God's righteousness that we can be acceptable to God! God requires perfection, and none of us are perfect. But the good news is that God gives us what he requires from us! He gives us his own righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26).
Coming to God through Jesus and being declared righteous in his sight through faith is the only way to be accepted. So when Israel rejected Jesus, they cast aside their only way to be saved. Paul says they tried to establish their own righteousness through obedience to the Law. This is a slap in God's face, because it rejects his gift and arrogantly says that our goodness is enough. Paul says that in this way Israel did not submit to God's righteousness. They thought they were serving God, but they were rebelling against him!
Paul goes on to say that Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for those who believe in Jesus. This means that we must come to Jesus in faith, resting in him and trusting in him as our righteousness - throwing away forever our own attempts to earn heaven. We must give up trying to be good enough, and simply receive God's gift. Jesus is our righteousness. He lived in righteousness. He perfectly obeyed the Law. He died for our sins that we may be forgiven. He rose from the grave that we may live in him. He ascended to the Father's right hand, that we may gain access to the very presence of God through him. Hallelujah!
On what is your hope resting? In your own works? In another religion? You may be very zealous. You may be most sincere. But apart from resting only in Christ, the only alternative is being sincerely wrong. We cannot earn favor with God by rejecting the Way he made for us to be saved and trying to save ourselves! Look away from yourself, from your performance and your abilities. Look to the one who died and rose again to bring us to God! Come to God through Jesus and receive God's righteousness. Then, and only then, we can walk in holiness and good works - not to earn favor with God - but in thankfulness and gratitude. We can serve him because he has already made us righteous!