MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 6, 2000 FROM ROMANS 9:30-10:4
This morning we turn to Romans 9:30. Paul writes, “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." 33As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 10:1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
One of the first things we notice about this text, compared with what we have been studying in chapter nine, is a shift in perspective Paul makes here. In the first 29 verses of chapter nine, Paul teaches that the ultimate reason why only a few Jews accepted Christ and a multitude of Gentiles had done so was because God through predestination and election had sovereignly planned it that way. Paul says God He even predicted it would be this way through the Old Testament prophets. The emphasis has been on God’s sovereign control in salvation through election. As we come to verse 30 however, Paul no longer looks at the Jews and Gentiles in the church predominantly through the lens of God’s election. He shifts to focus on the decisions and actions of the Jews and Gentiles which highlight their responsibility in whether they are saved or lost.
In chapter nine, Paul stresses God’s sovereign control in orchestrating the situation. In chapter 10, Paul stresses the element of human responsibility--the specific human actions and attitudes of individuals which led to the present dynamic. There are some who read chapter ten and, perhaps because they don’t like the doctrine of election, think this new lens of human responsibility erases Paul’s stress on election in chapter nine. It’s as if, after being frustrated by the truth of election in chapter nine, they come to this section and say, “Ha, I knew this stuff is all wrong about the Jews not accepting Christ is because God elects certain people. It says right here in this chapter that the Jews themselves bear the responsibility for their actions—salvation is not about God, its about what people decide.”
This dismissing of the contents of chapter nine in light of the contents of chapter ten is wrong for at least two reasons. First, it has the effect of completely canceling out everything Paul has so dogmatically said in verses 6-29 about election. Chapter nine, rather than being held in balance with chapter ten, are simply eliminated on a practical level. It is treated as if it does not exist. The second error in this approach is; it is based on the idea that human responsibility in salvation and God’s sovereign control in salvation through election are mutually exclusive—they cannot exist side by side. That’s not true. Remember, for Paul, there is no contradiction between God’s sovereign control in election and human responsibility. On one hand, God DOES elect people to salvation and pass over others and on the other, He DOES hold people individually responsible for their unbelief.
Those two truths are NOT contradictory, but complimentary. And we see that right here in this section of Romans. Paul, in chapter nine can speak of God’s sovereign control over salvation and in chapter ten can speak of human responsibility in salvation. This does NOT mean that he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He holds both in balance, coexisting together. The fact that we don’t fully understand how that can be possible doesn’t mean it’s not true. It just means that God is bigger than we are and He DOES understand it and He calls us to accept it because it’s in His word.
Now, in verse 30-31 Paul poses a question and then answers it in the next several verses. He asks “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not?…” This is what the Jewish believers would have been asking in light of the fact that so few of them had believed while so many of the Gentiles were believing in Christ. Up to this point, the Gentiles as a group had not been the least bit concerned about being rightly related to the God of the Jews. That was not something they were pursuing. Yet, these people were “obtaining” this righteousness—this right standing with God. The Jews, who knew that being right with God was of eternal importance, and who were, in some sense trying to be righteous before God were, ironically, NOT attaining this righteousness. Why is that? Paul begins to answer that question in our text this morning.
Paul gives two reasons why the Jews were not attaining righteousness while the Gentiles were obtaining it. The first reason is: In wanting to establish their own righteousness and trying to attain it by works, the Jews refused to believe in Christ to be righteous. Its important to note that Paul is speaking here of saving righteousness here. In chapters 6-8, he has spoken of a righteousness of lifestyle, but here he is using the term to indicate that kind of righteousness necessary for a person to be saved. He is using it the same way he did in chapter 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written; “the righteous will live by faith.”
Paul gives the reason why the Jews did not attain this righteousness in verse 32-33. “…Because they pursued it [righteousness] not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone”. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” The Jews did not attain this righteousness because they wanted their own righteousness and thought they could attain it by obeying the law. They thought that would make them righteous before God. If they were just obedient enough, that would make them righteous before God and therefore acceptable to Him.
It’s so important to see that at the heart of this lethal error is human pride which is convinced there is something good in us that is able to keep the law or (by today’s standards) show forth our “righteousness” by being a good or nice person. At the root of it, there is this pride which tempts us to boast of our own righteousness and to pursue it by attempting to reach some level of goodness or niceness or obedience. Let’s be honest, it strokes our pride to be thought of as a nice or good or holy person. It feels good to our pride (and to the pride of these Jews) to think that we can obey God well enough to get Him to like us and accept us. This independent pride is the black hole in our hearts that sucks in every other sin.
Don’t miss the underlying principle here. Pride in us (and the Jews) always makes us vulnerable to develop a wrong belief system. You show me someone who has gone off the deep end spiritually and I will, 100% of the time, show you a person who at some point was seduced by their pride. Paul implies a cause and effect relationship between the Jews who, on the one hand tried to establish their own righteousness through the law and on the other, rejected of Christ. The reason they rejected Christ and the righteousness that He offered to them through faith was because they pridefully thought they could be righteous in themselves by obeying the law. Why would the Jews be hungry for the righteousness of God Christ offered to them through the gospel when they thought there was a righteousness within themselves as they obeyed the law? There was no sense of felt need to match their real and deep spiritual need. So, when Christ came, Paul, quoting Isaiah says in verses 32-33, they “stumbled over the Rock.”
The picture is of a person who is focussed so tightly on the righteousness they THINK can be found in themselves that when Christ comes with His TRUE righteousness from God, they see no need of Him and therefore aren’t looking for him. And they “stumbled” over him the same way we would stumble over a big rock in the road if, rather than pay attention to what lay on the ground in front of us, we instead look at ourselves in a mirror as we walk. The Jews saw no need for faith in Christ to make them righteous because they were wrongly convinced that they could establish a righteousness for themselves by obeying the law. (More here?)
Notice here in the middle of this passage on human responsibility, we see in verse 33 another clear reference to God’s control in salvation. It was GOD who laid the stone in Zion and caused the Jews to stumble. On the one hand God causes the stumbling, but on the other, Paul holds the Jews responsible for stumbling through their unbelief. There are those two truths held side by side, complimenting one another. Contrast the Gentiles with the Jews. The Gentiles, unlike the Jews, were obviously NOT looking to establish a righteousness within themselves by following the Jewish law. They care a thing about that. It wasn’t even on their list to try to be acceptable to God. So, when they were convicted by the Spirit about their desperate need to be righteous before God, because they HADN’T been trying to be righteous through the law, they were free and able to look to Christ and HIS righteousness and to place their faith in Him rather than themselves.
How does this apply to us? In several ways, but think about this one. This contrast between the Jews and Gentiles tells us something essential and crucial about how faith operates in a person. Faith is only present in a person who, by the grace of God is aware of the fact that they are absolutely unable to meet a need they have on their own. The breeding ground or context for faith is ALWAYS the awareness that something we are supposed to do or have, we can in no way produce on our own. For instance, if I don’t have and cannot in any way obtain $1000 to pay for a car repair, then I either give up and take the bus or I place faith in God or someone else to give me the money. If I have the money in my bank account, on a human level I have no need of faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith is being sure of what we HOPE for (we don’t have this thing—we are hoping for it) and certain of what we do NOT see.” Again, we see the prerequisite to having faith is the knowledge that we do NOT have and cannot get whatever it is we need. Faith can grow ONLY in that environment of need. The Jews, in arrogantly seeking to be righteous themselves through the law were acting on the wrong belief that they didn’t need any outside righteousness. They themselves could achieve it through their own efforts or works. Therefore, there was no need to look in faith for a righteousness in Christ.
Now, based on what this text implies about the nature of faith, let’s take a very brief side trip away from the text. We know there must be a sense that we are lacking something before we will look outside ourselves and exercise faith. Because that’s true, if we want to have a strong faith in Christ to live out the Christian life, we must constantly be aware of the fact that we DO NOT HAVE anything in ourselves that is pleasing to God. We haven’t got one thing in ourselves that God needs or wants. When it comes to being godly people, we are a dry well apart from Christ. That attitude will give us the freedom we need to look to Christ for what we lack. But if we, in pride think we possess anything apart from Christ, we will not exercise faith. And the Bible says that “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” and “It is impossible to please God without faith.”
So, a sense of our own sinfulness and emptiness before God is necessary to show faith and faith is necessary to please God. That means that those Christians who please God the most regularly in their lives are those who most consistently, in the depths of their souls, are living with a deep, experiential awareness that they are empty and dirty and can do nothing apart from Christ. On the other hand, if you are not living experientially, moment by moment with this humility, this healthy, biblical sense of your own depravity and emptiness, your life will not be filled with faith and therefore will not be pleasing to God.
No ongoing, experiential sense of our depravity, no need for faith in God’s provision, no faith in God’s provision, no way of being pleasing to God. Anything we do without this sense of sincere dependence upon God is not just not good, it is sin according to the Bible. This faith-inducing humility is the virtue that provides the foundation for all other virtues because only humility frees us to be plugged into God’s provision and power.
The incredible irony based on this principle is that there are so many people who, when God allows something painful or very difficult in their lives think, “This must be a mistake. Why is this so hard---it shouldn’t be THIS hard.” We’ve already seen that the breeding ground for faith is a sense of need for something outside ourselves. Well, when pain and hard life situations come along—we are met with our sense of need aren’t we? And since faith is necessary to please God and trials provide a context for faith, then doesn’t it follow that the Christian life, by definition should be a difficult, even impossible life? Now, the truth is, we need God for all things, not just for those times we FEEL our need of Him, but you get the point.
The essence of sin and the driving force within our flesh is independence from God. Our flesh constantly pulls us to do things apart from dependence upon God. If we allow it to do that, then even the so-called “good” things we do for God are nothing less than sin. The first reason the Jews (and scores of other people since this letter was written) did not attain God’s righteousness is because in desiring to attain righteousness by their works, they refused to believe in Christ.
The second reason they failed in this regard is verses 1-4. Paul writes, Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know that righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The second reason for the Jews’ failure is: They were ignorant of the truth of God. The Jews were doctrinally impaired. Paul says they had a zeal for God and it was real. Their problem wasn’t in their passion, it was in their lack of knowledge. The Jews, with all their extensive theological writings, with brilliant scholars like Gamaliel were lacking one utterly crucial bit of understanding. They did not know that the righteousness that God alone accepts is not something you can earn by trying to keep the law, but is in fact a gift of His grace. The righteousness God accepts is something he GIVES to people. Paul says, the Jews didn’t know this. And because they didn’t know this, Paul says in 10:3, “…they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” That is, they didn’t think to receive by faith the gift of righteousness in Christ.
For those in the church today (and they are a large and growing number) who think doctrine is not important, listen up! The reason the Jews were not saved was, on a human level, due to doctrinal ignorance. They had zeal, but no knowledge. They had plenty of heat, but no light. The implications of this are staggering for a North American church rapidly sliding into a shallow, warm fuzzy, emotion-driven sentimentalism. More and more people are assuming that if, in their Sunday morning worship service they don’t have some sort of emotional high, they have been cheated and something is radically wrong. On the other hand, some people feel like an unreasonable demand has been placed on them if they are asked forced to think in church.
The Jews failed on a human level because they didn’t know something. And next week, we’ll see that they were ignorant of their very own Old Testament doctrine because Paul argues that the Old Testament teaches that righteousness comes by faith, not keeping the law. Here was a doctrine and they were ignorant of it. All this one point of ignorance cost them was their eternal damnation. Doctrine is boring to so many today. But doctrine shouldn’t be boring to us. Some presentations of doctrine may be boring, but doctrine alone should not be boring to us. Because doctrine, theology is simply a biblically based explanation of God and how he works. If God is boring to us then I don’t know how you can call yourself a Christian or at least a sincere Christian.
Every believer should be a theologian. Without knowledge of doctrine, we will be vulnerable to being “blown about by every [other] wind of doctrine.” Christ calls us to love God with all our MINDS. How can we say we love God with our minds if we are not constantly laboring and hungering to KNOW more about Him and how he works? Now, we also need the heart, not just the head involved in our walk with God. Christ calls us to love Him emotionally—emotion is vitally important in our relationship with God. We need to cultivate that personal relationship. If we are seeking to establish a personal relationship with someone, we will seek to KNOW certain things about the other person, but we also FEEL certain things about them. There needs to be some level of emotional involvement or passion.
We can become imbalanced and seek much knowledge but fail to relate to God on any other level. Paul says if we have knowledge without love we are no better than a clanging cymbal. But if all we have is emotion without knowledge, we are doomed to a mediocre Christian experience at best. The truth is, the knowledge of God and doctrinal truth should be the fuel which fires our passion for God. The more we discover about Him, the more fervently we should love Him. Our knowledge of God should be married to our passion for God. If we have passion that is not based in truth, what is it based on? If we have knowledge that doesn’t result in passion, what good is it? God doesn’t call us to be walking theology textbooks. The Puritans had a phrase—“truth on fire.” That’s a biblical balance. Do we love the truth and does the truth stoke the fire in our hearts? If that does not describe us, we need to do some serious re-evaluating.
Finally, by way of broad application, are you ignorant in the same way the Jews were ignorant? Are you acting like them, trying to establish a righteousness of your own? If you are, stop. It’s a futile mission because there is no righteousness in you or anyone else except Christ. God doesn’t call us to be good enough for Him. We are so tainted by sin we could never be good enough for God. But he does call us to see the blackness of our hearts and cry out to him in faith and repentance for a righteousness NOT from ourselves. He calls us to turn in faith to Him and receive from Him the righteousness of God. As we receive that, we will be acceptable in His sight—made acceptable by Christ’s righteousness in us. That is the beauty of the gospel.
If you are a Christian who is on that performance treadmill, forever trying to get God to love you by what you do for him, get off that thing and revel in the good news of the gospel. If you have by faith accepted Christ and His righteousness, bask in the glory of the truth that you, through Christ, ARE acceptable to God. From that position of faith and out of the new heart God has given to you, live for Christ in a sense of humble dependence upon God. May God give us grace to do that.
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