“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them 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”.
Last week, we talked about justice, and Paul goes on here to look at righteousness. Justice and righteousness often go hand-in-hand. For example, Ecclesiastes says this, “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Interestingly, this particular passage notes that our actions are observed by others. Ultimately all our actions are watched by (as the writer of Ecclesiastes notes) “yet higher ones over them” ultimately this is God himself, who, as the Jeremiah 17:10 puts it,
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve”.
In the world around us, if you were to ask someone what they understood by the words righteousness or righteous, almost certainly, they would talk in terms of actions. But, IS righteousness measured by what we do? And what is it anyway?
We are revisiting something Paul has already written about and which we’ve already unpacked somewhat in Romans 3v1-21, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, but I do want to make a few point from how Paul handles the question in v30 and see how we go …
The question basically says that,
- The gentiles did not pursue righteousness, but attained it. And
- Israel pursued righteousness but did not attain it.
In v32, Paul then asks, Why?
The answer, at its core, is simple. It’s because the gentiles gained righteousness by faith but Israel fell into the trap of believing that it came through what they did. Specifically for Israel that meant pursuing the law.
Interestingly, Paul makes a statement that the Law would bring righteousness, but ONLY if it was pursued by faith.
“Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works”.
Faith is the pivot on which the righteousness we pursue is gained. Whether that is through the law, or apart from the law. Paul goes on to explain that when people pursue righteousness through their actions, they are effectively trying to replace the righteousness of God in their lives with their own righteousness.
We know, though that the actions of man will never attain the righteousness God requires. Isaiah says, “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6)
In 10v2, Paul says of them, “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge“. He’s effectively saying they don’t know what they’re doing, he confirms this by calling them ignorant …
Romans 10:3 “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness“.
That is the state of the world around us. Just like Israel, people are profoundly ignorant of the gospel, they think that they will get to heaven by their own efforts. They are doing exactly what Paul is talking about, and they are ignoring God’s righteousness and substituting their own assessment of righteousness in its place. …
- Social justice,
- Racial justice,
- “It’s all about love”
And any number of other mantras and slogans we hear nowadays.
But as Paul says in v32,33, they have stumbled over the stumbling stone.
“They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame”.”
This is a reference to Isaiah 28, or possibly to Psalm 118 …
“therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste’.”
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone“.
It is recognised that this is a reference to Jesus, not only does Paul round his argument off by referencing Christ as “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes“. Peter also references this ..
1 Peter 2:4-8
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offence.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do”.
The bottom line is this …
If you try to gain righteousness by any means other than faith in Jesus Christ, you are, as Paul says, ignorant.
Note this: v2 says of Israel that, “they have a zeal for God“.
If you look up the definition of zealous on Google, you will be told it is an “(adjective) marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal : filled with or characterised by zeal”. I wish that every Christian I meet would be a Zealot according to that definition!
During lockdown, when I was walking Bonkers, I met a couple and during the course of our conversation the subject of my ministry came up. On realising I was a local church leader, they wanted to know what the church was like. This is quite common, as is the question the man asked: “yours isn’t one of those “happy clappy” churches is it?” The embedded implication which is particularly strong in British culture is a mistrust of people who are passionate about something, especially if it involves some form of emotionalism.
It never ceases to amaze me that no one bats an eye if thousands of men jump and shout and scream and cheer when a man kicks a bag of wind into a net strung between two posts (I’m talking about soccer of course), but if I show a degree of passion when worshipping the King of kings and Lord of lords, I am dismissed as being overly emotional and somehow not quite British!
But the Bible commends zeal, Jesus is recorded by the Gospels as saying, “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength and with ALL your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30). Paul will go on to write, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). He also says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23), these verses (amongst others) show us not only the importance of wholehearted commitment, they also tell us why …
“Love the Lord”
“Serving the Lord”
“Working for the Lord”
See the common thread? Everything we do, the effort we put into our lives is all for The Lord. Who we are, how we act is fundamentally determined for us by our faith. It is, however, possible to lose our zeal. It happened to the Ephesians, and Jesus says what he thinks about it: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first”. Lack of zeal is also something that happened to the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth”.
God says “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.
Paul, himself, has a background of zeal for God … We read in Acts 26:1-11 Paul describing his actions as a pharisee in pursuing believers to Agrippa, and in Galatians 1:13,14 “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers“. He also describes it in Philippians 3, calling himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews“, and saying that he was blameless as to “righteousness under the law“.
He goes on in Philippians to describe the value this zeal has, he says “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8,9).
My point here is that zeal and passion for God is not a bad thing – it’s a GOOD thing!. BUT (and it’s a big “but”) the thing is, zeal, in and of itself, is not enough. This is along the same lines as “it’s all about love”, and also sincerity (in the 1980s Ann Diamond saying, “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere”). However zealous you are, however much you love, however sincere you are, your righteousness comes from one place and one place only.
It is only by faith in Christ, do we hope to achieve righteousness.
“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes“.
The law is, as Paul said to the Galatians, was not there to bring righteousness in and of itself, it was to point them to Christ.
“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith“. (Galatians 3:24).
The whole point of the Mosaic law was to show the Jews their sinfulness and convict them of their need for a saviour.
So the law is a set of instructions to a destination. Christ. He really is “the end of the law“, He is its destination, in bringing people to Christ, the law has fulfilled its purpose and He has completed all its requirements.
Teletestai – “it is finished” Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law so that we don’t have to. The law has ended for us,
Ephesians 2:15 says Christ abolished “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace”.
Colossians 2:13,14 describes, “you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross”.
Christ has rendered the law unnecessary.
The righteousness of the law is being fulfilled in the life of the believer through the power of the Spirit. Romans 8:3,4, says, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit“.
And Romans 6:13,14 says, “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace“.
We really have to get to grips with this.
My own note here for us, is that this is not JUST a way to salvation, it is, or it should be, our way of living life as a Christian. We are no longer under law, and we died with Christ. Paul challenges the Colossians, saying, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules?”
The next thing I want to pick up on is Paul’s heart. In Romans 10:1 Paul says, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved“.
So often we are more concerned about winning an argument than we are about helping someone understand and find the pathway to peace with God.
Clearly, if someone is going down a route, or living a lifestyle which exempts them from that peace, we have an obligation to try to make them aware of it, but we cannot and we must not try to force or coerce people into a particular behaviour. For a start, it feeds a belief that it is our actions which make us Christian. That is a major point of this particular passage.
So, what is your motivation? What is mine? Paul’s was to see them saved and not condemned.
Christ’s mission was to come to bring people salvation, if you look through the gospels to what Christ says about why He came, you will find Him saying things like …
Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.
Luke 19:10 — “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”.
John 3:17 — “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”.
Mark 10:45 — “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
John 10:10 — “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
John 12:46 — “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness”.
We are on a rescue mission, Jesus says that we should preach the good news to all creation, and that we should make disciples of all nations.
We represent the King of Kings and Lord of lords, we are, as Paul says “christ’s ambassadors”, which He talks about in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. Our role, quite simply, is the proclamation of reconciliation …
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.
We are not here to be right, or to be liked, or to be affirmed. We are here to represent our king …