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In our last lesson we noticed the patience of God. Israel has rebelled against God and resisted God’s plan. Rather than immediately bringing their deserved wrath, God endured with much patience these vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in order to reveal his glory toward those whom God has called. But God’s call has not been to the Jews alone. God’s people, the remnant, did not come exclusively from physical Israel. Jews and Gentiles are afforded the opportunity to be called by God, “My people” and “sons of the living God.” This is only because of God’s mercy. Every person deserves God’s judgment, but God in his mercy has purposed to have a people that are his. This summary prepares us from Romans 9:30-10:4.
Recall that Romans 9 has been Paul’s defense of the trustworthiness of God’s word. Paul is now going to investigate the implications of what he just said, that God has elected Gentiles along with a remnant of Israel to salvation.
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. (Romans 9:30–31; ESV)
Paul begins Romans 9:30 with, “What shall we say then?” Paul is going to draw the necessary conclusion from what he just taught in Romans 9:19-29. Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have obtained righteousness and Jews who pursued law to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. What does Paul mean? Let’s begin with the Gentiles in verse 30. The Gentiles have received right standing with God and covenant membership in the family of God by faith, not through the Law of Moses. Gentiles, who were not pursuing a right status with God and were not pursuing covenant membership with God, have been offered this status and the Gentiles have accepted this status by faith. They did not receive this status through the Law of Moses. The Gentiles did not receive this status by keeping the works of the Law (circumcision, Sabbath keeping, keeping clean and unclean ordinances, etc). They received this status of justified and covenant membership in God’s family through faith. This faith is not simply mental assent to God’s promises for Paul has never define faith this way in the letter to the Romans. Faith depicts truly trusting in God and living faithfully to him. We learned this back in Romans 1:17, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” God has been faithful to his word and his promises. We are called to be faithful to God, trusting him in all things.
The Jews, however, pursued the Law of Moses for righteousness. They pursued the Law of Moses for right standing before God and covenant membership in God’s family. But they did not succeed in fulfilling the Law of Moses. They were unsuccessful in obtaining justification. The Gentiles have received righteousness, but the Jews have not. Why?
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 offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:32–33; ESV)
Paul explains why the Jews have not received right standing and covenant membership in God’s family. The reason is that they did not pursue right standing by faith, but by works. They did not go about receiving this status from God by putting their lives in God’s hands. They did not surrender themselves to God and trust God. They were not faithful to God and did not show faithful living. Remember that this was Paul’s point in Romans 9:19-29. Israel has resisted God’s will and resisted God’s purposes. They did not live faithfully to God. They did not put their trust in God, but resisted God. Instead, the Jews thought they had right standing before God and covenant membership in God’s family by the works of the Law. The Jews thought because they were children of Abraham that they would be justified. They thought that because they were circumcised on the eighth day that they were in God’s family. They thought because they possessed the Law of Moses that they were the people of God. But Paul has shown that no one is justified by the works of the Law (Romans 3:20).
Return to Romans 3:20-24 to see that Paul is bringing his previous point back into his discussion:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:20–24; ESV)
The Jews thought that they had right standing before God through the works of the Law. Rather, justification is found through faith in Jesus. This leads to Paul’s quotation that he is also thinking about Jesus as the object of our faith and the one whom we are to be faithful. Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14-15. What does Isaiah’s prophecy of stumbling over the stumbling stone have to do with Paul’s point? I think there are a couple of intentions by Paul. First, God always spoke of a remnant. This remnant idea has been the theme of Romans 9. Israel was going to stumble and only a few would be saved. Second, Israel’s lack of faith and faithfulness caused them to not recognize the Messiah when he came. Israel saw their salvation in being Israel, failing to see that they needed a Savior. Jesus is the Savior, but they believed through the works of the Law that they did not need saving.
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. (Romans 10:1–4; ESV)
Paul returns to his earnest desire for Israel to be saved. We read this passionate plea in Romans 9:1-2. Paul said that he had great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his kinsmen, the nation of Israel. Paul’s great desire and prayer is that they may be saved. Now, I would like to point out something we noted in Romans 9:1-2. If Paul is going to teach that all physical Israel is going to be saved in Romans 11:26, then why is Paul praying that they will be saved and is in anguish that they are not saved? If God has purposed for all Jews to be saved simply because they are Jews, then this plea does not make sense. Further, such a teaching violates everything Paul has been teaching in Romans 9. Not all physical Israel is the true Israel and only a remnant will be saved.
Paul further testifies that the Jews have a zeal for God, but that zeal is not according to knowledge. God did not fail in keeping his word. Israel did not understand how God was keeping his promised covenant. They did not understand God’s plan through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God’s righteousness was not just for Israel, but was through them. God was not just giving right standing to Israel. Israel was the vehicle through which the Messiah would come so that the whole world could receive right standing before God. The promises were not exclusive to Israel.
Jesus told a parable in Mark 12:1-12 showing how Israel had rejected God’s righteousness and attempted to establish their own righteousness. They would not submit to the way God said right standing and covenant membership in God’s family would come. They tried to take the inheritance for themselves. Israel believed that God’s covenant with Abraham was their exclusive and inalienable possession.
Before we move on to verse 4, there is an important lesson that we learn from what the Jews were doing. We learn that zeal and sincerity are not sufficient to obtain justification. There is a world full of religious people who are zealous for God, but their zeal is not according to knowledge. That is, they have a love for God but they are not doing things God’s way. They are unwilling to submit to the righteousness of God and have established their own righteousness. God has been firm about who his people are and how we receive the status of justified children of God. We cannot change who are the justified or how one is justified. The Jews wanted the status of right standing with God to be based on ethnicity. Today, many churches want the status of right standing with God to be based on belief without obedience. Many churches want the status of right standing with God to be based on external works and not on faith. But Paul has taught that those who are children of God are those who walk in the footsteps of faith of Abraham, who put sin to death by being united to Christ through baptism, conforming themselves to the image of his Son. Zeal alone does not put one in God’s body of saved people.
Christ Is The End
Returning to the text, in verse 4 Paul teaches that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. I think the TNIV renders this verse well. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4; TNIV)
Christ is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Christ is the end of the Law. Christ is the goal of the Law. Christ is what the Law was point toward. Christ is the culmination of the Torah so that there can be right standing and covenant membership in God’s family for all who believe. The emphasis of this verse is likely twofold.
First, the Law of Moses was not the ultimate goal. Christ was the ultimate goal. The law itself was not God’s end purpose. Christ was the goal and the completion of the Law of Moses. Righteousness comes through Jesus, not through the Law. Second, right standing before God and covenant membership in God’s family is to everyone who believes. It is not to Jews who believe. Righteousness is to every person who believes.
- Gentiles (on the whole) have received right standing before God and covenant membership into the family of God, while the Jews (on the whole) have not.
- Gentiles received this righteousness by faith. The Jews tried to attain righteousness through the works of the Law and not by faith.
- The Jews did not see that they needed the Christ for righteousness because they thought their righteousness was based on being Israelites.
- Further, the Jews have a zeal for God, but they did not submit to way God would justify people, failing to grasp that Christ is the culmination and completion of the Law of Moses.