Friday, March 16, 2007

Romans 10:2-4

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 the 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.

V2-3 – The Jews are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. They did not know or submit to God’s righteousness. Evidence of that was their effort to establish their own. Paul can testify that the Jews are zealous for God, because he was just as many of them are. Philippians 3:4-6 “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Their religion is sincere. So was Paul’s. They believe that they are doing God’s will and trusting Him completely and striving with the right motive to please the right God. So did Paul. J.C. Ryle said: “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. A zealous man is a man of one thing. He only sees, cares, and lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. He feels that, like a wick, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him.”

Now when Paul says that the zeal of the Jewish people is without knowledge, or not based on knowledge, we can’t even begin to imagine how insulting that is to them. Paul says that the Jews are ignorant to the fact that submitting to God’s righteousness means receiving the gift of “Christ for righteousness” (v4) by faith alone. He’s saying they were wrong-headed and wrong-hearted. That’s why he begins with explaining his passion for his countrymen. He’s about to cut them down, so he wants to make sure they realize that he speaks the truth in love. And when he uses the word, “establish,” he’s pointing to covenant language. He’s saying, “Look, God ‘established’ His covenant with you, not the other way around. And by striving to ‘establish’ your own righteousness, you’re saying to God, ‘I’m the one in charge of this covenant.’”

In American culture, most people consider sincerity to be key in one’s beliefs. If something is done or believed with sincerity, with good intentions, with right motives, with piety, then it is true, it is good, it is right for that person. But Paul says, “No, sincerity and zeal are of no value if knowledge and understanding are lacking.” And of course, knowledge and understanding come from the Word of God. So Paul is essentially saying that the Israelites have not understood the Scriptures which came to them and from them through their ancestors. And again, we can’t imagine how angry and insulted they would be with Paul over this claim. Perhaps they’d reply with something like this: “Paul, it is precisely our effort to establish righteousness in our lives that is our submission to God’s righteousness. What else would submission to God’s righteousness look like, except the zeal to establish righteousness in our lives so that our lives come into conformity to God’s commandments? We must not be indifferent to whether we are righteous or not.” So they’re just not buying Paul’s claim. But we’ll get Paul’s answer, his rebuttal to their rebuttal, in just a minute.

But first we need to see here that we must come near to God in the way He prescribes. We cannot approach the Lord of Lords casually however we please. He has given us a specific route, through faith in Jesus Christ, and no other way is valid. It is not by works as the Jews thought. It is not by sincere desire as the post-modern relativist might think. The Scriptures tell us this still today, just as they told the Jews of Paul’s day. 2 Timothy 3:14-15 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” That last part is the key: The Holy Scriptures (the Old Testament for Timothy) are able to make you wise for salvation, how?, through faith in Christ Jesus. The Old Testament guides a person into the wisdom of salvation only if it points that person to Christ. Most of the Jews missed it. They misunderstood their own Scriptures. And Paul tells them that they tried to establish their own righteousness and thereby rejected God’s righteousness – the Messiah; they refused to submit to Him.

V4 – Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. He is the righteousness that the Jews should have pursued. V4 is one of the most disputed verses in the New Testament. Scholars disagree on exactly what Paul is saying. The NIV reads, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The ESV reads, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Other versions read, “Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who believes may be justified.” Literally (and I think the best way for us to understand the text) the Greek text reads more like this: “For the goal of the law is Christ for righteousness to every believing one.

V4 is Paul’s rebuttal to their rebuttal that I mentioned earlier. Paul says, “The reason that it is not submission to God’s righteousness when you try to establish your own righteousness, when you seek justification by trying to obey God, even with God’s help, is that it dishonors ‘Christ for righteousness,’” as v4 declares. Paul here begins a two-part contrast between salvation by faith in Christ and salvation by our works. First he teaches that faith in Christ equals the end of our attempts to be righteous on our own. Christ is both the goal and the fulfillment of the law. Christ abolishes the law or makes it obsolete for believers, because we no longer strive to establish righteousness through it. Philippians 3:8b-9 “I consider [all things] rubbish, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

Paul is not saying that the law, prior to the sacrifice of Jesus, was a separate way of salvation. We’ve already seen that the law was sent to show the people their sin and drive them to the Messiah for righteousness. In fact, the very point of Paul’s quoting Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the next series of verses is to show that the Old Testament teaches salvation by grace. That might be hard to see, given the context of the Old Testament passages that Paul chose. So we'll look at it next time, Lord willing.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Romans 10:1

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.

In chapters 9-11, Paul is responding with three points to the hypothetical question, “What about Israel?” Paul’s audience might be wondering why Israel, for the most part, has rejected the Messiah. In chapter 9, he explains first that God chooses some and not others. In other words, God is sovereign in salvation. At the very end of chapter 9 and throughout most of chapter 10, Paul explains secondly that Israel failed to believe the Gospel. They rejected the Christ. In other words, man is responsible to believe. And Paul will reveal the third point (the divine decree) in chapter 11. But notice several points in chapter 10, beginning here in v1:

Paul begins, just as he did in chapter 9, expressing his passion for the Jews, that they be saved. He does this, because he has shared some harsh sentiments, and he wants to ensure his audience that he does indeed care about his own countrymen. Though his words to them and about them are hard, he loves them with all of his heart. Notice that Paul prays to God that the Israelites would be saved. Do we pray for loved ones to be saved? Of course we do! Why? Because we know that God is sovereign in salvation, just as chapter 9 explained. God is the only One who can work salvation in an unbelieving human.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Romans 9:32-33

Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it 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" [Isaiah 8:14; 28:16].

V32-33 – The Jews did not pursue righteousness by faith; thus they stumbled. Paul says that the Jews rejected salvation first because they sought it the wrong way, by works instead of receiving it through faith, and second because they rejected the Savior, Christ crucified. Paul is saying that there is a wrong way to seek fellowship with God. That thought is contrary to our generation and culture. Our twenty-first century culture figures, if a person is seeking God, God is happy with that and will reward that person. Paul says there is a right way to seek fellowship with God – by faith in Christ – and there is a wrong way – any other way, but most notably by works of law. When Paul said in Romans 3:11 that no one seeks God, he meant that no one, on their own, seeks God in the right way.

Now, people who seek salvation, people who seek right standing with God by works usually make two additional mistakes. First, they underestimate their own sin. They do not see themselves as sinners in the way that God sees them as sinners, in the way that Scripture reveals their sinfulness. They discount their sin and see themselves as basically good people. They compare themselves with “bad” people and note that they are not as “bad.” They think their sins are certainly less displeasing to the Lord than those of “bad” people. They think, “Surely I have not been so bad as to deserve God’s judgment in condemnation!” Second, they underestimate the cost of salvation, the cost of grace. They think that by doing more good things than bad things, they can keep the scales tipped in their favor, as if more good than bad is all that matters when it comes to salvation. And Paul says, “That’s impossible, because Christ Himself is the price that the Father has paid for salvation.” So salvation is the costliest thing in the world, even though it is freely given, and the one who desires to save himself by works doesn’t consider those things.

Now, in the second half of v32, Paul says, “They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” Paul is saying here that Israel could not accept Christ and His cross. There are always people who are looking for a way into fellowship with God that goes around the cross. They want a relationship with God, but only apart from Jesus Christ and His cross. There is no such thing. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. That is not a popular thing to say. Paul is asserting here that there is a wrong way into fellowship with God, by one’s own works, merits, or efforts, apart from Jesus Christ, and there is a right way, by faith alone, in Christ alone. Moses prophecies that this exact scenario would come about in his great song from Deuteronomy 32:21: “They made Me jealous by what is no god and angered Me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.” The Jews of Paul’s day were envious and angry that the Gentiles were grafted in. We’ll elaborate more on the ideas of jealous Jews and grafting as we get into chapters 10 and 11.

Why would religious people reject salvation? Because they trust in there own goodness and discount their need of God’s grace. That’s why someone would reject salvation. Remember, the gospel is offensive, foolishness to those who are perishing. The idea that salvation is by grace alone, that we’re all sinners in need of Jesus Christ to die for us in order to be saved, is the most offensive message in the world if you’re a natural man. It offends your pride, because it says that you’re such a sinner that you need a Savior like that to save.

And then in v33, Paul gives an Old Testament quote predicting that Christ would both be a stumbling block and the way of salvation—that many would take offense at Him, but also that those who trust in Him would be saved. In other words, Jesus would simultaneously be rejected by His people, the reason for their taking offense, and at the same time, the very heart of salvation of those who believe in Him. “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” There is the negative side; Jesus is going to cause some to stumble. Here’s the positive side, “and the One who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”

The Jews did not believe on Christ for His righteousness as the goal of the law. They did not see “Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes” as what the law taught—what the law was aiming at. They missed the biggest point of the law. The law was saying, in its larger, long-term message: “You must look beyond the law for a perfect righteousness to be provided by God in due time. You must look beyond your obedience to the law for a perfect righteousness that God will provide.”

The question was this: Why do some reject salvation? Because they refuse to acknowledge their need and they refuse to put their hope in Jesus Christ alone. Why does a person come to salvation? Because, by the grace and mercy of God, their eyes are opened by God to see both their sin and their Savior, and so they trust in Him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Romans 9:30-31

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.

Paul moves now from his explanation of God’s sovereign grace in unconditionally and mercifully electing some to salvation to an explanation of man’s accountability / responsibility in obeying the commands of God. From Romans 9:6-29, Paul emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation, especially considering Israel and the promises made to Israel. Then, in Romans 9:30 – 10:21, Paul emphasizes man’s duty. For Paul these two things are not contradictory; they work side by side; they are compatible, not in opposition.

There are at least two operations involved in salvation, and they are not contradictory. First is that God has chosen a person unconditionally (9:11, 21-23) and called that person effectually to Himself (9:8, 24), which Paul explained clearly using different illustrations to make the point. God is the decisive actor in this matter of salvation. But the other operation is found here: a person “attains” or “obtains” righteousness. God’s unconditional election is not enough to save anybody. Elect sinners are not yet acceptable. We must attain or obtain righteousness, which is not a very likely achievement; it’s impossible, and that’s why Christ came into the world. His righteousness was what we needed and could never get ourselves. Paul will elaborate on this in Romans 10, especially v4: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” We have already seen another parallel back in Romans 3:22: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Why would someone reject salvation? That’s the question that Paul is talking about in these verses, except it’s even more pointed than that. Paul is asking, “Why would a religious person reject salvation? Why would God’s covenant people, schooled in God’s law, taught by God’s prophets, who had read the writings of the Old Testament, who had recited the Psalms of praise of David, why would they reject salvation? Why would someone whose focus in life was to be in fellowship with God, why would someone whose focus in life to be obedient to God, why would a person like that reject salvation?” That’s a hard question. It’s a hard question, not only because it is perplexing to the mind, but because it was a reality. The majority of the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and Paul was more than brokenhearted over it, as we saw in Romans 9:1-5. So he raises this issue for us again at the end of the chapter, asking, “Why would anyone reject salvation, especially a religious person, someone seeking salvation?”

Paul highlights the irony that pagans, that Gentiles, who cared nothing about righteousness, who were not even striving for salvation, have obtained right standing with God, whereas the people of God, the Jews, who cared deeply for righteousness and sought salvation, as a whole have not. Why did Israel reject salvation? Paul gives a two-part answer, beginning in v32, which we'll look at tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Romans 9:27-29

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out His sentence on earth with speed and finality" [Isaiah 10:22,23]. It is just as Isaiah said previously: "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah" [Isaiah 1:9].

Paul, in v27-28, gives a second indication of God’s mercy. First was God’s calling of the Gentiles. Second, according to Paul, is that through God’s election, a portion of Israel will be saved. God reveals His mercy by saving a remnant of Israel. Paul himself is part of this remnant, and he knows it. Though like the Gentiles, none of Israel deserved God’s mercy, and all of Israel deserved His judgment, God revealed His mercy by choosing a remnant for Himself.

The point here is that the root of salvation is always in the grace of God, in the gracious choice of God. The root of condemnation is in ourselves. We don’t usually look at it that way. We tend to think that God has an obligation to save, and that if He doesn’t make arrangements to save everybody, it’s not fair. That’s not how the Bible looks at it. The Bible says, “God’s obligation is to Himself, and He is just and righteous; thus His obligation is justice and righteousness, not primarily to mercy.” The surprising thing is that God Himself provides a way that His justice is delivered and His mercy is visited upon a multitude that no man can number. God is both just and the One who mercifully justifies (Romans 3:26).

In v29, Paul says that without God’s electing intervention, the natural result is always death in judgment. If God doesn’t intervene with grace, the natural result is always death in judgment. Look at the words: “It is just as Isaiah said previously: ‘Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” Paul is declaring a most uncomfortable truth: God’s mercy is the one thing that stands between us and judgment, and it’s the one thing that stands between us and self-destruction. Even the remnant cannot take credit for persevering itself. That credit belongs wholly to God. If He doesn’t intervene, only death in judgment awaits. This recognition is why we Calvinists prefer, “Preservation of the Saints” rather than “Perseverance of the Saints.” It’s all God.

Now, I’m sure that none of us realize how shocking what Paul is saying really is. His audience is made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers, and he’s saying to those Jewish believers, “Look, even the remnant of Israel would be like Sodom and Gomorrah were it not for the grace of God. There is nothing in us, there is nothing in us that made us to be the remnant. It’s only the grace of God.” That would be more than offensive to the Jews of Paul’s day, who prided themselves in their keeping of the law. Paul is saying that apart from the grace of God, even the remnant of Jews looks like Sodom and Gomorrah.