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A Righteousness That Is By Faith (9:27-10:4)

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When a painter paints a picture the paint does not have any right to say what kind of picture he should paint. When a potter forms a utensil the clay does not have any say in what kind of pot it ought to be. Further, the painter and the potter can destroy their work if they so choose. The paint and the clay have no right to complain about it. Though this is obvious to us regarding the things we make, we object when the same principle is applied to us. God created us. He has the right to make us however He likes and He has the right to honor us or to destroy us if He so chooses. Nevertheless, we object and say that God is not just when we find ourselves under His condemnation.

In his inspired letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul points out that God is not unjust. Not only does He have the right as our Creator to do whatever He chooses to do to us, He only condemns on the basis of His foreknowledge of how we will respond to Him. God gave us free will. We have the choice to do what pleases God or to defy Him. In addition, God gives us the opportunity to be reconciled to Himself. Those who choose righteousness, God glorifies and brings into His own household. Those who choose self over God, become objects of His wrath.

God chose the Israelites to be His people. Yet the Israelites did not fulfill the purpose for which God chose them. Therefore, God chose to reject most of them. Why did this come about? In chapter 9, verse 27, through chapter 10, verse 4 of his letter, Paul explains: “Isaiah cries concerning Israel, “If the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant who will be saved; for He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth.” As Isaiah has said before, “Unless the Lord of Armies had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and would have been made like Gomorrah.” What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who didn’t follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness. Why? Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone; even as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense; and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.” Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is for Israel, that they may be saved. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they didn’t subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

In this passage, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah who likened the situation of the Israelites to that of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God destroyed those two cities because of their sin. The prophet Ezekiel writes that in addition to sexual perversion, the people of Sodom were arrogant, overfed and had no concern for the poor (Ezekiel 16:49). The same passage from Isaiah which Paul quotes, says that the Israelites had a similar attitude. They were guilty of bloodshed and injustice to the poor and disadvantaged. If God punished Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin, why would He not punish the Israelites for theirs? It is true that God called the Israelites to be His own people. But belonging to the nation of Israel did them no good if they refused the purpose for which God called them – that is to be righteous.

The same principle holds true for us. For example, some think that because they call themselves Christians, they have a license to act however they like. Christ’s sacrifice will cover whatever sin they commit. In a sense, people who think like this are right – Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all sin. However, we cannot use His sacrifice as an excuse to sin. Christ died so that we will not sin any more. Claiming the name of Christ will not help us if we ignore the very purpose for which Christ died.

Though God became angry with the people He had chosen, He did not leave them without hope. He assured them through Isaiah that a remnant would be saved. In addition, God extended His mercy beyond the Jewish people. What is the difference between the Jews and Gentiles? Both tried to obtain righteousness. Except for a remnant, God rejected the Israelites while showing mercy to non-Jewish people. The difference is that the Jewish people tried to obtain righteousness through the Law of Moses rather than by faith in the One who gave the Law. To put it another way, the Israelites depended on themselves and their own ability to keep God’s Law. In contrast, the Gentiles recognized that they did not have the ability to keep the Law. Instead they put their faith in the Savior whom God sent.

This is the crucial difference. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to pay the price for our sin. The Israelites, to whom the Savior was promised and through whom the Savior came, for the most part refused to accept Him. Jesus did not meet their expectations so they rejected Him. As the prophet Isaiah said, it is as though they tripped over a stone and fell as they were walking along. It was the Gentiles who welcomed and accepted the Savior, even though they had never had the benefit of the Law.

Paul brings out another important point. Zeal or enthusiasm is not enough to please God. There are many people who are very religious and are even willing to give their lives for their religion. However, their zeal for God will not save them. This is the mistake the Jews made. They had zeal for God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge of God or their own condition. They attempted to please God on their own terms instead of His. They did not submit to Him.

It is good to have zeal, but our zeal must lead us to submission. Our zeal must never blind us to a true knowledge of our spiritual condition. We must know that we cannot save ourselves. We must know that we need a Savior. We cannot depend on our own righteousness. We must know the Savior, Jesus Christ.

This raises another question: How does one submit to God’s righteousness? How does one come to faith in Christ? If you would like to know, be sure to listen to our next program.