Israel’s Ignorance of God’s Righteousness – Romans 10:1-3
Pastor Mark Hardy May 26, 2013
The following letter was written by a young communist to his girlfriend. Listen to what he says as he breaks off his relationship with her because of his zealous devotion to the communist cause:
“We communists have a high casualty rate. We are the ones who get shot and hung and ridiculed and fired from our jobs and in every other way made as uncomfortable as possible. A certain percentage of us get killed or imprisoned. We live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.
We communists do not have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great, overshadowing factor: the struggle for world communism. We have a philosophy of life which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity; and if our personal lives seem hard or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us, in his small way, is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind.
There is one thing in which I am in dead earnest about, and that is the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, my bread and meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. Its holds on me grows, not lessens, as time goes on; therefore, I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, looks, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the communist cause, and by their attitude toward it. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideals, and if necessary, I’m ready to go before a firing squad.”
This letter is a good example of describing the total commitment and zealous devotion to a cause that some people truly believe, even if it is wrong. We also see similar zeal from people who are involved in various world religions and cults that fervently make incredible personal efforts and sacrifices in an attempt to earn their way to heaven. And even a zeal for the true God of the Bible is not sufficient to guarantee one’s salvation, as we will see in the passage we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Romans 10 as we continue on in our study of the book of Romans.
In Romans 10:1-3 we can learn three important truths from what Paul says concerning Israel’s responsibility in rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The first important truth is this:
I. God’s Sovereignty doesn’t Negate compassionate Prayer
A. As he did in 9:1-3, Paul again begins by declaring his great love for his fellow kinsmen, the Jews. Look at v. 1: Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
1. The friendly address “Brethren” (Adelphoi) here refers to his brothers (and sisters) in Christ in the predominately Gentile church in Rome. Since Paul is about to give some teaching that Jewish readers will find harsh, he first shows the depth of his love for his fellow Israelites whom he has been talking about in the previous context and calls “them” here.
2. Paul’s heartfelt compassion for his own people is revealed in the word “desire.” The word “desire” (eudokia) literally means good pleasure.
3. He took no delight whatsoever from Israel’s fall, whereby she stumbled over the stumbling stone of Jesus Christ (vv. 32-33). Rather, in his heart—the mission-control center and deepest part of his being, he felt nothing but good pleasure and kind intention toward them.
4. Therefore, the “great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart” over Israel’s lack of salvation, which we saw back in 9:2-3 is now joined with his heartfelt desire for them that is expressed in compassionate prayer to God on their behalf that they might truly experience God’s salvation.
5. The word “prayer” (deesis) here conveys the idea of pleading and entreaty. It speaks of Paul’s persistent petitioning God on behalf of the Jews.
6. C.E.B. Cranfield correctly states, “The fact that Paul continued to pray for the unbelieving Jews, who had ‘stumbled against the stone of stumbling,’ is clear proof that he did not think of their present rejection as final and closed.” (pg. 5:13)
B. Here we see this first truth which is of profound importance.
1. Although in chapter 9 Paul focused primarily on the sovereignty of God in salvation where He, as the divine Potter, sovereignly chooses to bestow mercy and to harden whomever He desires, here Paul shows that the Christian’s attitude toward unbelieving people is not to be governed by God’s secret counsel concerning them.
2. John Murray said, “We violate the order of human thought and trespass the boundary between God’s prerogative and man’s when the truth of God’s sovereign counsel constrains despair or abandonment of concern for the eternal interests of men.” (pg. 47) In other words, the sovereignty of God should not be used as an excuse not to pray for people’s salvation.
3. God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate compassionate prayer. Instead, it should actually be an incentive to pray for two specific reasons: First, because only a sovereign God can answer prayer; and second, prayer is one of the means that God has ordained to accomplish His sovereign purposes.
4. So even though Paul believed and taught divine sovereignty he also recognized the biblical balance of human responsibility. Therefore, he not only had a genuine compassion for the lost in Israel, but also though he was the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13) he always preached the gospel first to the Jews in a synagogue or other places of Jewish worship if he could find one (Acts 9:20; 13:14, 46; 14:1; 18:5-6).
5. Now just as Paul had compassion for the lost and faithfully prayed and witnessed to them, we as believers should be doing the same today. John MacArthur said it well, “It is not our responsibility to try to determine whom God has chosen but to proclaim the saving gospel to every person who will hear it, praying with Paul’s earnestness that they will all receive Christ and be saved. Our responsibility is to diligently preach, teach, testify, and intercede, fully believing with Paul that “God our Savior. . .desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:3-4) and with Peter that “the Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).” (pg. 58)
6. So having first shown his loving heart for Israel, Paul then goes on to give the reason why he prays for their salvation in the second important truth, which is this:
II. Religious Devotion for God isn’t Enough
A. Look at v. 2: For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
1. Here Paul first commends his fellow Jews by personally testifying to the genuineness of their “zeal for God.” This zeal corresponds to their seriousness and sincerity in “pursuing a law of righteousness,” which we saw last time in 9:31.
2. The word “zeal” (zelon) means eager desire, enthusiastic diligence, passion, fervor, and intense devotion. Although the term is neutral in itself, it can be either good or bad depending on that to which it is directed.
3. And here Paul says it is directed at God Himself. Concerning Israel’s “zeal,” C.E.B. Cranfield says, “Their zeal is zeal for God. It is no heathen fanaticism of an empty ideology, but zeal for the true God. Israel is absolutely right in the object of its zeal.” (pg. 514)
4. Now no one knew better the Jews “zeal for God” than Paul, for in no one had this zeal risen to greater intensity and devotion. Before he became a Christian, Paul was a radically zealous Pharisee who legalistically fulfilled the outward demands of the Mosaic Law.
5. He was so wholeheartedly committed and zealously devoted to the traditions of his father’s that he truly believed that Jesus and his followers were traitors.
6. In various places we see where Paul gives parts of his personal testimony of what he was like before Christ saved him. In Acts 22:3-5, he made a defense before the Jews saying, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify.”
7. Before King Agrippa he said in Acts 26:4-5, “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.” (Verses 9-11) “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” He then went on to describe his conversion experience and call to be an apostle, recorded in Acts 9 (vv. 1-11), when he was struck blind by the risen and glorified Christ on the road to Damascus in vv. 12-18.
8. To the believers in Galatia, Paul said in Galatians 1:13-14, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.”
9. To the believers in Philippi, he proclaimed in Philippians 3:4-9, “…If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
10. Therefore, Paul knew from firsthand experience that majority of the Jews of his day were very religious but far from God, just as he used to be. He knew that religious devotion for God isn’t enough!
11. Zeal for God is not an infallible sign that a person knows the truth, because just like Paul and the Israelites, they can be sincerely wrong! In spite of the earnestness of their zeal, the Jews zeal had a fatal flaw.
B. Look again that Paul says in v. 2, “…they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”
1. Here we see that the standard by which all religious devotion and zeal is to be judged is “knowledge.” The word “knowledge” (epignosin) here means real, full or thorough knowledge.
2. Concerning this knowledge, Douglas Moo states, “This word connotes a practical as opposed to a theoretical knowledge. . . . As v. 3 makes clear, what is involved is a discernment of the plan of God that enables one to recognize what God is doing in the world and to respond accordingly. . . . God’s plan has reached its climax in the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:2-4).” (pg. 632)
3. Now since the Jews had been “entrusted with the oracles of God” (3:2), which is the Old Testament Scriptures, they did have a certain superficial knowledge or intellectual awareness about the one true living God and the outward demands of His Law. But except for the remnant who truly knew the Lord and had a proper zeal for Him (Num. 25:11, 13; 1 Kgs. 19:10, 14; 2 Kgs. 10:16; Ps. 69:9; 119:139), the majority of Israel didn’t know God as He really is and the knowledge they did have about God and His Law only puffed them up in pride and arrogance (1 Cor. 8:1)
4. Most of the Jews didn’t truly know God’s Word because they didn’t truly know God Himself (Jn. 8:19, 54-55). They had the right object of their zeal, but pursued God in the wrong way.
5. So regardless of their zeal for God and their intense study of the Scriptures, whereby they memorized its content, dissected its words, and catalogued its teachings, they never personally internalized its truths. And as a result, they lacked the discerning spiritual knowledge that comes only from a saving relationship with God, which produces humility and holiness of life.
6. This fatal flaw is a terrible tragedy! Here are the Jews with the very Word of God in their hands that reveals God’s only way of salvation is by faith, and yet they were, and are still today, spiritually blind as to what it says.
7. Paul explains further the Jews zeal without knowledge in the third important truth, which is this:
III. Unbelievers Ignorance is Culpable before God
A. Look at v. 3: For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
1. In this verse the words “not knowing” (agnoountes) and “seeking” (zetountes) reveal the two reasons why Israel refused to “subject themselves” (hupetagesan) to God’s righteousness. The first reason is because in “not knowing” the Jews were ignorant “…about God’s righteousness.”
2. As we saw last time, God’s “righteousness” (dikaiosunen) refers to a right standing before God. It is to be justified or declared righteous before the holy God and receive the status of saving righteousness from Him.
3. Because the Jews did not truly know God then they were spiritually ignorant to the manifestation of God’s righteousness in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul already said in 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
4. And in 3:21-22 he declared, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…”
5. Of all the people on the earth, Israel, who had the full revelation of the Old Testament Scriptures, should have known that faith has always been and will ever be God’s one and only way of salvation.
6. Remember that it is said of Abraham, the founding father of their nation, in Genesis 15:6, “…he believed in the LORD; and He (i.e. God) reckoned it to him as righteousness.” And Abraham put his faith in God before he was circumcised and long before God ever gave His Law through Moses.
7. Although the Jews were not ignorant of God’s attributes of perfect holiness, justice, and righteousness, and prided themselves on the knowledge of such a God over against the hideous pagan gods, they were ignorant of God’s righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. But their ignorance was a culpable ignorance because it stemmed from their willful, stubborn resistance to the truth.
8. Paul made it very clear that his own spiritual ignorance, like that of all other Jews, was due to his own unbelief. For he says in 1 Timothy 1:12-13, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
9. As we have already seen, no one is totally ignorant of God’s truth and we are all morally responsible for what we ought to know. In 1:18-20 we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
10. And because the Jews had the God-given privilege of the Old Testament Scriptures, they were even more responsible and accountable before God.
B. The second reason why Israel refused to subject themselves to God’s righteousness is because Paul says they were “…seeking to establish their own” righteousness.
1. God offers a right standing before Him on the basis of faith, and instead of accepting His undeserved gift of grace by faith in Jesus Christ, as we saw last time in 9:32-33, they set out to earn it on the basis of their own works—their own self-effort and meticulous keeping of the Law.
2. It is not only pride, but also ignorance of one’s own utter sinfulness before a perfectly holy God to think that we can do anything in ourselves to earn God’s favor. Absolutely no one can obey perfectly the Mosaic Law.
3. Remember that the primary purpose of the Law is to show that no one can keep it perfectly and thus we are all sinners. It is intended to drive us to despair in ourselves, in order to lead us to saving faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24).
4. John MacArthur correct states that Israel’s “…heinous misjudgment and ignorance about God’s righteousness and their own unrighteousness was the basis for their whole system of legalistic self-righteousness. Through their rabbinical traditions they had brought the infinitely holy standards of God, which no man can achieve by his own efforts, down to a man-made level which they could achieve without divine grace.” (pg. 61)
5. Therefore, the Jews substituted God’s grace-righteousness for man’s works-righteousness. And sad to say, that is exactly what millions of sincere and devout religious people around the world are still doing today.
6. They think that their good works and zealous religious devotion will save them, but it won’t. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no other way!
C. Therefore, it is because of these two reasons—Israel’s culpable ignorance of God’s only way of saving righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteous by obedience to the Law, that Paul says “…they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
1. To “subject themselves” (hupetagesan) means to put themselves under orders, to subordinate themselves, to obey.
2. Therefore, John Calvin was right when he said, “The first step to obtaining the righteousness of God is to renounce our own righteousness.” (Stott pg. 281)
3. Since God’s only way of salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then Israel’s refusal to accept Jesus by faith as their personal Savior and Lord is to not subject themselves to God’s righteousness. It is the same as stumbling over the Messiah who is to them the stone of stumbling and rock of offense (9:32-33).
4. Any and every attempt to establish one’s own righteousness by self-effort of any kind is open rebellion against God and His only means of imputing righteousness to us. C.E.B. Cranfield said it well, “It is the refusal to let grace be grace, the refusal to give God alone the glory.” (pg. 515)
In closing, what an ironic tragedy—the Jews had zeal for God, but were rejected by Him. Isn’t it amazing that those who do not know the one true living God often have far more zeal, in that, they are totally committed and fervently make incredible personal efforts and sacrifices for what they believe.
When we who do know God and have a true saving relationship with Him, often have more zeal over a sports event or a career or a favorite hobby than we do for Jesus Christ, who willingly gave His life on the cross to save us from the penalty of our sins and to give us eternal life.
May we as believers passionately love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength by obeying what He says in His Word in full dependence on Him to the glory of God. For Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”