[Sola Gratia, Sola Fide]
Review Romans 9:19-23
And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
do wonderful things with this people,
with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
Last week, we discussed a difficult section of scripture. Romans 9:14-23. We talked about the questions Paul is answering, accusing Paul of implying that God's word has failed because Israel are God's chosen people, and according to Paul's Gospel, much of Israel will not be saved because of their failure to accept Jesus as God's Messiah. Paul answers this question by showing that our problem is that we misunderstand who Israel is.
He shows that Israel is and always has been those with faith in God's revelation at the time. Isaiah 29, along with some of the other prophets, provide the language for the potter and clay analogy that Paul uses in his defense and explanation. The problem is is Isaiah describes:
The nation of Israel had turned their worship of God into outward conformity to commandments taught by men. Their heart was far away from actually desiring to love and serve the actual God. They were more interested in their religious performance and moral excellence than they were in drawing near to God.
Rather, Paul says, the real Israel has always those whom God has chosen, those who have followed Abraham in drawing near by faith. And wonder upon wonder, this includes even Gentiles. And this is where we pick back up today.
Vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
Paul cites the prophet Hosea (chapters 1 and 2) to show that God has always had this plan in mind. The Jews should not have been surprised by the inclusion of the gentiles.
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
Paul references Isaiah 1:9 which written just after Israel was deported into captivity after being conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C. Not much of the nation was left. Isaiah compares the situation to close to Sodom and Gomorrah were completely wiped off the face of the earth. In God's judgement. Paul is using this to show that only a very few of Hebrew descent are actually left living in the land. He goes on in Chapter 11 to talk about the faithful remnant of Jews as numbering only 7,000 who were not either destroyed in the exile, or jumped ship to worship the false god Baal.
Paul shows that God's people, the real Israel consists of a few of Israelite descent who have faith in Jesus, as well as Gentiles with faith in Jesus.
And in response to this astounding teaching that the Gentiles are included but not all of Hebrew descent, Paul anticipates a questioner asking him to explain himself.
Righteousness is by Faith
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.
The Jews failed at obtaining what they were seeking, but Gentiles, who weren't even seeking God, when presented with the proclamation of the Gospel, believed, and found righteousness!
Why did Israel fail?
32 Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 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.”
Righteousness, being right with God, being in proper relationship with God, comes by faith, not by our works. Paul is simply restating the whole argument he has been making for eight chapters. No one, except Jesus, has ever kept the law perfectly. You cannot attain righteousness through pursuing moral excellence.
What does your pursuit of righteousness look like? What does your pursuit of being a good Christian look like? Does it look like an acknowledgement of your failure to live up to God's standard, and need for a savior, and glad, joy-filled, gracious trust in God's provision of that savior in Jesus? Or, having started there, are you now trying to out-Christian people, and judging those who are less good at Christian-ing than you are?
Faith is the ceasing of working for your righteousness, and trusting in God's CALLING you righteous through faith in Christ's righteousness.
Most of the Israelites of the day, and to be fair many many gentiles as well, missed it. When Christ showed up, they rejected him. They wanted to be the ones in charge of their righteousness. They didn't want their savior, they wanted the credit for doing it themselves.
Seeking to establish their own righteousness
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
A quick note on Paul's attitude here. He pauses to express again, as he did at the beginning of chapter nine, a heart the desires and prays for the salvation of his fellow Israelites! Even in the midst of his confident assertions about God's choosing His people, he is recognizing the necessity of prayer and evangelism. His prayer is that they may be saved!
Saved from their self-righteousness and rejection of God's gracious provision of Jesus as the Messiah.
They are zealous for God, but they are zealous ignorantly. They don't know God! They don't know His ways! They have missed it altogether. They are like the Isaiah passage we read at the beginning, far from God. Their worship is made of commandments of men.
They are missing the most important thing: Jesus the Messiah, the Christ. Who is the end of the law, so that everyone who believes will be righteous.
Verse 4 is one of those instances where it is helpful to have multiple translations available to you, or to know the Greek, because the ESV's rendering into English, while proper and correct, is not very specific.
"Chris is the end of the law" - the word "end" here means "completion" or "goal", not "cancellation" or "abolishment". As Jesus himself said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Verse four is saying "Christ fulfilled the law" and the word "for" here is a conjunction meaning something like "for the purpose of" - righteousness to everyone who believes.
And now we come to a tricky section.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
Super clear, right? Paul is quoting two parts of the Pentateuch, Leviticus 18, and Deuteronomy 30, and comparing them. To get at what Paul is arguing for I think it is important to say that he is not pitting these two scriptures against one another. Paul is not saying "the righteousness based on the law" is bad, and "the righteousness based on faith" is good. He is saying "what does the law teach us?
There are a few options here, but here's what I think is going on if you look at Leviticus and Deuteronomy and the history of Israel, which you have to do if you are going to understand the scriptures. You have to follow it all out.
His referencing of Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 30 are not in contrast, they are both pointing to the same thing. "The one who does the commandments shall live by them" is meant to remind us that God's law to the Israelites was to be kept in its entirety. And here's the key: how did that work out for them? The law was given to show us our sinfulness, our inability to be righteous on our own, and our need for a savior.
Some ask "why did God give them a law that He knew they would fail at?" This is a loaded question but the gist of the answer was that God was merciful to give us a way of seeing our condition. We were rebels prior to the law. He gave the law to teach us that we were.
Deuteronomy 30 comes just after Moses gets done exhorting the Israelites to obey the law before entering into the promised land. Moses lines out blessings that will come from adherence to the law: life, peace, prosperity, and keeping of the promised land. He also lines out curses that will come from disobedience to the law: death, disease, poverty, and ultimately being expelled from the land.
But here's the interesting thing: Moses does not simply lay out blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. Beginning in chapter 30, he also lines out forgiveness for repentance. He says:
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you..."
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
The "it", is about loving, trusting, obedience to the revelation the God has given at the time.
“…loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days...”
Moses is saying that the commandments are crystal clear. Black and white. You don't need some guru interpreter to "ascend into heaven" to translate for you, you don't need to undertake some great feat to obtain it. It is straightforward. In His mercy, God has made His will and desire for us abundantly clear: Love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and live your neighbor as yourself. The problem is that we won't do those things.
Paul is using this to say God has revealed himself even more clearly and plainly than the black and white letter of the law in Jesus, and he is saying that following or obeying God's revelation to us now is quite simple:
Everyone who believes
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
That's it. Acknowledge your savior. Acknowledge your need for a savior. Trust Jesus as your savior! This is not hard. It is not like God is commanding us to fly without giving us wings. He gave us lips and commands us to praise.
And this is the way for everyone.
11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
There is only one way, and that way is open to anyone. Which is why the prophets spoke of this as "the rock of offense." It is entirely exclusivist. There is only God, and only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.
There is no distinction between nationality, religion, heritage, moral virtue, ethical performance. All are in need of Him, and He is available to all. But we must trust him and no other, not another god, not another philosophy, not another religion, and not ourselves.
Simple. Universal. Utterly humbling to the proud, utterly encouraging to the faint hearted. No one is so sinful that they are beyond rescue "EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." No one is so righteous that they can earn their own way. None of us can earn it. And none of us deserve it.
So trust Him. He is your only way.