A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #23 Israel’s Unbelief and the Gospel Romans 9:30-33

08 Nov

Stumbling over or Submitting to the Stone (Romans 9:30-33) — Redeemed South Bay

This section provides a summary in the middle of Paul’s exposition on God’s sovereign plan and an expanded explanation of the present position of the Jews. He realized that his teaching was creating a paradox, especially for his Jewish audience. How could it be that the acknowledged experts in righteousness would find their way to God barred, while those who were ignorant of righteousness were welcomed by God as long-lost children? Paul here contrasts the way of faith with the way of the law. Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not attain it—while the Gentiles, not seeking righteousness by the law, found it by faith in Christ.

Whereas chapter 9 has focused primarily on God’s sovereignty, chapter 10 outlines the extent of human responsibility. Note that Paul did not say “elect” and “nonelect,” but rather emphasized faith. Here is a paradox: the Jews sought for righteousness but did not find it, while the Gentiles, who were not searching for it, found it! The reason? Israel tried to be saved by works and not by faith. They rejected “grace righteousness” and tried to please God with “Law righteousness.” The Jews thought that the Gentiles had to come up to Israel’s level to be saved; when actually the Jews had to go down to the level of the Gentiles to be saved. “For there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). Instead of permitting their religious privileges (Rom. 9:1-5) to lead them to Christ, they used these privileges as a substitute for Christ.

But see the grace of God: Israel’s rejection means the Gentiles’ salvation! Paul’s final quotation was from Isaiah 28:16. It referred to Christ, God’s Stone of salvation (see Ps. 118:22). God gave Christ to be a Foundation Stone, but Israel rejected Him and He became a stumbling stone. Instead of “rising” on this Stone, Israel fell (Rom. 11:11); but, as we shall see, their fall made possible the salvation of the Gentiles by the grace of God.

We need to decide what kind of righteousness we are seeking, whether we are depending on good works and character, or trusting Christ alone for salvation. God does not save people on the basis of birth or behavior. He saves them “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9). It is not a question of whether or not we are among God’s elect. That is a mystery known only to God. He offers us His salvation by faith. The offer is made to “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17). After we have trusted Christ, then we have the witness and evidence that we are among His elect (Eph. 1:4-14; 1 Thes. 1:1-10). But first we must trust Him and receive by faith His righteousness which alone can guarantee heaven.

No one will deny that there are many mysteries connected with divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Nowhere does God ask us to choose between these two truths, because they both come from God and are a part of God’s plan. They do not compete; they cooperate. The fact that we cannot fully understand how they work together does not deny the fact that they do. When a man asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled divine sovereignty and human responsibility, Spurgeon replied: “I never try to reconcile friends!”

But the main thrust of this chapter is clear: Israel’s rejection of Christ does not deny the faithfulness of God. Romans 9 does not negate Romans 8. God is still faithful, righteous, just, and gracious, and He can be depended on to accomplish His purposes and keep His promises.

9:30 Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [i.e., a law that produces righteousness], have attained to righteousness.NKJV The gospel was preached to both Jews and Gentiles, but it was being accepted by far more Gentiles than Jews. The Gentiles did not have God’s law, did not even know God, and were not even “trying to be righteous,” yet they were obtaining righteousness. Why? Because they were coming in faith to God.

9:31 Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness,NIV has not attained it. In contrast to the Gentiles, the Jews tried to obtain righteousness by obeying the law, only to never attain it. They had incorrectly understood righteousness in terms of works. They could not keep the law perfectly, therefore they could not keep it at all. Thus God could not accept them.

9:32 They pursued it not by faith.NIV Instead of admitting that they could not keep God’s law and pursuing righteousness by faith in God, the Jews kept trying to pursue righteousness by their works. They had a worthy goal to “obtain” God’s righteousness. But they tried to achieve it the wrong way—by rigid and painstaking obedience to the law. Thus some of them became more dedicated to the law than to God. They thought that if they kept the law, God would have to accept them as his people. But God cannot be obligated by us. The Jews did not see that their Scriptures, the Old Testament, taught salvation by faith and not by human effort—the point Paul made in the first part of this letter. As a result they stumbled over the stumbling stoneNRSV—the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Peter 2:4-8). Jesus was not what they expected, so they missed him. In so doing they missed their only way of salvation. Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who by pride would rather have recognition for doing it on their own than for trusting Christ and his goodness.

Some people still stumble over Christ because salvation by faith doesn’t make sense to them. They would rather try to work their way to God, or else they expect him simply to overlook their sins. Others stumble over Christ because his values are the opposite of the world’s. Christ asks for humility, and many are unwilling to humble themselves before him. He requires obedience and many refuse to put their will at his disposal. The “stone” has caused them to stumble. They heard about Christ and misunderstood, so they tripped over the one thing that could have saved them.

Sometimes we are like those people who try to achieve God’s approval by keeping his laws. We may think that going to church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice will be enough. After all, we’ve played by the rules, haven’t we? But Paul’s words sting—this approach never succeeds. Paul explained that God’s plan is not for those who try to earn his favor by being good; it is for those who realize they can never be good enough and so must depend on Christ. Only by putting our faith in what Jesus Christ has done will we be saved. If we do that, we will never be “put to shame” or disappointed.

9:33 As it is written. Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Isaiah declared God’s warning of destruction to Israel by Assyria. Then he said, “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”NIV This stone refers to the righteous remnant and to Christ.

“The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”NIV When we put our trust in Christ, we need never fear that we have put it in the wrong place. When we have placed our feet on the Rock of Zion, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, we can be confident of our salvation.

Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews and to all who would rather have the satisfaction of gaining God’s acceptance on their own than admit their inability and then submit to God’s grace. When we are presented with Christ, we have only two possible responses, to reject or accept. Any form of rejection will result in our stumbling over him, resulting in judgment. But trusting submission to him will gain for us what we could never hope to gain by ourselves—a righteous standing with God. Isaiah showed the way by personally applying the phrase he used above, “I will put my trust in him” (Isaiah 8:17 niv). Are you stumbled or humbled by Jesus?

Here Paul draws a contrast between two ways of feeling towards God. There was the Jewish way. The aim of the Jew was to set himself right with God and he regarded a right relationship with God as something which could be earned. There is another way to put that which will show really what it means. Fundamentally, the Jewish idea was that a man, by strict obedience to the law, could pile up a credit balance. The result would be that God was in his debt and owed him salvation. But it was obviously a losing battle, because man’s imperfection could never satisfy God’s perfection; nothing that man could do could even begin to repay what God has done for him.

That is precisely what Paul found. As he said, the Jew spent his life searching for a law, obedience to which would put him right with God, and he never found it because there was no such law to be found. The Gentile had never engaged upon this search; but when he suddenly was confronted with the incredible love of God in Jesus Christ, he simply cast himself upon that love in total trust. It was as if the Gentile saw the Cross and said, “If God loves me like that I can trust him with my life and with my soul.”

The Jew sought to put God in his debt; the Gentile was content to be in God’s debt. The Jew believed he could win salvation by doing things for God; the Gentile was lost in amazement at what God had done for him. The Jew sought to find the way to God by works; the Gentile came by the way of trust.

The stone is one of the characteristic references of the early Christian writers. In the Old Testament there is a series of rather mysterious references to the stone. In Isa 8:14 it is said that God shall be for a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to the houses of Israel. In Isa 28:16 God says that he will lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. In Dan 2:34-35, Dan 2:44-45, there is a reference to a mysterious stone. In Ps 118:22 the Psalmist writes: “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.”

When the Christians began to search the Old Testament for forecasts of Christ they came across these references to this wonderful stone; and they identified Jesus with it. Their warrant was that the gospel story shows Jesus himself making that identification and taking the verse in Ps 118:22 and applying it to himself (Matt 21:42). The Christians thought of the stone which was the sure foundation, the stone which was the corner stone binding the whole building together, the stone which had been rejected and had then become the chief of all the stones, as pictures of Christ himself.

The actual quotation which Paul uses here is a combination of Isa 8:14 and Isa 28:16. The Christians, including Paul, took it to mean this—God had intended his Son to be the foundation of every man’s life, but when he came the Jews rejected him, and because they rejected him that gift of God which had been meant for their salvation became the reason for their condemnation. This picture of the stone fascinated the Christians. We get it again and again in the New Testament (Ac 4:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:4-6).

The eternal truth behind this thought is this. Jesus was sent into this world to be the Saviour of men; but he is also the touch-stone by which all men are judged. If a man’s heart goes out in love and submission to him, Jesus is for him salvation. If a man’s heart is entirely unmoved or angrily rebellious, Jesus is for him condemnation. Jesus came into the world for our salvation, but by his attitude to him a man can either gain salvation or merit condemnation.

Additional Notes

Israel’s Unbelief Is Consistent with God’s Plan–parts 3-4: It Is Consistent with His Prophetic Revelation and His Prerequisite of Faith (Romans 9:25-33)

As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.'” “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (9:25-33)

Continuing his argument that Israel’s unbelief is not inconsistent with God’s promised covenant of redemption, Paul proceeds to give two more features from the Old Testament that support divine integrity. He confirms the truth that Israel’s unbelief is perfectly consistent with God’s revelation through the Old Testament prophets. He then confirms that Israel’s unbelief is consistent with God’s eternal prerequisite of faith on the part of those He saves.

Israel’s Unbelief Is Consistent With God’s Prophetic Revelation

As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.'” “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” (9:25-29)

Paul uses two quotations from Hosea and two from Isaiah to show that Israel’s unbelief and rejection of the Messiah and His gospel fit what the prophets had predicted.

Paraphrasing the prophet, Paul declares that He, that is, God, says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved'” (see Hos. 2:23).

To understand the full meaning of that truth it is necessary to look at the first chapter of Hosea, where we read, “The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord'” (Hos. 1:2). It is not clear from the text whether Gomer, Hosea’s wife, was a harlot before she married him or became one after the marriage. In either case, the Lord commanded the prophet to keep her as his wife, despite her adultery—or more correctly, because of it.

So [Hosea] went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.”… Then she [Gomer] conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them.”… When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” (Hos. 1:3-4, 6, 8-9)

Gomer’s moral unfaithfulness to Hosea provided a vivid analogy to Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness to God. By His sovereign design and provision, she would bear Hosea a son whose name means “God sows” (referring to the scattering of seeds, as well as to the place where Jehu murdered Ahab’s sons). Hosea then had a daughter whose name means “not pitied” or “not having obtained compassion,” and another son whose name means “not My people.” Those three names represented God’s attitude toward Israel, His chosen but disobedient people. For a divinely determined period of time, they would be scattered like sown seeds, unpitied by the world, and forsaken by God.

The Lord goes on to promise, however, that His people will not be permanently forsaken. Applying the analogy to unfaithful and spiritually adulterous Israel God says, “I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her,” and speaking to Israel, He adds, “And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion” (Hos. 2:14, 19). Just as Hosea protected and supported Gomer, even during her harlotries, and one day bought her as a slave on the block in the open market, naked and full of shame, so God someday will redeem Israel.

Until that time, God not only will treat Israel as not being His children but will treat Gentiles, who were not His people, as His people. It is that converse truth, found in Hosea 2:23, that Paul paraphrases: “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.”

Hosea already had witnessed the Assyrian conquest and devastation of the northern kingdom of Israel, which occurred in 722 b.c., some twelve years before the prophet wrote his book. That pagan nation became the rod of God’s anger (see Isa. 10:5), which He used to chastise His rebellious people. When God removed His protective hand, Israel became subject to the military expansionism of Assyria and thereby became, for a while, not God’s people. Israel was scattered, unpitied, and forsaken by God, just as He had declared. In 586 b.c. the southern kingdom of Judah would meet a similar fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Only after many years of exile in foreign lands would God bring His chosen people back to their promised land. Even today, He has not yet redeemed them from the slave market of sin.

It is important to understand that Paul is here speaking about Israel as a nation and that they will be the focus of his message through the end of chapter 11. Paul’s purpose is to show that Israel’s unbelief was no surprise to God and was in no way inconsistent with His divine plan for His chosen people or for the world.

Paul was also referring to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, at His first coming. Rejecting God’s own Son was Israel’s supreme unfaithfulness to God, her consummate act of spiritual adultery, in which she still lived when Paul wrote his letter to Rome and still lives today. Like her rejection of God in the time of Hosea, Israel’s rejection of Christ in the time of Paul was perfectly consistent with God’s divine plan. Israel responded to Christ exactly as the prophets had predicted hundreds of years earlier.

Paul says, in effect, “We are not surprised when we see Jewish unbelief and we see them denying the gospel. We are not surprised when they enter into unbelief and sever themselves from God.” Through the prophet Hosea, the Lord revealed what kind of people they would be. The prophet saw and understood Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s scattering and rejection of her during that ancient time, and through Paul, the Holy Spirit applies to New Testament times what Hosea both envisioned and witnessed in regard to the Israel of his day. In a.d. 70, about ten years after Paul wrote to the Romans, the city of Jerusalem, including its magnificent temple, was totally destroyed by the Roman general Titus, under direct orders from the emperor. At that time a large percentage of the surviving Jews fled Israel, and in 132 the remainder of them were forcefully expelled by Rome. They remained a scattered people until 1948, when the modern state of Israel was formed and became recognized as such by most of the world.

Yet the great majority of Jews do not now live in Israel but are still scattered throughout the world. And that nation still rejects her Messiah and is not yet again the people of God. But, as Paul explains later in this epistle, God has not permanently rejected His people. One day, when “the fulness of the Gentiles has come in,… all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26). God promises through Hosea and through Paul that those who had become, for a long time, not My people would, by His gracious plan, someday become again My people.

Drawing from the same passage in Hosea and referring to that same divine graciousness, the Lord says through Peter, “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:10). Here the words refer to the church, God’s chosen people of this present age.

Paul’s focus, however, is Israel. When the Jews rejected God and became scattered, unpitied, and not My people, they became just like the Gentiles as far as their relation to God was concerned, scattered and unsaved.

Paul continues to explain that it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, “you are not My people,” there they shall be called sons of the living God. Paul again quotes from Hosea, but this time does not paraphrase, using the prophet’s own words almost verbatim (see Hos. 1:10). The place of which Hosea spoke was every place to which the Jews had been scattered. In those places they have been called not My people, but one day they will in those same places be called sons of the living God.

As Hosea did with his wife, after the scattering of God’s people in Hosea’s day, God eventually brought them back. And after their present scattering, He will again bring them back, not only to their own land but to their true Lord, as sons of the living God. The redemption of Israel will come.

But Paul’s emphasis in this passage is not Israel’s ultimate restoration to God but her present alienation from God. As already noted, the apostle’s primary point is that the unbelief of Israel that caused her alienation and scattering was not inconsistent with God’s sovereign plan for His people. On the contrary, historically and in regard to the time of Messiah, God foresaw and predicted Jewish rejection and its consequences long before it occurred.

Paul next cites another prophet, a contemporary of Hosea, saying, Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved.” (see Isa. 10:22). The Greek term krazō (cries out) behind Paul’s quotation of Isaiah carries the sense of crying out with great emotion, as from fear or pain, and was often used of a scream of despair and agony. The truth he was divinely called to proclaim tore at the prophet’s heart. When he uttered that sorrowful truth, he doubtless wept for his brethren. Of the vast number of the human descendants of Abraham through Isaac—a number as great as the sand on the sea—only the remnant, a very small remnant at that, will be saved.

Beginning about 760 b.c., Isaiah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah for some forty-eight years. Like Hosea, he was given the divine revelation that God’s people in Judah, just as those in Israel, would be conquered, scattered, and temporarily forsaken by God because of their unbelief. It is likely that Isaiah, as Hosea, personally understood that truth as relating to a judgment that would come in his own age, when Judah’s rejection of God would lead to her conquest and exile by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.

Paul is saying that as important and tragic as those two scatterings were, they were only previews of Israel’s immeasurably greater and more tragic rejection of the Messiah, and the subsequent conquest, slaughter, and scattering of Jews that has followed.

Quoting from the following verse in Isaiah 10, Paul declares, For the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly (see Isa. 10:23). When God used the Babylonians to judge Israel for her unbelief and unfaithfulness, His justice was thorough and fast, and only a few, the remnant of true believers, escaped. So also was it in the destruction of Jerusalem and devastation of Palestine in a.d. 70.

The prophet Amos, who prophesied in Judah shortly before Isaiah, declared, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘An enemy, even one surrounding the land, will pull down your strength from you and your citadels will be looted.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear, so will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away—with the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!'” (Amos 3:11-12).

If a shepherd could not rescue a sheep from a predator, he would make every effort to snatch at least part of the carcass to take back to the owner as proof that the sheep was indeed attacked and devoured by a wild animal, rather than stolen or sold by the shepherd.

Just as a shepherd snatches a small part of a sheep from a lion’s mouth, God will snatch for Himself, as it were, only a small part of Israel from unbelief and condemnation.

To further press home the truth he is declaring, Paul quotes again from Isaiah, who foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah” (see Isa. 1:9).

Lord of Sabaoth is often translated “Lord of hosts” and refers to God’s all-encompassing lordship of the universe, of everything He has created. Posterity translates sperma, which literally means “seed” but, by extension, can also refer to the descendants of the seed or sperm. The Jews of Isaiah’s day and, even more so the Jews of Christ’s day, faced terrible judgment for their unbelief. They not only killed many of God’s ancient prophets but even killed God’s very Son, their Messiah and Savior. And since that day, all Jews who reject Christ continue to face the same terrible judgment.

But the Lord of Sabaoth graciously left to us a posterity, a remnant, apart from which no one would be saved but every human being, Jew and Gentile alike, would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah—divinely judged and destroyed. The Lord’s destruction of those two morally perverted cities became a byword for total annihilation without a trace remaining. Only God’s grace has prevented such ultimate and total destruction of the entire world.

The swift and sudden destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham’s time, and of Israel and Judah in a.d. 70, illustrate how the Lord will execute His word of judgment upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly, when the time has come. Only God’s sovereign mercy spares the remnant.

Israel’s unbelief, therefore, is not inconsistent with God’s revelation through His prophets. They predicted it, stretching all the way from their own day to the day of Messiah.

Israel’s Unbelief Is Consistent With God’s Prerequisite of Faith

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (9:30-33)

Paul’s fourth and final point in this section is that God’s prerequisite of faith for salvation does not conflict with or violate His divine plan of redemption but has always been an inseparable requirement of that plan.

God’s demand for faith on the part of men is in no way inconsistent with His sovereignty. By His own sovereign decree, His gracious offer of salvation becomes effective only when it is willingly received by faith. In regard to salvation, the other side of divine sovereignty is human responsibility. From the human standpoint there is a tension, even a seeming contradiction, between those two realities. By human reasoning, they seem mutually exclusive. But both of them are clearly taught in God’s Word, and when one is emphasized to the exclusion of the other, the gospel is invariably perverted. By His own determination, God will not save a person who does not believe in His Son, and a person cannot save himself simply by the act of his own will, no matter how sincere and heartfelt. In God’s sovereign order, both His gracious provision and the exercise of man’s will are required for salvation. Like many other revelations in Scripture, those two truths cannot be fully harmonized by reason, only accepted by faith.

Paul therefore declares, What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.

Paul is not implying that Gentiles are saved on a different basis than Jews. He is simply stating the human requirement for salvation that has always been the only means of attaining the righteousness that is necessary for salvation—the righteousness which is by faith.

Pursue is from diōkō, which means to run swiftly after something, and was therefore frequently used of hunting. It was also used metaphorically of earnestly seeking a desired goal or objective.

The implication for Jews was that they did not pursue… the righteousness which is by faith, but instead relied on their birthright as Jews or on their supposed good works in obedience to God’s law. But no person has ever been saved, at any time, under any dispensation or covenant, on any other basis than faith exercised in response to God’s gracious call. It is that truth that the writer of Hebrews makes so clear. From Abel through the prophets, men “gained [God’s] approval through their faith” (Heb. 11:4-39). As Paul explicitly establishes earlier in this letter, Abraham, “the father of all who believe,” was saved by his faith, which God “reckoned as righteousness”—before He required the rite of circumcision and long before He gave His law through Moses (Rom. 4:1-11).

Paul is not saying, of course, that the pagan Gentiles naturally sought God’s righteousness through faith. Whether Jew or Gentile, the natural man never seeks God by his own independent choice. “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8; cf. 5:10). Despite their being called as God’s chosen people and their having received His divine revelation through Moses, the psalmists, the prophets, and other inspired men of God, the Jews were no more naturally inclined to seek or to obey God than was the most pagan Gentile.

In fact, when the gospel came through Christ, far more Gentiles than Jews believed. The greatest obstacle to salvation is self-righteousness. The person who thinks he is already righteous and pleases God will see no need for salvation. As noted above, because most Jews thought they had satisfied God by their Jewishness or their works righteousness, they felt no need for the gospel of grace through faith.

Consequently, Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. What a tragic commentary on a wasted effort. God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by man’s works, because they are always sin-tainted and fall short of God’s perfect and holy standard. By his own effort, no person can arrive at that law.

Why did self-righteous Jews fail? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. The only thing that any person, Jew or Gentile, can do to be saved is to believe that he can do nothing to merit salvation and to cast himself at God’s feet for His mercy for the sake of Christ. Jews were incensed at the gospel of grace made effective by faith because it nullified all the good works by which they thought they could please God. Several years before he wrote the epistle to Rome, Paul had reminded the church at Corinth that “For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:22-23).

Again quoting from Isaiah, Paul explains that, Just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (see Isa. 28:16; cf. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:8). Long before their Messiah came, the Lord had predicted in many ways and through many prophets that Israel would reject Him. Far from being inconsistent with God’s Word, Israel’s unbelief verified that Word. Just as Isaiah declared, she tripped over the stone of stumbling, refusing to receive her Savior and Lord, because He did not fit their understanding of the Messiah and because, as a rock of offense, He declared their works to be worthless. Daniel completes the picture by adding that the One who was the stone over which the Jews stumbled and the rock that offended them will, in the future, be the Stone that will break in pieces all the kingdoms of the world (Dan. 2:45).

But the good news of the gospel is that, unlike those who reject Him, he who believes in Him—the one who has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the divine stumbling stone and rock of offense—will not be disappointed.

The issue on the human side is faith, which alone can bring the salvation that God’s grace provides. Man is justified by grace through faith. But Israel’s unbelief, her lack of faith, did not surprise the Lord or nullify His plan. God’s prerequisite of faith has always been the same, and His choosing a remnant in Israel for salvation was in perfect harmony with His omniscient awareness that only a few would believe in His Son and be saved. That is the way God knew it would be and planned it to be, and that, of course, is the way it turned out to be.

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Posted by on November 8, 2021 in Romans


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