A study of Romans: The Righteousness of God #24 Zeal and Knowledge Roman 10:1-4

11 Nov

"Sincerely Wrong" Romans 10:1-4 - YouTube

It is absolutely essential in our service to God that our service come from our hearts. We must always be honest and genuine in our approach to God. But what about this question: If a person is honest and sincere is God obligated to accept him? Is honesty and sincerity enough?

Romans 9-11 concern a problem which would exist in the Jews’ mind: For 15 centuries the nation of Israel had been God’s chosen people, but now Paul has announced that the chosen people of God are men out of every nation who will by obedient faith in Christ accept God’s will.

A Gentile man upon the acceptance of God’s will made known through Christ can be right with God. What about that 1,500 years of heritage that ancient Israel had? Paul affirms that Israel can continue to be God’s chosen people, but not because of the fleshly bloodline. As with the Gentiles, the Jews must accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Savior, and King upon the conditions of His will to continue as God’s chosen people. In Romans 10

Paul explains that God has not gone back on His word. He points out that Israel was wonderfully excited in their service to God. They were earnest in what they were trying to do.

Romans 10:1-3 (ESV) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge 3For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

What is the attitude of Paul toward his own people, Israel? He had a great feeling in his heart toward them, earnestly desiring their salvation. He had made that earnest desire known to God in prayer (10:1). What is the prayer? Paul prayed for their salvation. Obviously, he would want his own people to be saved.

The two main words in this text are zeal and knowledge. What do those two words mean? Paul said, “They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” Zeal literally means to boil up. Zeal means excitement, enthusiasm, to be on fire. That about which one is excited and on fire is something worthwhile. In verse 2 Paul is referring to service to God. The object of their excitement is wonderfully worthwhile. It is God Himself and His will.

The other word is knowledge. Literally, knowledge is light. If somebody has enlightenment, he has knowledge. From the practical standpoint, knowledge is understanding.

10:1 Brothers. Though fully engaged in matters concerning his fellow Jews, his blood brothers, Paul also includes his broader audience in the Roman church by calling them brothers. He knows that neither Jews nor Gentiles can, claim superiority in the church. And any unity apart from Christ would not be real. Meanwhile, Paul’s concern for the Jews is genuine and heartfelt; his desire and prayer is that they may be saved (see also 9:1-3).

What will happen to the Jewish people who believe in God but not in Christ? Since they believe in the same God, won’t they be saved? If that were true, Paul would not have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to teach Jews about Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the most complete revelation of God, no one can fully know God apart from knowing Jesus; and because God appointed Jesus to bring God and human beings together, no one can come to God by another path. The Jews, like everyone else, can find salvation only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Just as Paul did, we should wish that all Jews might be saved. We should pray for them and lovingly share the Good News with them. In fact, we should ask ourselves, Who do I desire to be saved, and am I regularly praying for them?

10:2 They are zealous for God.NIV The Jews certainly were zealous in their devotion to God and their practice of the law. Paul knew that from his own experience. However, their zeal is not based on knowledge.NIV The people Paul loved (the Jews) were so busy trying to keep the law that their zeal was actually keeping them from understanding God’s way of salvation. This was exactly Paul’s state of mind before Christ confronted him. He was so zealous for God and for his religion that he persecuted Christians (see Acts 9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:4-11). His zeal was based on a misunderstanding of God’s Word, and so was the zeal of his fellow Jews (see chapter 9).

·       Starting out with good intentions does not ensure the results will be good.
·       Possessing good intentions does not guarantee that any action will be taken.
·       Good intentions by themselves do not fulfill the demand to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
·       Our ever-present bad intentions are often hidden from us.
·       Good intentions can lead to false pride.
·       Good intentions can seek to bypass and alter God’s clear commands.
·       Good intentions can be a cover-up for ignoring or willfully disregarding God’s desires.
·       Good intentions may appear to do so, but they cannot actually make up for bad deeds.
·       Many people claim that they are acting with good intentions when, in fact, their efforts are halfhearted. They want to dictate the way God should accept them. But none of our best intentions can save us.

10:3 Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God.NRSV The Israelites did not understand the extent of God’s righteousness, how it would be achieved, and how it would be made available to all people (the point Paul explained in chapters 3-6). Instead, they sought to establish their own. They were not creating some new kind of righteousness; rather, they wanted to achieve God’s righteousness by observing the law and their rituals. Once their minds were set, they could no longer submit to God’s righteousness,NIV the righteousness that God, provided for them through faith in Jesus Christ.

We are made righteous by humbly submitting to God. The Israelites had understood the need for obedience, but they had become so zealous in carrying out their duties and rituals without love that they had actually become disobedient. And when they tried to make God’s righteousness exclusively theirs, they were putting themselves out of its reach. They misunderstood their own Scriptures: they saw righteousness in terms of outward actions, rituals, and customs; they did not see that their Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. When Israel rejected Christ, they rejected their own Scriptures with the promises and blessings in them. According to Philippians 3:1-9, Paul remembered being stuck on the treadmill of effort. By human standards he had been quite successful in what he later realized was actually a self-styled, self-approved, and self-justified religion. In order to believe in Christ, Paul had “lost” all those things, only to discover that what he had gained was of immeasurable value. “What is more,” he said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:8 niv).

Rather than living by faith in God, the Jews established customs and traditions (in addition to God’s law) to try to make themselves acceptable in God’s sight. Regardless of our sincerity, no human effort can ever substitute for the righteousness that God offers us by faith. The only way to earn salvation is to be perfect—and that is impossible. We can only hold out our empty hands and receive salvation as a gift.

10:4 Christ is the end of the law. There are at least three possible explanations for what Paul meant by Christ being the end of the law. In Jesus, the law was:

(1) Terminated. Instead of seeking justification through the law, we receive justification by faith and use the law to guide our obedience to God. Through Christ, the offer of grace is universal.

(2) Replaced. The law literally pointed to Christ. The law was only the teacher, or mentor, until Christ came (see Galatians 3:24). Now we follow his lead.

(3) Fulfilled. Christ was the law in human form. He met every criteria of the law, completing it and transcending it (see Matthew 5:17-20). He spoke with authority to divide the unchangeable law from the human additions and twisted interpretations.

While each of these is a valid explanation of part of the relationship of Christ to the law, Paul seems to have had the first in mind at this point in Romans. The law, however, is terminated only in the sense of 7:6—that is, we have been released from the law to serve in the newness of the Spirit. We no longer seek justification by keeping the law.

Whatever reasons Israel had for misunderstanding God’s law and God’s righteousness, those ended with Christ. Christ is the end of the law in several possible ways (see the chart). Christ fulfills the purpose and goal of the law (Matthew 5:17) in that he perfectly exemplified all that the law requires. But he is also the termination of the law, because with the coming of Christ, the law became powerless to save (3:20; 7:7).

However, Paul does not mean that the law has been cast aside and is no longer of any value. Jesus completed the law. With the coming of Christ, the puzzle that looked like it was going to be a picture of human righteousness suddenly turned out to be a picture of God’s grace. Jesus did not change the law—he changed our way of seeing the law. Paul has amply explained this in such verses as 3:31 and 8:4. What ended was the view that the law was the way to achieve righteousness and the belief that Israel was the only recipient of that righteousness.

Righteousness for everyone who believes.NRSV Christ perfectly fulfilled the law; then he gave his life to pay the penalty that we deserved for breaking the law. So, instead of “seeing” ourselves fearfully attempting to meet the demands of the law (With death as the consequence for failure), we are now freely invited to “see” ourselves in Christ. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. When we believe in him, he gives us righteousness (8:3-4) and makes us acceptable to God.


There  are  three  possible  relationships  between zeal and knowledge, but only one of these relationships is accepted by God. The first is zeal without  knowledge.  Zeal  without  knowledge means to boil up without light. Zeal without knowledge is running, but running in the dark. Zeal without knowledge is excitement without understanding. In this description of zeal without knowledge, we can see that this relationship between zeal and knowledge is not acceptable.

Zeal without knowledge has caused tremendous problems in ancient and modern history. To illustrate, zeal without knowledge caused Christ’s death. Jesus Christ did not die because He was a criminal; to the contrary, He never violated the laws of God or man. During His personal ministry, Jesus sometimes violated human tradition. The Jewish leaders of His day had difficulty in seeing the difference between God’s law and their human traditions. Human traditions are never on an equality with God’s law. Jesus opposed making human traditions binding upon men as though they were from God. It was zeal without knowledge that led to Christ’s death. Peter in his sermon on Christ in Acts 3 said, “I know that through ignorance you did it.” There was zeal, fervor, and excitement. But that zeal was without correct enlightenment. Zeal without knowledge is activity. Fervor without knowledge has no direction.

Second, it was zeal without knowledge that caused Israel to be cut off as a fruitless branch. What had that unenlightened enthusiasm of Israel led to? Verse 3 says, “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject them- selves to the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel (1:16, 17) is not so much an attribute of God, though God is righteous, as God’s plan made known in the gospel to make men right with Himself though they be sinners. Righteousness with God, right standing with God, is possible because Jesus died and lived again. It is possible because we can be forgiven. The gospel contains God’s plan to make men right with Himself. I am sure that many more people would be saved if they could be saved on their own terms. Very plainly Paul says in verse 3 that when one rejects God’s plan and goes about to establish his own plan he may have excitement but there is no light.

This answers the question we asked in the beginning. Is being sincere enough to make a man right with God? The answer is no. One needs to be fervent in his search for God, but he must search according to light. David said in Psalms 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” The Word of God gives light. “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Zeal without knowledge led Israel to reject God’s plan, the only plan to make one right with Himself. Going about to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit  themselves  unto  the  righteousness  of God.

Zeal without knowledge led Saul of Tarsus to be a persecutor of Jesus’ church. When we first

meet Saul, he is not a follower of Jesus. He was trying to stamp out the very name of Christ from

under heaven. He gave his voice against those who were thrown into prison because they followed Jesus. Some of them were even put to death. We first meet Saul when those who stoned Stephen laid down their clothes at his feet. He was consenting unto the death of Stephen. He was zealous for God, but his zeal was without knowledge, without direction.

What made the loss of Israel so tragic was the fact that they were actually a very zealous and God-fearing people, superior in every way to the Gentiles, whose godlessness was the shame of all nations. Sanday’s quotation from Josephus stresses this character of the Jews, thus:

They had a zeal of God …. The Jew knew the Law better than his own name …. The sacred rules were punctually obeyed …. The great feasts were frequented by countless thousands …. Over and above the requirements of the Law, ascetic religious exercises advocated by the teachers of the Law came into vogue …. Even the Hellenized and Alexandrian Jews under Caligula died on the cross and by fire, and the Palestinian prisoners … died by the claws of African lions in the amphitheater, rather than sin against the Law …. The tenacity of the Jews, and their uncompromising monotheism, were seen in some conspicuous examples. In the early part of his procuratorship, Pilate, seeking to break through their known repugnance to everything that savoured of image-worship, had introduced into Jerusalem ensigns surmounted with silver busts of the emperor. Upon this, the people went down in a body to Caesarea, waited for five days and nights in the marketplace, bared their necks to the soldiers that Pilate sent among them, and did not desist until the order for the removal of the ensigns had been given. Later, he caused to be hung up in the palace in Jerusalem certain gilded shields bearing a dedicatory inscription to Tiberius. Then again, the Jews did not rest until, by their complaints addressed directly to the emperor, they had succeeded in getting them taken down. The consternation caused by Caligula’s order for the erection of his own statue in the Temple is well known. None of the Roman governors dared to carry it into execution; and Caligula himself was slain before it could be accomplished.

It would take volumes and libraries to recount the heroic zeal of the Jews which finally culminated in the bloody sorrow of Masada, where Eleazar ben Yair made his courageous stand against the Tenth Legion of Rome. When all hope was cut off:

Rather than become slaves to their conquerors, the defenders – 960 men, women, and children thereupon ended their lives at their own hands. When the Romans reached the heights next morning, they were met by silence.

How fitting it was that Paul should have here paid his tribute to the nobility and zeal of that wonderful people who were, until they rejected the Christ, God’s chosen people.

But not according to knowledge … is a reference far more than Israel’s rejection of our Lord and their failure to recognize him as the Messiah. As just noted, Josephus said that they knew the Law “better than” their own names; but it was such a knowledge as failed to take account of the spiritual nature of God’s word. Jesus said to the Jews of his day:

Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).

Ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition …. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men (Matt. 15:6,9).

Thus the Jewish ignorance of God’s word extended to the very heart of it, which they had so corrupted with human tradition and so glossed over with their own interpretations that many of the plainest precepts were countermanded. Thus, the failure of Israel, about to be mentioned in the next verse, refers not merely to their rejection of Christ (which they also did), but to their failure to keep even the commandments of the Law which they acknowledged, preferring their own traditions and precepts instead of it.


A second relationship is knowledge without zeal. If zeal without knowledge, excitement without proper light, is a tragedy, knowledge without zeal  is  a  greater  tragedy.  When one  has knowledge without zeal, it means he knows the correct way; he just does not have enough interest to walk in it.

Numerous examples are given in the New Testament, but I shall cite only two from Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus instructed John the apostle to write letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. The first letter was written to the church at Sardis.

Jesus said of the church at Sardis, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Here was a church that was well thought of. It had a good name. Maybe it had a large membership. Maybe it had a wonderful place to meet. Maybe it had many wealthy members. I do not know why it had a good name. But Jesus who sees behind the scenes, who sees the hearts of men, said that even though they had a name that they were alive they were dead.

What was the problem? Did they understand? Oh, yes. They had correct understanding, but they did not have enough enthusiasm to live according to the light they had. That is a problem that often faces people who have understood the truth for a long time. Maybe in the beginning there was zeal, enthusiasm, and excitement; but as time went on, the fires of enthusiasm burned low. Knowledge without zeal must be the greatest tragedy of all.

Another  letter  was  sent  to  the  church  at Laodicea. Jesus spoke some of the saddest words of Scripture to this church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15, 16). The Laodicean church knew what was right; they had enlightenment, but they had no excitement. Jesus is actually telling the Laodicean church, “I wish you were altogether for Me or against Me. I would rather you would be completely cold than lukewarm.”

It seems from a human standpoint that it would be better to be lukewarm, sort of on Jesus’ side, than to be altogether cold. But not so. He said, “I would that you were cold or hot.” The person who makes no profession of following Jesus would do less harm to the cause of Christ than the professed follower who has no real interest in Christ. It is knowledge without zeal. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me,

‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). No, it is not enough to know. There must be the doing of it.


There is a third relationship between zeal and knowledge. That is when one has knowledge plus zeal. Knowledge plus zeal is knowing the correct way to God and being excited about it—wanting to live in it and walk in it. We must find ourselves in these relationships. We owe it to ourselves and God to search His Word and discover what is right. Having discovered what is right, we must have enough interest in it to walk in His way.

CONCLUSION. No, it is not enough just to be sincere. One’s excitement must be governed by “thus saith the Lord.” This is what we plead for. It certainly is not enough to know the correct way and have no real excitement about doing it. But when one has understanding, correct understanding, and excitement about it, you have the  correct  relationship  between  zeal  and knowledge.



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Posted by on November 11, 2021 in Romans


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