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Paul made the case that Jews of his day were abandoning the message, but Gentiles were coming to Christ even though they hadn’t been seeking the God of Abraham. At the end of Romans 9 we read:
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. (NASB, Rom. 9:30)
The first insight that we surely must gain from that reality is this:
Religion Isn’t the Way to God
Paul’s heart was broken because of Jewish defection from the message he brought to his people, and that was made clear in the beginning of Romans 10. He admits that these Jews were religious, but not saved:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. (Rom. 10:1-2)
That is worth considering. Religious zeal doesn’t save a person. Prayerfully ascending a stone stairway, weeping as I move upward on my knees, even if it is accompanied by beating my back with a whip and moaning about my sin is not the God-ordained method to open a relationship with Him. It may leave me with bloody knees and a scarred back—but it isn’t the door God provided to get into a relationship with Him. Why do people seek religious zeal, then? There are two ideas we should recall.
First, They Confuse What Truth Is
We must admit that it isn’t the amount of zeal or sincerity of belief in something that makes it true. You may feel something deeply, but that doesn’t make what you feel true. Truth is what conforms to reality—not what you wish reality is. You may feel wealthy, but your bank records hold the story of your monetary standing. You may feel pure, but an exacting record of your thoughts and actions tell the truth about your heart. You may feel honest, but a precise record of every word you have thought and spoken when placed beside the truth you know will tell the actual story.
We are living in a time when this basic premise is being obscured. People are often saying things they feel publicly and making them truth claims—even if they don’t conform to reality. The Bible claims that God deals in actual truth, not in people’s self-evaluation of their own net-worth.
Second, It Is So Appealing to Come in Through the Door of Religion
The door of religion is so appealing because we feel we did something to contribute to the relationship with God. In essence, in religious practice, we can easily claim that we earned the relationship with God by our labor. It feels like Heaven is a wage for our perseverance and dedication—and that is just another way for man to tell God what God should want.
Rebellion is resetting the rules; it is establishing a different door than the one that God provided to enter and meet Him. What we need to remember is this: If God is Creator and Redeemer—we must come through the door He provides and according to His instructions.
Atonement Isn’t the Way to God—Even If It Once Was.
Paul continued addressing the difficulty Jewish people had during his time accepting the message of justification by grace through faith in the work of Jesus alone.
For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:3-4)
Here Paul claimed four truths:
First, that Jews did not truly understand the character of God’s righteousness. Anyone who supposes that a bottle of lamb’s blood is equal to the violation of the Holy One doesn’t truly understand the nature of God in an intimate way.
Imagine you were due for a very delicate brain surgery. The best surgeon in the world was flown in for this most difficult of all surgeries. You signed all the papers. You recognize that there is a good chance the surgery will fail and even that you may be making an exit from the planet. The surgical suite is meticulously maintained. The surgeon scrubbed every necessary part of his arms and hands. Masks were donned. Surgical scrubs were worn by the entire crew. The instruments of the surgery—from scalpels to saws were all sterilized with the best techniques known to man.
What is all the fuss about? The tiniest particle of impurity can destroy the carefully sterilized area and cause major health issues for you as a patient. Here is the truth: God’s righteousness is absolute—a factor much more complete than our most sterile man-cleaned environment. The tiniest breach of righteousness destroys the perfection of the environment. God tolerates nothing imperfect in His righteous state. If one understands the exacting detail of God’s righteousness, they see the tiniest sin as a “big deal” to God.
Second, the Jewish people sought to establish their own righteousness. They aren’t the only people in the world to ever try to do this. Every religious group that gets confused between revealed truth and their own rules does it. When people make up rules that help them participate in their faith, they also run into the danger of creating the feeling they earned standing with God—in that way they can even misguidedly establish their own door to God. The problem is, only the one that God opens will get you in. Heaven isn’t a well-guarded bank, it is an “impossible to access” place designed by the Designer of you. He knows what He wants, and what we think He should want is utterly irrelevant.
Let’s say you are trying to lose a few extra pounds. The problem is that you have a metabolism that appears to be smarter than you are. When you eat less, it burns less. When you eat more but exercise more, it still packs on pounds. Late one night you are watching television because you can’t sleep. One of the world famous ads fills the screen with promises. “Eat whatever you wish—as much as you wish. Just take this little supplement, and you will shed pounds.”
It sounds too good to be true, but you figure, “Hey, they are on TV, right? I mean there must be something to what they are saying, don’t you think?” You order. Your supplements show up four to six weeks later. The only weight you lose is what leaves your wallet.
A few weeks later you are watching late night TV again. After the pictures of starving children go off, a religious looking man in a nice suit fills the screen, and now he is standing in front of a big choir in what appears to be a church. He tells you that you can have a relationship with God, but you need to join his group—which incidentally costs a few dollars. Here is what I am saying: It won’t even work as well as the supplements you bought. If the man isn’t making clear that a relationship with God comes only through the grace of God (unearned) by means of believing exactly what God said about access to Him—from His Word—He is offering a worthless message to a hopeless listener.
Third, the Jewish people would not submit to the door God provided. Here is the big problem. The more we believe another message, the more we reject the one God gave us. We can fuss all we want about our good works and how we are not as bad as someone else, but the bottom line is this: What has God said He wants you to do to walk in the door He has provided?
You decided after much bugging by your spouse that you would finally go on a cruise from one of our lovely Florida ports. You don’t really want to go, but it seems to make your spouse happy, and offers the air of romance to your marriage, so you figure, “Why not?”
You book the state room with a lovely balcony. The third day of the cruise you take an excursion to do some scuba diving. The company has everything arranged and off you go in the little skiff they provide to go out to sea. For whatever reason, the man steering the little vessel doesn’t warn you about a big wave approaching, and you are not seated properly in the boat as it moves swiftly through the water.
The wave hits hard, and you fly out of the boat. You are a decent swimmer, but the water is pretty rough, and you hurt your arm as you were hurled from the boat. Now you are struggling a bit, hurting and disoriented from the sudden toss overboard. The skiff slows and turns. The operator tosses you the life preserver.
You look at it and decide you don’t like the color.
He circles the boat toward you and you decide to backstroke in the other direction, yelling at him because he won’t provide rescue the way you want it. You blame him, and he is watching you drown in your own objections.
That sounds ridiculous, but it is happening all over the world right now. People are sinking in sin, rejecting the life preserver because they think they should have the right to decide its shape, its color, its make.
The fourth truth is the most significant: the only door that works is Jesus. During that last night of Jesus’ earth ministry, He shared with His men about the place to which He was about to go.
John 14 recorded these words:
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. “And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:1-6)