The Way of Righteousness
The Way of Righteousness
February 18, 2007
The Koran begins with a very short chapter called the Fatihah (part of which was uttered by an Iman at a recent political meeting). It says; Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray. It is repeated at each of the 5 times of prayer for the devout Muslim.
The favored, of course are those who submit to Allah and who recognize Muhammad as his prophet.
Today, we will look at the way of Righteousness as revealed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only does it contradict the way prescribed by the Fatihah, but it also is the reason why so many Jews in Paul’s day, and alas, so many others of today, Jew and Gentile alike, have refused the Way of Righteousness offered by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 9-11 is dealing with the situation Paul and the early Christians faced, including Jewish believers, in which the church was slowly but surely becoming Gentile, and that, in fact, many of the Jewish believers were again turning to the law to supplement their faith in Christ.
The Way of Righteousness prescribed by Romans is by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the law. And further, the law, properly understood finds its end, as Paul puts it, and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Way of Righteousness Brings the Gospel to the World
Unbelief is not because of lack of opportunity
Point One: The Facts 9.30-10.5
Romans 9:30-10:5 (ESV)
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? 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." 1 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from 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. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
First of all, what do we mean by the way of righteousness? By it we mean here, (righteousness will means something different in 10.3) the way in which we find favor with God. Or, the way we gain acceptance before God.
The Gentiles have attained righteousness even though they did not pursue it and the Jews have not despite their efforts in attaining it. Those are the indisputable facts which the Roman Christians are faced with.
And Paul says why.
Romans 9:31-32 (ESV)
31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
And the Gentiles:
Romans 9:30 (ESV)
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
The law is shorthand for the OT. Favor before God came, they thought, by carefully fulfilling the law and all of its demands. However, as Paul alludes, if acceptance before God came through keeping the law, why do you need Christ? You really don’t.
This isn’t the first time this has happened in Israel’s history. They before had ceased to be believers, and now the same thing was happening all over again. They were apostates.
Why? Romans 9:32 (ESV)
32 Why? 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."
Ironically, in pursuing righteousness by law keeping, they have failed not only to attain righteousness, but they have also failed to keep the law (v 31).
Paul is saying, “Like a huntsman after his prey, Israel set out to catch the law, but it eluded her grasp. For all her devotion to the law, she has failed to tame it, failed to persuade it to yield up the prize it guards, (righteousness), and missed its inner purpose and meaning.
Israel has failed to keep the law and more importantly has failed to understand its purpose.
Point Two: Purpose of the Law 5-13
Here’s the problem.
The Jews knew the verse, Leviticus 18:5 (ESV)
5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.
That verse, alone, sounds as if Paul is wrong. It sounds as if favor before God comes to person who keeps God’s statutes. And it does!
He also quotes from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and Proverbs 30.7
Notice in verse 6 the word, But in verse 6. Paul is using Deuteronomy 30.12-14 to interpret Leviticus 18.5
Deuteronomy 30:12-14 (ESV)
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.
“If a person does them, he shall live by them…” Lev 18.5 The promise of life in Leviticus does not depend solely on preserving the ‘works’ which was a distinctive mark of the Jewish lifestyle, but Dt 30 is summoning him to a faith-righteousness – a transformation of the heart, an inner obedience which springs from faith.
Therefore the doing of the law which leads to life requires faith not simply a constant striving to maintain the super-purity of a distinctive Judaism.
The Way of Faith is the Way of Righteousness and this means that Christ is now accessible by all, not by some. There is no need to scale the heights to be perfectly obedient (which is impossible) or the descend to the depths which is a way of eliminating all sources of evil which prevent us from faith in Christ.
Christ is the end of the law – Romans 10:4 (ESV)
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Christ fulfilled the law. The law finds its fulfillment in him. In fact, the law of the OT demotes itself in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord for in him is the fulfillment of the law.
And that fulfillment of the law is given to us by faith.
Properly understood, Leviticus 18.5, as interpreted by Deut 30.12-14 means that the gospel can now go to the whole world.
Christ is made accessible by proclaiming the gospel –
Romans 10:8-10 (ESV)
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); 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.
Some think Paul is reminding his readers of baptismal vows they made – but verses 8-10 flow from the nearness of gospel to everyone.
Because the gospel is now accessed by faith, and not by becoming a Jew or an Episcopalian (we have few works of the law), or by adding the alien practices of a different culture such as circumcision, dietary rules and other bits of religious practice– which is what the Judaizers were insisting Christians had to do; you become righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, who in his death and resurrection has paved the way for everyone to find forgiveness and acceptance before the God of the universe.
Point Three: Last Section – 14-21; No Excuse for either Jew or Gentile
Key here is v 17.
Romans 10:17 (ESV)
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The faith which saves, and which brings the law to its proper end – that is to Christ, is borne when an appointed messenger speaks, and the voice of Christ himself is heard.
This hearing, of course, is not just of sound waves coming into the ears. True faith brings an encounter with the living Christ and risen Christ speaking to us through the apostolic word.
The gospel does fall on deaf ears; but here and there, it falls on good soil (parable of Sower and the Seed) and produces a harvest.
What of those who haven’t heard in this way, or of those who haven’t heard the gospel in any form. What might Paul say.
Actually, they are without excuse. They have heard. Even if they have not responded with faith, they have still ‘heard’ sufficiently to render them without excuse for not believing; and even if they have not actually heard from an appointed messenger, they have the testimony of creation, and the testimony of God written on their hearts in the form of their conscience.
There are opportunities to hear.
Psalms 19:4 (ESV)
4 Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,
Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Then in verse 19, he turns to the Israelites. They have not been rejected. Although it is true that at the moment, they were not coming to faith in Christ, it is not true to say that there is no place for them in salvation of God.
Gentiles have been grafted in to the Olive tree. Yet the Lord is stretching out his hands to his people, but as of yet, they remain disobedient and contrary.
Acceptance before God is not through the law but by faith in Christ. Indeed, the law points us to Christ as its fulfillment as he perfectly kept the law and in our union with him, God looks upon us as if we had never sinned – although we do sin.
Israel has a zeal without knowledge. Religion, a search for God is not the answer. The answer is in Christ, and is apprehended by trusting in him.
The gospel of Christ, when believed, brings acceptance and forgiveness before the Lord, and that never changes. That is we don’t begin by faith, and then ‘earn’ our way. Our acceptance and forgiveness is by trusting in Jesus Christ, not in our own good works.
I have a friend who has given himself to founding a missionary society and they send missionaries to those parts of the world where little Christian work is being done. It is a wonderful ministry. However, sometimes I get the impression that this kind of work is more valuable than the safer, more comfortable work many parish clergy have.
That is to allow works to enter through the side door. There is plenty of witnessing to do. And we should support one another. But one is no more valuable to God as a missionary than a plumber or a minister. We were justified by faith, and remain accepted on that basis.