NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson V)
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards agrees that the more knowledge you have the greater will be the pressure to conduct yourself in a discreet and discretionary manner in your Christian life. To do so will bring more honor and glory to God and establish faith in Christ as the better way of living. There are many who mean well, and they are full of good intentions, yet, for the lack of discernment, they behave in such a way as to give Christianity a bad reputation. Although they say they are on fire for God, they do more harm than good. That’s because so many fall short of the glory of God in their daily lives and ministry. It’s not so much that they need more grace, they need more wisdom and spiritual perception. And such insight comes only from God’s Word and through the counsel of the Holy Spirit.1
Adam Clarke finds the Jews’ treatment of the law repulsive. Although they believe that the law came directly from God to Moses, oddly enough they became somewhat jealous of how it was glorified because of its excellence. While they conscientiously observed its rites, rituals, and ceremonies, they did not consider the real purpose of such acts of worship. Not necessarily because they consciously did so, but out of Ignorance more than with Intent. They use this as a convenient excuse when they are confronted by the Gospel. It may have seemed like an appropriate apology for them, but Paul is getting them ready for the harsh reality he is about to deliver.
It all came down to the fact that their so-called misunderstanding of God’s righteousness came from not knowing enough about God’s method for saving sinners. That’s why they went so far out on the limb to try to establish their own righteousness. Since they didn’t know how to obtain salvation from God, they decided to acquire salvation through their own efforts. With or without knowing it, they were refusing to bow to the will of the Most High. Even when told, they rejected God’s mode of saving mankind through faith in Jesus Christ. If they had decided to do things God’s way, it would have required them to acknowledge that Christ’s death on the cross was, in fact, the only available, acceptable, and God-approved sacrifice for sin. What seemed to hurt them the most was that this would also pronounce the law dead as it pertained to having any power to save.
Robert Haldane was convinced that the Apostle Paul acknowledged that his fellow Jews had great zeal for God and His Word. However, because of their attachment to the legal system of the Law, rather than having any joy for salvation in Christ, Paul was dismayed because there is no salvation by works. Not only was it an eyeopener to the Jews, but it serves as an important lesson to thousands who profess Christianity. Believe it or not, there are some that say if you are sincere in what you believe, it doesn’t matter if you understand what you believe. It is also incredulous, but some Christians will tell you what you should believe, but they really don’t believe what they are telling you. God did not set up His plan of salvation with leniency for those who claim ignorance or misunderstanding of what it really means.
It is one thing to have a faith full of works, but it is another to have a faith that really works. How can you be acceptable to God if you don’t know what you are doing? This will neither assure you of salvation nor will it serve as an excuse when you come up short of God’s glory. If you really want to know what God’s Word says about salvation, you must open your mind and be ready to believe what it tells you. The one big error made by the Jews was that they rejected out of pure ignorance the teaching of Christ and the Gospel preached by the Apostles. Had they only listened and tried to understood they would have given up their foolish attempt at establishing their own righteousness and plan of salvation. Just as John told us, Jesus came to His own, but His own would not accept Him.2 And by not accepting Jesus and His message, they rejected the plan of salvation sent to them by God3
Albert Barnes tells us there is another factor to consider in this proposed ignorance by the Jews in recognizing God’s way as opposed to their way. First of all, such ignorance was voluntarily on their part. That then made it more than just an error, it was a major felony. Paul does not excuse their actions because they really didn’t know what God’s plan of salvation was. He will clearly point that out later on in this chapter, verses 18-21. They were given enough information to know about God’s plan. The problem was, they didn’t give enough time to the attentive study of their own Scriptures that would have led them to the true knowledge of the Messiah and His righteousness such as what they would have read in the prophet Isaiah.4
Remember what Jesus told His critics? “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.”5 Jesus clearly indicates that there is power in God’s Word.6 So when Paul brought up the fact that they had either misread or not completely read what the Scriptures had to say about it, he did so in a way that they would not think he was chiding them for it, but simply trying to take some of the sting out of what he was about to say on the fact that ignorance is no excuse for sin and guilt. It was another way of Paul saying you can’t get into heaven by mistake.7
H. A. Ironside agrees that some Jews were filled with a mistaken zeal for God, marked by an outward adherence to Judaism as a divinely-established system and that they were earnestly trying to serve the God of their fathers but without really knowing God as their Father. That means, they refused the opportunity to gain a fuller revelation of who He really is. They were unable to see that God gave Himself, His plan, and His will through Christ Jesus His Son. Unfortunately, the same is true of many today who call themselves Christians, but their actions are anything but Christian.
Ironside touched on another subject that Paul was dealing with. The term “God’s righteousness,” as it’s used here, is somewhat different than “the righteousness of God.” We can see how the term “the righteousness of God” has been interpreted two ways. First, it indicates that God is consistent with His character. As such, He becomes an anchor for our souls, someone we know who will never treat us wrongly or do things to us out of spite or anger. The Scriptures reveal how He can be both just and the Justifier of those who put faith in Christ. All questions concerning sin have been settled by Him in the right way. That’s how God demanded it to be because that’s His divine nature. That’s how He conceived all along to deal with guilty sinners, and it is called Grace.
Secondly, is how this righteousness of God is imputed to those who believe in His Son. This is done when Christ His Son takes up His dwelling in the believer’s heart through the Holy Spirit. So with Christ inside, the believer then is capable of doing what is right in God’s eyes. In other words, with Christ’s help, believers can always do what is right before God and his fellowman without hesitation. This is how believers are made in the likeness of Christ by exhibiting His characteristics which are the same as God’s. This is how it was expressed by the prophet Jeremiah: “And this will be His name: ‘The LORD who does everything right and good.’8”9
Pastor Octavius Winslow preached on the subject of man’s own righteousness. In his sermon, he asked the question: Is digging out a self-made cistern to replace the infinite fountain of God righteousness the best that man can do to provide for his own righteousness?10 Of course, this comes from what God said about the children of Israel: “My people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me – the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”11 Not only is this cistern of self-righteousness shallow and narrow, but it has leaks. That means it cannot hold this man-made righteousness for very long. It constantly needs replacing. But there’s more because this cistern is cracked it means that it is fractured by guilt, anxiety, and fear. And in spite of man’s attempt at repairs, they last only for a short while.
This only causes more frustration and stress knowing that danger lies ahead and beyond that certain punishment no matter what this individual may do can fix the problem. They may decide to start attending church every Sunday, read their Bible and have devotions every day, say a prayer before every meal, listen to religious music on the radio, even attend various rites, rituals, and ceremonies at their local church. But none of it will count because it is all good works done out of fear and dread. Even though they have done their best, it’s not enough. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace the righteousness of God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Charles Hodge feels that we need not be apologetic and excuse the ignorance of the Jews about the difference between their righteousness and God’s righteousness. After all, their understanding of God and how He works were neither enlightened nor wise. They put too much emphasis on their perceptions of God and not enough on His personality. The Jews were very zealous about the law, the traditions of their fathers, and always trying to find new ways to build a bigger barn to house their growing sum of merit accrued through good works. It is no secret then, that being so overzealous would naturally cause them to put their faith in man-made objects of veneration and in the observance of external rites. It would be more a matter of pride in what they are able to do than trusting in what God can do. So when you ask them about their zeal for God and His Word, they will look at you as though that doesn’t matter. In other words, that’s not something they really need to worry about because of what the Church has promised them for their adherence to its rites, rituals, and ceremonies.
It’s obvious the Jews didn’t know that all of what’s done in the name of their religion should be to and for God. This is what bothered the Apostle Paul so much, and why he continued to cautioned them about it. His greatest fear was they would think that their self-righteousness would serve as justification. But that is not the basis on which the sentence of justification is founded. No amount of righteousness, either personal and inherent, can justify us in the eyes of God. As we have no righteousness of our own, nothing that we have done or experienced, nothing personal or subjective, can answer the demands of the law, we can be justified only through the righteousness of God, imputed to us by the Holy Spirit and received by faith in the work Christ did on the cross.12
1 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 226)
2 John 1:11
3 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 501
4 Isaiah 53:1-12
5 Matthew 22:29
6 Romans 1:16
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Jeremiah 23:6
9 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Jeremiah 2:13
12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 519-520