Getting Right With God

Getting Right With God

You please remain standing for a prayer and a reading of God’s word. We come to the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10. And as Micah mentioned earlier, chapter 9 highlights the sovereignty of God, and 10 highlights human responsibility. Paul is thinking in a dense and compact way and requires a bit more of us to understand as we enter into these texts. We look through the reading of God’s word if you join me in prayer. I’m blessed, Triune Lord, in your great name and in your providence. Lord, all the holy scriptures were written and preserved for our instruction. And we ask that you would give us grace to hear them proclaim this day, that you would strengthen our souls with the fullness of their divine teaching. Lord, that you’d keep us from pride and irreverence. And may it please you to guide us in the deep things of your heavenly wisdom. From your great mercy, lead us by your word into everlasting life through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whose name we now pray. Amen. Beginning in chapter 9 and just reading through chapter 10, verse 4. What shall, we say then, the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it?

That is a righteousness that is by faith, but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to a righteousness did not succeed in reaching the law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as it were, based on works, they have stumbled over the stumbling stone as it is written, ‘Behold, I’m laying in Zion a stone, a stumbling, and a rock of offense. Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. The word of the Lord. Please be seated. When someone says to another that they’re being legalistic, it generally means that the legalist is just strict about something, a common way that we use Someone might say, Well, they think going to church every Sunday is important. They’re just being legalistic. Well, that’s not really what the word means, and it’s strange that we used to just call that person a Christian.

But we redefined that word a bit. In a religious sense, the technical definition of legalism or a legalist is someone who’s trying to attain salvation by their own moral efforts. If I try hard enough, I can somehow earn my way to salvation. Now, I don’t think that there are a lot of purebred legalists out there in the wild, certainly some, but I think most are a hybrid. Sort of that God helps those who help themselves variety. The idea is that I can’t get there entirely on my own, but God is more than willing to give me a gracious push. And since God’s grace is on the curve, all I have to do is just remember to write my name at the top and just hand something in. Sort of minimal effort. And along with that, you fill that out with a comparison to someone worse. I may not be perfect, but look at them. Surely God can see the difference. A works righteousness based on their worse. Now, maybe our modern moment can be called the the legalism of good intentions. What I fail to actually do, I more than make up for in my good intent.

It’s still a form of working our way into right-standing with God, but it is harder to see. My intentions are what I want God to judge me on. And Paul was addressing a form of working for right-standing based on race. I want God to judge me because I’m Jewish. It’s still the same. It’s the same fruit. It’s just a different variety. An apple is an apple, a red delicious or a Macintosh. Different variety, but it’s still an apple. A righteousness where I do my bit But that’s essentially a righteousness that I earn myself. That’s what’s at the heart of it. It could be that full-on legalism where I pull myself up and I earn my way to God, or this lesser form of the hat tip towards grace, and then I just do my best. I try hard. I belong to a special group, I have a special status. I mean well. Hardcore legalism or legalism light, Paul says no to all forms of it. All forms of it, because right standing with the Lord comes only through what Jesus has accomplished. We must receive that righteousness by faith alone. Paul continues then to show what this looks like by comparing a self-made righteousness versus a God-given righteousness.

And he begins in verse 30. He said, What shall we say then? The Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it. Meaning they weren’t looking for God, but God found them. He goes on, That is a righteousness that is by faith, but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness, did not succeed in reaching that law. We hear a bit of Jesus’ own words from Matthew 8, when Jesus was saying, I tell you the truth, many will come from the east and from the west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meaning not just the Jewish people, but people from all over, the Gentiles coming in. While the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out in the outer darkness. That’s a reflection here of what Paul is saying as well. And the big question, which Paul says in verse 32, why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as it were, based on works. Now, Paul does not say they failed because they were not elect. He says they failed because they did not pursue righteousness by faith. Chapter 9, it showed us the divine element of everything that God is doing, that we cannot make God obligated in any way to save us.

Here in chapter 10, he’s showing us the human element and how these so beautifully dovetailed together. Paul’s kinsmen failed in the way that he pursued righteousness. You cannot pursue righteousness in any way that makes God your debtor. And that’s what they were doing. Paul saying it has always been by faith. And then he They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. Here he quotes from Isaiah 28, and Peter, in his letter, does the same. This idea of Jesus as a stumbling stone was part of the early church’s way of speaking of Jesus himself. And then he quotes from Isaiah, Behold, I’m laying in Zion a stone of stumbling a rock of offense. Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. And this idea then that Jesus is the stumbling stone of offense. But he is also the Stone of Rights. This is the foundation. And then Paul goes on expressing his heart, which we’ve heard earlier. Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them, for my fellow Jews, is that they might be saved. He shows this heart with an earnest prayer. He’s praying continually for them. And there’s this indefatible proclamation of Jesus that he always was doing.

Paul Paul’s practice was the first to go into a new area. He went to the synagogue first until they would throw him out. He wanted them to know, his brothers and sisters of a common heritage, to know the Messiah, Jesus. His heart ached for them. The early church, of course, we know it was all Jewish at the beginning. That’s who the word went to. Then it went out to the Gentile world. After that initial reception in Jerusalem, the majority of Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah. And of course, the question is why? And Paul goes on in verse 2, For I bear them witness. They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. And he recognizes that even within himself, if you look into his history, there is a fanaticism in Paul, a zeal without knowledge that he used to have. But we know that this is not just a Jewish problem. This is a human problem. We can easily choose to not see what we see, to not know what we know, a willful blindness, which eventually turns into a spiritual blindness.

And my identity can now come from my zeal, my dedication, but not from being in Christ. That’s a problem of all people, particularly religious people. The identity is in the zeal, but not in the personal work of Jesus. You see, if a person has a lot of zeal to defend Christianity and ends up punching someone in the face because of what they said about the Prince of Peace, you would say that person is not submitting their life to the very person they’re defending. It’s that well-known quote from philosopher Inigo Matoya, I do not think that word means what you think it means. If you end up, contrary to Jesus, in your zeal, that is not a zeal of love and grace and mercy that exemplifies Jesus. And Paul goes on. He said, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Well, what exactly does that mean, the end? That end, the Greek word is telos. And it has several different nuances. It could be fulfillment, it could be the termination of something, it could be the goal, the fulfillment, the end point. This summarizing then a lot of really fine commentators, Jesus is the goal, the aim of the intention of the law.

If you truly pursue the law in a right way, your goal really is Jesus at the end of it. From Abraham to Moses to David, you follow that trajectory and you end up at Jesus. He’s always been the goal. Now, some have argued that the main problem of the Jewish people was that they thought of righteousness not as a work, but as an issue of Jewish identity. The main problem would be exclusion based on race, that non-Jewish ought to be excluded. They can find grace to race. And no doubt for some, that was the issue. Surely that is included in what Paul is speaking of. But they also pursued God by works, by their own efforts. They failed to see the finality of grace brought in by Jesus. Again, it’s a human problem. I want to justify myself. And that question, I always comes back, why is grace so hard? Doesn’t it seem like grace should be super easy Hey, you don’t deserve this. Take it. But why do we fail and fall at grace? Because you must come to the end of yourself, an acknowledgement of who you really are at the very core of your being.

I’m a sinner unable to save myself. If you are truly saved by grace, there is no limit then to what God can ask of you. That could be a terrifying thing. I want to limit to what God can put on my life. I’m willing to do this much, but he’s asking me this much. If I contribute in some way, then I have a right to limit God’s request on me. He’s being a bit unreasonable here. But if all by grace, there’s no limit to what he can ask of us. It’s a frightening prospect. And living by this faith has always been hard. I somehow think that my self-made righteousness is my ticket out. In reality, though, it just sinks me further in my pit of sin and misery. And that’s why there’s just a stark contrast between a self-made righteousness and a God given righteousness. Paul goes on in verse 5, For Moses writes about the righteousness that’s based on the law, that the person who does the command shall live by them. Now, he’s quoting here from Leviticus 18, and he also does this quote in Galatians 3. It’s likely that Paul just heard this when he was out preaching to the various Jewish groups, that people would quote this back to him.

And Moses is not contradicting himself. Paul goes on to show this. He’s saying, You’ve misunderstood Moses. They’ve separated the law from the promise. And if they want to pursue righteousness in this truly legalistic way, it’s unattainable to everyone but Jesus, the very one they reject. Paul goes on, and he’s quoting from Deuteronomy 30. And the context there is Moses is giving his final speech to Israel. They’re about to enter into the promised land, and he’s already talking about their failure to obey. He’s looking ahead eventually to the exile that they will be brought into because of their disobedience. And he starts saying, When you’ve inevitably blown it and you turn back to the Lord, God will be remercial to you, and he will return you to this very place. ‘ And then Paul quotes here, but he also gives a little gloss at the same time. But the righteousness is based on faith, says, Do not say in your heart, who will ascend to heaven, that is, to bring Christ down. Or who will descend into the abyss? That is, to bring Christ up from the dead. But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth, in your heart.

That is the word of faith that we proclaim. The good news of God’s grace and mercy is easily accessible. That’s what Moses is saying. That’s what Paul is saying. You don’t have to go off and live in some ashram in the a mountain somewhere to meditate day and night in order to find enlightenment. You don’t have to get some advanced degree in theology or philosophy to figure out the truth because God has brought it to you. He is the one who’s come near to you. He’s accessible. Then Paul says, 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. Now, If you’re looking at Deuteronomy 30, you find Moses here, he speaks also of the word of God being in their mouth and their heart. Paul is using these same words, too. He’s showing that Moses and Jesus are not opposites. Moses is pointing people to Jesus as well because Jesus is the goal of the law. He is the promise. And if you stop with the law without the promise, you will not get there. It will break you to pieces.

But Jesus is the promise. The Bible shows us that there has not been different ways, different epochs, different dispensations, where God dealt with one group of people this way, and now this group of people in another way. No, salvation has always been by faith, faith in Jesus. That has always been the intent. Paul is pointing this out. Back in Deuteronomy 9, Moses clearly told the people, Hey, don’t say it’s because of your righteousness that God is going to bless you. In fact, he says just the opposite. He says, Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess this land. Making it very clear. Not about you. And this is what Paul points it. It’s a God-given righteousness. You don’t earn this, you receive it. Well, how do you receive it? If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, with a mouth one confesses and is saved. Now, this is not, as John Stott put it, salvation by slogan. It’s not like I just have to say the right formula.

No, you actually believe this. It’s being in a right relationship with the Lord. Again, even as chapter 9 spoke of the divine element of salvation, the calling in the election of God in Jesus Christ. So chapter 10 weaves in the human response of what it should look like. For scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame, quoting from Ezea. For there’s no distinction between Jew and Greek. For the same Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved from the Prophet Joel. God’s grace is a gift to us. It’s not something we earn. And this is really good news for everyone. Why is it so hard for the Jewish people that Paul is speaking about here? Because there wasn’t exclusivity and exceptionalism to their thinking. We’re special. We’re in, you’re out. We’re in, you’re out. And if you want to be in, you got to be like us. When you really dislike someone or some other group, maybe for good reasons, it’s really hard when you see them being blessed. And Jesus comes and he says, I died for them just like I died for you.

They’re now your brothers and sisters in me. And that can cut us really deep. Paul was not popular with his own people because of this. He was a traitor to them because of the universality of God’s grace and mercy that he was proclaiming. If you want to know your own self-righteousness, monitor it as it wells up when someone you don’t like is blessed. Because what’s one of the first things that comes to mind? It’s not fair. Why should they be blessed and I, whatever? It’s not fair. Grace and mercy is not about fairness. As I said, nobody ever wants to say, God, give me what I deserve. And this part of our fallen hearts, the Lord is hammering on because it takes away from the beauty of his mercy and his kindness. It takes away from the person and work of his son, Jesus. I have mentioned Henry Garakey before. He was the US Army Chaplain who was assigned to the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trial, 1945 to 1946. And just a short summary. All during that trial, Garakey, he ministered to infamous Nazis. They were put under his care, and he was greatly appreciated by them, and some of them put their faith in Christ through his ministry.

And of the 21 prisoners that were there, 11 were put to death. One of them, Joaquin von Ribbentrop. He’s a former Nazi Minister. He was called out first. And he was really disliked by everyone, even the rest of the Nazis. That tells you something about a person when Nazis don’t like you, and you’re one of them. A despised person. And before he walked to the gallows, he told Garakey, who was his chaplain, that he had put all his faith in Christ. And then Ribbentraub marched out as the first to one of the three scaffolds that are there. And he climbed the 13 steps to the trap door. A guard tied his legs, and an American officer asked him for his last words. And Ribbentob said, I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul. And then he turned to Garakey. He was there by his side, and he said, I will see you again. The hood was placed over his face, the 13 coil news around his neck, and he dropped through the trap door. The audaciousness of his statement is the power of grace.

Why could someone who’s so despised and despicable say something like that? Because of the grace and the mercy of Jesus, the righteousness of Christ given to him by faith alone. Now, Garakey himself went on into his ministry in St. Louis. He died in 1961 of a heart attack as he was leading a Bible study in an Illinois prison. And his eldest son, he found a thick file of letters in a a hidden compartment of Garakey’s desk. And they were postmarked from all over the United States. And he said, They call my father everything. He was called a Jew hater, a Nazi lover. They said that he should have been hanged at Nuremberg with the rest of them. He said, All these letters were written in the most hateful, vitral language imaginable. It’s not just a Jewish problem, is it? The human problem. It’s a recognition that I hate them. How can you do something that’s filled with love and kindness to hateful people? Like, I hate haters. You see the The problem of that, how easy that is to do. How can I hate someone for being kind and merciful? That’s the heart of a true legalist.

That somehow there’s something in me worthy of meriting God’s grace and forgiveness. Unlike them who are devoid of it. And this is Paul’s point to all of us. No, no, no, no, no. As hard as that is, it’s the same for you. You just don’t see yourself in the light of the Holiness of God and his righteousness. No one is going to stand before him by comparison and go, Well, at least I’m not that. It’s still a work. How could Garakey have done what he had done? Because he had mercy to give, because mercy he received. He knew the depth of his own depravity, the sin of his own heart. These men, they were lost souls needing the same righteousness of Christ that he needed, that he had been given. It cuts everyone off at the knees. That means then there’s no one who is outside of the reach of God’s mercy that you can’t be sent to, that you can look down upon because of the great largeness of God. And again, sometimes, if you’ve been the recipient of much evil from someone, that is a work of God’s your heart to be able to transform that towards love, to be sure.

But it is what God is doing through his son. He is the promise that the law pointed towards. He is the one that is bringing men, women, and children from every tribe, tongue, and nation to the Father as his own children. So that the words of the prophet indeed are true. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Pray with me. Father, as we come before you this day, we just say thank you. Thank you for your grace and your mercy. And Father, we do also ask that by the work of your spirit dwelling in us, that you would ruthlessly root out our own pride, self-righteousness. Father, that you would continue to go to the core of our very being, humble us before you. Lord, that we would be able to receive with open arms all that you have for us in your son, Jesus. And Father, we pray that you would be pleased to use us as those who would proclaim the good news of Jesus to a world in desperate need. And we pray and ask all these things in his precious name. Amen. Please stand, yet not I.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.