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Romans 10:1-21: Israel and Misplaced Zeal

desert background with heart and Israel 5-pointed star; also verse from Romans 10:1 my prayer is for the people of Israel to be saved

In Chapter 9, Paul expressed his grief over his kinsmen and how they had rejected Jesus. In Chapter 10, he returns with a bit more explanation. He illustrates that Israel had three problems. 

Israel’s three problems

  1. They had zeal without knowledge. They were committed, passionate, energetic, and worked hard at their religious activity but lacked the true message. 
  2. They underestimated God’s righteousness and how holy He is.
  3. They wanted to establish their own righteousness and define the terms of their righteousness. 

We tend to think we are better or at least better than our neighbors. We don’t use an accurate measuring stick when measuring our own holiness. God does not grade us against one another or grade us on a curve. He says we all fall short of the glory of God.

Calvin and Hobbes have a great comic that loosely applies here. Hobbes asks Calvin if he has been good enough since Calvin expresses his worry about Christmas. Then, Calvin goes on to question Santa’s definition of goodness. He hasn’t killed anyone – that’s good! He didn’t start wars, commit felonies, or to use the ten commandments, commit adultery, covet, lie or steal! Hobbes is wise, “But maybe good is more than the absence of bad.”

Hallelujah! Jesus is the completion of the law; He keeps the law for us, and His righteousness is our gift! We gaze on the righteousness of Jesus and are captivated by Him!

Paul explains how Israel missed the point and then said, “BUT!” Don’t miss the transitions in Paul’s writings –
they are often powerful.

The gospel simplified

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Notice what Paul says about salvation by faith in Romans 10:6-9:

  1. It is not difficult. You don’t have to go to the heavens or the depths. We don’t build a tower like the Tower of Babel to reach God – God came down to us! Salvation by faith is right here. Remember the promise in Jeremiah (verses above) — our faith is a gift from God written on our hearts!
  2. It requires more than intellectual assent – it requires trusting God to be who He says He is and that He will do what He says. Salvation involves the heart.
  3. Salvation by faith requires a verbal profession – we confess with our mouths. In Paul’s day, believers were being persecuted and, no doubt, given an opportunity to recant, to profess allegiance to Caesar. To confess Jesus is Lord was costly!
  4. Last, notice it isn’t just any confession. We confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead. That’s the gospel in a sentence!

Preachers were sent

Typically I have heard sermons from Romans 10:14 – 15 as a call to evangelism, that there are people who have not yet heard the gospel, and unless we send out preachers, they might not hear. And that’s OK, certainly sending out missionaries is important! But Paul is not writing commands here but instead is using rhetorical questions to make his point. Paul illustrates that the Jews had no excuse not to believe in this instance. God sent them the gospel message, and they rejected both the messengers and the message. They heard and understood the message. But note the sad words Paul uses to describe their response to God:

But concerning Israel he says,
“All day long I have held out my hands
    to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

Romans 10:21

Israel is God’s beloved son. He actively extended himself to them rather than waiting to be found. He chose, protected, and guided them. And He continues, even today, stretching out His arm to them, pleading with them to return, like a parent urging a kid to come home. But God does not hear from Israel – instead, they give a negative, rebuffing, and disdainful reaction. They are committed to being a rebellious and stubborn people. We experience God’s anguish through Paul’s words.

The “so what” question

You might think, OK, that’s Israel, but why should their rebellion matter to me? Well, first, as Christians, we care about all those who are lost. But theirs is also a cautionary tale to the church and to each of us individually.

I can’t help but think about me, Beth, a gentile, one for whom Jesus suffered on the cross! He did that for me so that I might know Him today and live in the fullness of His presence. May I never take that for granted? Or worse, continue in my obstinate and rebellious ways!

There is a warning against religious zeal disconnected from the gospel of Jesus. It is easy to slip into works-based thinking. The church must remember that salvation is all God’s work, provision, and gift to us. Salvation is more than intellectual assent, attending church, doing good works, or living a moral life. Over the years, various preachers have estimated that some 50 to 90% of church attendees are not really believers. That’s an astounding statistic! But lest you be tempted to point to the family at the end of the pew, the best place to start is with your own heart!

Hymn of Introspection

Have thy affections been nailed to the cross?
Is thy heart right with God?
Dost thou count all things for Jesus but loss?
Is thy heart right with God?

Hast thou dominion o’er self and o’er sin?
Is thy heart right with God?
Overall evil without and within?
Is thy heart right with God?

Is there no more condemnation for sin?
Is thy heart right with God?
Does Jesus rule in the temple within?
Is thy heart right with God?

Are all thy powers under Jesus’ control?
Is thy heart right with God?
Does He each moment abide in thy soul?
Is thy heart right with God?

Art thou now walking in heaven’s pure light?
Is thy heart right with God?
Is thy soul wearing a garment of white?
Is thy heart right with God?

EA Hoffman 1899
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