A few days ago I went to Publix on my way home from church to grab a few things. I’m not usually the one to do our grocery shopping and so I’m very unfamiliar with the layout of Publix and what is on what aisle. I am aware there are signs above each aisle to help, but there’s five things on the signs and five thousand items for sale in each aisle. So, it’s something of a usual occurrence for me to be lost in the grocery. But this past Friday I went with hope that I would find what I needed. I successfully found the first few items I was looking for and began thinking that this trip was going well, but it all fell apart with the final item on my list, shredded cheese. It wasn’t on any of the signs hanging above the aisles, so I asked someone, they smiled and laughed, (which wasn’t encouraging) and said ‘Oh, it’s on the other side of the store.’ I thought to myself, ‘That’s not helpful at all. I need an exact address!’ But I thanked them and set off for the other side of the store, still didn’t find it, which led me to my last resort. I called Holly and said, ‘They don’t have any shredded cheese in this store!’ She laughs, just like the employee I asked, and told me exactly where it was. I got it, paid, and walked out of the store defeated by Publix, yet again!
I do wonder, if some of you felt this way as we went through Romans 9. You come face to face with the sovereignty of God in salvation, reading and hearing the strong rebuking language of Paul, and feel a bit disoriented. I felt this way at first, and I know many of you have as well. Perhaps it’s good for us to feel lost every now and then as we read and study Scripture, because it creates a desperation in us. Out of which we plead with God to come and make plain what is cloudy to us. As we move on into Romans 10, we still find ourselves in the large argument of Romans 9-11 about the place of Jew and Gentile in the grand plan of God, but we do return to themes we’ve seen before. Paul’s heart for the lost, the gospel, and the need to get the gospel out to the world.
We’ll see all this and more in the weeks ahead, so, let’s enter Romans 10.
A Great Heart (v1)
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
When we come to the start of chapter 10 we’re reminded of the start of chapter 9. There Paul said, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Yes, God is sovereign over the hearts of all men, but Paul isn’t rejoicing or taking delight in Israel’s rejection of Christ. Rather, he states in crystal clear terms, his innermost desire for Israel is that they would be saved.
This great heart of the Apostle Paul teaches us two things. First, Paul’s great heart shows us the heart we need to have.Think of it. Paul was once a Pharisee, a kind of Israelite nationalist. But when God saved him, he began preaching to his own kinsmen, laboring among them to convince them of the truth. The Jews responded to his efforts with reviling, with mocking, and with violence. Why? Because they hated him, they saw him as a traitor, a defector, and so they rejected him and his new teaching. Paul knew they were in error, blind to the beauty of Christ, and dead to the God they professed to know. And yet, did Paul respond to this with his own hatred in return? With his own mocking? With his own violence? No. Paul responds with love for them.
How like Christ is Paul here?! How gospel-saturated is this?! By having this great heart toward the Jews, Paul is treating them the way God treated him. Extending the same grace he didn’t deserve but received in the gospel. We all know someone, perhaps many people, who are close to us that rejects the gospel. Maybe they even mock it and mock us for believing it. How do you handle such a person? Do you get angered yourselves, and give them exactly what they’ve given you? Or do you get onto your social media feeds and post your own memes or quotes about how their position and beliefs are idiotic and worthless?? Or, do you avoid these kinds of people all together because you can’t stand to be around them? Church, if we as the Church don’t respond in love, or live insulated lives avoiding those who reject the gospel, for whatever reason, how is the gospel going to get out there? There really is no excuse we can give. Even in these days, when Christians are being marginalized in the public square for all kinds of things, the great heart in v1 needs to be recovered. This is the first thing we learn from Paul’s great heart.
The second thing is this. Paul’s great heart shows us how to rightly respond to sovereignty. It is quite something to see 10:1 after all we see in chapter 9. Do you see that? Some read chapter 9, hear the sovereignty of God in salvation, and come away thinking that since God is this sovereign over all things there really isn’t any point to desiring or praying for the salvation of the lost. Yet here is Paul doing that very thing in 10:1! This shows us how unhealthy, how wrong, and how sinful it is to be unmoved or unburdened over the lost because God is sovereign. Sovereignty didn’t lead Paul to a frigid coldness for his fellow Jews. So, how does this all make sense? Think of it like this. God ordains not only the end all men will arrive at one day (that’s chapter 9), but God also ordains the means for them to get there (that’s chapter 10). What then are the means God uses to save His elect? Does He just zap them, or snap His fingers, and draw them in from the nations? No. There is only one way of salvation. Through faith in Christ! Through believing the message of the gospel. And just as Eve was to be Adam’s helpmate in having dominion and spreading the image of God throughout the world, so too it is the Church who is to be the helpmate of Christ in spreading the gospel throughout the world. We, you and I, us together as we’re gathered here and us together as we scatter from here, go out into the world with this message, and through our preaching the gospel, God saves those who believe. The Church then, is intended by God to be the means by which the elect come to hear of the great salvation He is bringing about in Christ. Yes, God is sovereign, and yes nothing can thwart or frustrate His purposes, but to not participate in the preaching and the spreading of the gospel, to not be burdened for the lost, is a great sin.
That’s all there in v1, and we need this great heart. But as we move on to v2-3 we see there is more to Paul’s burden. We see the reason he is burdened so greatly is that the Jews have a great religiosity.
A Great Religiosity (v2-3)
Look at v2 first, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”
Paul speaks positively at first. “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God…” Great. Zeal is a good thing. But then Paul gives the whole story in the rest of v2, that their zeal isn’t according to knowledge. Does that surprise you? That zeal, or fervent sincerity, can be false? Many today think you can believe just about anything as long as you’re sincere about it. But we ought to remember that one, though sincere, can be sincerely wrong. Such were the Jews. And don’t forget, such was Paul once. He was extremely zealous in his service to God. He sincerely believed he was honoring God by hunting down Christians to silence them, throw them in jail, or even kill them. But God interrupted his zealousness, literally blinded him with the beauty and glory of Christ, saved him, and opened his eyes and heart to the truth of the gospel throughout all the Scriptures. Paul’s zeal took a great turn then. Before he was zealous for the traditions of his of the Jews and of his fellow Pharisees, but now his zeal was in accord with the truth. Which shows us a great part of his burden in v1, is that the Jew’s zeal was still in accord with error.
Church, zeal can be great. But zeal without knowledge is like a bazooka in the hands of a lunatic.
But what is this ‘knowledge’ in view here in v2 that the Jews missed in their zeal? We see it in v3, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” Righteousness! Righteousness is the issue. Righteousness is what they were ignorant of! It was God’s righteousness they weren’t submitting to. How so? After receiving the Law of God on Mt. Sinai, Moses told them in Deuteronomy 6:25, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God…” This verse teaches that if Israel had kept, had obeyed all the Law of God perfectly, it would have made them righteous. So, Israel set their sights on that goal, believing they could obey the Law. But as their history shows, they couldn’t. And rather than admitting that, rather than returning to God in desperation, rather than returning back to the Law to see if they read it rightly, they began inventing all kinds of new laws, new ceremonies, new rituals, and new rites that they could keep. And when they kept these, they considered themselves to be obedient to the Law of God and therefore, altogether righteous. That’s what v3 says. Being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, ultimately led them to not submit to God’s righteousness revealed in the Law. They truly had zeal, and they truly were religious. But it was their great zealous religiosity that blinded them from the truth.
See the error in v2-3 of this great religiosity.
Zeal is not a guarantee that one knows the truth. Haven’t we all had zealous Mormons and zealous Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking on our door? Aren’t Muslim terrorists zealous for their own faith? Many are very zealous for wrong and wicked things in this world. But closer to home, Christian zeal can often go amiss. One can be zealous for right – robust – reformed doctrine and still miss Christ. One can be zealous for church growth and expansion and still miss Christ. One can be zealous for Sunday school, zealous for church attendance, zealous for Bible reading, zealous for small groups, and zealous for this ministry and that ministry, zealous for all things Christian and yet still miss Christ! We Christian parents can be very zealous in teaching our kids to act Christianly, but why do we do that? So that God would be glorified? Or that their good behavior will reflect great good back on us? Or that their bad behavior won’t embarrass us out in public? One more example. Holly and I were once part of a congregation that expanded their building with a full gymnasium and tons of classrooms around it to serve the city. And once it was built a local Christian school the church was close to inquired about moving into it and using the space during the week. Most people were eager to see this happen, but a few folks got all bent out of shape about it because they said the kids would ruin the brand new carpet.
The error of the Jews in v2-3 is very present here today. Anytime the traditions of man become more important to us than God, we show ourselves to be ignorant of God’s righteousness, to be seeking to establish our own righteousness, and to be unwilling to submit to God’s righteousness. We all do this in various ways, some more pronounced than others, perhaps that’s a good thread to pull on in small groups this week. I think we know this problem of great religiosity present in v1-3, let’s turn to v4 now and see the remedy to this all.
A Great Savior (v4)
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Earlier I said the problem in v2-3 was Israel inventing all kinds of new laws, ceremonies, rituals, and rites they could keep. And when they kept these, they considered themselves to be obedient to the Law of God and therefore, altogether righteous. But what they missed was the very righteousness of God! You see, God gave His Law, remember back in chapter 7, to expose sin, to silence all boasting, to kill not to heal, and to ultimately chase us to the One who came to fulfill every righteous demand of the Law, the Lord Jesus. v4 is the answer to all of v1-3. Christ is the One in whom God’s Law is fulfilled. He is the One in whom God’s righteousness is displayed. In this way Jesus is the end of and the purpose of God’s Law. So those who come to Christ in faith, those who believe in Him, are given His very righteousness as a gift.
Think of v4 in terms of a race. The finish line of a race is both the end of the race and the goal of that race. So too, Jesus is both the end of the Law and the goal of it as well.
Yet, when He came on the scene and began doing great works and revealing Himself to many, the Jews were so taken up and busy with their own zeal and religious traditions and customs that they entirely missed Him! They missed Him, even though they were ones to whom the great promises about His coming were made! They missed Christ and they should’ve known better!
Have you missed Him too? That’s the question pressing down on us here isn’t it? Many have grown up in and have entrenched themselves in many zealous religious activities and traditions, thinking that keeping them has made them righteous. This passage wakes us back up to the reality that you can be zealous for “God” and zealous for “righteousness” and yet entirely miss the point!
Oh, that we would see it! Ever since the fall of man into sin, we have ever been seeking righteousness in countless fallen and corrupt ways through our man made customs, causes, rites, and rituals. Do you remember our call to worship today? Jeremiah spoke about these very things, so Jeremiah 23:1-6 says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for My people: “You have scattered My flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD our righteousness.’
See it Church? Those who are truly righteous aren’t the ones filled with religious zeal but those who have faith in Jesus! He is our righteousness.
Church, the world isn’t lacking zeal today. Everyone seems to be zealous for something. You all are zealous for many things! May Christ, may His gospel, may His work, be what your most zealous about in this life. Is anything else worthy of more zeal? No way.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 650.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Saving Faith (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 5–13.
 Moo, Romans, 659.
 Gospel Transformation Study Bible, note on 10:1-4, 1516.