A COMMON MISTAKE

When it comes to religion there is one mistake that seems to be the most common. It is observable in the major world religions, in the various cults, in cultural perspectives, and in individual, personal beliefs.

It is a mistake that gives some people a false security before God and causes others to turn away from God in despair and hopelessness.

It is common because, to use phrases used by Paul, it reflects ‘the basic principles of this world’. It arises in the human heart and has become formalized as ‘human tradition.’ It resonates with that human quest for independence from God and his word that began in Genesis 3. Thus Paul warns against this common human error:

‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world ...’ (Colossians 2:8).

‘... we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world’ (Galatians 4:3).

A rich ruler expressed this mistake when he came to Jesus and asked ‘... what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke 18:18).

A Pharisee at prayer in the temple similarly expressed this error when he ‘prayed about himself’, presenting God with a list of his perceived religious credentials (Luke 18:11, 12).

Paul, in the same way, had once confidently grounded his relationship with God on the basis of this religious concept that he later discovered was not only mistaken but also presumptuous (Philippians 3:1 – 9).

In Romans 1:18 to 3:20 Paul pointed out the sheer impossibility of our mistaken perception that we can gain God’s acquittal on the basis of our own efforts to keep God’s law. Not one person does. And not one person can.

In Romans 9:30 – 10:13 Paul again refers to this common mistake, this common belief that human beings can be ‘righteous’ before God (that is acquitted by God) on the basis of their own merit. In other words: the mistaken belief that we can be accepted by God on the basis of our own good actions. And the opposite equation, that if we are ‘bad’ we can never be accepted and acquitted by God.

Paul says that whereas Gentiles had obtained righteousness (legal acquittal) by faith (9:30) without even seeking it, the Jews, ardently seeking ‘righteousness’ (legal acquittal), failed to obtain it because:

They pursued it by works (9:32).
They stumbled over 'the stumbling stone', Jesus Christ (9:32, 33).
Their zeal was not based on knowledge (10:2).
They did not know that righteousness comes from God (10:3).
They sought to establish their own righteousness (10:3).
They did not submit to God's righteousness (10:3).

The very thing they wanted so much and tried so hard to achieve, they missed out on. Firstly because of this common human religious error, and secondly, because, confident of the rightness of their own beliefs, they failed to believe in Jesus Christ.

The truth is

Christ is the end of the law (10:4).
There is righteousness for everyone who believes (10:4).
Righteousness based on law demands perfection (10:5; Galatians 3:10).
Righteousness by faith outlaws both salvation on the basis of works and condemnation on the basis of works (10:6 – 7a).
Salvation is on the basis of belief in Jesus Christ the Lord, whom God raised from the dead (10:8 – 10).
No one who trusts in him will be put to shame (10:11).

In these verses Paul has brought his discussion about the Jews right back to the main theme of his letter. He affirms yet again that salvation is not a question of human righteousness, but of a righteousness that is by faith. Questions about 'justice' and 'merit' are redundant in the light of the truth of gospel righteousness. Paul says that the Jews, stuck in the common rut of a performance based relationship with God, were unable to perceive the truth and the liberation of the grace-based relationship with God which has always been the possession of the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and which is explicitly proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The result of this ‘righteousness that comes by faith’ is that, regardless of personal merit or demerit:

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile (10:12; 3:22 – 4).
They both have the same Lord (10:12).
They both are blessed by the same Lord (10:12).
Everyone (Jew and Gentile alike) who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (10:13).

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020