Well, let's open our Bibles to Romans chapter 10 tonight. And we can relax a little bit. We're not going to try to get too far. We'll just take what comes. And we have really been through an exercise in thinking and meditating, contemplating, internalizing as we've gone through the ninth chapter. And as we now come to chapter 10, Paul continues this great section on the place of Israel in God's plan.
Now we could entitle chapter 10 "Israel's Failure," or we could entitle it "Israel's Ignorance." And either one of those titles would give us the theme of this chapter. Let me introduce the first kind of look at the chapter with a discussion of a very important word in Scripture. One of the words that appears particularly in the New Testament many, many times is the word "truth.” Truth. For example, Jesus said to the Jews one day, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." That's in John 8:32. And in that statement He called them to truth, to know truth. He also said several times to them, "I tell you the truth." He said that in John 8:45 and John 16:7.
John said in his gospel, chapter 1 verse 14, that Jesus was "full of truth." On one occasion Jesus said, in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life." And in praying to God the Father one night, recorded in John 17 verse 17, Jesus said on behalf of His disciples, "Sanctify them by Thy truth, Thy Word is truth."
And then in John 16, Jesus promised them in verse 13 that He would send the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all truth. He said, in fact, in John 18:37, that everyone that is of the truth hears Me.
The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:10 called the gospel the gospel of truth. And he says in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 that men must be committed to the love of the truth. And those who believe the truth, he says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, are saved. And in the verse before, those who believe not are damned.
Now there are just a few verses that indicate to us that the Lord Jesus Christ put a premium on the truth, the knowledge of the truth. Men must know the truth, the divine truth, the life- changing truth, the sin-cleansing truth, the salvation-giving truth, the soul-transforming truth, the heaven-opening truth. But the apostle Paul said, sadly, "Men are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth," 2 Timothy 3:7.
Men must know truth. But they find it so illusive. Pilate even said rather sarcastically, "What is truth?" As if he had long before abandoned any hope of finding it. But no folks on the face of the earth ever made a more extensive, constant effort to find the truth, seemingly, than the Jews. They occupied themselves in an effort to understand God's truth. They pursued knowledge about God as a way of life. If you were a child born into the Jewish religious culture, you would begin from your very early years to learn the Old Testament, to learn the tradition, to learn the commentaries on Scripture so that you might not only know, but understand the truth. You would be educated from your youth all your life long in what they believe to be the truth.
The Jewish learning process was basically led be a group of people called scribes. And they were often called "rabbi," as in Matthew 23:7 and 8 and elsewhere. And they were the key purveyors, teachers, possessors of truth. They had completed their education. They had been ordained because they showed such proficiency in knowledge and teaching. They then took the role of teaching the people. Their power and their influence was great and it was directly attached to their knowledge. They supposedly knew the truth. And from all over the world young Jews would migrate to Jerusalem because there was the repository of truth, there were the greatest of the rabbis, the greatest of the scribes, the greatest of the teachers. And these young Jews would stream into Jerusalem to sit at the feet of one or another of these great teachers. For example, in Acts 22 verse 3 it tells that the apostle Paul, when a young Jew, selected Gamaliel to be his teacher and came and sat at the feet of Gamaliel.
Now in the time of Jesus Jerusalem then had become a citadel of knowledge, a citadel of the pursuit of the truth. The scribes were venerated. The scribes were respected. They were honored. They were dignified. And the people believed that they had a certain, I suppose the best word is esoteric, a certain mystical knowledge of secret things that no one else could find and no one else could understand. And they had some way of getting behind the Scripture to some mystical meaning. And so they came to learn the mysteries that the rabbis could extract from behind the obvious statements of Scripture. They also believed that these teachers had a kind of sovereignty, a kind of authority that was all wrapped up in this sort of secret knowledge.
There's a story in the Talmud which expresses so much of Jewish thought and life that illustrates this. It was the eve of the Day of Atonement and on the Day of Atonement the most prominent person is the high priest because that's the one time in the year when he enters into the Holy of Holies and sprinkles blood on the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the people for the year. And so it was the eve before the Day of Atonement. And the high priest was going to his home and there was a massive crowd sweeping along with the high priest. At that point, says the Talmud, two beloved scribes passed by and the entire crowd left the high priest standing alone and followed the scribes. Well that gives us a little indication of how they revered the scribes.
Those who could teach had power. And those who could teach mystical things that no one else could see had greater power. They were the interpreters of God's law. And the popular ones had tremendous influence, tremendous ability to lead the people. In fact, some historians believe that it was some of these popular rabbis who incited the people to the riots of A.D. 66 which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem. When a scribe passed by, it says everyone stood, except the tradesmen who were at work. They were excused. Everyone else stood up as they came down the road. They were called rabbi. They were called teacher. They were called master, same as teacher really. And sometimes, and they preferred this, they were called father.
Important feasts that you might have or important festivals or banquets were always ornamented by placing prominent, well-known and well-respected rabbis at key places in the feast. And they always sat in the highest places. In the synagogue the rabbi would sit with his back against a cupboard. And we saw many of these cupboards in Israel where the Torah was kept. Those cupboards are sort of a reminder of the holy place in the Holy of Holies and the rabbi would sit with his back against the cupboard containing the Torah, the seat of great prominence, demonstrating in a physical way his identification with knowledge. Tombs of rabbis were venerated with superstitious awe. They grew to be surrounded by legends of...and sagas of their deeds which were always magnified and magnified and magnified.
Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the people in Jesus' time and the apostles' time spoke primarily Aramaic, the scribes also had another function and that was to translate the Hebrew text into Aramaic for the people. And so the people were very dependent on these men, who supposedly lived to know God's truth and to propagate it to others.
But, notice Romans chapter 10, the end of verse 2: "But not according to knowledge,” and the beginning of verse 3 “for they, being ignorant of God's righteousness." Who's he talking about? Verse 1 tells us, he's talking about whom? Israel. Israel does not have knowledge. Israel is ignorant. What a statement. What an incredible statement, that these people whose very life had been bound up in the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of truth had no knowledge, and were ignorant of the truth.
We saw this morning, didn't we, in our text that Jesus said to the Sadducees, "You do err not knowing the Scripture nor the power of God." You're ignorant. You are ignorant.
That's not the only time they were reminded of their ignorance. They are reminded of it many times, particularly John in his gospel seems desirous of pointing this out. In John 8:19 He is speaking with these Pharisees who say unto Him, "Where's Your Father? Jesus answered, You neither know Me nor My Father." You don't know Me and you don't know God either.
Later on in that same chapter in verse 54 Jesus said, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father that honors Me of whom you say that He is your God, yet you have not known Him." You have not known Him. You see, they celebrated their knowledge, they really didn't have it.
In John 9, again in conflict in discussion with leaders: “’By what means he now sees, we know not,’” they say, looking at the blind man who has been able to see, "’who hath opened his eyes, we know not.’” “He is of age, ask him, he'll speak for himself." This is his parents; they don't know what's going on. They are confronted by the leaders. The leaders follow it up down in verse 29, "’We know that God spoke unto Moses. As for this fellow we know not from where He is.’" They didn't know who Christ was, they didn't know where He was from. They totally miscalculated.
In verse 40, "Some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words and said unto Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ Jesus said unto them, if you were blind you should have no sin, but now you say, ‘We see,’ therefore your sin remains." In other words, He says you don't even know you're blind. If you were blind I would heal your blindness, but since you don't know you're blind you're going to stay blind. They didn't know. They thought they knew but they didn't know. "The natural man understandeth not the things of God. They are foolishness unto him." They had no knowledge.
In Acts chapter 3 they are confronted again by the apostles. And listen to what Peter says in verse 17, "And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance you did it.” Through ignorance you did it. They didn't know. They thought they knew but they did not know. They didn't know who God was, they didn't know who Christ was. They missed it all.
In Luke 19:44 Jesus says to them, "You didn't know the time of your visitation.” You didn't know. This isn't a new problem. Do you remember the words of Isaiah in Isaiah 5:13? "Therefore My people are gone into captivity,” listen to this, “because they have no knowledge," Isaiah 5:13. They have no knowledge, they don't know. But it's a sad thing that they thought they knew. And that's the toughest kind of person to reach. It's fine if you don't know and you know you don't know. But when you don't know and you think you know, you're trapped. Hosea said, chapter 4 verse 6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge I will also reject thee." They were destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. It wasn't that they admitted it. It was that they wouldn't admit it. And so they were bound to their ignorance in an illusion.
In Romans chapter 2, verse 17 Paul sort of indicts them. He says, "You rest in the law, you make your boast of God that you know His will and approve the things that are more excellent being instructed out of the law, you are confident that you are a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes who has the form of knowledge and the truth in the law. Thou therefore who teachest another teachest thou not thyself?" If you know so much, why don't I see it in your life? "Thou that preachest a man shouldn't steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy heart...makest thou boast of the law through breaking the law, dishonorest thou God?” Listen to this: “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." You think you know but you don't know.
This was Paul's testimony. He says in 1 Timothy 1, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me in that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry who was before (before he was converted) a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious but I obtained mercy because I did it (What?) ignorantly in unbelief." The abysmal ignorance of unbelief, that was Paul's own testimony. And throughout the history of Israel they had been in the ignorance of unbelief. And they thought they knew and they didn't know. And so they didn't know that God was speaking through the prophets, they didn't really believe it. They thought they had the truth and they missed it. And so through their history Israel has suffered. They have walked a path of pain and turmoil and sorrow and suffering, dispossessed, judged, hated and maligned. It's been very difficult for the nation Israel and always it's been hard for them to understand why they suffer so much because they think they know. They don't know. They don't know.
One commentator says, "Israel wants to be the captain of her own soul, the master of her own ship, but Israel has lost both her rudder and her compass, and now with her vessel of state careening about in the maelstrom of sin, what is to save her from being drowned in the vortex of hell? Yet this is the condition of Israel today even as it was in Paul's day."
Jesus Christ came into the world, as I pointed out in the beginning, to reveal truth. But Israel was ignorant of that truth. Now Israel's ignorance becomes the theme of this chapter. And that little phrase at the end of verse 2, "Not according to knowledge," that little phrase at the beginning of verse 3, "They being ignorant," indicate to us the theme of what Paul's going to talk about.
Now remember this, would you, and it will be very helpful for you. In chapter 9 we were introduced to the unbelief of Israel, weren't we? We were introduced, because here's Paul presenting the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ, person and work. And as he presents that people are going to say, well if it's so true and if it's from God why didn't the Jews, God's people, believe it? And so he has to answer that and that's why he writes 9, 10 and 11, to show how it is that the Jews have rejected.
Now in talking about their unbelief in chapter 9 he emphasized the fact that they were unbelieving because of the sovereign elective choice of God. In other words, God didn't choose them all. And so the issue of chapter 9 is an issue of election. It is an issue of sovereign choice. But the issue of chapter 10 is an issue of unbelief. And I want you never to forget that you always have both of those things. If you have salvation, you have the sovereign election of God and you have the faith of an individual. If you have the loss of...the lack of salvation, the loss of hope in Christ, it is because you have sovereign choice, that's chapter 9, and because you have unbelief. You could think of it along the line of concurrence, which is a word that you may have heard used. It's sort of like an airplane taking off. Two things are necessary for an airplane to take off, thrust and lift. If you have lift without thrust, you don't get off. If you have thrust without lift, you don't get off. You have to have thrust with lift.
The same thing is true and it's a weak illustration if you push it too far, but both things must occur simultaneously in concurrence, the election of God and the belief of an individual, or the rejection of God and the unbelief. And that's why Paul brings chapter 10 in to show the balance, lest we think that God made choices independent of the choices that men made. So Paul wants to demonstrate then the willful unbelief, the willful ignorance of Israel.
Now may I suggest to you that chapter 9 was very offensive to a Jew. Very offensive to find out that God hadn't elected all of them to salvation, right? Very offensive. And so how did Paul begin chapter 9 when he knew it would offend the Jews? How did he begin it? Well he began it very tenderly, didn't it he? Didn't he? He says, "I have great heaviness," verse 2, "sorrow, I could wish I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Very tender, very sensitive, desiring greatly that Israel be saved, even to the point where he would abandon his own salvation if he could accomplish theirs. Very tender. He knows it will offend. And he doesn't want them to think that he's uncaring or indifferent.
Now chapter 9 is going to be equally offensive to them, because it's going to mark out their ignorance and unbelief. And so he begins it the same way with the same tenderness, with the same graceful spirit, with the same heartfelt love that he expressed in chapter 9. Notice verse 1: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved." That's a beautiful thing, isn't it? I mean, he just departs from the polemics, he just takes a pause from all the details of his argument and he just lets you look into his heart. The tenderness of his feeling for the Jew spills over. And so he expresses the deep desire and prayer to God for the salvation of Israel.
Now when he says "brethren," he's writing to Gentiles and that's a tender word and maybe the feeling that he had in his heart for the Jews kind of spilled over in his choice of words toward the Gentiles, too. And then he says, "My heart's desire,” or my delight, or my good pleasure, it's translated sometimes, or my deepest satisfaction. The greatest joy for Paul and it says “prayer to God,” my greatest satisfaction and my greatest prayer and the word prayer there, deēsis is a word that conveys the idea of begging, pleading. My greatest desire, my greatest pleading with God is for Israel's salvation. So listen, don't you for a minute think that Paul is some cold, calculating indifferent, hyper-Calvinist standing off, spewing out data about God's sovereign election without a heart for the lost. His desire is so deep and so strong that his heart cannot rest in complacent theological indifference. It is drawn unceasingly to a beseeching, begging, supplication to God, it says, for Israel that they might be saved. They were in his heart.
You say, "Well wasn't he the apostle to the Gentiles?" Sure, but it was the Jews who were his people. And it was the Jews who were the marked people of God and it was the Jews who were captive in unbelief and forfeiting infinite, indescribable blessing and they were in his heart.
I might just remind you, you can say you care but if you pray you care. You can say you care but if you pray you care. And so Paul says my heart's desire and my prayer for them... And the...and the "for them" is a better way to see the text than "for Israel." Better manuscripts don't have Israel but it means Israel so don't feel bad if it's in there. “For them,” and the antecedent obvious to that being verse 31, Israel. So his prayer is for them that they might be saved. That was the longing of his heart. In fact, he would just about do anything he could do to see that happen. He says to the Corinthians that he became all things to all men that by any means he might win some. Great cry of his heart.
Now this is not a hopeless melancholy, and I want to say something that I think is very important here. This is not some kind of hopeless melancholy. This isn't some kind of unfulfilled feeling, some kind of exercise in futility. Oh how I wish they could be saved, but I know because of the sovereignty of God they can't, but oh how I wish... No. It isn't some kind of hopeless melancholy. It is a constraint to pray. And Paul prayed because he believed God heard and answered prayer, right? He believed it could happen. He believed that Israel could be saved. He believed that Jews could come to know their Messiah and their Savior. These are feelings of love and concern that pour out in a prayer to God that is a viable prayer, that is an answerable prayer, not an exercise in emotion.
And, you know, you can't help but see some great character in this man. What gentle forgiveness. He's very much in line with the Savior and Stephen, you know, who prayed for their killers. Jesus: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Stephen: "Lay not this sin to their charge." And here is Paul who has been maligned and persecuted and ridiculed by the Jews, who has been tracked down by the Judaizers who have tried to undo his teaching, who have persecuted him with zeal, and he says, "I have a deep desire for their salvation, so much so that I pray to God that they would be saved." The word "saved" means delivered out of disaster, delivered out of judgment, delivered out of sin, rescued from the tragedy of unbelief.
Now the very fact that Paul prays for this means it's a possibility. So don't let your theology of the sovereignty of God eliminate the possibility of people being saved, and we ought still to be praying with all of our heart for those that are outside Christ. Israel's salvation is possible, individual Jews can come to know the Savior. Paul's prayer indicates that. We're not supposed to sit back and try to figure out God's decree. We're supposed to proceed with prayer and evangelism. Somebody said to Spurgeon, "If you believe in the election of God, why don't you just preach to the elect?" Rather facetiously, and he said, "If you'll pull up their shirt-tails so I can see if they have an E stamped on their back, I will. Otherwise I'll preach to everyone." That's a secret thing. The elective decree of God is a secret thing, that's not for us to know. For us to know is that we must reach all men and pray for those outside that they may be saved. We preach. We pray. We testify. We intercede. We speak the gospel. We supplicate on behalf of the lost. We don't know who the elect are so we preach to all. In 2 Timothy 2:10 Paul says, "I endure all things for the elect's sake that they may be saved." I mean, I reach out to all because I don't know who they are, but I would endure anything to reach them.
And I say this, a very important thing, because I fear that when people get bound up in this sovereignty of God concept and so many people are getting into that nowadays. Churches are sort of spinning off and all they want to do is regurgitate hard-line sovereign doctrine. And what happens when they do that is they can become very cold and very indifferent and lose the balance. They really like it in Romans 9 and they may never get out of there. So they don't get to Romans 10 and hear the passionate prayer of Paul for the salvation of the lost that is a viable prayer. Listen. Don't let anybody ever tell you you're not to pray for the unsaved. That's not true. Here is a classic illustration, Paul praying for the unsaved. Don't ever allow anyone to suggest to you a one-dimensional view of God's redemptive program as if it all depended only on Him and had nothing to do with the individual responding.
I'll tell you something else, if you really have the heart of God your theology won't turn off your compassion anyway. Will it? And if your theology turned off your compassion, it's bad theology. And it may be nothing more than theology because you're not evidencing the compassion of God, the heart of God.
So Paul reveals his great compassion and concern for the salvation of the Jews which he believes can happen and that's what he pours out his heart to see happen. You say, "Well why is this such a unique issue with him? Why is he so overwrought with this?" Verse 2, "For I bear them witness, they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge." You see, I pray for them, he says, because I bear them witness. What does he mean by that? I testify. The word means to affirm something you've seen and heard. I have first-hand information, right? He did. He was a first-hand Jew, wasn't he? Did he know? Oh yes he knew. Listen to what he says in Galatians 1:13, "For you have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it and profited in the Jews’ religion above many, my equals and my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the tradition of my fathers." He says I bear witness. I bear witness that they have a zeal for God. How do you know that? I had it. I was so zealous for God, I was so zealous for what I thought was the truth of God and the tradition, I was so zealous for that that I relentlessly persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. I did all I could to slaughter the Christians. I was zealous for God.
In Philippians he talks more about his Jewish heritage. Chapter 3 verse 5, "Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin and a Hebrew of the Hebrews touching the law a Pharisee (He was a Pharisee.), concerning zeal, persecuting the church, touching the righteousness which is in the law I was blameless." Boy, he was really there. I mean, he really knew first-hand the zeal for God that characterizes a Jew, so zealous.
In his testimony to Agrippa in Acts 26 he says in verse 5 and following, he's talking to Agrippa, he says, "Who knew me from the beginning if they would testify that after the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee and now I stand in them judged for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers unto which promise our twelve tribes earnestly serving God day and night hope to come." In other words, he says our twelve tribes earnestly serving God day and night hope to come to the fulfillment of God's promise made to the fathers. And that's where I was, he says. I was zealous for that.
"Day and night serving God, for which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I'm accused by the Jews. Why should it be that a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead? I verily thought within myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which things I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints that I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my voice against them and I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme and being exceedingly mad against them I persecuted them even unto foreign cities."
Paul says I was up to my neck in the zeal for God that characterizes Judaism. I really had a zeal for God. I really thought I had the knowledge. In Acts 22:3, "I am verily a man,” in his defense here, he says, “I am verily a man who is a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." Then this, "And was zealous toward God as all you are this day. And I persecuted this Way (that is Christianity) unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women." Now you can go back to Romans chapter 10.
So Paul had given his testimony in a lot of places that he was up to his ears with zeal. And he understood the Jews' desire to see the promise of God fulfilled, to fulfill the commandments of God, to accomplish the purposes of God as they so wrongly understood them. But they were zealous for God.
But notice the end of verse 2. "Not according to knowledge." Now when zeal is related to knowledge it's a blessed thing. But when zeal is misinformed, it is misdirected and it's a dangerous thing. The Jews had zeal, now watch this, but not according to epignosis. They had gnosis, sort of a head knowledge, superficial knowledge. They had information but they had no epignosis, deep knowledge. They had the information. You know the kind of information they had? The kind Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 8:1 when he said, "Knowledge puffs up." Remember that? They had enough intellectual data in their heads to be proud but not true knowledge that makes you what? Humble. They didn't have the true knowledge that brings holiness, that brings humility. They didn't have the epignosis.
Paul prayed in behalf of the Ephesians, chapter 1 verse 17, that, “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that you may know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe,” and so forth. Paul prays for the Ephesians that God would give them this epignosis, that God would give them this deep and profound knowledge that brings humility and holiness. Later, to the Ephesians he said the desire was that we would all come in the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God, that full, rich, comprehensive knowledge where we know not only information but we know experientially and intimately the presence, the power, and the truth of God. And over and over in the New Testament there's a call to that deep kind of knowledge.
So Paul starts this chapter by revealing his heart for the unsaved Jews. In chapter 9, as I said, the reason they're unsaved is the sovereignty of God. Concurrent with that in chapter 10 is their own unbelief. And the theme here is the ignorance of Israel, a willing, unbelieving ignorance.
Now get this and you'll have the flow of the whole chapter. Following this introduction, that they do not understand, it is not according to knowledge, and in verse 3 they are ignorant, he gives five reasons, five reasons for the ignorance of Israel, five reasons for the unbelief of Israel, five reasons for the failure of Israel to rightly understand the Lord Jesus Christ, to rightly understand the gospel, five. And they flow through this chapter beautifully.
Number one, Israel was ignorant of the person of God. Can you imagine how devastating that is to them to hear that? They were ignorant of the person of God. Two, they were ignorant of the provision of Christ. Three, they were ignorant of the place of faith, the role that faith played. Four, they were ignorant of the parameters of salvation, the extent of it, the wideness of it, the inclusiveness of it. Fifth, they were ignorant of the predictions of Scripture. They were ignorant of the person of God, the provision of Christ, the place of faith, the parameters of salvation, the predictions of Scripture. The whole chapter then comes together to say Israel is lost because Israel is in the ignorance of unbelief.
And I say to you again that no man is ever lost because God makes some decree somewhere utterly unconnected to how that man chooses. They come together. And how God does that is His problem. The present rejection of Israel is not simply and only because of sovereign election, as if God withheld His grace. In fact, He preached and preached and preached and called and called and called and they refused to believe. And so they are found in chapter 10 in unbelieving ignorance.
Now let's just look at the first one, I don't even know how far we'll get with that one tonight. Israel was ignorant of the person of God. This is so devastating that you just can't imagine how it must have struck a Jewish reader. Look at verse 3, "For they,” that is Israel, the Jews,, “being ignorant of God's righteousness." Stop at that point.
They were ignorant of God's righteousness. What a thing to say to people who prided themselves on the knowledge of God. And this is where their ignorance is first evident. They are ignorant of God's righteousness, now follow, "And going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." First of all, they are ignorant then of the person of God. They don't understand what God's like. They don't understand one of the most essential attributes of God, His righteousness. They don't understand that, they're ignorant of that. They underestimated God's character. Are you ready for that? They underestimated it. They thought His holiness and His purity and His righteousness, all of which overlapped, were something less than they really are.
To put it another way, they think God is easier on sin than He is. They think God is more tolerant than He is. In Jeremiah 9:24 the Lord said, "Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord." Jeremiah said long ago, if a man's going to boast, if a man's going to glory, let him glory in this, that he knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness. If a man's going to glory in something, then let him know that God is righteous and let him know how righteous God is. Now here's the basic flaw in their thinking. They didn't know how righteous God was. They didn't know.
The psalmist said, "The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works," Psalm 145:17. Now that verse brings two things together, let me read it to you again. Psalm 145:17, "The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works." Now what that verse does is bring righteousness and holiness together as synonyms. He is righteous in all His ways is another way of saying He is holy in all His works. Works and ways are parallel and righteousness and holiness is parallel. The verse brings those two together so that they're synonymous.
The Jews didn't know then how holy God was, did they? They didn't understand that. They thought God would tolerate all of their violations. They thought God would tolerate all of their self-conceived loopholes to the law. They thought God would wink at their sin and vice. They thought He could accept them the way they were. You see, they thought they could attain a righteousness on their own, right? They thought that without a Savior, without a Messiah, without anybody to pay for their sin they could live such a righteous life that they would attain the righteousness of God. They thought the standard was here, what they didn't know was the standard was infinite. They thought it was here, they drew it here and when they got there they said we've arrived. They didn't know how holy He was. It was a gross error. It was a heinous misjudgment. And it reflected in their whole system. Their whole system was a system of going about, it says there, to establish their own righteousness. Because they believed they could attain it, because they had brought God down so low. They didn't know through their own willful ignorance that God was infinitely, absolutely and utterly and unequally holy. "Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name," it says in Revelation 15:4, "for Thou alone art holy." What a statement.
They didn't know that God was holy at a level that no one else had ever been at, or could ever be at. Exodus 15:11, "He's glorious in holiness." Second Chronicles 20:21, God appoints singers in Israel and their purpose is that they should praise the beauty of His holiness. Men are called in Psalm 30 verse 4 to give thanks at the remembrance of God's holiness. And touching the deepest purest part of His being, God says, "Once I have sworn by My holiness."
Now what is holiness? Hard to define. We'll come at it a couple of ways. Holiness is self-generated and self-affirmed purity. To say it another way, holiness is not to live up to the standard, holiness is to be the standard. God is the standard, absolute perfection, absolutely flawless, absolutely without flaw, without sin, without error of any kind. Even His name is holy, Psalm 103 verse 1. "But Thou art holy, O Thou who inhabitest the praises of Israel," says Psalm 22:3. Psalm 99:5 says, "Exalt ye the Lord our God and worship at His footstool for He is holy." And God, it says in Psalm 47:8 ,sits on the throne of His holiness. And in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 the angels cry, "Holy, holy, holy." God is holy. He does not conform to a standard, He is the standard. The standard conforms to Him. He does not keep someone else's rules, He is the living rule. He has a holiness that is ascending beyond any conception of men. And the stupidity of these kinds of attitudes projected by the apostle Paul here from the people of Israel that they could attain to the righteousness of God only shows that they had reduced God to one of their own.
There are no degrees in God's holiness. There can't be degrees in perfection. And God's holiness, I think, is best seen in His hatred of sin. He has total perfection. Therefore He has total hatred toward that which is imperfect. He is totally holy so He totally hates anything that's unholy.
Psalm 11:7 says, "For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness." That simply means what's right, what's holy, what's without sin, without flaw, without error. So God's holiness is seen in righteousness. Because God is holy, because He's perfectly pure, He wills, He thinks, He feels, He says and He does what is right, and that's righteousness. So they're so inextricably connected that you can't really separate them. He is so perfect that all that He thinks and feels and does is perfect, it's righteous. Some theologians have put it this way, for those of you who like theological terms, "Righteousness is transitive holiness, it is manifest holiness." It means that because He's perfect He always does what is perfectly right. Righteousness is not arbitrary. It is not alterable or changeable. He is always perfectly righteous, totally pure, without any sin. Now any man who thinks he can attain to that level is an absolute fool and is living under a sad, tragic illusion.
In Psalm 71:19 it says this, "Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things. O God, who is like Thee?" And what's the answer? Nobody. "Thy righteousness is very high."
Further, back in the Psalms and I think it's Psalm 48, could be wrong on this, but yes, verse 10, "According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise to the ends of the earth, Thy right hand is full of righteousness." As if God holds all righteousness. In that long Psalm 119, verse 142, "Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness." And these kinds of things are all through the Psalms, very high, eternal, complete righteousness.
And I'll tell you something, the Jews aren't alone in this. Think about it with me, would you? Just the run of the mill people in your life, the run of the mill people in the world, they don't understand how righteous God is either, do they? Do they? If they really understood how holy God is, you think they'd live the way they live? I don't think so. You think they'd think that they could sin a little bit and God would still like them? You think they'd come up with a standard reply, "Well, I'm a pretty good guy, well, I mean God's not about to send me to hell." That's because they don't understand how holy God is, do they? They don't understand how He hates sin. You see, in Psalm 50 verse 21, God indicts such people with this statement, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself." You thought I was like you; you were wrong. Men imagining a God patterned after their own minds, their own concepts, their own imperfect sin-tolerating hearts. You see, that's why men sort of have fabricated a God who is sort of a passive Grandfather-type who looks down and is very benevolent and He forgives and it's alright, and everything is going to be okay. God's a nice guy and everything is going to be fine. Let's talk about the love of God. Let's talk about the kindness of God and so forth and so on. We've made Him into a benign Santa Claus.
And the reason is because we want a God who can tolerate our sin, right? And so we have imagined God to be unholy. We have imagined God to be unrighteous. We have dragged Him down to our level. By the way, if you study world religions and study ethnology, the science of various races and peoples in their religion, you will find that all the gods that the world has ever invented are like men. They are whimsical, they are sinful. I mean, the Greek gods, the stories of the Greek gods are enough to destroy any sense of morality that anybody ever had if that's how deity is. The gods are whimsical. They project the evil of men. When man invents a god he invents a god that's like him, who will accommodate him.
But God is not a God like the gods that men invent. That's why Psalm 5:5 says, "He hates all workers of iniquity." And Psalm 7:11 says, "He's angry with the wicked every day.” Every day. Every day. Men refuse to believe in that kind of a God, see. They refuse to believe in a God who is angry with them. They refuse to believe in a God who hates their sin. They refuse to believe in a God who is perfect holiness. So they invent one that's lower than that. And you know, the sad part of it is that even we as Christians get caught into that thing. And we imagine God to be more tolerant, less holy than He really is. I see it in a couple of areas. I see it in our evangelism. We underplay the holiness of God, don't we? We underplay the righteousness of God. We underplay His hatred of sin, His promise of inevitable judgment. The Bible says our God is a consuming fire. People don't know that, see. They think they can live their life the way they want and it will be all right in the end. I'm a pretty nice guy; I do a few humanitarian things here and there, whatever. Our God is a holy God, a righteous God. He has revealed Himself as a God who kills people, a God who sends people to hell with an undying death. Jews were ignorant of that and it was a contributor to their unbelief. They were ignorant of the person of God. They didn't know how holy He was. They didn't know how righteous He was.
Why do you think in the book of Proverbs alone, 18 times it says, fear the Lord, fear the Lord? Why do you think throughout the whole Old Testament God kept demonstrating and demonstrating and demonstrating His holy hatred of sin? You studied it. You know, we've talked about it in our series on worship some months ago how that people died when they violated God. You remember how God came down in terrible, terrifying destructive judgment on the people of Israel who had desecrated His promises and His person and His holy covenant with them at the foot of Mount Sinai in an orgy. You remember His judgment there? Do you remember Nadab and Abihu, who offered God strange fire and they fooled around with the priestly function, probably a little bit drunk and God snuffed their lives out the first day of their priestly function. You remember in Genesis chapter 6 God drowned the whole world except for eight faithful people? Do you remember in Genesis 19 that God swept in to Sodom and Gomorrah and flattened them to the point where today we can't even find the ruins, we don't even know where they are? They're buried under tons of fire and brimstone.
God didn't tolerate the sin of Saul, either. And no child out of the loins of Saul would ever be on the throne of Israel again. And God didn't tolerate the pride of Uzziah even though he was a good man and had brought some peace to the people and even though he had been king over 50 years, when he got proud in his heart God gave him leprosy and he was dead. And God didn't tolerate the seemingly small sin of Uzzah who reached out and touched the ark of the covenant so it wouldn't fall off a cart, a cart he knew it never should have been on in the first place. It was to be carried by poles. And if he had been trained as a Kohathite, he knew that. And he was dead on the spot and all he was trying to do was keep the ark from falling off, but the sin was in disobedience and it shouldn't have even been on a...on a cart.
And Isaiah knew the holiness of God and that's why he cried out, "Woe is me, curse me, I'm a man with a dirty mouth, I live amidst people with dirty mouths. God is holy and God is righteous." Manoah came home and said to his wife one day, "We'll die, we've seen the Lord.” You see God, you're dead. Why? Because God is so infinitely holy if we were to come into confrontation with Him all He would see about you would be your evil, all you could see about yourself was your evil and in the presence of an infinitely holy God you know what you would deserve. Why do you think Peter in Luke chapter 5, seeing Jesus on the shore, says, "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a (What?) sinful man.” Get out of my presence; I am in the presence of deity. How did he know that? Because the Lord just sent all the fish in the Sea of Galilee at that particular point to his boat. He couldn't catch anything. The Lord says, "Throw your nets out," and they were all there, and he knew that was God on the shore and he said, "Go away, I'm sinful."
In other words, the sinner in the presence of a holy God knows that he can't stand in that presence. And there's a tremendous sense of fear. When they were crossing the Sea of Galilee in their boat and the storm came up and they awakened Jesus, the Bible says they were afraid. And when He stilled the storm it says they were exceedingly afraid. And what's worse than having a storm outside your boat is having God in your boat. And the reason for that is because when you're stuck in that place and you know the infinite God of the universe is there, all you can see about yourself is your sin. And that's why we say that men must have a vision of God.
I was with a group of laymen yesterday who have a ministry across this country. And they said to me, "What's the key to getting people to really respond to the Lord?" And I said, "The key is to let them know who He is so that in understanding who He is we know how to respond to Him. He's an infinitely holy God." What that says to me is that I should be afraid to be in His presence with my sin uncared for. And what that also says to me is I better get it cared for.
But, you see, they thought they could attain it on their own and so they went about to establish their own righteousness. Oh my, a man who does that’s an absolute fool. You can't become as righteous as God demands, because He demands that you be as righteous as He is. In Matthew 5 it says it as clear as it says it anywhere," Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Or in Peter's epistle he writes, "Be ye holy for I am holy." You have to be as perfect as I am. You have to be as holy as I am. And there's no man who ever lived or ever will live on the face of the earth who could attain to such a righteous standard. None.
You say, "Well, John, how am I going to make it?" Well you're not going to make it on your own righteousness because Isaiah 64:6 says, all our righteousness is as what? Filthy rags. Filthy rags. And it uses a term that refers to the most vile kind of thing imaginable. Israel thought God was less holy than He was. And so it says in verse 3, "They were going about endeavoring to set up their own righteousness." Oh what a tragic thing. And because of that they failed to submit to the righteousness of God. They never submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. Submitted there is hupotassō. They never got under it. They never lined up behind it. They refused to do it. They didn't even know what God's righteous standard was; therefore they refused to submit to it. They performed what I like to call "homemade holiness." And it was an offense to God, an offense to God. They failed to understand God's righteousness, tried to perform their own righteousness, failed miserably and were lost.
It's true of anyplace, anytime, any person. Unless you understand the righteousness of God and how holy He is, you're in real trouble. As soon as you do understand that and you know the standard that He demands and you know you can't get there, you're in the position where you're going to reach out for the Savior who alone can take you there, right? And that's the next point, but that's for next time. Let's pray.
We know, O God, that You are a holy God. We try to understand all that that means but it's so hard for such imperfect creatures to understand perfection, such unholy people to understand holiness, such unrighteous creatures to understand righteousness. Your absolute perfection is beyond our ability to conceive. And yet, though we don't understand, we do understand. And we know we fall short of Your glory for we've all sinned. And we know that by our own deeds we can never attain to Your righteousness, that even the most righteous who ever were on this earth weren't righteous enough. And that's why Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” the most righteous of all, you'll never enter into My kingdom. O God, I pray that no one in the hearing of this message would be ignorant of the person of God, ignorant of His holiness and righteousness, and thus live in the foolishness of thinking that in and of themselves they can please an infinitely, absolutely unalterably, perfect God who demands such perfection of all creatures who come into His presence. May we know, O God, that we cannot attain that and when our hearts are smitten with the impossibility of that, and when we are broken and mourning and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, which we can't attain on our own, may we be brought to the foot of the cross to see the Savior who died for us, who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. O what a thought. O what a thought.
While your heads are bowed as we close, if you've never given your life to Christ, let His righteousness be given to you. Receive it as a gift. Don't think you know when you don't know and die in the ignorance of unbelief. Don't be ignorant of who God is. If you hear the message, if your heart is awakened by the Spirit, open it to Christ.
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