Misdirected Zeal

Lesson 38: Romans 10:1-11

Misdirected Zeal

by Bob Burridge ©2011

People often take their religion very seriously. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a matter of eternity, and of their whole purpose in life.

People sometimes get excited about football games. They shout, jump around, paint their faces, or wear rubber cheese wedges on their heads. So we certainly should expect that some would have great zeal about issues of the soul.

A football game lasts just a short time and its over. Even a winning season is only for one year. But our eternal relationship with God is neither seasonal nor renegotiated now and then. A sports fan might feel a sense of deep loyalty to a school, or city, or to the team itself. How much more should be our fervent loyalty to our Creator! Some type of religious zeal is expected in all redeemed humans.

Of course not every football fan paints his face, wears strange hats, or waves a giant foam finger that says “We are number one”. People show their zeal in different ways according to their personalities. Religious zeal is that way too. Not all believers will express themselves in the same way, or be able to engage in the same types of service to our Redeemer. But in every true believer there is a zeal for Christ implanted into his heart by grace.

Not all religious zeal is good. James speaks of true Christianity as the “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27) This obviously stands in contrast with what Paul denounces as “self-imposed religion” (Colossians 2:23). Zeal for false religion both dishonors God and hurts those drawn along by irresponsible leaders.

In chapter 10 Paul continues the ideas he had just explained in Romans 9. The Jews had confused the outward form of God’s covenant with the reality it represented. Israel was chosen as God’s special covenant people to represent his election of some to salvation. However, they had come to think of themselves as better than the rest of the world. They looked down upon the Gentiles as less worthy. Some of them were behind the killing of the Messiah because he did not bring a message that specially exalted them as they expected.

God had not chosen the Israelites because of their special worth to begin with. He chose them who were unworthy so that he could demonstrate his attributes of undeserved mercy and grace. The Jews mistook God’s grace as if it was an earned reward. They imagined that their own efforts in keeping God’s law actually saved them. They thought that keeping the law sufficiently was still possible for fallen humans. She also thought that Israel was specially privileged eternally. Neither of these beliefs are consistent with what is revealed in Scripture.

Paul again makes his deep
concern for Israel very clear.

Romans 10:1, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

Paul was concerned about the Jews who were the outward representatives of God’s covenant. Theirs was a very special and important relationship. Tragically, their rebellion was confusing what God was demonstrating by choosing them. Paul warned them about the divine judgment from which they needed to be saved. He did not cater to their “felt needs” to win them over. He did not use focus groups to find out what they wanted to hear.
He boldly told them the dramatic truth about what God was about to do.
First, the Jews would no longer be outwardly blessed above all other nations. Second, God was about to redeem Gentiles into his church as equals in the Covenant Kingdom. By this it would be shown that effort and birthright are not the causes of redemption. It was a hard lesson, but a needed one.

Paul commended their zeal.

Romans 10:2, For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Though zeal can be a good thing, it doesn’t excuse the error their zeal was promoting. He already had made it clear that they needed to be saved. Zeal for the wrong things, no matter how sincere, is not a virtue. The value of zeal is in its object, not in its words, or actions. If God’s truth and glory are our goals, then our zeal in promoting those things is wonderful. But if the goal is something that obscures God’s truth or misdirects his glory then it is evil.

Many of the Jews at that time lived zealously by strict rules and rabbinic traditions. They fervently defended their religious heritage. They sometimes even gave their lives for the cause. But they were zealous for things contrary to what God had revealed as true and good.

Some tried to become righteous by
a way God said could never succeed.

Romans 10:3, For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

Their zealous belief that effort could remove their guilt was a terrible error. We are righteous when we are innocent with respect to all that God’s holiness demands. As far back as those early days in Eden God made it clear that fallen man needed to have his righteousness provided by God. The same was proven throughout history to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and to Paul himself. Israel was missing that important point. She was seeking to establish her own righteousness by works, deeds, efforts, and an arrogant sense of privilege. This error produced human pride and bigotry. It redirected toward mere creatures, the glory due only to their Creator. In their blind self importance, they rejected and killed the Messiah himself. This was the final just cause that ended Israel’s place as the special Covenant People of God. It was time for what they prefigured to take place in the unfolding of history.

Jesus Christ is the center of the whole issue.

Romans 10:4, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

But how is it that Christ is the “end of the law”? Did Jesus annul the law which God had given for all the ages past? Did he cancel the moral principles summarized in the 10 Commandments? Did he mean that now sin is not defined by God’s law anymore? Absolutely not!

Such an interpretation is contrary to the actual wording of this verse, and is absolutely impossible. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

The word for “to fulfill” is plaerisai (πληρωσαι). It means to bring something to its full measure. Jesus brought the law to the fullness of what it was meant to be all along. He did not abolish it by fulfilling it (as some say to excuse us from the law). Jesus was making a contrast — instead of abolishing or destroying, he was fulfilling.

Here in Romans 10:4 the word translated “end” is telos (τελος). It means the end product of something, the goal to which something aims.

Jesus brought the law to its fullness by his life and death. He lived to keep the law in our place so that we can be counted as righteous in him. He died to satisfy the demands of the law in our place. He redeems individuals to enable them understand his moral principles, to love the attitudes and actions that please their Creator, and to humbly strive by Christ’s power to keep his moral principles to the greatest extent possible.

He did not do away with what the law says is moral and good. The moral law shows what God defines as good. Certainly that eternal standard never changes. It is what marks out those redeemed as having been made holy. We are called to “be holy even as the Lord our God is Holy”.

The ceremonial laws of Old Israel showed that our sin deserves death. Certainly that is still true. The symbolic sacrifices of the Old Testament ceremonies foreshadowed Christ’s death. Once the final sacrifice for his people was completed on the Cross, the symbolic sacrifices would be out of place. However, what was required by divine justice remained. The sinner must die (Romans 6:23), or a perfect Redeemer must die in his place. The only way this justice could be satisfied is by a redeemer who was also the infinite God, the one who was offended. It must be a righteousness provided by God.

So, how then is Jesus the end of the law? Peter uses the same word to describe what Jesus did regarding our faith. 1 Peter 1:9, “… receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”

The word “end” is sometime translated here as “outcome”. It is the same word translated as “end” in Romans 10:4 [telos (τελος)] with regard to the law. Certainly Jesus did not abolish faith, destroy it, or put an end to it. He brought faith to its complete goal in our lives, just as he did with the law. He provides our ability to do what faith leads up to, to reach its goal, to produce its fruit. In the same way, what Christ provides in us is that toward which the law aims us.

On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) There Jesus used the same word again, telos (τελος). The verb form used there is tetelestai (τετελεσται) which carries the force of something “brought to its end, completed.” He accomplished, consummated, perfected the work he came to do. He did not annul or destroy all he had done. He brought it to its full end.

Jesus came to satisfy the demands of the law for his people, and to enable them to begin to live in a way that truly pleases God within the bounds of his moral principles revealed in the law. His children are only able to live those transformed lives by the Savior’s power at work in them.

That is why it says that Christ is the end of the law “for righteousness.” By the completed work of Jesus we are declared innocent of what God’s holiness forbids. The law shows us how much we need a Savior. It drives us to him in humble repentance. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

The law never had the power to remove guilt, or to produce obedience and holiness. Only Jesus could do that. So he brought the law to its goal, to its intended end, by making his people righteous. The whole point of the work of Christ was to make righteousness in us a reality. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Then in Philippians 3:8-9 he wrote, “… that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Paul tells us directly here that Jesus does not produce this righteousness in everyone. He came to secure it only in those who believe.

If left to keeping the law,
we would have no hope.

Romans 10:5, For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”

The Lord said through Moses in Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Certainly, if it was possible for any man to keep the law as God demanded, he would live. He would enjoy life in its fullest both now and forever in God’s holy presence. But Moses also showed that such living is impossible after the fall of Adam. Our attempts reveal our sin and inability. They ought to drive us in repentance before God to plead for his mercy. This is why the sacrifices were needed. They pointed ahead to Christ. The law serves the purpose of exposing our lostness as our efforts fail, and it points us to Christ who alone is our righteousness.

Even one single sin would justly condemn a person forever. As Paul said in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” In Galatians 3:10 Paul again quotes the Old Testament saying, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”

The Jews had ignored the part of God’s word about their inability, and about the unmerited mercies of God. They had turned the sacrifices into acts of merit, instead of confessions of need. They imagined that by zealously living by law they could make themselves right with God. The fallacy of their error is that it is the exact opposite of what God tells us in Scripture. They were striving for what was unattainable. In that zeal they offended God, and harmed themselves.

There is a way by which
we can become righteous.

Romans 10:6-10, But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 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 and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Paul bases these comments on another part of the writings of Moses. He uses the language of Deuteronomy 30 to show that our efforts are neither necessary nor helpful. They are not the cause of God’s mercies.

From Deuteronomy 30:12 he asks “Who will ascend into heaven?” Then Paul applies it to the fetching of the Messiah to come down to redeem us. Obviously he is demonstrating that no one needs to do this. No one would be able to do it.

Then he alludes to Deuteronomy 30:13 when he asks, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Again, applying this to fetching Christ, this time to bring him back from the dead. Once more it is obvious that this is impossible and unnecessary since it has been accomplished. It was not done by humans zealously securing for themselves what was needed. It was done by the grace of God alone through the provision of our Redeemer. Nothing remains for us to add, even if we could.

The righteousness which is based upon faith has a very different message. Paul then quotes from the next verse in that section of Deuteronomy 30. Verse 14 says, “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

The salvation which is impossible for fallen man to seek and to obtain is already with us. It is the word of the Gospel which the Christians were spreading, the word of faith. Right after Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death, he added … “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)

No effort on our part is needed to move the hand of God. In fact such efforts deny grace which is the heart of the gospel itself. It is the hand of God that moves us. It is his work alone that redeems the unworthy completely apart from their own efforts.

The gospel is clearly imbedded in the law. It is the whole purpose of the law. The Good News is that God has done everything needed to redeem his people. He also infallibly brings about the change in each heart that brings his people to him through the work of Christ as Redeemer.

Romans 10:9 promises salvation to the person who confesses with his mouth the Lordship of Jesus. The word “confess” means to “agree with God about something”, “to admit that it is true.” The redeemed are those who admit that Jesus is Sovereign Lord over all. In him is all authority on heaven and on earth.

But confession that is of the mouth only is meaningless. So this statement is coupled with the next evidence of God’s work in us. We must believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised up from the dead as a work of God. The confession must reflect honest belief and trust. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

To say “I believe”, then to live as if what you professed is not really trusted, is offensive to God. It is nothing less than blatant hypocrisy. John Calvin explained that true belief is “… not a mere naked notion of the head.” Those who dare to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ should seek to stand firmly upon that conviction even in uncomfortable situations, through persecutions, and in the midst of temptations.

The resurrection of Jesus was not in the primary act that redeemed us or pays for our sins. That was accomplished in full by our Savior’s suffering and death on the cross. The resurrection was the ultimate and comprehensive evidence that death, sin’s penalty, had been beaten. It showed that the dominion of sin and its curse from Eden was overcome. Rightly believing in the resurrection of Christ summarizes that the rest of the gospel is believed as well.

God’s promise cannot fail.

Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Believers, will not be disappointed or put to shame. Paul is referencing the verse he used at the end of chapter 9. Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.”

There is a reason why Paul said believers will not be put to shame (or disappointed), while Isaiah says believers will not act hastily.

The word for “hastily” used by Isaiah is khush (חוש). It means to act quickly, to be hasty, or to be excited. The idea is that the one trusting in God’s promises will not hurry away as if fleeing in shame or disgrace. There will be no panicked retreat since they trust in God’s faithfulness.

When the Hebrew text of Isaiah was translated into Greek a couple hundred years before the New Testament was written, the word khush in Isaiah 9:16 was translated by the Greek word kataischuno (καταισχυνω), which means to be disappointed, or to be put to shame. That is why Paul used that Greek word in Romans 9:11.

The connection isn’t as obscure as it might seem at first. In God’s covenant in Deuteronomy 28 God warned Israel of all the curses he would pour out on them in the time when they would rebel against him. In verse 37 he warned particularly, “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you.”

When Israel is finally rejected and the curses fall, the unbelieving nations will mock her saying, “where is her God?” The apostate Jewish nation will flee in shame. This is where the ideas of “shame” and “moving in haste” come together. Those who put their trust in God’s true promise in Christ will not have to be ashamed or flee in haste like those who receive God’s judgments. Shame follows apostasy. All those who by faith embrace Christ as their only true hope, will not be disappointed, or ashamed. They will be blessed and comforted by God in the judgment.

This is great news!
It is comforting and assuring.

Our salvation is not teetering upon our own ability to bring it about. Never be drawn away by the zeal of those who promote a different gospel than the one Paul has described here. Salvation is a free gift of God completely paid for by the work of Jesus Christ. There is nothing left undone that you must do to earn it. You cannot keep God’s law as a way to be made right with God. You cannot earn forgiveness simply by saying a right prayer or by making a personal decision. Those are good things to do. But the good you do is done because God has rescued you, not so that he will do so. You obey because God loved you eternally and transformed you through Christ. Obedience is not a formula to bring down God’s love.

Just as ancient Israel misrepresented God’s covenant to the world, so also the majority of those calling themselves Christians today present a warped message. The zeal of the theological liberals, of the cults, and of those who deny our total inability to earn God’s blessing by our own works, is the same futile effort that it was with Israel in the time of Jesus and Paul.

Those who blindly hold to those views are to be humbly pitied, and earnestly prayed for with sincere compassion. But they are not to be accommodated as if their zeal were a good thing in itself, and made up for changing the revealed truth of God. Satan too is zealous for his agenda, as are all his followers.

Paul displayed a right kind of zeal. He had compassion and concern, but without compromise of God’s truth. He told them the hard things because he cared for them. In the same way, we need to call neighbors, friends, and family to the truth of the gospel of Christ. It only offends those who will not turn and believe. But in those called of God, regenerating grace will produce righteousness in Christ and life eternal.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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