One of the key differences between the old and the new covenants is the process and methods of righteousness. In these few verses we see this contrast described from the perspective of where the nation of Israel, and in particular the Jews went wrong.
The important point to note is this. There is salvation available to those who live under and by the law, but there is no righteousness.
Righteousness is only possible through the grace of God. In the new covenant this grace is given freely to all who seek God by Jesus Christ and who have faith, for the righteousness of God is given by faith alone.
In these verses we see Paul’s anguish and heartfelt concern for the people of Israel.
He grieves over the people of Israel because he recognizes that they have a great zeal for God but they are un-enlightened as to how God seeks for them to come to Him. And the problem Paul saw back then still continues down to this day for the Jews have stumbled over the stumbling stone that is faith, especially faith in Jesus Christ.
The people of Israel were chosen by God through a promise He made to Abraham. They were to be God’s special people and He calls them the “Apple of my eye”.
But they went astray. Many times. They followed after the false and idolatrous gods of the nations around them. They rejected God as sovereign and sought a human king. And they approached God as if righteousness were based upon works of the law.
Mistake after mistake they made and turned away from God. And yet He disciplined them and forgave them each time they repented of their wrong and turned back to Him, until they did it all again.
God judged the people and called them a stiff-necked people. By this He meant they were too proud and arrogant to bow their necks to Him. They believed that because they were the chosen people of God, they were better than everyone else, and that is pride and arrogance of the worst type.
And because they had the law given to them through Moses they thought that by keeping the precepts of the law and doing works of the law they were righteous. They were wrong for this led to self-righteousness which is not the righteousness of God that leads to perfection. As verse 3 in this section of scripture tells us,
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3)
They sought self-righteousness through the law rather than the righteousness which comes from God through faith. They chased righteousness by trying to keep the law but failed to achieve it because righteousness cannot be achieved in the law for the law does not make a person righteous. The law shows up sin for what it is and reminds and convicts a person of their sins when they fail to keep the law. That is why there is no righteousness under the law.
Righteousness By Faith
The true righteousness as the verse above tells us, come from God. It is given as a free gift of God to all who seek Him and look for righteousness.
And when we look at verse 4 in this section of scripture we see what is the source of this righteousness as well as how it relates to law.
For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified. (Romans 10:4 – RSV)
Here we see two important points being made.
It is by faith and faith alone that a person is justified or made righteous in the eyes of God. Faith is given to those who believe. Specifically, faith is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
This faith is not a blind faith either. We are given a very specific set of things to believe in order to receive this gift of righteousness by faith. Just as Abraham was given a specific thing to believe and so he was reckoned righteous, so too we are told to believe some very specific things too.
Abraham was told to believe in the most improbable and impossible thing that could be imagined. He was told that he would have a son by his wife Sarah despite the fact that she was barren and unable to conceive and despite the fact that she was about ninety years of age and well beyond menopause.
But Abraham knew God can do anything and so he believed what God said and God accepted his faith and proclaimed Abraham to be righteous by faith. No Abraham became the father of all who are likewise proclaimed righteous by faith down to this day.
We too in Jesus Christ are told to believe some very specific things and will likewise be proclaimed righteous through faith by God. We are told to believe that Jesus died for us, was resurrected on the third day and that we can enter and take on His death as our own and so “die” to this world and be born again as new creations in Jesus Christ. We enter and take on Jesus’ death through baptism where we are buried with Him as we enter the water and resurrected with Him as we are lifted from the water. And then we must believe we are dead to this world and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
The second point that we see in the verse 4 scripture above is that, “Christ is the end of the law…”
Christ is the end of the law. When we have died by taking on the death of Jesus through baptism, we die to the law too.
Romans 7:1 tells us that the law is binding on a person only while they are alive. So if we die we are no longer bound under the law. We see also in Colossians 2:11-14 that the law does not pass through death but ceases to have any force over a person once they die.
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:11-14)
Note in verse 11-12 that it is by baptism that we put off the body of flesh as we are buried and then raised with Christ through being baptized into His name. And then in verse 14 we see that God cancels the record of debt, the bond which binds us in it’s legal demands, which is the law.
For those who come to God through baptism in Christ Jesus, God cancels the law. And where does the law reside for those who have died with Christ? The law was left nailed up where Jesus died. Jesus however passed through death and was resurrected to life, but the law remained affixed and nailed where He had died for although Jesus could pass through death into new life, the law cannot.
And so too for those who take on the death of Jesus by faith, the law lies dead and this legal bond of law is cancelled. And when we believe this work that God has done through Christ Jesus, we receive the righteousness by faith that comes only from God for He says if we believe in Jesus Christ we are righteous.
And rather than works of law, we see also that we will be doing the works of God when we believe for faith Jesus Christ is doing the works of God as it says in the following scripture quoting Jesus Himself.
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Faith is the works of God. The works of the law will not lead to righteousness but the works of God will lead to righteousness by faith.
So learn His ways and seek His righteousness so that you may have salvation and perfection which is attainable only to those who are righteous in God’s sight. And that is only possible by seeking God’s righteousness by faith.
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