November 2, 2021
Scripture: What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 9:3–33 ESV
Observation: Of Paul’s epistles, this is perhaps the most complex chapter. He begins by dramatically expressing his pain over his fellow Jew’s rejection of the Gospel—wishing that he might take on the curse of denouncing Christ on their behalf that he might lead them to salvation. He then launches into an argument regarding God’s just sovereignty and predestination of his created order (some for honorable and others for ignoble purposes). He adds that we cannot resist the Lord’s will. Paul then raises the questions that would stir in our minds, “Is this fair?” Paul response? Who are we, God’s creation, to question our righteous Creator?
In the above verses, Paul transitions to the scandalous nature of our Gospel: we can only obtain godly righteousness by faith—not by works (adherence to the laws of God). Most of Paul’s brethren had put their trust in the Mosaic Law and consequently rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would bring salvation to the nation. Hence, as Isaiah prophecied: Jesus is the “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (Isaiah 8:14).
Takeaway: It’s a tricky balance: faith and works. Paul and James, in particular, wrestle with explaining our means and expression of salvation. It is human nature to lean toward a works-oriented faith. “Tell me what I must do, and I will take it from here.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had fallen into that trap. It leads to exhaustion and bitterness and can cause our hearts to grow cold toward God. But when we grasp grace, when we begin to understand that we can do absolutely nothing to earn our salvation (even regarding repenting and receiving forgiveness which the Holy Spirit provokes), we begin to comprehend the Father and Son’s extravagant love for us. Then, only can we express our love for our Lover by obedience to his will, which leads to acts of service.
Jesus is the object of our faith. He leads us to salvation and produces in us the fruit of righteous works through his Holy Spirit. And when we “believe in him [we] will not be put to shame.”
Prayer: Father God, in your mercy, deepen our understanding of your grace as our means of salvation, that we might rise above feelings of embarrassment and shamelessly embrace our scandalous Gospel. Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling