The Righteousness of God (Exposition of Romans 9:30-10:4)

Following the glorious mountain peak of Romans 8’s declaration that nothing can separate us from God’s love, in Romans 9 the apostle Paul answers the possible objection, “Has God’s Word failed in regard to Israel?” by showing that God’s purpose of election guarantees that all God’s elect will be saved both from within Israel and outside of Israel (Gentiles).

In Romans 9, we see things from God’s perspective. In Romans 10, we see things from man’s perspective. In Romans 9, God’s sovereignty is displayed. In Romans 10, Man’s responsibility is described. Paul does not seek to reconcile these two truths together. Perhaps, like Charles Spurgeon once said, he sees no need to reconcile friends! Here we should be like Charles Simeon, pastor at Cambridge during the early 1800’s. He said, “When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question.” He illustrated his commitment to preach both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility with the idea of a machine with gears going in opposite directions but serving a common purpose. He said in the same way, truths which appear to be opposite are “perfectly reconcilable with each other” and serve the purpose of God in man’s salvation.
(See John Stott, Romans, p. 278)

We’re now moving from Romans 9 into Romans 10. From the sovereignty of God to the responsibility of man. Here the apostle Paul explains Israel’s rejection of the Messiah in terms of unbelief and misuse of the law of God.

Here we see that it is possible to seek righteousness without finding it. Israel was looking for righteousness in all the wrong places. We also see that there is only one way to attain God’s righteousness and that is through faith in Jesus Christ!

In this passage the important theme of God’s righteousness is developed. Here we see that God’s righteousness has been revealed by the law, rejected by Israel through works and received by the Gentiles through faith.

What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. (31) But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. (32) Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; (33) As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (10:1) Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. (2) For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. (4) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Romans 9:30-10:4

I. God Has Revealed His Righteousness by the Law.
Although Israel misused the law, it is still called by the apostle Paul in this text “the law of righteousness” (v. 31). What is meant by this designation? I believe it means that the law, while not a means of attaining God’s righteousness, is still an accurate portrayal of the righteousness of God.

Nothing Paul has said about the law’s inability to say in the book of Romans or elsewhere was meant to imply that the law does not reveal God’s righteousness. It does! But it cannot grant righteousness. Paul declares in Romans 7:12, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (ESV). This is true because the law reveals the character of a God who is holy, righteous and good!

In Galatians 3:19, Paul states that the reason the law was “added because of transgressions” (ESV). In Romans 4:15 Paul states that “where there is no law there is no transgression” (ESV). Combined these two verses teach us that the law was given to expose our sin as transgression. The word “transgression” means to cross a boundary. Before the law was given, transgressions were technically impossible by definition. But on Mt. Sinai God etched a line with His own finger on stone tablets. The law did not make anyone a sinner, it merely exposed that human beings were already on the wrong side of the line!

A man owns a piece of property that is unmarked by any signs or fences. People have hunted on that piece of property for years without the owner’s permission. One year things are different though. This year when the hunter goes scouting for deer, he notices several “No Trespassing! Private Property” signs and a barb-wire fence right across his normal path to his favorite hunting spot. This year, if this hunter is going to hunt in his normal spot, he will have to cross the fence and he will clearly know that he is on someone’s private property. Do you know what that fence and sign also tells him? That he has been trespassing in years past without even realizing it!

Similarly, the law of God was given to expose the sins of Israel as transgression against a holy God. The law reveals God’s righteousness and how all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Paul says in Romans 3:19-20,

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (ESV).

God revealed His righteousness through the law and the law brings the knowledge of sin. However, the law was not meant to be a means to attain righteousness. But that’s exactly what Israel did with it.

II. Israel Has Rejected God’s Righteousness through Works.
Sadly, instead of Israel realizing their sin against a holy God and calling out for mercy based on a sacrifice for sin, they began to view the law as a means to righteousness. This was never God’s intention when He gave the law to Israel. We know this because at the same time that God gave His law, He also gave the priesthood, the tabernacle and the sacrificial system. In other words, God was saying to Israel, “I know that you will break my commandments. For this reason I am providing a means of satisfying my wrath by the offering of an innocent animal in your place.” But instead of this response of faith in the provision of a sacrifice by God, Israel as a whole has rejected God’s means of righteousness. In Paul’s day they were rejecting God’s man of righteousness: Jesus Christ. Notice Paul’s words in 9:31-32 and 10:2-3.

Paul is looking at Israel as a whole and seeing that in mass they have failed to attain the righteousness of God because they were seeking it in the wrong way. This is not to say that none of Israel have attained God’s righteousness. Paul himself was a Jew! In 11:5, Paul states that “at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” But as a whole, Israel rejected God’s righteousness. How? By seeking to establish their own righteousness (10:3) apart from faith through the works of the law (9:32).

Here we see that it is possible to seek righteousness without finding it! It is very possible that there are some listening to this message who are trusting in their own righteousness. You are seeking to be righteous, but you are seeking righteousness in the wrong way! There is only one way to attain God’s righteousness and that is through faith in Jesus Christ! As John Calvin commented on this text, “The first step to obtaining the righteousness of God is to renounce our own righteousness.”
(John Calvin, Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, p. 383)

Paul illustrates the two ways of righteousness in 9:33 by conflating two texts from Isaiah about a stone. The first half of 9:33 is a quotation from Isaiah 8:14 which describes unbelieving Israel to whom Christ is a stumblingstone which leads to judgment. The second half of 9:33 is a quotation from Isaiah 28:16 which describes the response of those who build on the solid foundation of Christ the cornerstone through faith. The same stone is said by Paul to be a cause for stumbling to some and a basis for faith to others.

The verbal picture is of those pursuing righteousness through the law, but along the path they stumble over Christ to their own eternal destruction. But, those who are believing see the stone and build upon Christ to their eternal joy.

Notice Paul’s burden for his people in 10:1. Just as in 9:1-3, Paul here too expresses his heart’s burden for Israel. In 10:2, Paul notes their zeal, their religious fervor for God. But sadly, this zeal is not based upon knowledge. The apostle Paul can identify. In Philippians 3:4-9 he shares his testimony,

Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Paul gave up on his own attempts at righteousness in order to receive God’s righteousness by faith which is how he describes how the Gentiles have attained God’s righteousness in our text.

III. Gentiles Have Received God’s Righteousness through Faith.
Paul begins this section of Romans in 9:30 with his familiar question of “What shall we say then?” This is one way in which Paul signals a shift in focus. The focus up to this point in Romans 9 has been on the fact that only a small remnant within Israel are currently being saved, while a large number of Gentiles are being included among the people of God. Paul’s question is related to this revolutionary idea. How is this possible? He has already answered the question from God’s perspective. This is God’s purpose of election. God has the right to determine who His children are. But now Paul responds to this question from the human perspective. The answer is simply stated that the Gentiles have attained God’s saving righteousness (which is what the term righteousness means here as in Romans 1:17) through faith, while Israel has not received God’s saving righteousness because they pursued it by the works of the law. Here the contrast between God’s way of salvation and man’s attempts at salvation couldn’t be clearer: faith or works! Those are the two choices. All the religions of the world can be put into one of those two categories. You’re either trying to earn God’s favor by your works or you are trusting in what God has done for you through Christ. One way is rebellion against God because it says that His way is not the best way. The other way is to submit to God’s way!

The good news of the gospel is that the righteousness which God has revealed by the law and which is unattainable by keeping the law has been freely give to all who believe! This is what Paul means in 10:4 when he states that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” In other words, the one who is trusting Christ has ceased pursuing righteousnes by works. This is the test. Are you trusting Christ or in yourself? Are you trusting in Christ’s work for you or in your own good works? The answer to this question will determine your eternal destiny!


  1. You wrote: “The good news of the gospel is that the righteousness which God has revealed by the law and which is unattainable by keeping the law has been freely give to all who believe!”

    The most important concept of all. Christians really need to get a grasp of it.

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