What does righteousness mean?
What does it mean to be righteous?
To be righteous means to be right with God. In other words, it means to be right in God’s eyes as measured by the standard of God’s holy Law, which is summarized in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. To pursue righteousness means to actively seek to become right with God by doing something that pleases God.
Is this something that we should do?
Here in Romans 9:30-33 God says that the Gentiles are not pursuing righteousness and the Jews are zealously pursuing righteousness. But the ones obtaining righteousness are the:
Children of the Promise (Romans 9:30 – Romans 10:4)
Who are the Children of the Promise?
The 1st example of the “Children of the Promise” was Isaac, in verse 9.
The 2nd example of the “Children of the Promise” was Jacob, in verse 13, but not Esau.
The 3rd example of “Children of the Promise” were all those on whom God will have mercy, in verse 15, which refers to all the Elect.
The 4th example of “Children of the Promise” is stated negatively in verses 17 and 18: They are all those whom God will harden, which refers to all the Reprobate.
The 5th example of the “Children of the Promise” is stated in verses 21 and 23, which are called “vessels unto honor” and “vessels of mercy”, which refers to all the Elect.
The 6th example of “Children of the Promise” is stated negatively in verses 21 and 22: They are called “vessels unto dishonour” and “vessels of wrath”.
The 7th example of the “Children of the Promise” is stated here in verses 30-33, and they are those who have obtained righteousness out of faith.
Let us now read these verses of the 7th example:
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after (pursued not) righteousness, have attained (obtained) to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
But Israel, which followed after (pursued) the law of righteousness, hath not attained to (not arrived at) the law of righteousness.
Wherefore? Because they sought it not by (out of) faith, but as it were by (as out of) the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone;
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Why does this passage begin with, “What shall we say then”?
God reminds us that in verse 24 He spoke of the vessels of mercy who are the remnant from the Jews and the remnant from the Gentiles. In verse 27 again God said that only a remnant would be saved. And in verse 29 God said that if it were not for the presence of the remnant in our midst, we would have been destroyed a long time ago. Therefore God says here in verse 30, “What shall we say then”?
And now God speaks about the Gentiles. God does not speak about all the Gentiles, but only about a remnant from the Gentiles who become saved. How did they become saved? These Gentiles did not pursue the righteousness of God. They received it freely, because they belonged to the Elect of God. They did not strive to become righteous before God. They did not have to work for it. They received a righteousness that is by faith; which means that they freely, by grace, received faith from God, which enabled them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thereby they would know that they already were righteous before God. It was not so with the Jews. God says in verse 31 that Israel, meaning the Jews who were born as descendants of Jacob, pursued after righteousness. They did their level best to be right with God, by obeying the Law as much as they could. And yet, they did not become right with God as judged by His holy Law. Except for a remnant, saved by grace, they still remained unsaved. We read:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
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.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
You see, there is where their problem was: They have not submitted themselves to the salvation program that God provided through Jesus Christ. Instead they have decided to establish their own plan of salvation. But the Buddhists and the Moslems and the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have also decided to establish their own plan of salvation, and therefore they are still unsaved. The Roman Catholics and the Charismatic gospels have also decided to establish their own plan of salvation, and therefore they are also still unsaved. If they die in this unsaved condition, on the Last Day they will be sentenced and they will be cast into Hell for sure. But as concerning national Israel:
God predicted that Many Among Them Shall Stumble (Isaiah 8:13-15, Isaiah 28:16)
In Isaiah chapter 8 God commanded not to fear worldly powers, which are about to crush our nation. God commanded to fear Him, and to trust Him only. And then God prophesied something that reaches all the way to us today. God said in Isaiah 8:13-15,
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
In other words, “Set apart Jehovah of hosts for yourselves. He must be whom you reverence and He must be of whom you shall be afraid if you have done something wrong”. Notice that the words “let Him be” are in italics, which means that they were not in the original Hebrew manuscripts.
This is understandable, because we do not “let God be” this, or “let God be” that. The God of the Bible is sovereign. He does not take his assignments from mortal man. He is Almighty God. We do not seek Him, but He seeks us out, and He bestows His grace upon those on whom He is pleased to give it to.
“Then He shall be our sanctuary”.
Then He shall be our hiding place from the turmoil of this world. On the other hand, Jehovah of hosts shall be for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to those in Judah or in Israel for whom He is not a sanctuary. In fact, according to verse 14, Jehovah of hosts is going to be for a trap and for a snare to the inhabitants of the Jerusalem which now is, which is in bondage with her children.
What does all of this mean?
Obviously, the “Stone of Stumbling” and the “Rock of Offense” are throughout the Scriptures titles used for the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jehovah of Hosts, or the LORD of hosts, also refers to the Lord Jesus.
Why would He be a “Stone of Stumbling” to the Jews?
Actually the name “Stone of Stumbling” does not convey the true meaning. In that name it seems as if God is waiting for the stumbling of man before God will condemn him. Literally it means “Stone of Smiting”, because God does the smiting, and God uses the wickedness of man to carry out His plan of smiting the Reprobate of the Jews with their unbelief, especially when they delivered up Jesus to be crucified. Then, when the Lord Jesus was exalted, He became a high Rock, which could no more be pushed around or killed. Then He became their “Rock of Offense”. It is offensive to Jews today to mention the name of Christ. They are not just uninterested unbelievers, but they are active opponents of the Gospel of Christ. If you go to the nation of Israel today and hand out tracts, you will be put in jail, no questions asked. And He will be for a trap and for a snare to them on Judgment Day, when they will have to give account of their unbelief in the resurrected Christ, in spite of what the Roman soldiers at the tomb witnessed to them.
God says in Isaiah 8:15, “And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken”. This refers to the Judgment on the Last Day, where God uses language that pictures metaphors of wild animals that are caught and taken to be killed. God says, “Many among them shall stumble”. Today we realize that it is the majority of the Jews, which remain in unbelief.
In Isaiah 28:16 God speaks about that same stone of stumbling, which is the Lord Jesus Christ, but now God speaks about Him as a Cornerstone.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Let us first figure out what Zion means.
Where is Zion?
Zion is the place where God resides. Presently God resides in heaven and God resides in the souls of those who have become “Born Again”. The Lord Jesus Christ is presently in Zion, in heaven. Presently, Zion is not Jerusalem. When God said: “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone” God does not mean that He has put the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem to be crucified. Christ did not become a foundation until after His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension into heaven. It was only then that He became the foundation for the Church, beginning at Pentecost. Fix this in your memories: Zion is the place where God resides. The Lord Jesus Christ is our precious Cornerstone in heaven. He is our sure foundation, because He qualified to be the spotless, sinless, Lamb of God, and He qualified to be our High Priest who offered this spotless Lamb of God at Golgotha. And because He was successful in paying the equivalent of the full price for the guilt of our sins on the cross He qualified to be our precious Cornerstone in heaven. For the Reprobate He will not be a Cornerstone, but He will be a Stone of Stumbling.
But Why and How Do They Stumble? (I Peter 2:6-8)
In I Peter 2:6-8 God repeated what He said in Isaiah 8 and in Isaiah 28, but God restated it in slightly different words. Some intellectuals say that these words come out of the Septuagint, which is a translation of the Hebrew OT into the Greek language. That is a bunch of nonsense. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”, but the Septuagint is not an inspired Book. If it happens to agree with the Septuagint, fine, but we must believe that God dictated the entire Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, to holy men of old. Here we read in I Peter 2:6,
1 Peter 2:6
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded (ashamed).
1 Peter 2:7
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
1 Peter 2:8
And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
Now we can answer the question: Why do (or did) they stumble?
For example, why did the Jews not believe Jesus and why did they deliver Him to be crucified?
I Peter 2:8 gives the answer: “They stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed”.
They were appointed to be among the Reprobate.
Of course, we must set up front that God cannot be the author or the instigator of sin. But surely, for the glorification of the Elect, the blood of the Savior must flow. But if this blood is to flow, there must be a wicked and reprobate world to shed it. There must be a Judas who betrays Him; there must be a Sanhedrin that condemns Him; there must be a mighty and godless Roman power that finally brings Him to the cross. In all this, the Reprobate serve for the glorification of the Elect. Without that ungodly world, the cross cannot be imagined. But the situation is also thus that the world, in crucifying the Savior, through which it serves for the glorification of the Elect, becomes ripe for destruction. Therefore, in the unity of God’s plan, Reprobation necessarily serves Election. God’s love toward His people reigns supreme in His counsel. To reveal and to realize this love fully God brings into existence people who must finally be damned. And is this not a frightening thought: God could also have sovereignly reprobated us. Thank God that He loved us from before the foundations of the world. Thank God that He sent the Lord Jesus Christ to pay for our sins and make this payment available in our lifetime. Our thanks to God must be overflowing all day.
This Is the Lord’s Doing (Matthew 21:40-43)
Again we are confronted with God’s sovereign design for the outworking of His plan of salvation. In Matthew chapter 21 the Lord Jesus Christ spoke a parable to the chief priests and to the elders of the people. It was the “Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers”. A certain householder representing God, planted a vineyard, and He rent it out to vinedressers. The vineyard represents the Kingdom of God, which was given in custody to the nation of Israel. They were to care for it, and make it bear fruit, and bring the fruit of the Kingdom, in the form of saved souls, back to the King. But the vinedressers were wicked. When the King sent to them His servants, they beat up His servants and some of them they put to death. Last of all the King sent to them His Son, and they also killed His Son. Now verse 40,
When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
In other words, the King will avenge Himself on these wicked vinedressers, and He will make other arrangements for His vineyard. Then we read in verse 42,
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?
The Son of the King, which the wicked vinedressers killed, was “The Stone which the builders rejected”. This Stone, representing His resurrected Son, became the Cornerstone of the foundation on which the Apostles and Prophets have built the church, which is the outwardly visible part of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Then the Lord Jesus said in verse 43,
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
When did this happen?
When was the Kingdom of God taken away from the spiritual leaders of the Jews?
It was taken away at the cross. When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, God tore the curtain in the Temple separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, from top to bottom. And it was at Pentecost that the Kingdom of God was given to another nation, the nation of the family of Christ, the Israel of God. Let me bring up verse 42 again. The Lord Jesus said there: “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”.
What was the Lord’s doing?
The King rented out the vineyard to wicked vinedressers; that was the Lord’s doing.
The King sent His servants the Prophets to that wicked nation; that was the Lord’s doing. The King sent His Son, whom He knew was going to be rejected; that was the Lord’s doing. The Son was going to be tortured and crucified; that was the Lord’s doing. The Son would rise again from the dead and ascend into heaven; that was the Lord’s doing. So we see that:God orchestrated the entire history of the nation of Israel; God orchestrated the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the entire life of the Lord Jesus; God orchestrated the death, the burial, the resurrection, and the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and God orchestrated the entire mission work of the Apostle Paul and the life of the church throughout the entire New Testament era. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. Now let us look at verse 44, and consider the ones who are:
Broken in Spirit (Matthew 21:44, Psalm 51:17).
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
What does this mean?
It means: Whosoever shall fall down on this “Stone” shall be broken in spirit. He shall realize that this is Christ, the Cornerstone that God has put in place, so that we all may fall down on Him and worship Him. When we come to Christ, we do not come with our own agenda, but we come to worship Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. His will must become our will. If His will has not become our will, then we are still in the sin of pride and we have not been broken in spirit.
Does God want us to feel small in His sight?
Does God first make us go through much suffering?
Does God require a broken spirit?
Indeed He does. God says in Psalm 51:17,
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
“Contrite” means “repentant”.
A broken spirit and a repentant heart the Lord will not despise.
How does God break our spirit?
For example, God brings much grief into our life. This grief is really a result of our own sins. When we are at our wits end, we turn to God for help. The Reprobate do not see it this way. The Reprobate ascribes the pains and the hurts in his life to the fault of others. They always blame someone else. Therefore they do not see the guiding hand of God in their life. They might talk to their friends, and their friends do not see God’s guiding hand; so God’s providence remains a mystery to them. And that is how the Reprobate never has a broken and contrite spirit.
But now let us look at the second half of Matthew 21:44. The Lord Jesus said there: “But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder”. It means that Christ will come as the Judge on the Last Day, and He will fall with a heavy hand on all the Reprobate, and cast them into Hell.
Both Jews and Gentiles do not like to go to Hell. The Gentiles have wished God out of their lives, so they do not have to deal with God any more. The Jews have wished their god to a size yeh high, so that they can serve him according to the instructions of the Rabbis. They claim to know:
The Law of Righteousness(Romans 9:30-32, Galatians 3:10, Galatians 3:21)
We have seen WHY the Jews rejected Christ as their Cornerstone. It is because God rejected them. Now, let us see HOW they reasoned in their minds why they should reject Christ.
How can we know their minds?
Well, God described their minds here in Rom 9:30-32,
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone;
Israel eagerly pursued to become right with God. They wanted to be justified in the sight of God, because they did not want to go to Hell. But they did it man’s way. They worked and worked and worked to fulfill the Law and all its demands on their lives. And they believed that God owed them a seat in heaven because of all their work. But God was not impressed. After all that work God said: “Israel hath not attained to the law of righteousness”. They did not make it even 1% of the way.
God sent the Galatian churches a letter by the hand of the Apostle Paul dealing with these issues:
What about the Law?
Do we still obey the Law of Moses?
The Judaizers who claimed to be experts on the Law of Moses swayed the churches in Galatia, which were all Gentile churches. But then God says in Galatians 3:10,
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them”.
This could not be stated clearer. God said that every one who tries to be right with God through the works of the Law is under the curse of God. It is not possible that anyone might be right with God by fervently obeying the Law. In fact, God emphasized this again in Galatians 3:21, where God said:
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
If there had been a remote possibility that anyone might become saved by obeying a law, any law, then Christ would not have to suffer and die on the cross, because righteousness would be obtainable by obeying that law. That would have been the path to righteousness that God would have established. But the fact is that such a law does not exist. Therefore: There is man’s way and there is God’s way. Man’s way is to imagine a god of our own size, who acts and thinks like we do, and so we can serve Him the way we imagine we would like to be served. But God’s way is not like man’s way. God says: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”. God is not pleased with religious fanatics, who try to be pleasing to God by their works of the Law, like the Jews do. Their argument is: “We do not need Jesus. We can be pleasing to God without Jesus; thank you.” And so they do not see their need for a Savior.
But God says that everyone is in need of a Savior, because without Him we are on our way to Hell. Therefore, God gives faith to whom He will. And that faith really is an evidence of salvation, but it is not the cause for salvation. If our faith would be the cause for salvation, then God would not be sovereign. God would have to wait to see if someone would take the action to believe on the Lord Jesus, and then would God bestow salvation on that person. But then Election would not exist and so one part of the Bible would contradict another part. This cannot be! Therefore, our faith cannot be the cause for salvation. Our faith is a gift from God and it is the evidence of salvation. God gives salvation:
To Everyone That Believeth (Romans 9:33
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Whosoever believeth on Him? Nobody out of his own initiative will believe on Jesus, because God declared that we all were born dead in trespasses and sins. And so, the only ones who ever would believe on Jesus are those to whom God will give a measure of faith.
Let me now summarize Romans 9: The beginning part of Romans 9 titled dealt with Isaac as a prime example of those who have been elected unto salvation by the grace of God. The story of Isaac and Ishmael is the story of election and reprobation. Not all the children of the flesh of Abraham were called children of God. Abraham fathered 8 sons, of which only Isaac was beloved of God.
The next part dealt with Jacob and Esau, especially with the verse “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”. This is another story of election and reprobation. It is recorded that Esau did some horrible things, like selling his birthright, but Esau did not reprobate Himself; Esau did these things because he was a Reprobate. God loved Jacob in spite of what He did
Next, we read “I Will Have Mercy on Whom I Will Have Mercy”, dealing with the wisdom and knowledge that God exercises in His dealings with sinful men. God is not unrighteous that He will condemn people to Hell when they desire to come to Jesus. Our God is a just God. He will not be unfair. Therefore we must trust that His decisions are right and good.
Then we read of The Secret Providence of God, dealing with God hardening the hearts of the Reprobate, and softening the hearts of His Elect. God does that.
Does anyone object?
Only those who are the Reprobate will object, because they do not believe the whole counsel of God. God’s election refers to the MIND of God, whereas God’s providence refers to the HANDS of God.
The Word of God also tells us “The Lord Knoweth Them That Are His”, Paul tells us in Romans 9 that God is the Potter and we are the clay. The Potter made of the same lump (Adam) vessels unto honor and vessels unto dishonor. These are also called vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath, thereby indicating the faiths we have, the words we speak, and the judgments we have endured or are going to endure.
The nwe read about the vessels of mercy, which God has chosen from all the nations and kindreds and people and tongues, of both Jews and Gentiles. God’s effective call to all His elect was prophesied 2700 years ago by the prophet Hosea, whereby the remnant of the Gentiles, who formerly were called “Not My People”, are called the children of the living God.
Then we read about “the remnant”, which is dealing with all the remnant chosen by grace. God fought for the Remnant of Israel, and God fought for the Remnant of Gibeon in the valley of Gibeon. And for their sakes God was willing to make the sun and the moon stand still for a whole day. It is only because the Remnant is among us that we are not consumed by the wrath of God.
In this article we have been looking at with the two ways of becoming justified, which are the two ways of pursuing righteousness: Man’s way and God’s way. Two parties are being compared: the Reprobate among the Jews, and the Elect among the Gentiles. Man’s way involves hard work, but zero results. God’s way involves a whole lot more work, and a whole lot more suffering, but it is all done by God; and when the work was complete God turned the work over to us.
This is the Law of Righteousness, which the Reprobate Jews do not understand, but the Elect among the Gentiles do understand, because God has so written in the Bible. God gives His Elect faith to put their trust in Christ, and since “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth”, God gives righteousness to His Elect totally free of charge.
Let me now try to summarize this in simpler terms: Lord, forgive me for living a selfish life for most of my years on this earth. I was a decent, moral, law abiding citizen, but I lived a godless life. I was not religious, just covetous. I was a scientist because much money was to be made by scientists, but I neglected my soul, which is worth more than all the money and wealth in the world. I was penny-wise and pound-foolish. I was a Gentile in the flesh and in the spirit, bound for Hell, and I did not know it. Then You showed up one day, and the missionary gave me a Bible. Little did he know that Your irresistable grace was knocking me down. I was in church the next Sunday, and I have not missed since then; not because I am so good, but because I needed to hear so much from Your Word, the Bible, and because I needed so much to be forgiven. You gave me faith while I was hearing the Gospel preached, and You gave me spiritual ears to hear. Lord, all I want to do now is live for You, and give to others this great gift that one missionary gave to me. All I want to do now is tell the world that salvation is totally a free gift. I love You, because You have loved me first.
And then we would summarize this sermon with the saints of the past 160 years as follows:
It is not that I did choose Thee,
for, Lord, that could not be;
this heart would still refuse Thee,
hadst Thou not chosen me.
Thou, from the sin that stained me,
hast cleansed and set me free;
of old Thou hast ordained me,
that I should live to Thee.
It was sovereign mercy that called me and taught my opening mind;
the world had else enthralled me, to heavenly glories blind.
My heart owns none before Thee,
for Thy rich grace I thirst;
this knowing, if I love Thee,
Thou must have loved me first.
By Alfred J. Chompff