Lesson 34

The Epistle to the Romans

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

9:30 What will we say then? That the Gentiles, who didnít follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; 9:31 but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, didnít arrive at the law of righteousness. 9:32 Why? Because they didnít seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone; 9:33 even as it is written,

"Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.

And no one who believes in him will be put to shame."

 Today's Lesson 

Paul quoted Hosea and Isaiah to show that God had foretold a time when the Gentiles would be redeemed and that only a remnant would be saved in Israel. Paul believed that both of these prophecies were being fulfilled in the early church. The Gentiles were being brought into the Body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Paul and others. At the same time, the vast majority of Jews were rejecting Christ and the church. A remnant was being saved from Israel. Paul and the other original apostles were prime examples of this remnant.


Paul then explains how this has happened. The Gentiles who were not trying to achieve righteousness became righteous through believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They responded to the message of grace that was being offered by God through Paul and the missionaries from the church of Antioch. Many Gentiles had responded to their message by faith and the Greek church was growing at such a rate that it would very soon swallow up the Jewish believers centered around Jerusalem.


At the same time, the majority of the nation Israel had rejected the message of Jesus Christ and pursued God by attempting to achieve righteousness through the adherence to the law. Paul writes that they did not achieve righteousness because they pursued it by works of the law and not by faith. Israel's mistake was in pursuing righteousness as though it may be something that can be earned or gained by merit. We cannot earn the righteousness of God; we can only receive it as a gift that is freely given.


Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah, the same passages that are also used in the First Epistle of Peter. The prophet Isaiah had written "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. And no one who believes in him will be put to shame." In Peter, these quotations are used to describe how the cross of Christ offended some people. These people stumble over the stumbling stone. To those that believe, the same stone becomes a chief cornerstone around which their lives are built.


In Romans, Paul uses this passage to describe the reaction of Israel to the righteousness of faith. They stumble over the stumbling stone and Christ becomes a rock of offense to them. He is offensive because Christ offers freely to the Gentiles what Israel sought to earn through piety and works.


The Jews of Paul's day are not the only ones for whom the righteousness by faith has become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Everywhere in the church today there are those who would place restrictions and rules on Christian behavior which amount to an attempt to gain righteousness as if it were by works. When we approach God on the basis of, "I must do this or that to gain God's favor," we are beginning to develop a righteousness that is by works.


It is an easy trap to fall into because we are by nature creatures of law. We make rules and attempt to try to live up to them and expect others to do so. Only God is by nature a being of grace. Even when we come to Christ, we are so eager to please Him that we feel as though only our best effort will do. We are disappointed in our failures and become convinced that if we only acted a little better and controlled our thoughts a little more we would be more acceptable to God.


But God accepts us because of what Jesus Christ has already accomplished, not because of what we ever will. When we rest in His finished work and accept the leading of the Spirit of God in our lives we will indeed begin to conform our actions and our thoughts to the patterns of Christ. But growing in grace does not make us more acceptable to God; He does not love us more as we mature. It is rather that His acceptance and love allows us to mature.


Have you ever "stumbled over the stumbling stone?" Do you know what its like to realize that you can never earn the love of God but that you don't have to earn it, it is given freely?


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