Romans 9:30-10:21

The two kinds of righteousness. Zeal that is based on the truth. Salvation is near. A disobedient people.

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" 30 What shall we say then? - that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, 'Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.'" (Romans 9:30-33)

What does it signify when it is said that Israel sought righteousness through works? This implies that they diligently adhered to the literal requirements of the law, hoping that God would consider their actions as a basis for accepting them into His kingdom. However, it is evident from the mentioned verse that such efforts cannot grant them the desired approval from God.

Furthermore, their dependence on the observance of the law actually becomes an obstacle for them, causing them to stumble over the “stumbling stone,” which is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. As Christ requires them to place their faith in His completed work on the cross, they insist on obedience to the law based on their own works in order to meet His righteousness standard. This creates an irreconcilable conflict and animosity.


1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)

Christians often place great importance on zeal as a criterion for obtaining their desires from God. However, this perspective is unrealistic in multiple aspects.

Firstly, even though zeal may be considered a vital aspect of a believer’s life, it must be grounded in truth. The verses mentioned above (30-33) indicate that Israel did not base their zeal on the truth; instead, they pursued righteousness through their own human efforts.

Secondly, it is possible that zeal may not even be a necessary requirement. As verse 30 states, “the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness attained it.” Their zeal was not a determining factor in this context. Righteousness was granted to them when it was offered through faith in Christ, and they received it. They did not actively seek it, yet they found it. This seems contradictory to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-8, “seek and you will find.” In this case, we need to return to the principle that everything Jesus asks mankind to do serves to demonstrate their inability to accomplish it. No matter how much we seek, we will not find, but if we receive something from God, it is solely by His grace and mercy.

In summary, Christians’ emphasis on zeal as a means to attain their desires from God is flawed. True zeal must be rooted in truth, and even then, it may not be a prerequisite. Ultimately, receiving anything from God is solely a result of His grace and mercy, not our efforts or zeal.


5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ (Romans 10:5-11)

When discussing the concept of the law, our initial perception often revolves around a set of rules that must be followed, without much consideration for the consequences of failing to adhere to them. However, according to the biblical definition, sin is viewed as any transgression of these written rules. Combining Moses’ definition of righteousness through the law with Ezekiel’s statement that “the soul that sins, it shall die (Eze 18:20),” the significance becomes even more profound: our life and death are contingent upon our relationship with the law.

Considering this definition, what are your prospects of attaining God’s righteousness through law-keeping?

Paul, however, presents an alternative approach to fulfill God’s requirement: faith.

Paul juxtaposes two forms of righteousness - one attained through human endeavors and the other received through faith. He illustrates the former by depicting arduous tasks such as descending into the abyss to bring Christ up from death, or ascending to heaven to bring him down. In contrast, he portrays salvation through faith as something within close reach, as accessible as speaking with our lips and believing in our hearts. One approach seems distant, while the other appears remarkably near.

Salvation is not achieved through works, but through faith. As it is written, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”


12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them ? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news.” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news, for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Yes, they have: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. 19 But again I ask, didn’t Israel understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by those who are not a nation; with a senseless nation I will provoke you to anger.’ 20 And Isaiah is even bold enough to say, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I became well known to those who did not ask for me.’ 21 But about Israel he says, ‘All day long I held out my hands to this disobedient and stubborn people!’” (Romans 10:12-21)

Even in the remote corners of the world, where individuals may not have had the opportunity to hear or read the Bible, God has already declared His glory since ancient times.

1The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. (Psalm 19:1-4)

Therefore, when Paul poses the rhetorical question, “Have they not heard?” he is aware that they must have already heard the message. As he affirms, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” In doing so, he echoes the inspiration of the Psalmist in chapter 19, verses 1 through 4, as mentioned earlier.

Hence, no one can provide the excuse that they have never heard the call of God, particularly when it comes to Israel. God has consistently spoken to them through prophets across countless generations. Therefore, He refers to them as a “disobedient and stubborn people.”

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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