When considering saving faith it is often misunderstood that belief begins and remains with just accepting the truth as true. Scripture shows that believing in reality and believing in the flesh are two different things. Believing by definition is “trust” in the truth of Christ, not just agreement with the truth of Christ.
Romans 10:3 “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.”
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going We have, so far, been dealing with the first two verses, and have seen that certain general lessons are taught there by the Apostle. These not only concern his contemporaries, the Jews, but are of universal application in the life of the church up to the present time.
We have seen that the Apostle’s particular concern here is to explain why the Jews were, in the main, outside the Christian church, whereas the Gentiles had been coming in. The general trouble was that the Jews had a zeal for God but it was ‘not according to knowledge’. Now the word that Paul uses here which is translated ‘knowledge’ is very interesting. It is the strongest word used in the Scriptures with regard to knowing. It does not merely mean a general acquaintance with something. It goes beyond that. It means a full, a correct, a precise and a vital knowledge, and the trouble with the Jews, says the Apostle Paul, is that they lacked it. And there is one further idea in the word. It refers to a knowledge which has been arrived at as the result of a good deal of investigation and effort. So then, Paul says, the Jews lacked that full apprehension, that certain knowledge which is the result of a careful and a thorough examination of a teaching. They had a zeal, but not such a knowledge.
Here, then, Paul again puts before us a most important principle, Which is that an exact knowledge of the truth is essential to salvation. The Jews had not got it, so they were outside; they were lost and he prays and longs for their salvation. Now this matter of knowledge is most important. I am of the opinion that the greatest danger confronting the Christian church and every individual Christian at this moment is to fail to understand and appreciate the absolute necessity of a precise, clear knowledge of the truth. I say this because we are living in days when there is a powerful reaction against all this.
We are living in an age that dislikes precision and definitions. It is an age that is anti-theological, anti-doctrinal and which dislikes propositions and exact knowledge. It is a lazy age in every respect, a sentimental, sloppy age, an age that wants entertainment and dislikes effort. In the whole of life today the principle is ‘something for nothing’. We are ready to take but we are not ready to work; we are not ready to give ourselves. It is true all round and it accounts for most of our problems. It is particularly true in the realm of the Christian church. We must therefore deal with this very carefully.
This tendency shows itself in many ways which are generally very plausible. One way is to say that Christianity is something that is so wonderful that it cannot be defined, that it baffles analysis or any attempt to state it in propositions. I am sure you are familiar with that particular view. People say you might as well try to dissect beauty, or an aroma, as to define the Christian faith. It cannot be done, they say. You experience it marvelous and wonderful! But if you try to analyze it, then you destroy it, there is nothing left. You must not bring the rude hands of analysis here.
Another way in which it is put is this: that Christianity is only a matter of one’s spirit. What makes us Christians is our spirit, and if we have an appropriate spirit, then we are Christians. Christianity is an attitude, a view of life, a general statement concerning our personality and our being. There was a slogan not so long ago which said, ‘Christianity is caught, not taught’. You catch the spirit. You feel it in the meeting and you get it. But what is it? Well, you do not know, but that does not matter. You have got it! That is the great thing and you feel much happier and much better than you did before.
Then a third way in which it is put is this: that after all what matters is our general reaction to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now this is one of the most popular views of all. People say, ‘You read the Gospels and there you see this portrait of Him and, as it were, you meet Him. Now what decides whether you are a Christian or not is this: Do you like Him? Do you want to be like Him? Do you try to imitate Him? What is your reaction to Him?’ You must not come and dissect, and bring your propositions and your theology and say you have got to believe this and not believe that. What matters is your total response to Him, and if you react favorably to Him, then you are a Christian.
The fourth way is the approach that describes Christianity in terms of living. What does it matter what people believe as long as they are living good, Christ like lives, as long as they are generous, ready to make sacrifices, ready to help others, and concerned about the uplift of the race? That is what makes people Christians.
Now this dangerous attitude takes one other form. I put this in a category on its own because I am beginning to think that in some ways it is the most subtle form of all among evangelical people. It is the tendency to estimate whether or not people are Christians, not by what they actually say about their beliefs but by what you feel about them. Now, I do want to make this clear, because I have encountered it a great deal. We attach greater importance and significance to this ‘feeling’ that we may have about them than to the very words that the people themselves use about the Christian faith.
I want to give an example or two of this, because I confess that I am becoming alarmed about it; indeed, I am almost discouraged because it seems to me that if we proceed much further along this line, the evangelical faith is going to disappear. Let me give you an illustration. On a visit to London some years ago, I went into a certain bookroom which was managed by an evangelical organization in one of the major Christian denominations. To my astonishment, I found that they were selling there a secondhand book by a man who was notorious at that time. He was no longer alive, but he had written this well known book about Christianity in which he virtually denied all the cardinal articles of the Christian faith. As I was looking round, the secretary of this society came to speak to me, so I called his attention to this book and expressed my amazement.
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘wait a minute. You know, we must be very careful.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
He said, ‘Have you ever met this men?’ end when I told him I had not, he replied, ‘Well, I have. I stayed with him a few months back. I was on deputation work and he entertained me for the night, and the next morning we went into a little chapel attached to his house where he took family prayers. And you know, I don’t think I have ever been in such a spiritual atmosphere. It was a blessing to my soul to hear him taking family prayers on that occasion.’
‘Yes, but my dear sir,’ I said, ‘what does he say in this book?’
‘Oh, I know that,’ he said, ‘but you see, if you had heard him taking those prayers! I have never known a more devout man. I have never been in a more devotional atmosphere.’
My reply was this: ‘But I don’t care what you felt. This is what the man says about the Lord Jesus Christ and His work and it is a denial of the Scriptures!’ But I found it very difficult to persuade him.
Then recently, a speaker was about to give an address on a certain religious book which had achieved some notoriety, and he prefaced his remarks by saying something like this. ‘Now I am going to criticize this book, but I must say this. A friend of mine who saw this man on television said to me, “If ever I have looked at a born again man there he was.”‘
You see, he was suggesting that what is said in the book does not matter! Though the writer denies the teaching of the Scripture and the creeds of his church, though he denies the being of God, the deity of Christ, and all the essentials of Christianity, in spite of that, what is being put first is our subjective feeling ‘The man looks to me to be a born again man.’ So in spite of what he says in his book ‘I therefore have a feeling, somehow, that the man is all right after all’!
This is happening in other ways, too. A few years ago there were various campaigns at which all kinds of people had come together who had never been together before. And evangelical Christians were saying, ‘You know, these others are such nice people, they are much nicer people than we ever thought.’ Why they should ever imagine that people who are wrong in their doctrine are of necessity not nice I do not know! But the argument had reached the point at which it was being said that, because they were so surprisingly nice, it did not matter very much, after all, that they were so wrong in their doctrine.
Or, to give one final illustration, I once had a lengthy discussion with an evangelical Christian in which I asked him why he had used a certain man in connection with his work. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I know what you mean, I know what he has written in his books, I know what he preaches, but I have got to be honest. I find that I can have more fellowship with him than I can with many conservative evangelical Christians.’
I said, ‘What you really mean, of course, is that he is a nicer man by nature than many evangelical Christians. But,’ I went on, ‘you must not call it fellowship. You find that he is more affable and that you can get on more easily with him. But that is not spiritual fellowship!’
Now that is the kind of thing that is being said at the present time. It does not matter what people may teach. Though they may deny the very essence of Christianity, if I like them, if I am attracted to them, if I can talk easily to them, then that is what counts. It is what they are that is important and thus they make an appeal to you.
Here, then, is the very thing to which our attention is being drawn by this statement of the Apostle Paul. So what do we say about this modern tendency? Here is the answer.
First, that Christian people are mistaking natural qualities, niceness, a cultural veneer or politeness, for true Christian grace. It seems that we are no longer capable of differentiating between the two. How often today is affability mistaken for saintliness! ‘What a gracious man he is,’ they say. What they really mean is this: he never criticizes and he agrees with everybody and everything. I know of nothing more dangerous than that. These so called gracious men are, of course, altogether nicer than John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul! I do not hesitate to go further they are very much nicer than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who denounced the Pharisees! Affability is not saintliness. A mere intellectual, moral flabbiness, is not synonymous with graciousness and with the possession of grace!
Secondly, the fact that people are devout tells us nothing about the truth of what they believe. There are very devout Jews, devout Muslims, devout followers of Buddha, Confucius, and so on. A devout attitude in and of itself tells us nothing.
Thirdly, the moment we begin to talk in these terms, it means that we have abandoned all objective standards. We are now judging only by our own subjective feelings, by our impressions and reactions. Is there anything so dangerous?
Fourthly, and much more important, it is a complete denial of what the Apostle is teaching at this very point, and indeed in the whole of his Epistle. The Jews, he says, are lost and they need to be saved. Why? Because they are lacking in exact knowledge of the truth. This is the reason for their condemnation. So we must never put anything before exact knowledge. It is the most important thing of all.
My fifth argument is this: to speak like that is a violation not only of what the Apostle teaches here, but also of the whole of the New Testament teaching with regard to the way of salvation. What does it teach? Well, it talks about coming ‘unto the knowledge of the truth’ [I Tim. 2:4]. Everything in the New Testament is put in terms of truth. What is preaching? Preaching is a proclamation of the truth. And it is an exact proclamation. Preaching is not talking about a vague feeling, but is the presentation of a message, of a case. Preaching is something that is reasoned and argued from the Scriptures. It is truth, and therefore it must always be in the first position.
The Apostle says this clearly and specifically in 1 Timothy 2:35: ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved’ he means all types and kinds of men ‘and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’. That is salvation, this exact knowledge of the truth. ‘For there is one God’ there it is! ‘and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ There is the truth specified. And yet the whole tendency today is to say, ‘It doesn’t matter!’
Furthermore, this is a truth that can be defined in detail, indeed, it must be defined in detail. The first chapter of Galatians brings out this point. ‘I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another. . .’ [Gal. 1:67]. But how can Paul say that? You can only make a statement like that if you know what the gospel is. There must be some objective standard, and he says that these people have departed from that. They say they are preaching a gospel. But it is ‘not another’, he says, there cannot be, this is the one and only gospel.
In other words, you can tell whether a man is preaching the gospel or not, or whether he believes the gospel or not, by what he says! It does not matter what he is in his appearance or in his personality-what does he say ? Is it the gospel, or something that is passing as gospel, which is not the gospel? Then Paul makes it still more explicit: ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ [v. 8]. Could anything be plainer or stronger?
Or take it again in 2 Timothy 2 :78: ‘Consider what I say,’ says the Apostle, ‘and the Lord give thee understanding.’ that is what people need; it is understanding. Get rid of this sloppy sentimentality that talks about ‘niceness’ and lives on its feelings. ‘Remember,’ he says, ‘that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.’ What did he mean by my gospel? Well, he goes on to tell us. He contrasts it with the false teaching in which some people were indulging. They taught that ‘the resurrection is past already’ and they ‘overthrow the faith of some’ [v. 18].
I once read a printed sermon on Paul’s words, ‘my gospel’, in which the preacher put forward this erroneous view. He said, ‘The Apostle says, “My gospel”, and the question for you, friends, is: Can you say, “My gospel” ? Of course, it may not be mine, it may not be somebody else’s, but the whole point is, can you say, “My gospel” ?’
The whole purpose of that sermon was to show that the Apostle did not mean to suggest that he was right and everyone else was wrong. The preacher argued that such a thing would be unthinkable for a Christian man to say. What Paul meant, said this preacher, was that he had not got a secondhand faith but had found something which had made all the difference to him, and all he was concerned about was that everybody else should have something that made all the difference to them something about which they could say ‘my gospel’. It would not be the same thing in every case, of course. It would be one thing for one person and another for someone else. One would believe in the deity of Christ, and another would not; one believes that Christ bore his sins and was punished, someone else believes He was just dying the death of a pacifist. But what does it matter? We all get a good deal out of that death. ‘My gospel’! And this is, of course, nothing but a complete denial of what the Apostle was teaching!
The Apostle’s case was always this: there is only one gospel. It had been committed to him and he preached it. Any departure from it was a lie, and whoever preached a lie deserved to tee ‘accursed’. And, of course, this teaching is not confined to the Apostle Paul. In Jude 3, we read this:
‘Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once [and forever] delivered unto the saints.’ The faith is something that you can contend for and if you do not know what it is, or if people can believe what they like, then you cannot contend for it. The New Testament denounces heresies; and there would never be such a thing as a heresy if you did not have a truth that can be defined and stated in the form of propositions. So this modern idea which puts personality, or niceness, or ‘whet I feel’ about a person, before exact propositions and definitions, and precision in knowledge, is a denial of the whole of the New Testament teaching.
But still further: the Bible teaches us that continuation in the Christian life is always as the result of truth, and knowledge of truth. Our Lord prayed in His high-priestly prayer: ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth’ John 17:17]. Or take what He said on another occasion to those Jews who believed on Him, ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ John 8:31]. It is the truth, not feelings, that makes you free!
My final argument is this. The Apostle Peter, in the third chapter of his First Epistle, verse fifteen, says, ‘be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.’ A man comes to you and says, ‘Look here, why are you a Christian?’ He wants you to give an explanation. If you adopt this modern teaching, all you can say is this: ‘Well, I don’t know that I can tell you but I just feel like this. I began to feel like this suddenly in a meeting, and I am glad to say that I have been feeling like this ever since. It is a wonderful feeling, though I don’t know what it is.’
Then the man says, ‘What is this “hope” you have?’
‘Well,’ you reply, ‘I don’t know, I am just hopeful, that is all. I have taken a more optimistic view of life ever since I had this wonderful experience and I feel happier and bright and cheerful.’ You cannot give him a reason. In that case, says Peter, you are no use to him; he will now, poor fellow, try to get this ‘feeling’ that you have had and he will go the round of meetings hoping that he is going to get it. That is not the way, says Peter. Give him a reason for the hope that is in you. And that means a detailed knowledge of the truth.
I am not saying, of course, that a Christian is someone who has a complete understanding about the whole of the Christian faith. Of course not! Nobody has that. We are all still learning. All that I am saying is that there must be a clear understanding about an irreducible minimum. You cannot be a Christian at all unless you have that. I am not, in other words, saying that we must turn this gospel into a requirement, and that unless we all agree in every detail about prophecy, or the mode of baptism, or many other subjects, that we are not Christians. That is sheer legalism! There are many people who have fallen into that error.
But that is not the danger today! The danger today is that we are so afraid of legalism that we have become utterly nondescript. We have knocked down all the barriers and the signposts; anything is all right. We are a happy lot together and we have a wonderful spirit. Roman Catholics are suddenly now changing. Everything is marvelous. We are going to have a great universal church and there will be no more trouble.
But that is the very opposite of the New Testament teaching. No, I am not arguing for a legalistic precision. All I am arguing for is what the Apostle Paul is putting before us here in Romans 10:3. These Jews, he says, are outside because they have not got this exact knowledge that saves! There are implications and aspects of this great truth about which we cannot and must not speak dogmatically. But about the thing that saves us we must be as dogmatic as we can be This is absolutely essential to salvation.
The Apostle’s whole point is that the Jews are lost, and he is anxious about them, concerned for them and praying for them. They are in that position for one reason only their lack of a precise knowledge as to the way of salvation. Therefore I do not hesitate to say that if you tell me that such an exact knowledge is not essential, that people can be Christians without it, then I say that you are denying the New Testament gospel. I do not care what experience they have had, how much better or nicer they are than they once were I am not interested. Men and women are saved by coming to a knowledge of the truth!
The Apostle says all that to us in this word ‘knowledge’. But in verse 3 he works it out in detail, and he has three things to say about the Jews. The first is that they were ‘ignorant of God’s righteousness’. That is the first respect in which this lack of knowledge caused their condemnation. Now what does Paul mean here by the term ‘God’s righteousness’? There is a slight difficulty about this. It is not important ultimately, but we must look at it in order to get our minds clear. There are two views.
Most of the commentators are agreed in saying that by ‘God’s righteousness’ Paul means the righteousness that God has prepared for, and gives to, the Christian. They say that it must be that because of what Paul says at the end of the verse: ‘They being ignorant of God’s righteousness .. . have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.’
Now there is no doubt about the meaning of ‘the righteousness of God’. It means that they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness that God has prepared and gives, about which Paul has spoken in chapter 1:17 ‘the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith’. So, the commentators say, it must have that meaning at the beginning of 10:3 also, because if it does not, then the Apostle is using the same word in two different senses in the same verse.
If that view is correct, the Apostle is saying that these people are lost because they have a great zeal but it is not according to knowledge. They do not know about the righteousness that God has provided and have not submitted to it. Instead, they have gone about to establish their own righteousness. That is the commonly accepted interpretation.
But with considerable trepidation, because of the authorities, I feel constrained to say that even if I do accept that, I cannot accept it as being the total or indeed the adequate explanation of this term. What, then, does it mean? Well, I suggest it means the righteousness that God demands of me. Paul is saying that they were ignorant of this righteousness that God demands. Why do I say that? Partly because, taking the other view, Paul is guilty of tautology, and he is not normally guilty of that. So it seems to me that in order to show how the argument advances here we must accept this second interpretation.
But there is an even stronger argument. What was the main trouble with the Jews ? Well, our Lord Himself has answered the question for us. It is to be found in Matthew 5:20, part of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ And then He goes on to interpret what He means by that. The whole trouble with the Pharisees was that they had misinterpreted the Old Testament teaching about the righteousness that God demands. That is what the Sermon on the Mount deals with, especially in chapter five: ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . But I say unto you’ [see, for example, w. 2122, 2728, 3132].
The Pharisees rejected Christ because they had misunderstood God’s real demands, the demands of God’s law, the demands of God’s righteousness. So in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord preaches to them on the meaning of the law that was given through Moses, and what He keeps on saying to them, in effect, is this: ‘You have misinterpreted it. You are taking it only in the act, but God means it in the spirit, in the mind, in the heart. You say, “I have not committed adultery.” I ask you, have you looked at a woman to commit adultery in your imagination? If you have, you are guilty.’ And so on with murder and all the rest.
In other words, our Lord’s whole case against the Pharisees and scribes was that they had got muddled about the meaning of God’s demands upon them in terms of righteousness. There are many examples of this very thing in the Gospels, for in stance, what the Lord said about the support of parents in Matthew 15 :39 and about tithing in Matthew 23:2328. The final proof of this is the famous case of the Pharisee and the publican: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are’ [Luke 18:1011]. Here is the picture of a man who thought that he had completely satisfied the demands of God.
So I argue that when the Apostle says in Romans 10:3 that the Jews were ignorant of God’s righteousness, he means that they were entirely ignorant of what God really was demanding of them.
This leads us to the word ignorant, which is a most interesting word. It implies that they had some knowledge. Paul does not say that these Jews were completely ignorant about the righteousness of God. No. Their trouble was that they knew something about it but they did not have an exact knowledge of it. In other words, ‘ignorance’ here is the exact opposite of the full and precise knowledge of verse 2.
You see, you can have a certain amount of knowledge, but it is not enough. You must have precise knowledge. The Jews had a knowledge. But they were ignorant! It was not a full knowledge but was partial and vitiated. That again, of course, was the trouble with the Pharisees and was it not also the trouble with the Apostle Paul himself before his conversion? Take Philippians 3:46:’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.’
That is what Paul used to think. He really did believe, like all the Pharisees, that he had fulfilled the law of God, and was absolutely blameless. So what was his trouble? It was that he had a knowledge of the law but not an exact knowledge. It was all right up to a point, but then he ruined it all by misinterpretation. He himself was a perfect illustration of the very thing that he says here.
And then 1 Timothy 1:13, where Paul expresses amazement that he is in the ministry. He recalls that he ‘was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious’, but he ‘obtained mercy because,’ he says, ‘I did it ignorantly in unbelief.’ And when he says that he was ignorant he does not mean that he knew nothing. He was a Pharisee, he knew a great deal about the law and the Scriptures. But, he says, ‘I did it ignorantly.’ Yes, it is exactly the same word.
The Apostle’s own experience, therefore, and that of all the Pharisees, I think confirms this exposition that I am putting before you. The whole trouble with the Jews was that they thought that they knew what the law of God demanded. But they did not. Their knowledge was so imperfect that it had become a lie, and it was standing between them and the knowledge of salvation in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So you see the point at which we have arrived. This precise knowledge is absolutely essential. Not only must you have knowledge, you must have precise knowledge. Ignorance (a little knowledge) is the enemy; it is the cause of the lost condition of Paul’s fellow countrymen, the Jews. May God once and for ever rid our minds of this dangerous, terrible tendency to discount exact knowledge, definition, propositions, doctrine and theology.
And may the Lord help us to see that what passes as charity is at the expense of denying precise knowledge of the truth and is not charity but laxity. Ultimately, it is a betrayal and denial of the truth of God.