Romans 10:2 - 3
ESV - 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.
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Zeal for God is a wonderful trait, commended frequently in scripture. (John 2:17, Psa 69:9, II Cor 11:2, II Cor 7:11, Num 25:12-13, Ez 7:23, I Kings 19:9-11, etc). Zeal, unfortunately, can be misdirected, or founded on misunderstanding. Saul, before he became a believer in Christ, was so zealous for God that he persecuted the church (Phil 3:1-14). This is one reason that Jesus' question, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" was so powerful and moving to Saul. He had thought he had been passionately serving God in his zeal, yet found he had actually been persecuting the one he hoped to serve. (Acts 26:12-23). Yet Christ showed Him mercy, for he had acted ignorantly in unbelief (I Tim 1:12-14). The case of Israel as mentioned in Rom 10:2-3 was similar to Paul pre-conversion. The Jews were ignorant about God's righteousness which is by faith (Rom 1:17, Rom 3:21-26, Rom 10:13, Phil 3:8-10, Gal 3:23, etc). This ignorance was willful, for they had every way of knowing through scripture that righteousness was by faith (Rom 10:18-21, John 5:39-40, Is 53:1-12, Heb 11, etc). The Jews sought to establish 'their own' righteousness before God; that is to make their own pursuit of righteousness a valid reason for God to declare them just. Going back to Paul's example, he listed several areas wherein he had once based his claims of righteousness (Phil 3:1-14): - He had been circumcised on the eighth day, so he was a natural-born Jew and not a proselyte and had been in exact compliance with the law (Gen 17:12, Lev 12:3, Luke 1:59) - He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the same tribe Israel's first King Saul was from (I Sam 9:21). Benjamin was one of only two tribes which remained loyal to King David when the other ten tribes revolted (I Kings 12:20-21). - He was a Hebrew descended from Hebrews. That is, he was a natural born Jew descended from natural Jews, raised in the customs of his ancestors, and conforming to Jewish custom vs. Adapting his manners and language to the Greek as Hellenistic Jews did (Gal 1:14). - In regards to law, he was a Pharisee. He was of the strictest sect and most rigid adherence to the law (Acts 26:5), as opposed to the more lax Sadducees. - Concerning zeal, he persecuted the church. This shows his prior attitude as a zealot, one who would gladly martyr himself for the sake of the law, and persecute the heathens and others who stood against it. - Blameless in regards to the righteousness which is in the law. No one could have faulted Saul for his keeping of the Mosaic law or ten commandments. Much like the ruler in Luke 16:18-30, Saul had kept the law since childhood. Like Saul had, the Jews set up their own standards of righteousness based on ethnicity, conformity to the letter of the law, conformity to moral aspects of the law, conformity to Jewish custom, zeal for the law, etc. Yet Paul does not commend them for this form of zeal based on their own righteousness vs. Knowledge of God's righteousness. He states that 'they do not submit to God's righteousness' by such actions, nor do they understand that it is Christ who is the ultimate fulfillment of the law, the final culmination, for righteousness to all those who believe. (Acts 13:39, Rom 7:1-6, Rom 3:21-31). True zeal for God is based in the knowledge of God's righteousness which is by faith, and pursuit of God through the spirit (Gal 5:1-26). "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness...For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Pet 1:3-11).
1st century Isra'el’s zeal for God was not according to knowledge, because instead of accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as the means of salvation, they sought to establish their own way—which was a “two-sided” coin. Their errant belief taught that 'side one' of the coin, salvation, was grace-based due to birth (ethnicity and group membership in Isra'el as Jews); and that side two, remaining saved, was based on maintenance of Torah (viz, obedience). In that order, both were needed in the Jewish mind for salvation (read Acts 15:5 – “circumcise them”=Jewish identity, and “Law of Moses”=maintenance of Torah).
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