One of the things that bothers people about Christianity is that Christ claims he is the only way to God. That there is no other way. And they say, “Why can’t there be another way?”
There are many ways to answer that question, but Paul gives one answer here, as he talks about the Jews. As I look at this passage, it strikes me that everything Paul says about the Jews, he could be saying about every other religious person in the world.
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. (9:30-31)
Let’s rephrase that into the modern world.
What then shall we say? That the Christians, who did not pursue righteousness through religious rules, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the rest of the world, who pursued righteousness through the laws of their own religion, has not attained it.
How can we say that? How can we just dismiss the efforts of all the religious people of the world?
Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. (32)
In other words, their whole idea of how to be made righteous before God is wrong. It’s not by works. It’s by faith.
Let’s put it this way. There’s a famous book called the “Five Love Languages.” And in it, the author makes clear that people feel love in different ways. Some people feel love by receiving gifts, others feel love by being served, others feel love by the words they hear, and so on. And there can be conflict in a marriage when a person doesn’t know their partner’s love language.
For example, a husband tries very hard to please his wife by giving her gifts. But though he tries very hard to give her the perfect gift, though he spends tons of money on it, he gets frustrated because she’s not responding as he expects. After all, he feels most loved when he receives gifts.
What he doesn’t know is that she doesn’t want gifts; she wants his time. And so though he tries very hard to please his wife, because he’s going about it in the wrong way, he can never achieve his aim.
In the same way, most people approach God by thinking they have to do a lot of good works to be accepted by him. But what they don’t realize is that while the good works are nice, that’s not what he really wants. What he really wants is for people to trust him. To have faith in him.
You see that from the very beginning in the garden of Eden. He told Adam and Eve, “Trust me. Don’t eat from that tree. It’ll lead to your destruction.” But they didn’t trust him, and the result was a broken relationship with God. You see this all the way through the Bible, God telling his people, “Trust me,” and them refusing to do so.
To this day, the pattern continues. God tells people, “Trust me. Put your faith in Jesus. He did all the work necessary for you to be saved.” But instead, they try to pursue righteousness through their own efforts.
And so, Paul says,
They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” (That is, Jesus). As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (32-33)
How about you? Are you trying to pursue God through your own efforts? It won’t work. God isn’t looking at your efforts. He’s looking at one thing: Do you trust him? Are you putting your faith in Jesus? If you don’t you will fall before him. But if you do, he will accept you and you will never be put to shame.