Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
Paul calls racial Jews “brethren,” and racially and nationally that is true. But here he is speaking to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ because primarily throughout the New Testament, especially in the epistles, “brethren” is used for the Royal Family of God. The Royal Family of God consists of those who have believed in Christ and through the baptism of the Spirit have been entered into union with Christ, forming the royal family. So this is addressed to believers in the Royal Family of God in the dispensation of the Church. It is a reminder to believers that the failure of Israel, who had everything going for them, can be the failure of any Gentile nation throughout history.
Rejection of Christ had resulted in using the Law as an instrument of self-righteousness, which is an expression of human arrogance. The only righteousness which has credit with God is the righteousness of God which He imputes to the believer in Christ. The Jews rejected Christ as Savior and in arrogance relied on their own righteousness. Such rejection aroused Paul’s concern for his own race and nation at the beginning of the Church Age. Such a concern can only be expressed to his fellow believers who would understand. Therefore, he starts this chapter with the word “brethren.”
Only the possession of divine righteousness is compatible with the grace policy of God. To reject Christ as Savior is the substitution of human self-righteousness for God’s perfect righteousness. Human righteousness/self-righteousness is as “filthy rags” in the sight of God according to Isaiah 64:6. Paul desires the salvation of the Jews but they, through their own negative volition, do not desire the salvation he is presenting.
Paul is very confident in the use of prayer. Prayer for someone’s salvation can express the motivation of the intercessor but it cannot change the volition of the subject. Therefore, prayer for the unbeliever must follow the policy of God since God Himself cannot coerce. Paul’s motivation in this prayer was also expressed in the first three verses of the previous chapter.
For, I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
It was like Paul was giving evidence in court with regard to Israel. He is God’s witness with regard to the status quo of the Jews in the time in which he lived. Zeal can be disastrous unless it is connected with correct and accurate thought. Correct and accurate thought in the Scriptures refers to accurate Bible doctrine. Zeal without doctrine is disastrous. This zeal for God was related to rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah based on the Jews’ arrogance and self-righteousness. This zeal that Paul was referring to was specifically religious. Religious zeal is simply arrogance plus self-righteousness. Religious zeal motivated the Jews to seek salvation through keeping the Law. Self-righteousness through keeping the Law was no substitute for the righteousness of God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness manufactured from religious zeal and human arrogance is not a replacement for the possession of God’s perfect and eternal righteousness.
Arrogance is amplified into zeal. Zeal manufactured from self-righteousness or works righteousness is always in direct conflict with the grace policy of God. Therefore, arrogant self-righteousness is always disassociated and disoriented from the plan of God. Self-righteousness can be religious, political or social. Relationship between God and man is distorted and destroyed by any arrogance in the soul. The humility of human beings orients them to God’s righteousness, while the arrogance of human beings orients them to self-righteousness. Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a true act of humility. The self-righteousness of the Jewish unbeliever resulted in a zeal for God, which was in reality antagonism toward God. True zeal for God is the motivation and the momentum of Bible doctrine in the soul through the daily function of intake and application.
For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Man often concludes that his self-righteousness pleases God, but all of our “righteousnesses” are as filthy rags in His sight. Mankind’s self-righteousness never advances the glory of God. The principle is: Only God can glorify God; divine integrity advances the glory of God, and divine integrity resides in us as of the moment we believe in Christ. In other words, only what God has provided for mankind in grace can glorify God. Any member of the human race who presents his self-righteousness to God for salvation has neither respect nor awe for the integrity of God. So maladjustment to the justice of God at salvation means no relationship with God, no eternal life and no divine righteousness.
Imputed righteousness at salvation is the beginning of blessing from God. If you, as a believer, try to compete with the righteousness of God resident in you by arrogant self-righteousness, then you are in for a life of terrible discipline and you are going to fail in the purpose for which God supports you and sustains you under logistical grace. Imputed righteousness is when God begins to share His integrity with us. God found a way to bless mankind without compromising His essence, and that is the imputation of divine righteousness. And, God did not do this from human sentimentality or emotional attraction to pleasant personalities.
“For not knowing about the righteousness of God” means that Jewish unbelievers, in their legalism, their pride and their arrogance, did not understand that the integrity of God is never arbitrary. Righteousness always demands righteousness, justice always demands justice. Therefore, as long as God is God (which is forever), He must condemn self-righteousness. This explains the Mosaic Law, then, as an instrument of condemnation rather than self-righteousness. The Law was incapable of making man righteous before God, the only thing that can make man righteous before God was to believe in Jehovah (Jesus Christ).
The Law cannot justify, only the justice of God can justify. Remember that justification is a judicial act or verdict from the justice of God recognizing the imputation of divine righteousness at the moment anyone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Justification, then, recognizes the imputation of divine righteousness and vindicates the one who possesses it. Justification is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is subtraction; justification is addition. Forgiveness subtracts sin but justification adds the righteousness of God through a judicial imputation.
In this context the unbeliever who rejected the Gospel sought to establish his own righteousness as the means of salvation. One of the most common systems of establishing one’s own righteousness is to say no to the Gospel. That means you have rejected the work of Christ on the Cross as the way of salvation, and once you say no to that you must link up your own self-righteousness with some system. This is what mankind inevitably does, and the Jews, who had the Law, decided they would keep the Law for salvation instead of believing in Christ.
The Jews heard the Gospel but they rejected it. The Gospel offered them God’s perfect righteousness and they said no to it because they were satisfied with their own self-righteousness. They had been keeping the Law for salvation, they had been following some system of pseudo-morality for salvation, they had been doing something themselves, and therefore they thought more of their own righteousness than they did of the righteousness of God. So, as unbelievers, they had set up their own righteousness and therefore rejected the righteousness of God.
For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
An individual must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so that the righteousness of God can be imputed. Once the righteousness of God is resident in the believer it becomes the foundation for the Christian Way of Life. There is no sense in developing self-righteousness in the Christian life to compete with divine righteousness. The fact that you are developing any self-righteousness merely indicates the amount of arrogance, blind or known, resident in your life.
The very existence of God’s righteousness in the believer demands something higher, something greater and something compatible with grace. Remember that grace is the policy of the justice of God in imputing blessing to the righteousness of God. First logistical blessing and then, if you advance toward maturity, special blessing.
Therefore, God’s righteousness is the foundation, while doctrine is the building material. The erected building is the advancing believer who receives the imputation of special divine blessing to the target or home – divine righteousness. This imputed blessing glorifies God in time. God’s plan excludes any form of human self-righteousness. To construct your life on human self-righteousness is to build on a foundation of sand, and when adversity, disaster and catastrophe strike you will be destroyed.
The Jews to whom Paul addressed this were trying to be saved by their own self-righteousness by keeping the Mosaic Law. This verse indicates that Christ is the termination, the cessation, the end of the Law for those who believe in Him. The first advent of Christ fulfilled Codex #2 of the Mosaic Law, which contained all of the Levitical sacrifices, the functions of the holy days, the rituals and the Temple worship. In that sense, then, Christ fulfilled the Law. Christ is the termination of the Law. Every type, every illustration, every declaration of doctrine regarding Soteriology (doctrine of salvation) in Codex #2 was fulfilled by the first advent and the spiritual death of our Lord on the Cross, bearing our sins and taking our place. So it must be understood that the first advent of Christ fulfilled Codex #2 of the Mosaic Law. But the Jews were blind to the first advent and therefore they chose their works righteousness over God’s righteousness. Imputed righteousness terminates self-righteousness produced by keeping the Law. That is what this passage means. (Matthew 5:17; Galatians 3:24)