Romans 9:30-33 (HCSB) What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved ⌊the righteousness⌋ of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.
Having addressed his Jewish kinsmen about their need of grace and God’s mercy in saving a remnant – a small number of the multitude of Hebrews who had lived since Abram’s time – the apostle asks a question to draw attention back to the age-old promise of including the Gentiles into God’s kingdom. The Jews didn’t get into the kingdom by law-keeping or lineage of their flesh. How about the Gentiles? They did not have the Law of Moses to pursue self-righteousness, yet they obtained the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Think of Rahab the harlot – kept the spies safe and were included in God’s kingdom. Think of Ruth – stayed with her mother-in-law, caring for her and is in the line of Christ! And Abraham – justified by faith before he was given the covenant of circumcision. Reconciled to God apart from the Law. But Israel – given the Law to lead them to Christ, instead used it to try and earn God’s favor. They could have achieved righteousness through the Law, Paul says, if they had pursued it by faith. But they, by and large, thought their feeble fleshly attempts at keeping the Law of Moses would close the gap. We know from Scripture that God is jealous, will not share His glory with another, if there were another worthy of sharing! How much less will He consider sharing with a lowly creature? This ought to call to mind the apostle’s question in chapter 3 of this letter: Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (Rom 3:27) He went on to say, So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord. (2 Cor 10:17). The law of faith ties to our current passage, contrasted here as in chapter 3 with the Law of Moses. When one pursues righteousness by faith, he will boast in the Lord, for there is no-one else who played a part in our resurrection from spiritual death to new life in Christ.
In our day, the opportunity for men to falsely boast in the flesh comes in too many local churches to count. Any place where raising a hand, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or any other action by the creature is heralded as what brings or helps bring a sinner into relationship with God would be in Paul’s gun-sights. Our focus is to be on the heavenlies, wherein our help comes from – and from Whom our help came from in answer to our greatest need.
Those who pursued righteousness by works stumbled over a stone. Paul calls it a stumbling stone – its mission was to cause works righteousness to stumble. This stone is the same rock that gave water to the ancient Jews, it is the rock on which the wise man builds his house, the same rock upon which the church is built, and the chief cornerstone that holds what is built on the foundation to hold together. This the stone cut without human hands that Daniel saw smashing the kingdoms of this world; and on this stone, men will fall upon and be broken or it will fall on them and they will be crushed. Of this stone, Paul tells us, As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame. This comes from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16: He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And Therefore the Lord GOD said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable. Those who have faith in the Son of Man will not be put to shame, will be unshakable. These are precious promises for the children of God!