1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1–3, NKJV).
Israel was lost. Only the gospel of Christ, not the Law of Moses, would save them (Rom. 1:16; Acts 4:12). Therefore Paul, himself a Jew who previously persecuted Christians, earnestly desired and prayed for their salvation. He was convinced their zeal for God did not save them. Misguided by their allegiance to the Law, they refused to submit to God’s plan of salvation. Even now, many religious people who are zealous for God contradict the gospel in their zeal (Matt. 7:21-23). We should not confuse passion for God with God’s approval. Scripture says God wants sinners to be saved and “to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God will not save us from our sins when we are ignorant of the truth of Christ (John 8:24). The example of Israel warns us not to establish our own way of salvation like they did (“their own righteousness,” Rom. 10:3). They believed their salvation was through the Law of Moses and rejected “the righteousness of faith” revealed in the gospel (Rom. 10:4-8). We must be careful not to make a similar error. We must submit to God’s righteousness by faith in Christ and obedience to His gospel (Rom. 10:3, 9-13; 6:17-18). Then we can be confident of our salvation, regardless of whether we are a Jew or a Gentile (Rom. 8:1-2; Gal. 3:26-29).
29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Romans 3:29–31, NKJV).
Law cannot save the one who violates it (Gal. 2:21; 3:21). Law identifies the transgression (sin) and applies just punishment (Rom. 3:19-20; 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10-11). By definition, a system of law is not a system of grace. While the Law of Moses was “holy and just and good,” it did not contain a means of “eternal redemption” (Rom. 7:12; Heb. 9:12; 10:1-4). Therefore, it is essential to acknowledge (the) law’s nature, purposes, and limitations. In the context of today’s passage, Paul laid out what law does (identifies sin and holds the sinner guilty) and what it cannot do (justify the guilty, Rom. 3:19-20). Sinners are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). Christ’s death appeases divine wrath “through faith,” saving Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Jesus by grace (Rom. 3:25-26; Eph. 2:8-9). The gospel is God’s power to save Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16-17). Therefore, (1) God justifies Jews by faith (v. 30). Faith is the means of justification for Jews, not the Law of Moses (Acts 15:11; Rom. 10:3-4), and (2) God justifies Gentiles through faith (v. 30). The salvation of Gentiles is completed or finished through faith without adding anything to it (Acts 15:9-10). The “law of faith” does not discount obedient faith but rewards it with salvation (Rom. 3:27; 6:17-18). So, we uphold (establish) God’s law as we understand its nature, purposes, and limitations (Rom. 3:31).
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:4–5, NKJV)
Jesus was unique, being fully deity and fully human; “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). He is the Word who was “with God,” “was God,” and who “became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). John, His forerunner, announced Jesus “is the Son of God” (John 1:34). Nathaniel confessed Jesus is “the Son of God” (John 1:49). The superiority of Jesus was on full display during His transfiguration (Matt. 17:2-3). Peter seemingly failed to grasp the implications of this great truth (v. 4). Jesus is not the equal of Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets); He is their superior. The Father’s voice confirmed three indisputable truths. (1) “This is My beloved Son.” Jesus is the Son of God; He is deity (Luke 1:31, 35). (2) “In whom I am well pleased.” Jesus pleased the Father in everything He said and did (John 8:29). (3) “Hear Him.” We must listen to Jesus (Acts 3:22-23). When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, it compels us to listen to and follow Him (John 8:31-32). When He was born, Jesus was the Son of God (Isa. 9:6; Luke 2:7, 11). At His baptism, he is the Son of God (Matt. 3:17). Jesus said He was the Son of God while on earth (John 10:36). When He was transfigured, He was the Son of God (Matt. 17:5). Now, God speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-3). Listen to Jesus. Obey Him. He is the Son of God.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5–8, NKJV).
Justification is acquittal from sin’s guilt; to render innocent and free from sin’s penalty of eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Today’s passage explains justification is synonymous with forgiven by God. When forgiven, our sins are “covered,” removed from God’s sight (remembered no more, v. 7; Heb. 8:12; 10:17; washed away to exist no more, Acts 22:16). This forgiveness occurs by faith, not by the works of law (v. 6; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:16). Note that the sinner’s faith is “accounted for righteousness” so that his sins are not imputed to him (v. 5, 8). Just as Abraham’s faith was imputed to him for righteousness, our faith is imputed to us for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). The “works” of Romans 4:7 are works of law, i.e., law-keeping. Righteousness by works (law-keeping) can only occur through sinlessness (which would remove the need for grace, Rom. 4:2, 4). But Abraham sinned and needed grace like us all (Rom. 3:23-24). Faith, not works, was reckoned to him for righteousness. (1) This passage does not say God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. The sinner’s faith is imputed for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). (2) This passage does not say obedient faith attempts to merit salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). Obedient faith (like Abraham had) is the faith that justifies the ungodly (James 2:17-24; Rom. 4:5). Trust and obey Jesus, and your faith will be accounted for righteousness. You will be forgiven (Mark 16:15-16).
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)!
Self-identifying as a Christian does not make it so. The identifying mark of one who enters the kingdom of heaven is doing the will of God the Father who is in heaven. Self-identifying as a prophet of Christ does not make it so. Jesus has just warned of false prophets whose fruit is against the word of God (Matt. 7:15-20). Self-identifying as a miracle worker does not make it so. The incident of the sons of Sceva reminds us that only Christ’s apostles and prophets worked miracles (Mark 16:17-20; Acts 19:11-16; Heb. 2:3-4). Self-identifying as a wonderworker does not make it so. Simon amazed many Samaritans with his sorcery until Philip worked miracles by the power of God (Acts 8:5-13). Jesus does not receive those who “practice lawlessness” (iniquity). We do the will of the Father by looking into and living by His law, the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:23-25). Let us carefully do God’s word and not be among those who identify with Jesus but do not obey God’s word (James 1:23-24). Only sadness and sorrow await those who practice lawlessness and hear Christ say, “Depart from Me!”
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).
Kingdom citizens are the Father’s children who receive “good things” from His hand in answer to our childlike prayers (Matt. 7:7-11). Whether we are falsely judged or suffer any other ill-treatment, God’s children do not “return evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing” (1 Pet. 3:9). The Law and the Prophets taught Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Isa. 1:21-23). Solomon’s proverb reminded them (and us) not to deal with others out of vengeance or to “settle the score.” He wrote, “Do not say, ‘I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work’” (Prov. 24:29). This “Golden Rule” urges every disciple of Jesus to look inward before acting outwardly. Our words and treatment of others should reflect how we want others to treat us. For example, our judgments will be righteous, not hypocritical (Matt. 7:1-5). We will love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us for our faith (Matt. 5:43-48). We will turn the other cheek and not retaliate (Matt. 5:38-42). We will recall our Father treats us with all kindness, mercy, and love. And in turn, we will reflect the nature of our Father by giving “good things” to others (Matt. 7:11-12).
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NKJV).
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, which included preaching the gospel of the kingdom (of which His sermon on the mount is typical, Matt. 5:17-19; 4:23; 5:1). In Matthew 5:20-48, He contrasted the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus did far more than just teaching Jews how to be faithful Jews. He taught Jews (and subsequently, Gentiles, Matt. 28:18-20) how to be “perfect” (complete) as citizens of the kingdom, His church. Today’s verse speaks explicitly to the nature of our love toward others, whether friend and foe (Matt. 5:43-47). In the Scriptures, the word “perfect” (teleios) means “complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.)” (G5046). The Father is complete in every respect, including His love (Matt. 5:45). He is the ultimate example for His children’s character and conduct. Would you please notice we must choose to “be perfect” like the Father? Jesus calls us to willingly choose to be like the Father in word and deed toward (1) Our brother (Matt. 5:21-26), (2) Lust (Matt. 5:27-30), (3) One’s spouse (Matt. 5:31-32), (4) Our integrity (Matt. 5:33-37), (5) Retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42), and (6) Our love of others (Matt. 5:43-47). May we devote ourselves daily to this worthy endeavor.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Matthew 5:38–39, NKJV).”
The scribes and Pharisees perverted the Law’s stated penalty against crime by turning it into their justification to return in kind when personally wronged (Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21). The Law’s just punishment became their excuse to retaliate against others out of personal vengeance. Thus, they misapplied the Law’s prescribed treatment of wrong-doers while ignoring the Law also said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Lev. 19:18).” Jesus rejected their manipulation of the Law of God to claim personal retaliation. The righteousness of the kingdom compels us to do the following: (1) Be generous when others mistreat us (do not resist, turn the other cheek, relinquish instead of litigating, go the extra mile, and “give to him who asks,” Matt. 5:39-42). (2) Help those who seek our assistance (“from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away,” Matt. 5:42). Our righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). So, seek peace and pursue it (1 Pet. 3:11). Love your neighbors instead of retaliating against them. Be a peacemaker, and be blessed as a child of God (Matt. 5:9).
24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:24–25, NKJV).
In Romans 7:14-25, the apostle Paul uses himself to portray the person who is under law, under sin. He is lost, outside of Christ, being ruled by sin. His spiritual condition is “wretched” (miserable, afflicted, impure). He is shrouded in spiritual death as he serves sin (Rom. 7:24; 6:16, 23). This condition describes every person lost and outside of Christ (Rom. 3:23). Who can rescue the wretched person from the bondage of sin’s rule and the death it brings? (1) The sinner cannot save himself. He is dead because of his sin (Rom. 7:9). (2) Another sinner cannot save a sinner. Both are guilty before God and worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). (3) The law of God that the sinner violated cannot save him. It indicts and convicts him as guilty (Rom. 7:13-14; 3:19-20). (4) More sin will not save the sinner. Giving in to sin only increases guilt, imprisoning the soul in evil (Rom. 7:14-21). (5) Only Jesus Christ our Lord can deliver us from the body of death caused by sin (Rom. 7:25; 5:6-11; Acts 4:12). We escape sin’s condemnation and obtain life in Christ by choosing not to “walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-2). Christ’s gospel is God’s power to save the wretched soul from sin’s guilt, pain, and death (Rom. 1:16-17). The gospel calls us to believe, repent, and be baptized into Christ to escape the misery and eternal death caused by sin (Rom. 6:3-11; Heb. 5:9).
5 Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. 6 Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ (Deuteronomy 4:5–6, NKJV)
Through Moses, the Lord repeatedly exhorted Israel “to be careful to observe” His commandments (Deut. 5:1, 32; 6:3). Was careful obedience only reserved for Israel because God commanded them from Mt. Sinai (Deut. 4:13-14)? No, the Lord God has always expected people to obey His commands, promising blessings to the obedience and warning the disobedient of punishment (Gen. 2:16-17; Exod. 20:5-6). God’s desire and expectation that we obey Him remains true under the new covenant, the gospel of Christ. For instance, Jesus expects those who call Him “Lord, Lord” to do what He says (Luke 6:46). We must do the will of the Father to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). Christ is the “author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). But “to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” (Rom. 2:8-9). No wonder Paul commended Timothy for carefully following “good doctrine” from the apostle (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:10). God blesses obedience and punishes disobedience. This truth abides forever.