For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).
The story is told of a highly skilled and talented craftsman who was invited to partake in an exhibition of wares. A very handsome prize was at stake for the best craft on the day. Enthusiastic, this craftsman joyfully prepared his masterpiece for the competition. After a long wait, the day finally came. Everyone would get to know just how good he was in his trade! When the chairman of the exhibition came round to inspect the wares on display, his was singled out, and he was called out for more details.
Excitedly, he went forward, only to be told his craft had been disqualified! Could this be a mistake? How? The gifted craftsman was devastated! All the sacrifice and endless days of hard work was about to go down the drain! Inquiring as to what might have gone wrong; he was told he had prepared his exhibit using a material that was prohibited by the organisers of the competition! Alas, in his enthusiasm, he had not taken time to carefully review the rules of the competition.
Tragic, but sadly he had to face the reality that he had toiled for nothing! Much zeal, if not accompanied by knowledge, is a great loss.
In Romans 10:2, we see Paul lamenting a similar situation–zeal without knowledge. His kinsmen, the Jews faced exclusion from the kingdom of God. They had zeal, but it was zeal without knowledge. Could a people who were so zealous for God be wrong at the same time? The Apostle’s words without a shadow of doubt proved that was the case.
But did the Jews really lack knowledge?
Few verses earlier in chapter 9, Paul had this glowing compliment to make of the Jews:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen (Romans 9:4-5)
If the Israelites indeed had the covenants, the law and promises, how could they be ignorant at the same time? It is crucial to understand that Paul does not mean here that the Jews were altogether ignorant or mere simpletons. The word Paul used for ‘knowledge’ here means an exact, precise, full and thorough acquaintance with the truth. Despite being the custodians of God’s law, they lacked the vital fact necessary for their salvation.
Boasting In Abraham And The Law
In Genesis 12, God called out Abraham from a pagan family and covenanted with him that in his (Abraham’s) seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Acts 3:25). From Abraham, God adopted Israel, the descendants of Abraham, as His special people, gave them the law and set them apart from all the other people on the face of the earth. God said of Israel, He was their father (Jeremiah 31:9); Israel was His firstborn (Ex4:22). The prophet Amos described God’s affection for Israel so strongly when he said: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth;” (Amos 3:2a)
Because they counted themselves as the covenanted people of God, the Israelites glory in this lineage to the extent of boasting and rejecting Christ: “They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did”(John 8:39). Clearly, though they identified Abraham as their Father, they rejected Christ:”now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did“( John 8:40).
What is missing here? The Israelites rejected Christ, the one who was before Abraham (John 8:48-53) and the promised Messiah. What they might have forgotten is that God had promised Abraham that in his seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. At the fullness of time, born from the lineage of Abraham, the Son of God, Jesus Christ came into the world to fulfil this promise of blessedness. God, through Christ was calling a new people for Himself, out of all the nations of the earth, and every wall of division was going to be torn down through the work of Christ mediating a new covenant; a commonwealth of Israel. (Ephesians 2:11-13; 16; 18).
Not of Works, But Of Faith
In our analogy, the craftsman didn’t win the prize at stake because he didn’t apply himself to know of the rules of the competition. Similarly, the rules to enter the kingdom of God is not simply how zealous we are and how much skill–good works, natural birth and effort we exert. We must enter by only one acceptable rule: born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
Here is the new Way! The doors flung open to all who will believe to enter. This was unsettling news for the Jews who thought they alone could lay claim to the promises of God because they are children of Abraham and keep the law. In a sense, the deeply religious find it difficult to embrace Christ. They presume their good deeds are enough to earn them salvation.
Zeal to know God and to please Him must be accompanied with an exact knowledge of the truth which God Himself has put forth.
Like the craftsman who laboured and toiled only to be told on the last day that he had missed the mark, we must be sure we have thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the exact truth.
One day each of us will stand before God to give account of the life we have lived here on earth. It will be a day of reckoning. On that day everyone’s ‘ware’ will be examined, to see whether we prepared it according to the rules: Faith in Christ Jesus. Everyone who believes in Him for salvation will be justified and granted access into the kingdom of God. (Romans 3:21-25a)
Do you trust Jesus ALONE for salvation?