Paul’s epistle to the Romans is all about the righteousness of faith as opposed to gaining salvation through meritorious works of law. Paul marvelled at the anomaly that Jews, who strove so determinably to keep the law, had not attained to the righteousness of faith, whereas the seemingly carefree Gentiles, when they heard the message of salvation eagerly accepted it (Rom 9:30-32). Why was this?

It was all a question of looking in the wrong direction. The Jews “followed after the law of righteousness” (v31), whereas the Gentiles “followed after…the righteousness of faith” (v30). It was indeed a strange phenomenon. Jews diligently searching for righteousness could not find it, whereas Gentiles who were not looking, found it!

Paul’s words here in Romans 9 are but a paraphrase of Isaiah 51:1, “Hearken to me ye that follow after righteousness”. The prophet goes on to give directions where to find it. “Look unto Abraham”, he said (v2). How did Abraham find “righteousness”? The answer is that he recognised that it was a human impossibility! He believed that God could perform the humanly impossible by producing a seed of promise from a “rock” and a “pit” which long ago had passed the stage of natural reproduction.

It was this simple faith in believing that God could perform what was impossible for man. God “counted” (RSV/ Roth “reckoned”) that to him for righteousness, and it is the same characteristic faith that will save all those that follow after that direction.

So Paul’s conclusion is that where faith is manifested, God responds in mercy and justifies the ungodly. Paul explains Abraham’s faith. He “being not weak in faith” “staggered not at the promise”, but was on the contrary “strong in faith, giving glory to God”. He was “fully persuaded that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom 4:19- 21). Faith honours and glorifies God. It expresses full confidence in His ability to keep His Word and without that kind of faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb 11:6).

Abraham was required to believe the humanly impossible, and so too with us. Paul writes: “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:23-25).

Neither Jew nor Gentile can raise the dead, but God did, and not only to life, but to eternal life, on account of his perfect obedience – something which is out of reach for every other human being. Eternal life will be granted to us if we believe that what is impossible for us, God has achieved in his Son.

In Romans 10:3-4, Paul summarises his argument by contrasting two systems of righteousness – one’s own, and God’s. The Jews just didn’t understand the distinction. To them, righteousness was earned by keeping the law of Moses. By pursuing this system of righteousness by merit, they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. The word “submit” means “to place oneself in subjection”. They ended up becoming a law to themselves and refusing to place themselves in subjection to the arrangements of Almighty God – a lesson all of us need to learn.