Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
(Romans 10:1-4 ESV)
Throughout the first part of Romans Paul talks about the Jews in a collective sense. We have to understand his discussion in light of the culture he is appealing to. The first question before any First Century Jew was always, “How can I gain right standing before God?” because that was the philosophical fishbowl every Jew of that day was swimming in.
The first question before people in Western Culture today is “How can I be happy?” That is why interest in a religion that asks some other first question has waned. Observant Judaism is dying in the United States even more quickly than Observant Christianity for this very reason.
On the other hand, people’s interest in “feeding their spirit” has never been higher. We have a zeal for something we define as spiritual (be it music or art or sex or sitting on a beach in Hawaii), but because the first question we are asking is, “How can I be happy?” traditional expressions of what is spiritual seem irrelevant, annoying, and usually downright contrary to our goal.
As early as the 1940, writing in The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis said, “What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”
Christians in today’s world may want to be liked by God or want to enjoy God, but even the conventional evangelistic “desire to avoid Hell” is completely outside our current context. How then, are we to approach Romans 10?
I like that word ignorant. A person who is ignorant is not merely unschooled. It isn’t just that they haven’t learned their lessons. It is that they refuse to learn their lessons. People are ignorant, at least the kind of ignorant Paul is talking about, because they don’t want to hear the truth. In this case, what people are ignorant of is God’s righteousness.
The real problem speaking truth to post-modern man is not that something has changed in the universe. God has not changed. Man has not changed. But man’s method of shutting God out has. It used to be man would look at God’s righteousness and ask, “How can I ever meet that standard?” But today man looks, as if peering into a darkened room and says, “There’s nothing in there. The room is dark, and so must be empty.”
Paul brings the greek word “telos” into the discussion. Christ, Paul says, is the telos of the law. Our modern English translation leads us to a Post-modern conclusion: Christ is the “end” of the law. Good then, I was right. There’s nothing in the room. It is empty.
But that is unfortunately not the meaning of the word telos. It is translated “end” because it means that Christ is the “full extent” of the law. Christ is the limit to which the law can go. Rather than being the extermination of the law, Christ is the fullest expression of the law. The room is not empty. The room is full!
Post-modernism has freed us in one way: We are no longer told we have some standard of behavior to live up to, as if that were the definition of righteousness. Christ, Paul says, is the full extent of the law for righteousness to anyone who believes. Instead of looking at the law and discovering I cannot get righteousness, I am free to look at Christ and find fullness in him. Another use of the word telos is “appreciating something just because it IS.” I am having a telos experience when I look at a flower and don’t think of what I can use it for but simply experience the “flower-ness” of it.
Though I was never looking for righteousness (since, as a modern man, I was looking for pleasure and self-gratification), if I look at Christ in all his fullness I will receive righteousness as a matter of course. And the more I look at Christ, the more I will be in right standing with God, not because I seek right standing, but because I seek him. And Christ is the telos – the full extent – of God’s righteousness.