30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Romans 9:30-33 now addresses the scheme of salvation directly. Paul argued to this point in the chapter that God has the prerogative of choosing the scheme of salvation of His choice. If people reject Christ as Savior, they choose their own system of salvation. That is why so few are true believers—they want their scheme of salvation rather than God’s.
Running from 9:30 to 10:21 is Paul’s presentation of God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith, but now the focus on what was implied becomes more specific.
What shall we say then?
At this point, with this question, Paul introduced a new phase of his overall argument of theodicy (chapters 9 to 11). He asked questions in the same way in 4:1, 6:1, 8:31, and 9:14.
The “then” here draws a conclusion from how Gentiles from the previous section came to faith (v. 24f). Gentiles who became believers in the Messiah obtained a righteous standing before God by faith. God views regenerate Gentiles as His people (v. 26).
Paul answered this question in verse 32. Israel approached salvation the wrong way; their scheme of salvation by works was wrong.
That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness,
Non-Christian nations (Gentiles) did not pursue reaching God’s standard for salvation. They had no interest in being justified before God.
have attained [laid hold of, obtain] to righteousness [right status with God],
Paul said that some Gentiles had come to a place where God declared them to be as righteous as He is righteous, but that it was by an entirely different way than what unbelieving Jews followed. These Gentiles had not set out to earn salvation; they did not obtain it by works. They were not in the business of attaining it but obtaining it.
even the righteousness of [out from] faith;
Non-Christians attain God’s righteousness out of the source of “faith.”
but Israel, pursuing [kept on] the law [principle] of righteousness,
Israel, in contrast to the Gentiles, kept on earnestly pursuing the standard of God’s righteousness by something other than “faith”—by the law.
The phrase “law of righteousness” shows typical Jewish understanding of how people become believers—through personal performance rather than the performance of Christ.
has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Israel by the law failed to attain the “law of righteousness.” In spite of a long tradition of pursuing salvation by the law, Israel could never measure up to the law. The gapping fissure is so massive between us and God that only Jesus could bridge the divide.
God has but one protocol for salvation.
The attempt to achieve self-righteousness sufficient to reach the standard of God’s righteousness is forever elusive. If people do not recognize that God has but one protocol for salvation that is by faith, there is no hope for them.
This issue revolves around God’s absolute righteousness. Since man is relative in his righteousness, he can never match God’s absolute righteousness by his own efforts. Yet spiritual blindness makes him believe his own efforts suffice. Spiritual blindness comes from a hard heart—negative volition.
Ro 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.