“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:1-4, NLT).
How do you pray for those who don’t? The first suggestion that Paul offers is to pray with understanding. Our prayers for those who don’t pray can be guided by understanding the heart of the problem. Paul shares three problems that his fellow Israelites have that are not uncommon with people today.
The first problem is what I would call religious enthusiasm. Paul acknowledged that his Jewish brothers and sisters had ample enthusiasm about spiritual things. It wasn’t just an observation that Paul had made about the Jews. He had observed the same thing about the Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34). Clearly he would say the same thing today.
A simple search on Amazon.com revealed that if you searched on the word “christianity,” 280,099 results would pop up. For “spirituality” you would net 131,619 results, and “new age” would yield 13,307. If you amplify the search to a broader domain such as Google, “christianity” would provide a return of 116,000,000 hits. “Spirituality” would produce 136,000,000, and “new age” a whopping 422,000,000!
Our Christian houses of worship may reflect otherwise on Sunday morning, but the world is buzzing about spirituality with zealous enthusiasm!
A second problem that Paul identified was spiritual blindness. While people throughout history have demonstrated abundant zeal for spiritual things, “they don’t understand.” This enthusiasm is without knowledge. In other words, their passion is sincere, yet without truth.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul writes about how the god of this world has blinded the minds of people so they have a difficult time comprehending the truth about God’s way of making people right with himself. There is a spiritual battle involved concerned that we must be made aware.
Problem number three is perhaps the heart of the issue when it comes to understanding those who “don’t pray.” At the core is the attempt to make themselves right with God apart from Christ. Any righteousness they hope to attain is by self effort. In the specific case of the Jews, it is by keeping the law. But in principle, there is a sense that out of self effort will evolve the ability to connect with God. They refuse to accept God’s grace and acknowledge Him as the source of righteousness. With stubborn independence, they prefer to get to God based on their own efforts and accomplishments. Does that sound like anyone you know?
So what’s the point? The point is self effort is hard! In the next verse, Paul continues, “For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands” (Romans 10:5, NLT).
Self effort is hard because it requires the continual, unending process of learning and earning; of trying to impress God through dutiful observances and good deeds. It is based on the theory that if a person can accomplish enough good behavior that the good behavior will transform their hearts. In short, my external life will transform my internal life. The obvious problem is this: How good does a person have to be in order to be good enough for a holy God?
Let me explain it this way. How many times per day would you say that you sin? Let’s suppose for a moment that the number is three. Just three sins per day. There are 365 days in a year, so that would roughly calculate to about 1,000 sins per year. How long do you expect to live? Let’s say a number like 80 years. If you live to be 80, committing only 3 sins per day, at the end of your life you would have amassed 80,000 sins! How good would you have to be to overcome that? How many good things would you have to do to surpass that mark?
That’s Paul’s issue with self righteousness. It’s never enough. So when you pray for those who don’t, pray with that understanding in mind. Tomorrow I’ll continue in Romans 10 and share how Paul contrasts self righteousness with the righteousness provided by Christ.