Now, he concludes the matter.
How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can’t get around. But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way (Romans 9:30-33)
It is not because of our goodness, it is not because of our birth, it is not because of how much we work, it is by the gracious choice of God! The world looks at that and says, “That is foolishness.” Their eyes are blinded. They don’t understand.
Several years ago, there was a biased documentary on PBS called “Thy Kingdom Come?” In it, they interviewed Paige Patterson, then President of Criswell College. He was asked about Mother Theresa. The interviewer posed a question like, “You are telling me that if Mother Theresa has never really had a born again experience, that she is going to go to hell, even though she has done all of these good works?”
Essentially, what Patterson said was, “You’re right. If she has never had a time in her life where she has seen her own sin and surrendered to the Lord, then all the good works, all the caring and wonderful things she does will not earn her heaven.” The whole purpose of showing that clip was to portray him as narrow. It is a perfect example of how the god of this world has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe. God said, they stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:32-33).
It is not how many works we amass; how benevolent we are; how merciful and tender we are; it is in whom we believe. People are always stumbling over the stumbling stone. The stumbling stone is this: You cannot earn your way to heaven; you must deal with a Person to inherit eternal life. Israel was attempting to believe in principles and ride on “who they were”—YHWH’s chosen people. The good news is that it is by faith in a Person, Jesus Christ.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome