MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 13, 2000 FROM ROMANS 10:5-13

 

          This week we continue to probe the tenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  We have seen from this section of Romans that it has always been God’s plan to save BOTH Jews and Gentiles.  The Jews were predominantly rejecting the gospel because, in seeking to establish their own righteousness through the law, they had missed the only acceptable righteousness, the righteousness God offered them as a gift through Christ, their Messiah. The Gentiles, who were not carrying this baggage of trying to be righteous by following the Jewish law, were therefore free to see their sin and call out in faith to Christ and His righteousness.

Our text this morning in the tenth chapter of Romans is one of several places where Paul contrasts trying to BE righteous by following the law with accepting by faith the righteousness of Christ.  In Romans 10:5-13, a notoriously difficult text to interpret, we get insight into this crucial issue.  Let’s read it.  Paul writes, “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." 6But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7"or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

            In verse five, Paul quotes Moses from Leviticus 18:5, “The man who does these things will live by them.”  Why does Paul quote this verse which seems to link spiritual life with keeping the law when his whole point is to show that spiritual life (or salvation) is NOT attained by keeping the law?  He does it because this text had been wrongly understood by the Jews to mean that the law was the source of life or salvation.  The reason Paul has repeatedly said the law is not able to save anyone is simply because…no one trying to be righteous or acceptable to God by keeping the law can follow the law.  We saw in Romans 8:4 that Christians are to FULFILL the law, but as we’ll see, that has nothing to do with trying to be righteous before God by trying to follow the law.  When Paul cites this text in Leviticus he is using it as an example of the prevalent, wrong belief among the Jews which held that it was possible to be saved by following the law.

Instead of discussing the context of Leviticus 18 to show that this text had been misinterpreted, Paul instead quotes another text from Moses in Deuteronomy 30 to clarify exactly what Moses said about relating to God through the law.  Paul says in effect, “This text in Leviticus could never had been intended by Moses to mean that you could find spiritual life by obeying the law because when you look at Deuteronomy 30 through the lens of Christ, he says something entirely different and contradictory to that.”

          Paul quotes this Old Testament text in Deuteronomy to show that righteousness or, being pleasing to God has ALWAYS come to God’s covenant people by faith, never by trying to keep the law.  The next section of this text in Romans 10 is just an explanation of how that works. Let’s look at this text in Deuteronomy 30.  These verses were written by Moses to warn God’s people that they had no excuse for not keeping the law.  God expected the law to be kept by his people because it wasn’t up in heaven or in the deep, it was NEAR to them.  In other words, it was clearly known to them.  There was no mystery about what the law required of them—God had made it quite accessible to them.  You may ask, didn’t you just say that no one could keep the law?  How then can God expect his people to follow the law?  What I said and what it is true is that no one can keep the law if, in they are trying to keep it for the purpose of making them righteous before God.  But, as we’ll see, if a person loves God then, out of that relationship will flow a life which fulfills the law—a life that actually exceeds the requirements of the Ten Commandments and lives out the standard of the Sermon on the Mount.  Paul takes these verses about the accessibility of the Law in Deuteronomy and applies them to Christ.

He says, But the righteousness that is by faith says:  “Do not say in your hearts, `Who will ascend into heaven?”  (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?”  (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.”  Paul is saying that to try to be righteous by the trying to keep the law makes as much sense as trying by your own efforts to incarnate Christ—“ascend into heaven”—and to resurrect Christ—“bring Christ up.”  Both are utterly impossible. Just as the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ could only be accomplished by God, our attainment of righteousness is something accomplished only by what GOD DOES, not by what You do.  So here we are, working and sweating and straining to DO enough things for God to make us lovable to Him.  And the truth is, making ourselves acceptable to God is not something we will ever be able to do.  GOD MAKES us lovable, righteous, acceptable to Himself and He does that through faith.  That’s what is said here.  Our role is simply to believe the message of the gospel which is what God has made so accessible to us.  Repeatedly in Romans, Paul takes the stress off of DOING something to gain eternal life and places stress on BELIEVING by receiving through faith God’s gift of righteousness.

Although it is impossible to try to earn your salvation through works of the law, it is quite accessible, its very near to those who will simply believe.  How near, how accessible is salvation through faith?  Paul answers that question in verse eight, again quoting Deuteronomy 30.  “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”   Why is it that Paul, who is seeking to tell us how righteousness or salvation can be so near to us, in verses 8-9, starts talking about “the word” or the “word of faith?”  It is crucial for us to know the relationship between “the word,” (in this case the gospel) and faith because this principle applies not only in salvation, but also to living victoriously in Christ.

The word has a nuclear kind of power like a nuclear bomb when it is planted into a receptive heart.  What I mean by that is this.  Think about those two atom bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan.  When you see pictures of both the bombs before they were dropped and the cities which they destroyed, don’t you wonder, “How on earth could something about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle cause so much devastation?” And the answer is, the awesome power contained inside the atom in a nuclear reaction.  The word has power akin to a nuclear reaction in a receptive heart.  But instead of its energy being used to destroy and kill, the power within the word is purposed to bring life and life and more life.  Instead of seeing endless miles of ash and burned out buildings from a nuclear bomb aftermath, picture a “weapon” that would release the power to create a never ending well spring of life.  That’s what the power of the word does.  Paul says in chapter one that this gospel word is “the power of God for salvation, both for Jews and Greeks.”

The power is contained in that little seed of the word planted into a receptive heart.  And when a person believes that word and acts on it, there is an enormous burst of spiritual power released within that person.  That little seed of the word, when coupled with faith, will produce a tremendous harvest of fruit for the kingdom. We should never be timid to unleash this power of the gospel message toward a lost person. We should never be squeamish to share our faith with anyone.  The gospel words we speak, (if Scripturally sound) have the power, in a heart God has prepared, to produce a life giving explosion within that person and they, and those around them will never be the same for all eternity!  That’s power.  Doesn’t that inspire boldness and confidence in us to get the word out?  The Hiroshima bomb could only destroy life, but the gospel creates life and it takes much more power to create than it does to destroy.

In verses nine and ten, Paul explains in what way the word is near us.  He says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  The word is near—its only as far away as your mouth, which you use for confessing the truth about Jesus’ identity.  It’s only as far away as your heart which believes the message about Jesus.  But what does it mean that we are saved if we “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord?”  Is Paul introducing here a doctrine of salvation by proclamation or salvation through enunciation? 

No, we can’t get that from this text because in verse ten Paul gives the logical order of these two expressions of faith.  First, you believe and then you confess what you believe.  By believe, we don’t mean, give mental acceptance to.  Many folks in the world will tell you that they believe Jesus is Lord—even confess it outrighly.  That doesn’t make them believers.  The issue is, do you have a heart-felt belief or conviction about Jesus’ lordship? If you do, you not only WILL confess that, you will be UNABLE NOT to confess it.  Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  That is, what is in your heart, whether it be kindness and graciousness or gossip, slander or blasphemy will eventually trickle out of your mouth.  What is in your heart will find its way out your mouth eventually.  If the Lordship of Christ is in your heart, you WILL confess that truth.  Paul says this word is near to us in this way—“it only requires what our hearts and mouths can do.”

As Paul concludes this paragraph, he comes back to tie in these truths with the major point of this section.  Namely, that BOTH Jews and Gentiles have equal access to the gospel.  Verse 11 is a quotation from Isaiah 28 and says, “ANYONE [Jew or Gentile] who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”   Verse 12 says that because Christ’s Lordship (and its pictured as a gracious, benevolent Lordship) is universal over all people, not just the Jews, this implies that Christ has the sovereign right to save whoever He wants to.  Finally, in verse 13 Paul quotes the prophet Joel to show that the Old testament prophets looked ahead and saw a day when Jews AND Gentiles would be saved.  Paul’s point is to say, “Why are you Jewish believers so shocked to see Gentiles being saved?  This has been God’s plan and its clearly stated in your very own Scriptures—why is all this so suspect to you?”

Now, how does all this apply to us?  The major application point is—we must understand the role of the law in the life of the believer and its relationship to faith to live successfully in Christ. Many people in the church today are confused or at least not as clear as they should be about how God related to His chosen people in the Old Testament compared to how he relates to us under the New Covenant in Christ.  Many, at least on a practical level, picture the two covenants something like this: In the Old Covenant, the Jews were called to be pleasing to God by obeying the law.  That’s what would make them acceptable to God.  But somewhere along the line, it became clear that the Jews couldn’t do that—they failed miserably. God expected people to please him by obeying the law but He didn’t give them any power to keep it.  In the New covenant (it is argued) God also expects his people to try to be pleasing to Him by keeping the law but in the New Covenant, He gives us grace to keep the law and therefore we can be acceptable in his sight as we obey the law.

So, in the New Covenant, God corrected this weakness in the Old Covenant by sending Christ to supply grace and the power of the Holy Spirit so we could be able us keep the law and thereby be pleasing to Him.  Or, to put it bluntly, many believe that God has now given us grace so that we can keep this warped understanding of the OLD covenant.  And that worked out much better. That thinking makes the final goal of God for our lives, the ability to keep the law. The center and source of our spiritual life is the law. That is a horribly distorted view and if you have that, you will not be a happy Christian, you will be in terrible bondage.   The true biblical goal of God in this context for the believer is, as stated by one scholar is, “participation in the fulfillment of the promises of God, growing in obedience and Christ-likeness, and being an effective and powerful soldier for the advance of the kingdom.”

In Luke chapter seven, there is an encounter Jesus has with two people.  One person represents the self-righteous person who is trying to be righteous according to the law.  The other is a beautiful picture of someone has long ago given up any hope in finding righteousness in themselves but has found their forgiveness, righteousness and acceptance in Christ.  I’m speaking of Simon and the woman out of prostitution.  You’ll remember that Simon was the Pharisee who invited Jesus into his home and treated him poorly.  The woman had assumedly been a prostitute but who had received forgiveness and a new status from Jesus.  She treated Jesus like a King.  As you look at each person, think about which person you most resemble.  One pastor describes the contrast this way, “Where Simon is cold, critical, rude and judgmental, the woman is open, warm, humble, and fearless.  But Jesus points out something else about her—she kept the law in a way most of us only dream of.  Because of his fear, Simon couldn’t keep a law of basic hospitality—water and a towel for the feet, and oil for the head. 

But the woman’s obedience was infused with love.  She not only did what the law required, she went far beyond it.  Instead of using water, she used tears; instead of a towel, her hair; and instead of oil on His head, perfume on his feet.  Her actions are to Simon’s as the Sermon on the Mount is to the Ten Commandments.  She is a picture of obedience with love and passion pressed into it.  Jesus commends her and points out that she understands the gospel.  Her great debt was cancelled; she was free to love.  And this fulfilled the law.  But even more than this, the beauty and power of her obedience is astounding.  And she most likely didn’t even know it!  This is the kind of life I want—obedience fueled by passion for the kingdom of God.”

What a sad picture we have in Simon of a self righteous person who is trying to follow the law so that God will accept him.  He fails dismally in his self-righteousness.  By contrast, what a beautiful portrait in this woman of the kind of new heart God gives to a person who has declared themselves bankrupt of their own righteousness and in faith has looked to Christ.  She is doing far MORE than the law required because she wasn’t doing it because the law required it, but because God had filled her heart with love for Christ.  And out of that love for Christ, it was no burden for her to go far beyond the requirements of the law in serving her Lord.  Was she obedient?  You better believe it?  Was she in bondage?  No, she had been set free to love God by the forgiveness God gave to her.

To Simon, who was trying to use the law to make him righteous, even the hospitality laws had become a noxious burden.  Simon despised the law in that sense.  But to the woman, the law was a friend to cherish.  A way of informing her the basics of what it was to serve her Lord, the very thing she herself so badly wanted to do.  She models what Jeremiah meant when he said that New Covenant people will have the law written on their hearts.  The law, which would help her to know how to express her love for God was a wonderful gift to her, not a crushing burden.  The plain truth is this.  Way too many Christians spend a whole lot of time trying to earn God’s love by following the law rather than simply accepting the righteousness and acceptance he offers them in Christ.  And some of those who do that for years and years, will end up looking like Simon—dry as dust, empty and devoid of life and hope.  They are disillusioned and instead of showing love for Christ, they fail at even minor points of the law they have tried so long to keep. 

Others who have followed the path of Simon, in utter exhaustion and despair, will discover in their hearts that they are grotesque sinners with blackened hearts who could no more be righteous by keeping the rules than a prostitute.  In complete defeat, they finally look to Christ in faith and ACCEPT what they have had for so many years, forgiveness and the righteousness of God as a gift. When those people rediscover the gospel they thought they had found years ago, watch out!  They can end up like that woman, loving Christ in incredible ways and fulfilling BOTH the letter and the spirit of the law.

          Where are you this morning?  Does your Christian experience seem to gravitate more toward Simon’s or the woman’s?  Are you feeling burned out in your attempts to be good enough for God?  Are you finding that the harder you try to be pleasing to God by being  good, the more dismally you fail him?  Do you spend a whole lot of your time telling God what a complete louse you are and begging for him to give you another chance to be good enough for Him—to obey Him?  Are you finding that even the small “requirements” of God seem to be a tremendous burden to you?  When people say, “there is joy in serving Jesus” do you nod your head outwardly but inwardly say, “this feels more like a burden than a joy?”  Do you feel hopeless as a Christian? 

          Or, are you more like the woman in this story?  Does even great sacrifice for Christ seem a joy to you?  Is your service to Christ more often than not a joy and delight?  When you think of the law of God, do you love and delight in it as a friend who shows you how you can express your love to God?  Instead of being intimidated by the standard of fulfilling the law, are you excited about it and feel privileged to be a part of God’s family?  Those are the sure signs of a believer who has a clear understanding of the difference between trying to establish their own righteousness by keeping the law and receiving by faith his forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ and from that position, relating to God as His friend?         

          We must remember that the law was never intended to make us righteous.  It was added to show us that in ourselves we could in no way be pleasing to God and as it shows us that, it hastens us, aids us, pushes us to Christ to receive by faith the gift of righteousness God offers us.  That is the gospel.  This is grace.  May God give us the grace to believe the gospel and preach it to ourselves every day as we, like that woman, fulfill the law with joy.

 

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