This morning we resume our series from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We come to one of the best known texts in this section of the letter. But before we delve into that, let’s see where this morning’s text fits within the flow of Paul’s argument. We have repeatedly noted that Paul penned this section of Romans in chapters 9-11 to make one major point. That’s not to say there aren’t dozens of crucial truths in this magnificent portion of Scripture, but they all fall within Paul’s one major focus. That point we said was found in the beginning of chapter nine where Paul says, in verse six, “It is not as though God’s word had failed…” You’ll remember that Paul in this section is defending the truthfulness of God’s word. More specifically, he argues for the truthfulness of many Old Testament promises which indicate that Israel would be greatly blessed when the Messiah would come. One text out of Isaiah even promises that “all Israel would be saved.”
To the very few Jews who had received Jesus as their Messiah and who had been believing God for the blessing of the Jews through the Messiah, it seemed to them that God’s word had failed. There were indeed only a few national, ethnic Jews who had received salvation, who had been brought into the promised New Covenant. In light of this perceived failure of God’s word, Paul uses chapters 9-11 to defend the integrity of God’s word. Paul argues the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Jews had indeed been fulfilled through the coming of Christ.
He explains that the “Israel” spoken of in those Old Testament promises was NOT the national, ethnic Israel these Jewish Christians had applied them to, but was a spiritual Israel. He shows through the prophet Isaiah that God had predicted hundreds of years before Christ that there would be only a remnant, a small number of national or ethnic Jews who would be saved through the Messiah. Paul also makes clear that the Messiah, as prophesied, would usher in a new age in salvation history where many Gentiles would believe, be saved and become part of God’s people right alongside the few believing Jews.
That is at best a thumbnail sketch of Paul’s treatment up to this point, but its important to know this context when you read our text for this morning. The main intention of Paul in writing these next few verses is often lost today because they are not understood in their context. So we left Paul in 10:13 stating the truth that all a person, Jew or Gentile, needs to do to be saved is to “call on the name of the Lord.” With that as context, let’s read Romans 10:14-17. Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" 16But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" 17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
After Paul, in verses14-15 lays out the logical sequence of events that is necessary for a person to be saved through the gospel he quotes Isaiah 52:7. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” In verse 16 he says, “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message.” That word “Israelite” is not in the original, but the NIV rightly inserts it to clarify that Paul’s main point is still to defend the word of God in light of the Jews’ rejection of Christ. Paul is saying the reason the Jews haven’t been saved through Christ isn’t because they haven’t heard this gospel of grace through faith and not works. Paul uses the texts from Isaiah 53, “”…who has believed our message” to say the reason they haven’t be saved is because although they heard the message, they haven’t believed the message.
Paul has already told us in 9:32 and in 10:3 why the Jews refused to place their faith in Christ and the reason is (9:32), “they pursued it [righteousness] not by faith but as if it were by works.” The vast majority of the Jews had not believed in Christ because, as we’ve seen before, they had completely missed the truth that righteousness, being right with God, comes by faith and not by works. Paul says the Messiah has come and the message has been preached to the Jews (by him and others). Everything that needed to be done for the Jews (in his generation) had been fulfilled. The problem is with the Jews. They have refused to believe the gospel.
That issue of obedience brings out an important truth the NIV obscures through its translation of verse 16. That truth is, in the original language Paul equates believing with obeying. A more accurate translation of verse 16 is, “But not all the Israelites OBEYED the good news.” We may not think about believing the gospel as OBEYING the gospel, but the New Testament does. This Greek word almost always means “obey” in the New Testament and never “accept.” To believe the good news is to obey God. In a good translation of John 3:36, Jesus says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Jesus equates unbelief with disobedience and promises God’s wrath to those who are disobedient in this way. Paul too links believing or faith with obedience starting in chapter one. In 1:5 Paul tells us that he has been called an apostle to call the Gentiles to “the obedience that come from faith.” If you believe, you will obey. If you do not obey, you do not believe. This same principle holds for the Christian as well. There is no such thing as a biblical believer who is not also an “obeyer.” Our obedience is imperfect and incomplete, but it is present or there is no faith present in us. This kind of genuine, biblical faith within a person produces obedience.
Now, let’s look at this text through the lens of missions and evangelism. In this text, perhaps as clearly as anywhere else, Paul argues for the absolute necessity of preaching the gospel for the sinner to be saved. He has said in verse 13 that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Given that fact, Paul goes on to say that before that can happen there are some necessary prerequisites which must first take place. He moves backward from calling on the name of the Lord in logical sequence. What must be done before a person can be saved? Before a person can call on the Lord, they must first believe. You could would never call on God to save you unless you first savingly believe in Him. You can’t possibly savingly believe in someone unless you hear about Him and you can’t possibly hear about Him unless someone preaches or proclaims the truth about Him. And someone can’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ unless someone sends that person. Let’s clarify what Paul means by the word “preaches” here.
You see, in the Ancient Near East, a herald or one who “preaches” was simply someone who was sent from one party to another with a message. A herald would never go out on his own—he has nothing to say unless someone puts a message on his lips intended for someone else. The herald has no importance in himself, he is merely the servant of another. The only thing important about the herald is the message he brings. Those of us who are frightened at the prospect of personal evangelism should understand this truth. All we are is the herald. All we do is simply bear the message of the gospel. It is not our responsibility to save anyone, that is God’s job. We should work to be able to communicate it clearly and faithfully, but the pressure is never on us to convert the person.
We may, and at times MUST work to convince people of the truth, but salvation will never come as a result of our powers of persuasion. Salvation come as a result of God’s miracle working power on the heart of the unbeliever. We are only the herald. That, to me is a very liberating truth. The enemy loves to weigh us down with responsibilities we have never been given. Our job is only to be the vessel and to pour out the treasure of the gospel message into other people’s lives by what we say and do. Any responsibility we feel beyond that does not come from God.
One application of verses 14-15 is quite simple. Unless a sent person preaches the message to the unbeliever they will not be saved. Sinners aren’t going to be saved any other way. Paul makes clear in chapter one that the creation tells sinners everything they need to know about God’s “eternal power and divine nature” to the point of leaving the them without any excuse for not following God. But even though that evidence is sufficient enough to make them fully responsible before God, the sinner will never, never, never respond to that evidence because their hearts are filled with rebellion towards God. Something more is needed than natural revelation to bring them to Christ—they absolutely MUST have the gospel preached to them by someone whom God has sent or commissioned. And the Great Commission commissions ALL believers, not just a select few. The implication is clear. The church is responsible to share the gospel. That is the sinner’s only hope of being saved.
With all this discussion of our great responsibility in the salvation of sinners, in light of our discussion in chapter nine about God’s sovereign control over who is saved, someone may ask a question. “How do you reconcile the fact that, on the one hand, sinners absolutely need to hear the gospel to be saved and on the other, that God elects people, choosing those He wants to be saved? Why would God need us to give people the gospel to be saved when He elected people to be saved?” Again, we see the complimentary relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. It is true that God elects and calls people and all of those whom He calls will be saved. It is also true that the only method by which those people can be brought into His family is through the preaching of the gospel. There is no contradiction there because what Paul wrote in chapter nine is not in conflict with what he says here in chapter ten.
Those of us in Christ’s church who are commissioned to tell others this gospel message should not see these two truths as a contradiction, but as an awesome privilege. It is true that God has people all around us who are not yet believers, but whom He has chosen to save. It is also true that He has one and only one way by which those people, HIS people will be saved. That is, through this precious, powerful gospel message. Finally, it is true that you and me are those people God has selected to bring the gospel message through which His chosen ones of will be saved. That’s not a contradiction, it’s a one of the highest privileges and honors that we, as God’s people have—to bear the saving message of the gospel to those people God has chosen to be his bride but whom He hasn’t yet called to Himself through the gospel.
There is no other way on heaven or on earth that God’s chosen one’s who have yet to believe will come to Christ unless we give them the message of the gospel. Now, we know that everyone one God calls will believe through the gospel. We saw in 8:30 that “Those whom He predestined HE also called; and those whom he called he also justified.” God doesn’t call anyone except that he justifies them also. If God has chosen someone from before the foundation of the earth to be his child, what a privilege it is for Him to involve us, in finally calling that person to Himself? If we are not honored by that privilege, by that commission, then perhaps the reason is, we don’t think very highly of the One bestowing it. There is a iron clad relationship between our willingness to do something for someone and our regard (or lack of regard) for them. Think about this. When a celebrity or highly regarded public figure walks into a room of “ordinary” people who admire them and the celebrity asks out loud if someone could give them a drink of water or a hand towel or directions to the washroom, there are people bumping into each other, rushing to meet the need. Their great admiration for that person compels them to be anxious to serve him. They consider it a privilege, an honor even to be asked by him to be of service and they don’t think twice about the sacrifice involved.
Contrast that with this scene. The town drunk stumbles into a public gathering of people and asks the crowd for a drink of water or a hand towel or directions to the washroom. He gets quite a different response, doesn’t he? The people pretend not to hear him or to be busy. Or they awkwardly look up at the ceiling, hoping someone ELSE will tend to the person. The person who finally does end up taking care of the guy counts his duties to be a noxious burden and does them ONLY out a sense of obligation. He can’t wait to wash hands of this task. Now, the drunk makes the same request of the crowd the celebrity does. The only difference between the two is the level of regard and admiration the people have for the one who makes the request.
The Lord of the church has requested that we become involved with Him—to be His heralds to trumpet the glorious gospel—a miraculously powerful message that brings people from death to life, from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. He has sent, commissioned us to do that. If God has commissioned us with this admittedly glorious task, why haven’t we done it? Could it be that in many cases, the reason is our woeful lack of regard for the One who has given us this commission? That’s a very hard question, but think about how we (if we are like most Christians) view personal evangelism. Do we really in our day to day lives see personal evangelism as a privilege? Or when we think about our responsibility does it feel more like a burden we hope we will not be led to pick up? When it comes to giving out the simple gospel message to someone, is our primary response to anxiously carry out the task, or is it to hope someone ELSE will do it? When we do in some way share our faith, do we do it with a sense of joy rooted in our love for the God, who sent us? Or do we do it more out of a sense of obligation?
Beloved, what do our answers say about the level of regard we have for the One who commissions us to take on this privilege? As it relates to the task of personal evangelism we’ve been sent to do, are we treating God more like a highly regarded public figure or the town drunk? It’s true that most people who never share their faith don’t care very much for the lost, but even more sobering is this. If we are not in some way filled with a sense of honor and privilege in sharing this glorious message of Christ we’ve been sent to give, then what does that say about our regard, our love for the Lord of the universe who sent us to this task? Worse, if we regard sharing this glorious message with others as a burden, done only out of a sense of obligation, then what are we communicating to God? If, as we sang this morning, we “adore Him like no other,” if we long to “come to Him and run to Him,” if we have “no greater joy than knowing Him,” if we have THAT KIND of love for Him, then doesn’t it follow that we should be willing, even privileged to carry out His commission tell others about Him?
I have heard enough man-centered messages about evangelism. You know the ones that tell you the highest reason to share your faith or go into missions is because of the terrible plight of lost people. We should certainly have the heart of Christ and hurt for lost sinners. But what should compel us to give out the gospel is not, first and foremost our regard for the people, but our regard for the One who condescends to give us the privilege of being involved in His divine plan of redemption. If God is to us who we say He is to us, then shouldn’t preaching, heralding the gospel be something we should be quite anxious to do? Shouldn’t we even feel greatly honored that One such as God would actually stoop to involve us in a plan He crafted an eternity ago? If we are not ready and available to share the gospel, it tells us not only that we don’t care much about lost people, it tells us that we don’t care very much about God.
I make no claim of omniscience in this regard, but I cannot personally name one single person in this church who, as an adult was living out in the world as a pagan, without God and without hope. But who was, in that state proactively given this message by one of us, trusted in Christ and discipled through the ministry of this church. I can’t name one person. If you are such a person then please don’t be offended. I just know or don’t remember your testimony. But I can’t name one such person who, as an adult was saved by the proactive ministry of this church, brought into the church from the outside and is being nurtured here.
If our love for God was what we say it is there would be many people who meet that profile. Because people who have a high regard for someone do what they say. And Christ has said to every believer, “Go, make disciples…” and that includes bringing the message of the gospel to someone outside our comfort zones. A church cannot be considered healthy unless there are people who are regularly being saved and brought into the church. It doesn’t matter how good the “show” is on Sunday morning, if the people in the church don’t love Christ enough to do what he says as it relates to preaching the gospel to sinners, then the church has a very low spiritual temperature. May God give the grace to see that doing personal evangelism isn’t just about getting sinners to love God, it’s a measure of how much we love Him.
Page last modified on 1/1/2002
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