In Romans 10, Paul wrote from a broken heart, a heart broken because his fellow countrymen had refused to accept Christ as the Messiah. Instead of accepting the righteousness of God by faith, they continued to strive to be made right with God through works of the law. Many of us have known what it is like to long for the salvation of another, only to see them refuse to accept the gift of salvation by faith.
Paul felt the Jews were on the verge of salvation, that the word of faith was on the tip of their tongues, and if they would only believe upon the name of the Lord and confess Jesus as their Lord, they could be saved. He longed for them to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, but was in anguish as they stubbornly refused the grace of God.
Before Paul wrote the great words of Romans 10 that begin with “if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord” and end with the beautiful feet of those who proclaim the good news of the gospel (see Romans 10.9-15), he quoted a few verses from the Old Testament in somewhat confusing fashion, at least at the first reading. Before we examine the “call/believing/hearing/preaching” progression, let’s try to make sense of Paul’s words that led up to that great paragraph. Paul wrote,
1Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (Romans 10.1-8 ESV)
The Jews were pursuing a righteousness based upon works (see Romans 9.32) based upon the Law given to Moses. However, no one is able to be made right with God by observing the Law (see Romans 3.20) because we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. The only way we can be made right with God is through the work of God in Jesus (see Romans 3.26).
But Paul’s point in Romans 10, and elsewhere in the rest of the letter, is that the just have always lived by faith, even in the days of the Old Testament. He had already demonstrated that Abraham was made right with God by faith (see Romans 4), and now he is prepared to use the words of Moses to do the same. In Romans 10.5-8, Paul loosely quoted from Deuteronomy 30 where Moses was nearing the end of his life and encouraging the people to remain faithful to the Lord as they enter the land of promise. Moses said,
11“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30.11-14 ESV)
Moses was telling the people that the way of the Lord has already been revealed to them. It was not hidden up in heaven, for the Lord had already made it known to them. It was not far off on the other side of the sea, waiting for their wise men to seek it out. No, it was very near to them. The commandments of the Lord were revealed to them on the holy mountain, and now they had come to know them in their own hearts. They just needed to choose to obey the commandments of the Lord.
Paul took this farewell speech of Moses and applied it to the gospel story. The Jews did not need to ascend up into heaven to find the Messiah and bring him down to earth; the Messiah had already come and revealed Himself to mankind. Notice how Paul modified Deuteronomy 30.13 from “beyond the sea” to “descend into the deeps” in order to emphasize that the resurrection was the proof of God’s self-revelation (see Acts 17.31). The word was indeed very close to them, but it was not the word of the Law as spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 30 but the word of faith as proclaimed by the apostles. And if they would believe upon the name of Jesus, then they could call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
But the words of Paul continue to teach us today, not just about the state of Israel and their relationship to grace, but about how any person is saved today. The simplicity of Romans 10 is startling, and the implications are even more soul shaking.
More on that tomorrow.