The camp where our church recently held a men’s retreat had a shooting range, so I took along my .22 caliber rifle which I had never fired. I also enthusiastically encouraged several friends to bring along their guns.
On Saturday afternoon the camp director gave us instructions on how to use the shooting range. Only one person was allowed to shoot at a time. Each person was to select his target and then inform the director at which tin can he would aim. After each shot, the director would tell the shooter whether he had hit his target or by how much he had missed. It was a safe, methodical operation of a shooting range, set up by the camp director for teaching young children how to shoot.
There was only one problem. A few of us had already enjoyed an “informal” shooting session much earlier in the day—away from the watchful eye of the camp director. Mind you, we had not knowingly broken the rules. We were simply ignorant of them. That morning those of us who had brought our guns had eagerly headed toward the shooting range. We asked a camp worker where the range was located and assumed we were receiving permission to use it. Arriving at the range, each of us loaded the limit each weapon would hold. Then, standing side by side, we began to fire.
Our shooting started out something like the beginning of a musical arrangement. At first there was a solo: one .22 rifle firing a number of shots in succession. The pace steadily quickened and became a duet. Another weapon joined in until several .22 rifles were firing as tin cans began to fly. The bigger guns then came out with the deer rifle firing a considerably louder report. When the .45 semi-automatic joined our symphony of shooting, we sounded a bit like World War III with cans spinning in the air.
Just as the .357 magnum was about to fire, our obviously distressed camp director arrived on the scene. His beginning words were easy to recall: “We’ve never done this before!” He continued, “This is only a .22 rifle range. We do not allow larger caliber guns.” Very patiently he asked us to end our “informal” shooting and wait for “official” target practice that afternoon. As the afternoon activities began, he announced that target practice would be held at 3:00 p.m., along with horseback riding and other sports. I decided to test his sense of humor about the morning’s events: “Do you think we could combine horseback riding and target practice and ride by the shooting range to fire at the targets?” Thankfully, he smiled kindly. Only later did I hear that we had become known as the “vigilante group” from Dallas! I am sure he breathed a great sigh of relief as we—and our large assortment of firearms—departed.
Certainly the camp director’s view of how the target range should be used was vastly different from ours. Undoubtedly, his view was correct. It is possible to misuse a good thing. I fear this is what we unknowingly did. Our text demonstrates that it is also certainly possible to misuse the Old Testament Law, for purposes for which it was never intended. Unfortunately, this is what happened with many of the Jews. God gave the Law for one purpose, but the Jews used it for another. The Law, which was never given as a means of attaining righteousness, was used by the Jews for this very purpose. The result was that the Jews, though working hard to keep the Law, failed to attain righteousness, while the Gentiles who did not even seek righteousness or possess the Law, did attain it. How could this be? How could things have gone so wrong for Israel? Paul deals with this problem in the tenth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.
In verse 1 of our text, Paul begins by exposing his own heart toward his people in verse 1, much as he did in verses 1-5 of chapter 9. Verses 2-4 explain Israel’s failure in terms of her ignorance and rejection of God’s righteousness. Verses 5-10 contrast “faith righteousness” and “works righteousness,” using as illustrations two Old Testament texts. In verses 11-13, Paul summarizes the true gospel of salvation by faith, using two Old Testament texts.
The outline of our passage is then:249
(1) Paul’s kind intentions toward Israel (verse 1)
(2) Israel’s ignorance and self-righteousness (verses 2-4)
(3) Works righteousness versus faith righteousness (verses 5-10)
(4) The gospel summarized (verses 11-13)
Israel’s condition has been summarized by Paul at the end of chapter 9:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Romans 9:30-33).
Israel was seeking righteousness and striving hard to attain it, but she had failed. The Gentiles, neither seeking nor striving for it, did attain righteousness. In terms of the gospel, Israel was failing where many more Gentiles were succeeding.
What explanation could there possibly be for Israel’s unbelief and the Gentile’s turning to Messiah? In Romans 9 Paul answers from the divine perspective: the many who failed to become true Israelites were not chosen. God had purposed to save a small remnant of the nation, as the basis for Israel’s future restoration. Those whom God chose not to save, He would nevertheless use to demonstrate His power and His glory.
Paul’s next line of explanation for Israel’s unbelief begins late in chapter 9 and extends into chapter 10: Israelites were lost in unbelief not only because God had not chosen them (chapter 9) but also because they had not chosen God. In trying to earn their own righteousness, Israel rejected God’s righteousness as revealed in the Scriptures and in the Son of God, the Messiah.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
Paul’s heart is in the right place. The desire of his heart and his prayers offered in Israel’s behalf dwell on her salvation. While Israel failed in regard to salvation, Paul has not failed in his hopes and prayers for their salvation. His persistence in desiring and praying for Israel’s salvation is well-founded, for God will someday bring this to pass. Israel’s disobedience and failure is temporary. Paul’s love and his desire for restoration is like God’s for this people. Paul reaffirms his hope for Israel based upon God’s character and purposes, at the beginning of each major section (9:1-5; 10:1; 11:1-5).
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Being religious is not the same as being righteous. Israel’s failure concerned righteousness. Although Israel might be commended for her religious zeal, she would be condemned for her lack of righteousness. The Jew’s zeal, in their minds, was a zeal for God. Paul knew this from his own experience.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-6).
Israel’s zeal was a misinformed, ignorant zeal. Paul tells us they were ignorant concerning God’s righteousness. How could this be? Israel had first-hand experience with God and with His righteousness. Israel had the Law, which was the revelation of His righteousness. And most recently Israel had witnessed the righteousness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. No people had more revelation concerning the righteousness of God. How could they possibly be ignorant of His righteousness?
Paul provides the explanation: Israel’s problem was self-righteousness. Self-righteousness blinds men to God’s righteousness. Israel wanted to establish her own righteousness. She did not want to receive righteousness as a gift of grace, but she wanted to earn it as the wages of her own good works. In seeking to establish her own righteousness, Israel refused to submit to the righteousness of God as revealed and offered in Jesus Christ. Like Israel, those who wish to stand on their own merits will not submit themselves to the righteousness God provides. Israel did not want charity. The offer of righteousness was not overlooked as much as it was resisted and rejected. Israel’s “ignorance” was willful.
Israel failed to grasp that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:5). All Christians do not agree on what Paul means by these words. Some understand them to say that the Law has been put aside for all time, cast away as an ancient relic with no value at all to Christians. But Paul’s teaching in Romans makes clear that he does not agree with this interpretation.
According to Paul, the Law was a blessing from God—“they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2). The Law was given by God as a revelation of His righteousness and as His standard for righteousness. By means of His Law, men are shown to be sinners (3:19-20). The Law bears witness to the righteousness of God in the person of Jesus Christ (3:21). The Law was given to define sin so that men might recognize it as such, something they would not have been able to do without the Law (7:7). According to Paul, the Law is “spiritual” (7:14); it “is holy, righteous, and good” (7:12). The Christian loves that which the Law requires and desires to do what the Law says (7:14-17). Our failure to live up to the standards of the Law demonstrates the weakness of our own flesh and the evil of sin (7:17-22). The Law’s requirements are met by those who walk in the Spirit (8:4). Those who love one another fulfill the Law (13:8-10).
The Law is hardly annulled by the coming of Christ. Our Lord Himself stated that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). As I understand the teaching of the New Testament, Christ is the “end of the law” in at least two ways. First, Christ is the “end” of the law in the sense that He is the fulfillment of the Law. He is the goal to which the Law pointed. His is the righteousness to which the Law bears testimony. The same righteousness which the Law defined, Jesus demonstrated. The same righteousness which the Law demanded, Jesus offers to sinful men; He produces His righteousness in those who believe in Him. He is the end result, the fulfillment of the Law’s demands for everyone who believes in Christ and who receives His righteousness. He is the One who produces righteousness in the lives of believers, in fulfillment of the Law’s requirements.
There is also a second sense in which the Lord puts an “end” to the law. Not only did the Law provide a standard and make demands, it pronounced a curse on all those who are unrighteous. The “wages of sin is death” (6:23). The death penalty pronounced on sinners by the Law is done away with in Christ for every believer. Christ died in the sinner’s place. Christ bore the curse of the Law. All those who have believed in Him have died, in Him, to the curse of the Law. The Law no longer pronounces a curse against us. While the standard of the Law remains, the curse of the Law has been done away with once for all, in Christ, for all who believe.
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Paul’s message in these verses is very clear. His method is another matter. Paul’s conclusion cannot be missed, but his use of two Old Testament texts may cause us to scratch our heads. Because of the difficulty of this text, let us come to it in the reverse of our normal approach. Let us begin with Paul’s conclusion which is clear, and then backtrack to see how Paul used these two texts from the Law to establish his point.
The Jews failed to attain righteousness Paul has already informed us, not because they did not try but because they did try. The Gentiles attained righteousness without trying. What is the difference? The difference is between faith and works. The Jews tried to earn righteousness by law-keeping; the Gentiles attained righteousness as a gift, by faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Men are saved by believing in Jesus, not by behaving good enough to earn God’s approval.
In verses 5-10, Paul seeks to contrast “works righteousness” with “faith righteousness.” In attempting to prove his point, Paul draws our attention to two Old Testament illustrations. The first illustration comes from a statement found initially in Leviticus 18:5 and repeated frequently thereafter. The essence of this statement is, “Do this and live.”250 The converse of this statement might be stated, “Do this or die.”251
Neither of Paul’s allusions to the Old Testament are direct quotes. In verse 5, Paul refers to what Moses has written, but there is no direct quote given as indicated by the editors of the NASB.252 In verses 6-8 Paul cites some of the words of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 but not in their exact form. In fact, Paul significantly modifies or restates the words of this passage. Before looking at these Old Testament passages as Paul has used them in Romans 10, let us look at these passages in their context in the Old Testament.
I view this preliminary step as especially important because of the modification Paul makes in citing these texts. It is also important because I wish to underscore that the Old Testament writers never conceived of the keeping of the Law as a means of attaining righteousness. In studying this passage in Romans, I was distressed to see several commentators speak of two different ways of salvation: (1) the Old Testament way of salvation by law-keeping and (2) the New Testament way of faith. This is simply not true. No Old Testament writer conceived of anyone being saved by their works. Salvation in the Old Testament, as in the New, was always by faith. This is what Paul underscored in Romans 4 when he showed that Abraham was saved by faith, apart from works.
While the Bible emphatically does not teach two ways of salvation, fallen man has always sought to be saved by his works. Thus, in Romans 10 Paul contrasts two kinds of righteousness—“faith righteousness” and “works righteousness.” The first (“faith righteousness”) is God’s only means for man’s salvation. The second (“works righteousness”) is man’s self-made system of salvation, a system which is neither biblical nor effective. When men strive to be saved by their own works, they do so in disobedience to the Word of God—not in obedience to it. Reviewing the context of these two Old Testament statements Paul refers to in our text will help us see how they were originally meant to be understood.
From early on in her history, Israel had been involved in idol worship. Rachel stole the household gods from her father, Laban (Genesis 31:19, 30-35). In Egypt, Israel was involved with the gods of that place, and they brought some of those gods with them, worshipping them in the wilderness (Ezekiel 20:5-8; Amos 5:25-26). While Moses was on Mt. Sinai, receiving the Law from God, the people persuaded Aaron to help them make an idol which they then worshipped (Exodus 32:1-6).
God had promised to lead this nation into the land of promise. There was a very practical problem, however: “How can a righteous and holy God dwell in the midst of a sinful, rebellious people?” As God said to them, if He would go up with them, He would destroy them on the way (Exodus 33:3).
God made several provisions for His people to enable Him to dwell in their midst—in a way that would not result in their death due to His holiness and their sin.
First, God provided the Law. The Law of Moses prescribed the conduct necessary for Israel to live in God’s presence without offending His righteousness. If they lived in accordance with His Law, they would not offend Him, and they would live. If they failed to keep His Law, they would die. The statement, “Do this and live,” might just as easily be stated, “Disobey this and die.”
Second, God provided the people with a sacrificial system. When there was sin, there was also death. The sacrificial system was instituted so that the sins of the people could be atoned for temporarily, by the shedding of the blood of a victim in the sinner’s place. The sacrificial system assumed the people would sin and that some provision for their sins must be made. The annual Day of Atonement assumed that this system of daily sacrifices would not be sufficient and that some sins would either be unrecognized or there would be no atonement for them. Thus, annually a general atonement was made for the people, putting off the payment of sins for a later time—that time when the Messiah would come and die once for all for the sins of His people.
Third, God provided the people with the tabernacle, a provision whereby a holy God could dwell in the midst of a sinful people without putting them to death for their sins. The tabernacle was a kind of corporate veil, shielding the holy God from a sinful nation. Were they to approach Him too closely, they would die. God dwelt within that tabernacle, and the high priest alone was allowed to enter into the holy of holies.
If law-keeping were God’s means of attaining righteousness, why was it necessary for these elaborate provisions to be made? If Law-keeping were God’s means of making men righteous, then why was it necessary for Christ to come to the earth and die in the sinner’s place? The Old Testament gave every indication that law-keeping was not going to justify anyone. Law-keeping was never a second way of salvation. It was something self-righteous men sought to do, in defiance of God, and in rejection of His provision of righteousness through faith.
Deuteronomy 30 is the second text to which Paul refers in Romans 10. These words are addressed to the second generation of Israelites, the children of those who were led out of Egypt by Moses. Their parents all died in the wilderness because of their unbelief and rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13 and 14). Now, after the 40 years of wilderness wandering in which the first generation died, this generation was about to enter the land of promise.
Moses restated the Law in Deuteronomy 5. The people promised to obey, but God knew otherwise as He said to Moses:
“And the LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29).
In Deuteronomy 28-30, we find the key to Israel’s history and to the teaching of the Old Testament prophets. We shall briefly review Moses’ words spoken to the Israelites in these crucial chapters. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God spoke of the blessings He would pour out on His people if they would but love Him and keep His commandments. In a much larger and more extensive passage (28:15–29:29), Moses spelled out the consequences for disregarding God and His law. They would be cursed, and they would ultimately be sent into captivity (see 28:25, 32-33, 36, 41,49-50, 64, 68).
There are two key texts in chapter 29 to which I draw special attention:
“Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear. The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:4, 29).
In the first text, Moses indicates the source of Israel’s failure to trust and to obey God: the problem is one of the heart (see also Deuteronomy 5:28-29 cited above). Not until God changes the hearts of His people will they be able to keep His law. In the second text (verse 29), Moses calls Israel to give heed to what God has revealed in His law, rather than to seek to learn that which God has concealed. In the words of Jesus, centuries later, they were challenged not to “strain out a gnat and to swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24), but to take heed to the “camels” which God had revealed in His law.
In chapter 30, Moses begins to speak of the restoration of Israel. The turning point in Israel’s history will come about when God changes the hearts of His people, enabling them to hear and to understand His law:
“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live …” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
We know these words to be an early promise of the New Covenant, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people, enabling them to love God and to keep His commandments. The prophets will pick up on this promise and speak of it in greater detail (see, for example, Jeremiah 24:7; 31:31-34; 32:38-40; Ezekiel 36:26).
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
In context, I believe Moses is picking up on his statement in Deuteronomy 29:29. He is warning the Israelites not to concentrate on that which is unknown, unrevealed and speculative, and exhorting them to focus on that which has been clearly communicated through the law. No one has to search out this truth. No one needs to work to obtain the message from God. He has not hidden His truth; He has revealed Himself clearly in the law He is giving. The people are challenged to receive the Law which Moses is stating for them as God’s revealed will. They do not need to strive to obtain it, either by going into heaven (for God has spoken from heaven) or by going across the sea. They need but to receive it and believe it, as He has revealed it in His law.
With regard to the statement found in Leviticus 18:5 and elsewhere, Moses never intended for the Israelites to receive it as an offer of righteousness by works, by keeping the law.253 In the second reference, this was not a clear-cut statement of the gospel. It was speaking not of Christ but of the commandment Moses was giving to this people.
These two Old Testament references are not, in their context or in the sense of their original meaning, a declaration of two ways of attaining righteousness. They are not two ways of salvation. Both are the words recorded by Moses. They must be understood in the light of their context. Paul’s use of them in Romans is not an explanation of them, as they were originally meant to be understood in the light of their context. How he meant to use them is our next consideration.
Having considered the Romans 10 texts Paul refers to in light of their original meaning, we now must seek to understand how Paul used them and meant for us to understand his use. The use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is of great interest and importance. Having studied Paul’s use of the Old Testament for a semester in seminary, suffice it to say that our Lord and the New Testament writers used the Old Testament Scriptures in a variety of ways. Our trouble in understanding the use of the Old Testament by the New Testament writers is often rooted in our narrow grasp of how the Old Testament was interpreted and applied by those in New Testament times.254
In this portion of his Epistle to the Romans, Paul’s purpose is to contrast “works righteousness” with “faith righteousness.” His main point is Israel’s failure to achieve righteousness because she tried to earn it, by law-keeping, while the Gentiles attained righteousness by faith. The first principle, referred to in verse 5, may be summarized: “Do this and live.” This is not what Moses taught. It was what Israel concluded. This was their slogan. Since Moses was their hero, they would be inclined to abuse his words. Thus, Paul takes this slogan, “Do this and live” and makes it the motto of the legalist. Moses’ words were not meant to teach works righteousness, but they could be used to epitomize this error. Paul is not citing these words to prove that Moses taught works righteousness, but rather that Judaism supposed him to teach it. A legalistic interpretation and application of the Law of Moses could well be summarized: “Keep the law and live.”
The second reference to the words of Moses found in Romans 10:6-8 is perplexing. Let us begin by placing the two texts side by side so that we may compare them:
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.
6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down),
12 “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’
7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”
14 “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”
8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.
Several observations are necessary before we begin to understand how Paul is using the words of Moses.
(1) Paul does not introduce these words as though they were a quotation from Moses or from the Old Testament Scriptures. He introduces this reference to Deuteronomy 30 with the words, “But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus” (Romans 20:6). In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is speaking. In Romans 10, righteousness is speaking.
(2) Paul quotes some of the Deuteronomy passage, but not all of it. At best, Paul’s reference to Deuteronomy 30:11-14 is fragmentary. It is but a partial reference. Some might even call it an allusion, rather than a quotation.
(3) Paul changes the wording and the imagery of Deuteronomy 30. In Deuteronomy 30, the questions asked pertain to going up to heaven and going across the sea. In Romans 10, the questions pertain to going up to heaven and descending to the abyss. There is a substantial difference between the words of Moses and the words of Paul in regard to the second question.
(4) Paul changes the subject from the “commandment” to “Christ.” Deuteronomy 30 refers to the “commandment”255 which Moses is giving the people. Paul applies these words to Christ, first in His incarnation and Second in His resurrection.
(5) Paul adds interpretive statements which greatly modify the meaning and application of the text. The two statements contained in verses 6 and 7 are represented as parenthetical in the NASB. I think this is rightly so. But in making these two parenthetical statements, Paul changes the meaning and application of Deuteronomy considerably.
(6) The words of Moses in Leviticus 18:5 are used to illustrate “works righteousness,” while his words in Deuteronomy 20:11-14 are used to illustrate “faith righteousness.” The Jews were constantly trying to pit Moses against Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles. Paul pits Moses, as understood by the Jews, against Moses, as rightly understood by the apostles.
What then is Paul trying to achieve by referring so loosely to Deuteronomy? I think Paul is using this passage not as a prooftext but as an illustration of his point. He is not trying to make this Deuteronomy passage conform to his point in every detail, but rather to show how it illustrates his point in several important particulars.
If the words of Moses in Leviticus 18:5 (repeated by others elsewhere) can be twisted by legalistic Jews to justify their belief in “works righteousness,” his words in Deuteronomy 30 can be understood as illustrating the belief of Moses that men can only be saved by faith, apart from works.
Exchanging “the commandment” of Deuteronomy for “Christ,” Paul proceeds to make his point alluding to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30. Whether applied to “the commandment” or to “Christ,” the words of Moses taken up in part by Paul make the same point: “You do not have to do anything; just believe what God has revealed to you.” In the original words of Deuteronomy 30, Moses was warning Israel concerning self-effort. Those who heard these words did not need to “work” to obtain God’s revelation or His righteousness. They needed only to believe what God had said. In the context of Deuteronomy 30, they must trust in God to change their hearts, which would enable them to love God and to keep His commandments. Paul modifies the words of Moses to refer specifically to Christ. The Israelites did not need to initiate God’s salvation nor did they need to strive to attain it. They needed only to believe that God has sent Jesus from heaven and that He has raised Him from the dead. It was not doing which was necessary, but believing. Thus, Paul could freely use the words of Deuteronomy 30, because the point of the original passage and of Paul’s modification were the same: “Do not strive; just trust.” While the Old Testament text focuses more generally on the law, Paul’s modified reference focuses specifically on Christ, who was the “end of the law.” Thus, the modification made by Paul was completely legitimate. Paul simply brought this text up to date. He filled in the detail, “Christ,” which the law only anticipated.
Paul now draws upon the imagery of his illustration from Deuteronomy 30 to spell out the gospel which Israel must believe in order to be saved.
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:5-10).
Paul’s expression of the gospel is derived from the imagery and terminology of his words in verses 5-8. Salvation is based in Christ. It was He who descended at His incarnation. It was He who was raised in the resurrection. It is He who is the righteousness of God, who is offered to all who will believe in Him.
Saving faith involves both the heart and the mouth. We must believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead. We must confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. That which must be believed and confessed can be summed up in two simple statements:
These two simple statements have such profound depth of meaning and implications they will take more than a lifetime to comprehend. Nevertheless, Paul finds it possible to sum up the content of our faith in these two major lines of truth: (1) Jesus as Lord; and, (2) Jesus has been raised from the dead. What do these two statements mean? Both are difficult for the unbeliever to accept and profess, whether Jew or Gentile. Both will require the believer to stand apart from his own culture and his own contemporaries.
The statement, “Jesus as Lord,” was deeply significant to a Jew or a Gentile. The Greek term, rendered “Lord” here, was a term used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to refer to Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.0 For the Jew, this confession was the acknowledgment that Jesus was God and that He was the promised Savior. As such, He was to be trusted in and to be obeyed.
The implications of this confession for the Gentile were also profound. The Gentile was accustomed to thinking of Caesar as “Lord.” When a Gentile came to faith in Jesus, He recognized Him to be in the place of highest authority. It meant that obedience to Caesar must be subordinate to obedience to Christ. Because the Roman emperors viewed this as atheism, many Christians were put to death for their confession. Neither Jew nor Gentile could take these words lightly. Their culture would not allow it. To confess Jesus as Lord was to take a stand with Him and against their own culture. It was a confession that put the believer at risk. It was a confession which could only be made by faith. Such a confession set the believer apart from all others (see 1 Corinthians 12:3).
Belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the second requirement of the gospel, as defined and declared by Paul and the apostles. The Jews had rejected Jesus as a fraud and had insisted on His death. To admit that God had raised Jesus from the dead was to admit that they were wrong in their rejection of Jesus. To the Gentiles, resurrection from the dead was foolishness (see Acts 17:32). But as Paul insists in 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection of our Lord from the dead is a fundamental doctrine at the very heart of the gospel. Our Lord Himself staked all of His claims on His resurrection from the grave and even His opponents knew it (Matthew 12:38-40; 27:62-66). It is the basis for our hope of eternal life. It is proof that the work of our Lord was acceptable to the Father (see Romans 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was central to the preaching of the apostles, who were witnesses of His resurrection (see Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33, 34, 37; 17:31).
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Paul explained Israel’s failure as a failure in the area of faith. The Jews who had a zeal for God “tried harder” to be righteous but failed because they sought to earn righteousness by their law-keeping. The Gentiles attained righteousness because they accepted it by faith. The way of works and the way of faith have been contrasted by Paul in verses 5-10. The words of Moses have been used to contrast these two approaches to righteousness. Now, in verses 11-13, Paul states the gospel in very simple terms, showing that the gospel proclaimed by the apostles is the same way of salvation proclaimed in the Old Testament. He does this by citing two Old Testament texts which proclaim the same gospel as that preached by the apostles. Using these two texts as the framework for his argument, Paul stresses two essential characteristics of the gospel.
Paul buttresses the statements he has made in verses 9 and 10 by citing these two Old Testament texts in verses 11-13. The two requirements of salvation—belief and confession—are shown to be Old Testament requirements. The necessity of belief is shown by Paul’s citation of Isaiah 28:16. The necessity of confession is demonstrated from Joel’s words in Joel 2:32, where “calling upon the name of the Lord” is tantamount to “confession.”
In addition to documenting the Old Testament requirements of belief and confession, these two Old Testament texts spell out two fundamental characteristics of the gospel. These characteristics of the gospel are not only fundamental, they are the very elements of the gospel which made it repulsive to the Jews. These are the two primary reasons why the Jews would have none of Jesus and none of the gospel He or His apostles proclaimed.
The first characteristic of the gospel, as proclaimed in the Old Testament and the New, is that righteousness is offered and attained on the basis of faith alone, and not by works. In the context of Joel’s prophecy and that of Isaiah, it is faith alone, and not good works, which is required for salvation. The prophets did not call upon Israel to work harder at law-keeping, but to simply believe in God and in His provision for righteousness and salvation in the Messiah who was to come. The new covenant promised salvation through a work which the Spirit of God would bring about in the “stone hearts” of lost men. Salvation, both then and now, comes only when men cease to trust in themselves and turn in faith to that salvation God has provided in Jesus Christ.
The second characteristic Paul stresses from the Old Testament is that the gospel is universal. The gospel is not for Jews only, but for all who will believe. Salvation has nothing to do with one’s race, but only with faith. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 28:16). Joel is Paul’s second witness. He likewise offers salvation to “whoever calls on the name of the LORD.” The key word in both quotations is “whoever.”
The Jews thought God’s salvation was exclusively for Jews. They at least wanted to insist that Gentiles come to faith through Judaism. God will have no part of this. The gospel is for all men, all who will believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah, whom God raised from the dead. All who will confess Him as Lord and who believe He was raised from the dead shall be saved. In its most concise terms, this is the essence of the gospel.
The reasons for Israel’s unbelief and the salvation of many Gentiles are now before us. We see first that many physical descendants of Israel (Jacob) are not saved, because God has not chosen them for salvation as told in chapter 9. But there is more to the story. In chapter 10 we are given the “rest of the news.” Israel is in a state of unbelief, because those who are lost have rejected the gospel. Because they do not wish to receive righteousness as a gift, undeserved, and on the basis of faith alone, they have rejected God’s righteousness in Christ Jesus.
When men perish eternally, there are two causes. First, God did not choose to save them from their sins. Second, they chose to sin and to compound their sin by rejecting God’s provision for sin, Jesus Christ. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility together explain Israel’s plight.
Men reject the gospel because it does not suit them; it does not conform to the way they wish to be saved. The gospel will give no credit to man for attaining righteousness; it will only give glory to God. The gospel is God’s offer of righteousness and salvation through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came down to the earth and added sinless humanity to His perfect deity. He took upon Himself the sins of the world, and by His death on Calvary, He bore the penalty for sin which each one of us deserve. He offers to sinners not only the forgiveness of sins, but the righteousness of God. Anyone who believes that Jesus is God’s Messiah, who has died and been raised from the dead, and who confesses Him as Messiah God, will be saved. You may be Jew or Gentile; it matters not. What does matter is that you believe in the Lord Jesus and confess Him before men.
There are some who wish to make salvation a private matter. For them, spiritual matters are very personal, and they politely suggest that we mind our own business when we speak to them about their personal relationship with God. The gospel is a personal matter, for each individual must decide in his or her heart what he or she will do with Jesus Christ. The gospel cannot be and must not be a private matter. The gospel requires not only that men make a decision, but that they take a stand. It was never conceived in the New Testament that one would make a private decision to believe in Jesus and yet not take a public stand in baptism.1 The gospel as Paul proclaims it does not give men the option to believe without taking a public stand for Christ.
Confession is not a work we do which merits God’s favor. It is simply an act of obedience and an evidence that one really does believe in Jesus Christ. Confession is necessary because there are, by popular opinion at least, two ways of attaining righteousness—the first by faith in Jesus Christ and the second by good works. The second of these is neither biblical nor legitimate, but it is the “way” which unbelievers choose. Confession that Jesus is Lord acknowledges that we have changed sides, that we have forsaken self-righteousness and turned to God for His righteousness, by faith. In a world in which there are only two sides—those for God and those against Him—salvation requires that we declare that we are now on God’s side. It is the evidence of our faith.
It may be that you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for your salvation. You may well believe the right things about Jesus and yet never have believed in Jesus. Do you believe that Jesus is both God and God’s Messiah, that He has come to the earth, died for your sins, and been raised from the dead for your justification? Have you confessed Him as Lord before men? All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Do it today. No one will be turned away who calls upon Him in faith and who professes Him to be Lord in simple obedience.
I dare not leave our text without calling your attention to a very distressing fact. Those whom Paul refers to as not only unbelievers but as “ignorant” are the Jews, the most well-informed people on the face of the earth. They had the Old Testament revelation of the Law and the Prophets. They had seen and heard the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They could not deny the empty tomb, and they heard the gospel as proclaimed to them by the apostles. Those who refused to believe in Jesus were not uninformed, but they were ignorant. How could this be?
Paul talks more about this later in Romans 10. The ignorance of the Jews was willful. But for now, let me suggest a few principles pertaining to “biblical ignorance.” I hope these will be helpful and challenging.
(1) You may be ignorant of the Scriptures, even though you are zealously religious. Paul grants that the Jews were zealous. He even grants that they were “zealous for God” (verse 2), but they were lost. And they were ignorant. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness and of that which they must have to be saved. Religious people will be found in hell. Zealously religious people will be there. Religion that does not conform and submit to the Scriptures is false religion; it is idolatry; it is damnable religion.
(2) You may be ignorant of the Scriptures even though you are a biblical scholar. The Jews were hardly ignorant of the Scriptures. They knew them well. They considered themselves to be experts concerning the Law (see Romans 2, especially verses 17-24). But in the final analysis, they were ignorant concerning the Law. The gospel which they rejected is that which Paul has taught from the Old Testament.
Those who took it upon themselves to oppose and correct Jesus were the religious leaders and the biblical scholars of that day. And yet Jesus repeatedly rebuked them for their ignorance concerning the Scriptures (see, for example, Matthew 5; 12:23-33). Why was it that the scholars were so ignorant and that people whom they considered “ignorant” (see Luke 10:21; Acts 4:13) were able to understand the Scriptures?
(3) You may be ignorant of the Scriptures when you reject that which is clear and compelling, but choose to focus on that which is unrevealed, obscure, or trivial. The Deuteronomy 30 text to which Paul referred gives three vitally important principles which should guide us in our study of the Scriptures, particularly in our study of the Old Testament of which the Jews were ignorant.
First, we must study the Scriptures not as an academic exercise of the mind, but in order to know and to practice what God wants us to do.
Many wish to study the Scriptures as an intellectual exercise. They wish to deal with truth academically and philosophically. They do not wish to obey as much as to know (see Hebrews 5:13 and 14). It is ironic that in the very words which the unbelieving Jews used as their slogan, “Do this and live,” their problem was revealed. They were to do something, but it was not, first and foremost, to keep the Law; it was to believe in God. This is precisely what Jesus told the Jews of His day:
They said therefore to Him. “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28-29).
Their “work,” that is, their responsibility, their obligation, was to believe what God had revealed. Their righteousness was to be the result of faith. Biblical scholarship can become deadly if and when it ceases to approach the Scriptures as the revelation of God, His righteousness, and His grace. When we view the Bible as something to only know, rather than as something to believe and to do, we have lost sight of its purpose.
Secondly, we should study the Scriptures in terms of that which God has said clearly, emphatically, and dogmatically, and not in terms of what is not revealed.
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses directed the Israelites to focus on what God had clearly revealed. They did not have to ascend into heaven or to cross the sea to know His will; He had revealed it to them clearly in His Word. They did not need scholars to tell them what it meant—its meaning was clear. And those things which God had not revealed clearly were not to be given great thought or effort.
How we have failed to follow this divine directive! We are not to “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). We are to devote ourselves to the “camels.” The Jewish myths and fables, that false teaching and emphasis of the Judaisers of which Paul consistently warned the church, was almost always speculative and theoretical. Its attention was focused on what God had not said, rather than on what He had clearly revealed (see 1 Timothy 1:5-8; 2 Timothy 2:23).
I see the same tendency among Christians. We often want to delve deep into that which is mysterious, unclear, and even unrevealed. Often we have a fetish about prophecy for this very reason—we love mysteries. We are constantly into conspiracy theories and other types of intrigue. God simply wants us to focus on what He has said in His Word—clearly—repeatedly—and emphatically. Let us not wander off into the realm of the obscure.
Thirdly, our study of the Scriptures should focus on God and the righteousness and salvation which He provides in Christ.
Those who correctly searched the Scriptures found Christ there. Those who searched for Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures looked for His coming and recognized Him when He appeared. Our study of the Old Testament should be Christ-centered. Those who are ignorant will approach the Scriptures from a self-centered perspective. From this perspective, they will always miss the truth and remain ignorant of that which was meant to produce life and growth.
I do not wish to leave the impression that striving to be a biblical scholar is wrong. Israel’s failure was not in studying the Scriptures but in how they studied them. May God grant that we would study the Old Testament more to find there the same gospel revealed in the New Testament. And may we find there, more and more, the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we dwell on what God has revealed, rather than on that which He has not. To God be the glory.
249 I like the outline of the entire chapter suggested by Stifler: “The chapter contains four topics: (1) Israel failed to see that Christ was the end of the law (vv. 1-4); (2) the free character of salvation (vv. 5-11); (3) its universal character (vv. 12-18); and (4) they failed to see that all this, as well as their own rejection, was the prediction of their own Scriptures (vv. 19-21).” James A. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 173.
251 See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:22, 25, 26, 45, 63, 66.
252 If it were a direct quote, the NASB would have put the words quoted in capital letters. This can be seen in verses 6-8. Only the words found in the Old Testament passage are in capital letters. The other words, supplied by the author citing the Old Testament, are printed normally.
253 Note how Joshua’s final words to Israel in Joshua 23 and 24 parallel those of Moses, his predecessor, and how they indicate that Israel will never obtain righteousness by law-keeping.
254 There is also a very profitable area of study to be found in the use of the Books of the Law by the prophets. The use of the exodus motif in Isaiah 40-55 was the subject of my master’s thesis.
255 Note that “commandment” is singular and not plural (“commandments”). The commandment, however, seems to encompass all the commandments, all the law. The “commandment” is to love God and keep all His commandments.
0 “‘Lord’ (Kurios) was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) to translate the word for ‘Jehovah’ (Yahweh), the peculiar name for the true God of Israel. It is His saving name (see Exod. 3:7-22), especially v. 14; literally, ‘He will be that [which] he will be’; Jehovah was revealing himself as the one redeeming Israel from bondage. When used of Jesus in the strictly Christian sense, it means that he is Jehovah in flesh for man’s salvation. No Jew would confess ‘Lord Jesus’ who did not really believe it.” Herschel H. Hobbs, Romans (Waco: Word Books, 1977), p. 135.
1 In the Book of Acts, taking a public stand and identifying with Jesus Christ literally did “save” those Jews who believed and were baptized. Baptism marked the new believers out as Christians. The result was a separation from their old way of life, and from those who rejected Jesus. The result also was a joining in with the church, with other believers. When a person became identified with Christ and with His church, they suffered persecution for their faith and profession. The persecution which arose against the saints in Jerusalem drove them out of the city (see Acts 8:1ff.) and spared them from the destruction of the city by Rome, which was a divine judgment against Jerusalem for its unbelief and rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.