(Rom 10) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Paul returns to the thought that began chapter 9, his desire for Israel to be saved. He is not changing subjects, but rather is going to the next step in his argument — reminding us of what his concern is. (It is easy to forget.)
(Rom 10:2) For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Here we have a much-controverted passage. You see, the Greek doesn’t say “righteousness that comes from God.” It says: “God’s righteousness.” N. T. Wright, and many others, argue that in Romans “God’s righteousness” means God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham.
Thus, Paul is saying that the Jews failed to see God honoring his covenant in Jesus, and therefore they seek to establish their own means of salvation.
As Paul explained back in chapter 4 —
(Rom 4:16-17) Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
God’s covenant was for the promise to come by faith and grace — and also for Abraham to be a father of many nations. The Jews missed this, not realizing that Gentiles must be engrafted into Israel through Jesus.
(Rom 10:4) Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
When we read this with Reformation eyes, we see the true statement that it’s faith that brings righteousness (God’s faithfulness to his covenant to bless the nations). And this is true. But when we read it from Paul’s perspective, we see that the emphasis is on the “everyone.” Even Gentiles may be saved! And this is because of Jesus and only possible through a faith-based righteousness.
(Rom 10:5) Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.”
Paul quotes Lev 18:5, part of the Law. He is setting up a contrast with salvation through Jesus.
(Rom 10:6-9) But 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). 8 But 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: 9 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.
This is a passage we tend to skip. Indeed, it’s really hard to follow Paul’s point from just these verses. What does ascending into heaven or descending into the deep have to do with anything?
Paul is paraphrasing a key passage in Deu 30 —
(Deu 30:11-14) Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
As always, the context of the quoted Old Testament passage matters — a lot. This is among the final chapters of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Law, written in the form of an ancient treaty.
It ends with a series of blessings that Israel (as a nation) will receive if they keep God’s commands and a series of curses if they disobey. Chapter 30 follows these with a remarkable promise — that even if Israel disobeys and suffers the horrific curses, God will still honor his covenant and bless them.
Of course, the curses came true when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and took Judea into captivity in Babylon and, again, when the Romans destroy Jerusalem. In the First Century, the Jews were waiting on God to honor these very promises.
(Deu 30:1-6) When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
Notice verse 6. Paul had referred to this one earlier —
(Rom 2:28-29) A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul wrote that a true Jew is any person who has received the promise of Deu 30:6! He then works out that conclusion in chapter 10. Let’s look at the passage Paul paraphrases again —
(Deu 30:11-14) Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 [The gospel] is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is [the gospel] beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey [the gospel].
Paul is saying that the gospel is “the word.” Jesus has already come down from heaven and been raised from the deep. That is, the word of God necessary to receive his blessings is not hard to find. It’s present in us because God circumcised our hearts by his Spirit so it would be in us.
(Rom 10:9-10) 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. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Paul says that confession of Jesus as Lord and faith in the resurrection is sufficient to receive the blessings of Deu 30:6.
(Deu 30:15-20) See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Reading this gives me chills. “Choose life.”
How do we choose life? By submitting to Jesus as Lord and believing the resurrection. As a result, God will circumcise our hearts by the Spirit (Deu 30:6), and we will love God (by the power of the Spirit. Rom 5:5) and obey (Rom 8:1-26).