Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 26, 1991
Purpose: To encourage those who are trusting their good works for salvation to put their faith in Christ alone.
A railway conductor began taking tickets one morning and discovered that the first passenger he approached had the wrong ticket. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, "but you're on the wrong train. You'll have to change at the next station." He took several more tickets and found that those passengers also had the wrong tickets. It seemed strange that so many people should have made the same mistake. "I don't understand how all you people got on the wrong train," he insisted, "but you will all have to get off." And then the truth finally came out--he was on the wrong train. And it made him look rather foolish.
We've all done things like that at some time or other, haven't we? Done the wrong thing, or gone the wrong way, yet kept on proudly and stubbornly insisting that we were right, until we had botched things up royally and made fools of ourselves. I've taken the wrong turn on trips, and Mary has tried to tell me we were going in the wrong way and should stop at a filling station and ask for directions. But I kept insisting that I knew where I was going, until we were miles and miles out of our way.
Mary has made her share of mistakes too. I remember the time she wanted to touch up the paint on the walls and the woodwork. I kept telling her she shouldn't use the satin finish paint to touch up the walls, or the flat paint to touch up the woodwork. But she wouldn't listen. She said it didn't make any difference, and she was determined to do it her way. So we had these shiny round spots all over the walls, and dull spots all over the doors. The inside of our house looked like it had a giant case of measles. Most all of us are afflicted with the same disease--the "my way" measles. "I'm going to do it my way."
Unfortunately, that tendency sometimes affects the most important issue of life, particularly acquiring eternal salvation. We want to seek it our way. The people of Israel were like that. They are the major focus of Romans 9, 10, and 11. They were God's chosen people and He had made some wonderful promises to them. Why then had they rejected their Messiah? Had God's promises failed? Paul's first answer was to point us to the mystery of God's sovereign elective purposes. We have no claim on God by virtue of our birth or family ties. God has mercy on whom He chooses.
But there is another side to that coin: the reality of human responsibility, and that's what Paul wants to talk about next. I cannot explain to you how human responsibility harmonizes with divine election. My finite mind is not vast enough to comprehend that. When I get to heaven I'm going to ask the Lord to explain it to me, and then I'll understand it. So look me up in glory and we'll have a wonderful Bible study on divine election and human responsibility. All I know now is that the Bible teaches both. God decrees, but we decide. And nobody attains a right standing before God who does not voluntarily decide to respond to His call in the way that He requires--His way, the right way.
Many in Israel did not. They thought they knew how to attain a right standing before God, and in their pride and stubbornness they were determined to do it their way. There are some great lessons here for us. Because things haven't changed a great deal over the years. Most people are still insisting that they can attain a right standing before God their way. And it has eternal consequences.
A Denial of the Right Way
They Failed to Attain Righteousness (Romans 9:30-32a)
Romans 9:30-31. "What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness."
Gentiles generally never seriously sought a right standing before the one true God. But many, when they heard of the provision God had made through the finished work of Christ, believed it and put their faith in Christ alone for eternal salvation, and God graciously granted them righteousness--a right standing before Him. But here were these Israelites, on the other hand, diligently pursuing a right standing before God and never attaining it. Why? Because they weren't chosen? No, no, no! That had nothing to do with it.
Romans 9:32a. "Why? Because they did not seek it by faith."
Because they were trying to do it their way. In spite of what God had said about simply trusting Him, they kept on seeking His acceptance on the basis of their law-keeping. They were going to set themselves right with God by strict obedience to His law. They were going to be so good that they would pile up a credit balance with God and He would be obligated to give them His salvation.
It wasn't wrong for them to keep God's law. But it was wrong to think they could keep it sufficiently to put God in their debt. Their efforts should have convinced them that they could never keep it perfectly, and driven them to cast themselves in faith upon God's mercy and grace. But they kept right on trying to do it their way. So they failed to attain a right standing with God and they stumbled.
They Stumbled at the Stumbling Stone (Romans 9:32b-33)
Romans 9:32b-33. "…but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'"
That's a quotation from Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16). When the Assyrians were about to sweep through the land of Israel like a flood, Isaiah assured the people that there would be one sure and stable place of refuge--God Himself. Those who put their trust in Him would never need to fear that their trust would be misplaced or that they be embarrassed. He would surely take care of them. But for those who would not entrust themselves to Him, the rock of refuge would become a dangerous obstacle, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
That's what was happening to Israel in Paul's day. Instead of putting their trust in Christ as their rock of eternal refuge, they were trying to earn their way to heaven by their good works. Their rock of refuge had become a stone of stumbling, and they were tripping over Him. It wasn't that they lacked sincerity or religious zeal. That's the next thing Paul says.
They Had Zeal, but without Knowledge (Romans 10:1-3)
He begins by reminding us of his great desire to see his people saved (refer to Romans 9:3).
Romans 10:1. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved."
Isn't that interesting? Although Paul believed that God saves whomever He will, He never stopped praying for the salvation of his people. He must have thought his prayers would do some good, or he wouldn't have wasted his time. God may have decided some things in eternity past, but as C.S. Lewis says, "...one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really causes it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering" (Quoted in Stedman, From Guilt to Glory, Volume II, p. 36).
But here's his point: Romans 10:2. "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."
There has never been a more zealous and sincere religious people than the Jews. They have been devoted to their law.
Let me give you an illustration. Between the Testaments, after Antiochus Epiphanes, the godless Syrian king, had conquered Israel, a Jewish priest named Eleazar was brought before him and ordered to eat swine's flesh. He refused to touch it. He said, "No, not if you pluck out my eyes, and consume my bowels in the fire." He was ordered to be beaten, and his flesh was torn off by the whips and blood streamed down his body. He fell to the ground, and the soldiers kicked him. Finally the soldiers began to pity him so much that they brought him dressed meat, which was not pork, and told him to eat it and to say that he had eaten pork. He refused even to do that, and in the end was killed. As he died he prayed to God: "I am dying by fiery torments for Thy law's sake." And what was it all about? Eating pork! That was the kind of zeal they had for the law. (Barclay, 146)
But it was all for nothing. Because law-keeping is not the way that we attain a right standing with God. They should have known that. The Old Testament made it clear enough. But somehow they missed it.
Romans 10:3. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God."
They refused to accept the righteousness which God offered them on the basis of His Son's death at Calvary, and instead they stubbornly insisted on establishing their own righteousness, that is, a right standing with God that they felt they deserved because of their obedience. They had zeal, but it was zeal without knowledge and it was to no avail.
There was one more thing involved in their denial of the right way...
They Misunderstood the Purpose of the Law (Romans 10:4-5)
Romans 10:4. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
The word end can mean either "goal" or "termination." And maybe it means both. Christ is the end of the law in the sense that He is what it's all about. He is its aim, its intention, its real meaning and substance (Cranfield, 253). The law shows us what's wrong with us, but it cannot help us do anything about it. So it leads us to Christ who can. That's the end of the law, the goal and purpose of the law--to bring us to Christ, who can provide us with a right standing before God when we believe (refer to Galatians 3:24).
Romans 10:5. "For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, 'The man who does those things shall live by them.'" That's a quote from Leviticus 18:5.
That wasn't a very happy prospect, because the law pronounced a curse on anyone who did not keep all of its requirements (Deuteronomy 27:26). If you want to attain righteousness by keeping the Law, you have to keep it perfectly (James 2:10). And nobody has ever done that but Christ. God knew we couldn't do it. He never intended for us to earn our salvation by keeping the law, or doing any other good deed. As Paul taught us back in Romans 3:20, "...for by the law is the knowledge of sin." The Jews misunderstood that.
There are lots of folks today who are doing exactly what the Jews of Paul's day were doing--denying the right way to gain eternal life, tripping over the truth, with misguided zeal and a misunderstanding of God's way of salvation. They're going to church (and any church will usually suffice), giving money to charitable causes, trying to live good lives, and endeavoring any way they can to "establish their own righteousness." But they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.
I read of a elderly lady who was waiting to pay for some groceries, and talking to the cashier as she did. "I'm going to receive an award from my church today for the good work I've done this year" she said. "You know, it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere," she added. Then to the surprise of the younger woman standing behind her, she turned and said, "Don't you agree?"
The younger woman happened to know her Bible, and said kindly and gently, but honestly, "I'm happy that you've done so much good with your life, but I'm sorry, I don't agree with you. The Bible says that salvation is not by works, but the gift of God's grace received by faith." She went on to explain the right way of salvation, God's way, and concluded by asking, "Wouldn't you like to trust Christ alone for your salvation?"
The elderly lady looked shocked. "I'm not going to give up 80 years of good works for that!" she snorted and stormed out of the store.
How utterly sad! To refuse the work that God had accomplished for her at Calvary, and put her confidence in her own work instead. As right as she thought she was, her actions betrayed a heart that had not attained the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). It was a denial of the right way. And as King Solomon said many years before, "There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
If you are like that woman, putting your confidence in your own good deeds, I beg of you, hear the Word of God, put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation.
Maybe you still don't understand it. Paul seems to have anticipated that possibility. So after talking about this denial of the right way, he turns to a description of the right way.
A Description of the Right Way
Salvation Was Revealed in the Old Testament (Romans 10:6-8)
Romans 10:6-7. "But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, 'Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?"' (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)."
That's a quote from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:12-14). The point seems to be that God's way of salvation does not demand some superhuman task that we are not capable of accomplishing. We don't have to perform the impossible, like climbing up to heaven to bring Christ down to earth. God has already done that for us. Christ has already come in the flesh. We don't have to descend into the depths of death and bring Christ back to life. He's already been raised from the dead for us. The incarnation and the resurrection were both necessary for us to have God's righteousness, but God has accomplished them for us. All that's left for us to do is to believe it.
Romans 10:8. "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 preach)."
Faith is not some mystical, far-away thing. The word of faith--the message that tells of faith and calls for faith--is right here, right with us, right on our lips and tongue, and is quite possible for us to respond to. The right way to obtain eternal salvation is simply to believe! And Paul wants to amplify that. The right way was not only revealed in the Old Testament, it requires faith in Christ.
Salvation Requires Faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10)
The Deuteronomy passage mentioned the mouth and the heart, so Paul picks up on those two themes.
Romans 10:9-10. "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
"Jesus is Lord" is one of the major affirmations of Christianity. It's a declaration of His deity. The word Lord is used over 6000 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) to translate the name Jehovah. Paul is talking about Christ's deity. The right way to obtain eternal salvation is to acknowledge "...that Jesus shares the name and the nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty and eternity of the one and only true God" (Cranfield, 259). Jesus is God in human flesh, and He has the right to rule our lives (refer to 1 Corinthians 12:3). We need to acknowledge that. We need to believe that in our hearts.
But that's not all. We must also believe that He arose bodily from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. See it? Confess with your mouth...and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead...you will be saved. That resurrection was the supreme demonstration that His death was sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins and the sins of the whole world.
By the way, the faith leading to righteousness and the confession leading to salvation are not two different things, but two parts of the same saving experience. When we truly believe we will openly confess. And that act of faith alone is what assures us of eternity in God's heaven. That's the right way to obtain eternal life--the only way. Any other way leads to eternal ruin. Any other way. God's way requires faith in Jesus Christ.
Salvation Relates to All Alike (Romans 10:11-13)
Paul wants to be sure we understand that it's the same for everybody. It relates to all alike. So Paul repeats that same quotation from Isaiah that he used back in Romans 9:33. Look at Romans 10:11: "For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'"
Repeating that quote from Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16) emphasizes the "whoever." It makes no difference who you are. If you will put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation, that faith will not be misplaced. You will not be disappointed or embarrassed. If you put your total trust in Jesus Christ, God will save you. He will deliver you from the eternal condemnation that your sin deserves.
Romans 10:12-13. "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For 'whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.'"
That obviously means calling out to Him in faith. Just as earlier in this book it was established that all are guilty before God and deserving of His judgment (Romans 3:22-23), so now all who put their faith in His Son will be saved. All--whoever they are.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Have you done that? Have you placed your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation? That may seem too simple to you, too easy, and you have this lingering urge to keep trying to do it your way. Put aside your pride and stubbornness and submit to God's way. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I read of a man who approached a theater ticket booth in New York City and announced to the people in line: "I have two tickets for the play, and they're free. My friends can't make it, and the box office won't refund my money, and I don't want to see the tickets go to waste. Wouldn't somebody like to have them?" There were no takers. A little while later he came back and announced that the tickets could be purchased for ten dollars. He sold them immediately (Reader's Digest, September 1985, p. 109).
That's a wonderful illustration of our natural suspicion of anything that purports to be free. It just sounds too good to be true, so we turn away from it. But salvation is only free to us because it cost God an incredible price--the death of His only Son. Because Jesus paid it all and expressed on the cross, "It is finished"--the work of salvation is finished; I've provided the payment for their sins in full--God offers it to you freely by His grace.
Once we grab onto that truth and trust Him as Savior, we are born anew. He comes into our lives in the Person of His Spirit and gives us eternal life and forgives our sins and changes us. Have you put your faith in the Lord Jesus as your Savior from sin? Don't put it off, please. Don't put it off a minute. Let's bow together in His presence right now.
Quietly and reverently before the Lord, may I ask you if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ alone? No good deed, no religious exercise, no church, no sacrament--nothing else but the Lord Jesus Christ himself. You see, if you dilute it and put your faith in something else, you really haven't trusted Him. You haven't believed that He did enough.
That's why Paul belabors this point; it's so very important. He doesn't want us to miss that kernel of truth: Salvation is by faith alone.
Will you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead? Cry out from the depths of your soul--I don't mean cry out loud, just in the quiet of your own soul; God knows what goes on there.
"Lord, I'm a sinner, and yes, I do believe that Jesus Christ paid it all. He died for my sins and I'm putting my trust in Him."
Will you do that right now? I have to warn you, if you mean business, if it truly is real to you, there will be a lot of changes in your life. Things will be different. You'll have new loves and new aims and new ambitions. A new purpose in life. But it all begins at Calvary, where Jesus died to wash your sins away. Will you trust Him now?
Father, I pray that You will in these moments bring many out of the darkness of sin and hopelessness, into the light of Your glorious forgiveness and life. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 20: How Shall They Hear?