Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 4, 1991
Purpose: To challenge us to faithful witnessing.
The number one objection to the Christian faith among people who are looking for an excuse to reject it is: "But what about the people who have never heard? You don't mean to tell me that they're lost, do you?" That's basically the question Paul is anticipating in the next section of Romans, and surprisingly enough, he's talking primarily about the Jews.
Who could ever say that the Jews hadn't heard? Paul has gone to great lengths to show that God's way of salvation is by grace through faith, not by keeping the law or doing good deeds. But maybe the Jews never had that explained to them clearly. Maybe they didn't understand it. Maybe they haven't gotten a fair deal. Paul is about to show us that God has treated the Jews fairly and that the grace way of salvation is found throughout Scripture. If they have failed to attain a right standing before God, it isn't His fault. They have to take full responsibility for it. Remember, this chapter is about human responsibility. And the Jews have to bear responsibility for their unbelief.
But don't turn your hearing aid off and go to sleep just because this is primarily about the Jews. The truth we are about to see in this passage applies to everyone! So let's follow Paul's train of thought. He has just established that whoever calls in faith on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). That's God's way of salvation. And now the objections begin to come. That's how the passage is organized--around three basic objections.
Maybe Nobody Ever Told Them
We do have to be told, you know. Paul agrees with that. In fact, with a series of questions he outlines four necessary steps in that whole telling process, starting at the end and tracing it back to the beginning, the source, God Himself.
Romans 10:14-15a. "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"
How Shall They Call?
There must come a point in time when we actually call out to God in faith to save us. That doesn't mean we have to call out loud. But it surely means that salvation requires more than just going to a church where the gospel is preached and "always accepting Him," as some have put it. It means expressing to God our need of salvation and our faith in the provision He has made by means of the death and resurrection of His Son.
But we aren't going to call on Someone unless we truly believe in Him, unless we have become convinced that He alone can save us.
How Shall They Believe?
In order to believe a message, you obviously have to hear it. That doesn't mean a person can never get saved by reading the Scripture alone, without having anyone explain the gospel to Him. Many have been saved by reading Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, for example. But the general rule is that someone who knows Christ shares the message with someone who doesn't, and when they hear it they believe it. That was particularly true in the first-century world where Paul ministered. While many people could read, most of the New Testament had not yet been written down. And there were very few copies of what had been written. So most people would have to hear the message about Christ.
By the way, they need to believe "in Him." Faith must have an object--the right object. Some people talk about believing, but it seems that all they believe in is belief itself, or some vague "someone in the great somewhere." But salvation is more than an emotional experience involving the words, "I believe." It requires intelligent faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we present the gospel, we need to share the historic facts of His birth, life, death and resurrection, so people can hear and believe in Him.
But there won't be anything to hear unless there is somebody to speak.
How Shall They Hear?
Don't let that word preacher throw you. Right away we think of somebody with a seminary degree standing behind the pulpit of a local church yelling at his congregation. Not at all. The word simply refers to someone who proclaims the good news, like a herald. It could be anyone. It doesn't require any special place or any special degree. Just a willing heart. And we're all to be Christ's heralds. God could have chosen some other way to get the message out, but He chose us. We're it. People cannot believe in Christ unless somebody tells them about Him, and it's our job to tell them.
So what about the people in your life? Have they heard the message of salvation? How about your loved ones? They're the most difficult to witness to, but they desperately need to hear. And they may never hear if you don't tell them. How about your neighbors? How about the people you work with? How about your business partner? How about that professor who will be lecturing to you this week? How about your classmates who will sit around you at the lecture? How about the clerk who serves you at your favorite store? God's plan for letting them hear how to attain a right standing with Him is for you and me to tell them. And if we don't tell them, they may never hear, and believe, and call.
Many years ago, a distinguished American attorney named Samuel Hoar ably defended his client in court. But when the time came to give the closing argument, he simply told the jury that the case was so perfectly plain that he would not insult their intelligence by arguing it. The jury returned in a few minutes and proclaimed Mr. Hoar's client guilty. Hoar was shocked, and later asked the foreman of the jury how they could possibly rule against his client. The foreman answered, "The fact is, we all agreed that if anything could be said for a case, Mr. Hoar could say it. And as you didn't say anything, we concluded that nothing could be said for it, so we rendered the decision against you."
That's the idea here. If anything is to be said, we must say it. If we don't let people know of God's way to a right standing before Him, there is no way that they will give a verdict in favor of it. Mr. Hoar probably wished many times that he had given a closing defense of his client. Will the day come when we regret not speaking up and explaining the gospel to someone we know? You don't have to enter "the ministry" to speak out. You don't need to set up on a street corner and preach with a bull horn. You just need to be available to share Christ with the people He brings into your life--one at a time.
An old man was walking the beach at dawn and noticed a much younger man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the young man, he asked what he was doing. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. "But the beach goes on for miles and miles, and there are millions of starfish," countered the man. "How can your effort make any difference?" The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. "It makes a difference to this one," he said (Hugh Duncan in Leadership).
Who is it in your life that needs to hear? Telling them could make an eternal difference.
Some may be saying, "But I'm not sure I'm called to do that. You have to be called, don't you?" Well, yes you do. Paul admits that.
How Shall They Preach?
The proclamation of the gospel initiates with God. It can only be successful when the messenger is authorized and commissioned by God. But the point is, we're all commissioned. Jesus said it: "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). The only question is, are we carrying out our commission?
Romans 10:15b. "As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!'" This is a quote from Isaiah 52:7.
Messengers normally travelled by foot in that day. So feet were considered one of the most significant parts of the body. And even though they may have been cut, bruised, dirty, smelly and ugly after a long, hot journey, they were beautiful to the people who received good news from the messenger.
Ron Jensen tells of taking a course in evangelism when he was a young man, and learning that the best way to witness is to build a relationship of trust and credibility with a non-Christian. One day he was in a large crowd on a Seattle street watching a parade. He noticed a shabbily dressed young man stopping people in the street and handing them Christian tracts. Ron confronted him and said, "Excuse me, I appreciate the fact that you're a Christian and you want to share your faith with other people. But don't you know that you shouldn't witness to people by simply shoving a tract in their hands? Don't you realize that the best way to share Christ is by building a relationship with them first?"
The young man looked a little hurt--and then began to stammer: "I...l-l-l-love...J-j-j-esus," he said, and in that tortured stammer, went on to explain that this was the only way he had to communicate with others effectively. Ron admits to learning a powerful lesson that day. There is no one "right" and "wrong" way to witness (related by Ron Lee Davis, Becoming a Whole Person in a Broken World, p.138).
We each share Christ in the way that is natural and normal for us. And that's beautiful to our Lord. How about you? Are your feet beautiful today? Have you been sharing Christ with those around you who need to know how their sins can be forgiven and how they can be made acceptable to God?
Some had shared that message with the Jewish people. That's the point of the quote about beautiful feet. The message had been brought to them by messengers commissioned by God, and it was a beautiful thing. God had treated them fairly. They had been told. So with objection number 1 answered, Paul anticipates a second.
Maybe They Didn't Really Hear It
That happens to me, you know. And to most other husbands. Their wives tell them things, but they don't really hear them. Could that be what happened to the Jews? They were told, but they didn't really hear it. There has to be some reason why they didn't believe.
Romans 10:16. "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'LORD, who has believed our report?'"
Did you notice how Paul uses "believe" synonymously with "obey"? To obey the gospel is to believe it--to believe in Him of whom it speaks. And to believe it is to obey it--to obey Him, our Lord and Master.
Romans 10:17. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
This is more or less a summary of the argument so far. Paul has just mentioned believing and hearing, and now he puts the two together. When you hear a message, you either believe it or disbelieve it. But when it is a word about Christ (the better reading), it has a tendency to arouse faith.
So maybe the Jews didn't really hear. Romans 10:18a. "But I say, have they not heard?"
Paul answers that objection from Psalm 19. Romans 10:18b: "Yes indeed: 'Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.'"
If they didn't believe it, it wasn't because they didn't hear. "The opportunity of hearing was as wide as the star-studded heavens" (Stifler, 181). Paul isn't necessarily saying that everybody in the world has heard a clear explanation of the gospel of God's grace; he's simply saying that the message has been widely disseminated to every part of the world.
Every place there were Jews, the gospel had been proclaimed. In Acts 5:28, the Jewish rulers said to Peter, "...you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching." Acts 19:10 says "...all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." By 200 A.D. the church father Tertullian could say, "We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate, and forum. We have left you only your temples" (quoted in Hendriksen, 352).
So that excuse won't hold water. The Jews heard the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. And there are missionaries today carrying that message to the ends of the earth. There are gospel radio stations beaming that message to every corner of the world today. People have an opportunity to hear if they want to hear.
Objection number two doesn't hold any water. So Paul anticipates one last objection.
Maybe They Didn't Understand It
Maybe they heard it, but they just didn't understand it. They really didn't know what the words meant.
Romans 10:19a. "But I say, did Israel not know?" (The word "know" being to know with understanding.)
Did Israel really grasp the message of grace with any degree of understanding? Well they should have. Paul draws several quotes from the Old Testament to make his point; the first is from Deuteronomy 32:31.
Romans 10:19b. "First Moses says: 'I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.'"
The foolish nation he's talking about is Gentiles. That's the way Jews viewed them. If Gentiles could understand it--Gentiles who were dense theologically, separated from the covenant blessings of the nation Israel, and ignorant of God's great Old Testament revelation of Himself--then surely Jews can understand it. That's the point of that quote.
To say that they couldn't understand it would be like an "A" student getting an "F" on an exam and complaining to the professor that he didn't make the material clear enough. So the professor points to an "F" student who happened to get an "A" on the test and says, "If he can understand it, anyone can." That kind of logic is pretty hard to dispute. If the Gentiles, who weren't very bright theologically, could grasp this truth, then the Jews could hardly say that they couldn't get it.
The next quote is from Isaiah 65:1. Romans 10:20: " But Isaiah is very bold and says: 'I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.'"
That's even more significant. If the Gentiles, who weren't even looking for God, found Him, then certainly He was available to the Jews, who spent their lifetime seeking Him. The problem was not understanding. It was willful, obstinate refusal to come God's way--by faith in the sacrifice of His Son. Nobody could blame Israel's unbelief on God. It was their own decision, for which they had to take full responsibility.
But what a gracious God we have, as we see in this last Old Testament quote from Isaiah 65:2. Romans 10:21: "But to Israel He says: 'All day long I have stretched out My hands, To a disobedient and contrary people.'"
What a beautiful picture of our gracious Lord. There they are, turning their backs on Him, insisting on earning their own salvation their own way. And there He continues to stand, generation after generation, arms extended, inviting people to come to Him, longing to draw them to Himself. And He still stands there today waiting for you to come to Him.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Oh, don't be that disobedient and contrary people. Nobody is going to spend eternity in hell because God didn't choose them, or because He didn't tell them, or because they couldn't understand the message. The only reason anybody will spend eternity in hell is because they continue to resist the pleas of a loving God who stands ready to receive them, even today. Don't resist Him any longer!
If you've never acknowledged your sinfulness and called out in faith--faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary and His resurrection from the grave--don't put it off another day. Not even for another moment. Respond to God's loving invitation and trust Christ as your Savior from sin.
Let's bow our heads reverently before God. Let me ask you, please, if you have put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from sin? Or are you counting on the fact that you just always were involved in Christian things? That's not enough! Or that you've been confirmed or been baptized? Or you've tried to live a good life? Those are good and important things, but it is your faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary that secures for you a right relationship with God and eternal life.
So right now in these moments, if you're not sure you ever put your faith in Him, I'm going to ask you to do it. Right here, today. Just settle it. Why put it off any longer? Just in the quiet of your own heart, you talk to God. Call to Him:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary and rose again to give me His life. Lord, Jesus, I'm trusting You as my Savior. Come into my heart and deliver me from the eternal condemnation that my sin deserves."
Oh, settle it, will you? Right now.
Father, just draw, I pray, draw those to Yourself who have resisted to this point. And may they receive from You that wonderful gift of eternal life, right now. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 21: Has God Let You Down?