I mentioned the last time these two ideas which are placed side by side in the Bible. On the one hand, there’s God’s sovereignty and his electing grace. He’s the king who rules over all and who upholds and directs all his creatures and all their actions according to the purpose of his will; and he’s the one who enables those he has chosen to repent and to believe; and it’s all to the glory of his grace. On the other hand, there’s our responsibility. The church is responsible for preaching the gospel; and sinners are responsible for their sins and for how they respond to the gospel message. These two ideas are placed side by side in the Bible and we have them here in Romans 9 and 10. First of all, Paul emphasised God’s sovereignty and his electing grace, because he’s the one who loves one and hardens another; he chooses one, and he doesn’t choose another. That’s what most of chapter 9 is about and I see that the NIV entitles chapter 9:
God’s Sovereign Choice.
But then near the end of chapter 9, and into chapter 10, Paul emphasises the responsibility of the Jews to believe in the Saviour; and he writes about how so many of them haven’t done that. So, in verse 32 of chapter 9 he says that the Jews have not attained righteousness. Why not? Because they didn’t pursue it, or seek it, by faith in Jesus Christ, but as if it were by works. And so, instead of trusting in Christ for salvation, which is what they ought to have done, they’ve stumbled over him. And then, in verse 3 of chapter 10 he said they sought to establish their own righteousness by keeping the law instead of submitting to God’s righteousness which is found in Christ. So, the law is a road which leads us to Christ; but when they came to Christ, they didn’t want him and they turned around and walked away because they wanted to become right with God on their own.
So, there’s God’s sovereign, electing grace. And then, there are the Jews who failed to believe in the Saviour. And in the verses which follow, Paul continues to write about how his fellow Jews have not believed in Christ the only Saviour.
Verses 5 and 6
And, first of all, in verses 5 and 6, Paul puts before us these two kinds of righteousness which he’s already written about. There’s the righteousness that is by the law. That’s in verse 5. And then there’s the righteousness that is by faith. And that’s in verse 6.
Now, the most important and vital question anyone can ask is:
How can I be right with God? How can I have a right relationship with him?
In other words:
How can I be righteous in God’s sight?
And in these verses Paul is contrasting two possible ways of answering that question.
So, what is the righteousness that is by the law? Well, it says to us — and Paul is quoting from the book of Leviticus here — it says to us:
The man who does these things will live by them.
In other words, the way to have life with God is by doing, or by keeping, the law. The righteousness that is by the law says to us:
Do this. Do this — everything that the law commands — and you will live.
And so, we have the story in the gospels of the rich, young ruler who came and asked the Lord Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life:
I want to enjoy life with God; what must I do?
And since he was asking about what he had to do, the Lord referred him to the law.
I’ve done all that. What else do I need to do?
So, since he was still thinking in terms of what he had to do, the Lord Jesus gave him something else to do:
Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
But he wasn’t prepared to do that. And you see, that’s the problem with the righteousness that is by the law, because none of us is able to keep the law entirely. Some of us break the law a lot; some of us break the law a little; but we’re all lawbreakers. And remember what Paul has already said, back in chapter 3?
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
All have sinned. Everyone is a lawbreaker. So, the righteousness that is by the law says:
Do this. Do all that the law requires and you will live.
But none of us is able to do all that the law requires.
So, Paul says in verse 5:
Here’s one way of becoming right with God. Keep the law.
But it’s a dead end for all of us, for no one is able to keep the law. So, then, in verse 6 Paul mentions the second kind of righteousness. This is the righteousness that is by faith. In other words, the way to have life with God is by believing in Jesus Christ.
So, the way of the law says to us:
Do this and you will live.
The way of faith says:
Believe and you will live.
The way of the law says:
The way of faith says:
Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary to keep the law on your behalf and to satisfy God’s justice for your sins and to reconcile sinners to God; and by believing in the Lord Jesus and what he has done on your behalf, you have peace with God.
Verses 7 to 10
Paul goes on to quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. And the reason he quotes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy is to show us that the message of this righteousness that is by faith is not something that is hidden away or is hard to discover. We don’t need to climb up to heaven, says Paul, quoting Moses. And you don’t need to go down into the deep, he says, again quoting Moses. It’s not as if this is a difficult message to find or one that is hidden away or that is a secret. So, we don’t have to climb up to heaven, to bring Christ down. And we don’t have to go down into the depths to bring Christ up. We don’t have to do that, because this message, this word, is near us.
Now, interestingly, the passage from Deuteronomy which Paul quotes here is about the law. Moses had just reminded the Israelites of God’s law. And then he added that what he was commanding them was not too difficult for them or beyond their reach. It’s not up in heaven, he said, so you have to climb up to it. It’s not beyond the sea, said Moses, so that you’ll have a hard time reaching it. No, it’s very near you. And, of course, the law was near them, because God had revealed it to them through Moses. And he’d put it in their mouths and in their hearts so that they could know it and teach it to one another.
And Paul now applies that passage from Deuteronomy to what he’s saying about the gospel and about the righteousness that is by faith. And he’s saying that it’s not a message that is hidden away or is hard to find. It’s near you, says Paul in verse 8. How is it near them? Well, look at the rest of verse 8: It’s a message which is in your mouth so that you can confess it; and it’s in your heart, so that you can believe it. And, says Paul, this message I’m talking to you about — this word of faith, or this word about the righteousness that is by faith — is the message we’re proclaiming. And that’s the reason this message is so near to them. It’s not hidden away. It’s not hard to find. It’s not a secret. It’s the message which God sent Paul to preach.
And it’s a message that says to us:
Confess and believe.
Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord; and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Confess that; believe that; and you will be saved.
And Paul really means the same thing here: believing is the same as confessing; and confessing is the same as believing. We’re to believe and confess Jesus Christ, who died for sinnners and who was raised and who ascended to heaven where he rules over all as Lord. Believe this and you will be justified, says Paul in verse 10. In other words, God will pardon you for all that you have done wrong; and God will accept you as righteous in his sight. Though you may have done everything wrong, he’ll treat you as if you’ve done everything right. So, believe in Jesus Christ; and confess him, because whoever confesses this will be saved.
The righteousness which is by the law says:
Do this. Obey this. Follow this. If you want to be right with God, then do all this, keep all these commands, work hard, never give up. Climb up to God by your own hard work and effort.
But the righteousness which is by faith says:
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to be right with God, then believe in and confess Jesus Christ the Lord.
Verses 11 to 13
And Paul goes on in verse 11 to underline this once again, but this time he does so by quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah to show that this has always, always, always been the way that God has pardoned sinners:
Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.
God has always saved his people through faith. Righteousness with God has always been by faith in Jesus Christ. It has never been by the law — for the law condemns and exposes our shame — but righteousness has always been through faith, by trusting in Jesus Christ, because through faith we’re declared ‘Not guilty’ and right with God.
And then in verses 12 and 13 Paul draws out of this a very important implication. He says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord — whether they are Jews or Gentiles or we might say Black or White or Male or Female or Young or Old or Rich or Poor or Educated or Uneducated — everyone, anyone, who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the gospel message. The good news is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved because he’s the one who lived the life we ought to have lived, a life of perfect obedience to his Heavenly Father, and who died the death we ought to have died, taking the punishment we deserve. He’s the one who has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God. And so, everyone who calls on him will be saved.
We’ll stop there. But, of course, Paul will go on to ask: How can we expect anyone to call on Jesus Christ for salvation if they don’t believe in him? And how can we expect them to believe in Jesus Christ if they haven’t heard of him? So, what has God done to ensure that sinners may hear about Christ and believe in him for salvation? What has God done to make Christ known? Well, he’s sent preachers to preach to sinners the message of Jesus Christ.
And, of course, God has sent out his preachers into all the world. That’s what Paul goes on to say. And, you see, the message of the gospel — the message of righteousness that is by faith — is not far away and hidden and hard to find. It’s very near. And it’s very near because God has sent preachers to preach the good news. And every Sunday, all over the world, preachers, sent by God, will climb into their pulpits to preach this gospel message about Jesus Christ who died and who was raised and who is Lord of all. And here’s the marvellous thing: the preacher’s message to sinners is this: You don’t need to do anything to win God’s favour. You don’t need to give anything to God to buy everlasting life. You don’t need to try to make up for your past sins. What could you possibly give to him? You don’t need to do anything, because Christ has done it all on your behalf. And whoever trusts in him, whoever relies on him, instead of themselves and their own good deeds, whoever rests in Christ alone will be saved. So, sit down. Listen to this message. And whenever you hear it, believe it.