In Romans 10, Paul continues his discussion of Israel’s place in the Kingdom of God now that Christ has come. How does Israel, and all their privileges and promises, fit into the story line? The Gentiles are being saved and brought into God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ. But Israel seems to be ignorant that the covenant promises have been fulfilled in Jesus. They’re still clinging to the law, pursuing righteousness through it. What is happening? What must Israel do? Paul uses the Old Testament as the building blocks for his argument. Paul is a biblical theologian. He understands how to read the Bible through the Jesus lens, and in so doing, highlights both the problems with Israel’s self-understanding and the remedy for salvation in Christ.
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on 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 abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
God saves Gentiles as Gentiles. They do not have to become Jews to become Christians. And that is difficult for the Jews. As a theocratic nation, Israel was sent into the world to be a light to the world. Anyone could come in, but they must come into the Jewish culture as well. But now God is bringing the Gentiles into his kingdom without first initiating them into the nation of Israel.
Israel continued to pursue righteousness through obedience to the law. They refused to see the other option available to them: justification by faith. Paul shows that the Gentiles have attained righteousness even though they did not pursue the law, because pursuing the law doesn't matter if you seek it the wrong way. Israel pursued the law thinking they could obey it and through their obedience, God would grant righteousness. The law is good, but men are bad. Bad men can never fully obey a good law. Sin gets in the way. But the Gentiles, who made no attempt to come under the law, are now coming into the Kingdom of God and attaining righteousness. How? By faith. God set forth Jesus as the fulfillment of the law that led to righteousness. But Israel stumbled over him.
Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16 in verse 33. In context, this passage speaks of salvation in the aftermath of judgment. God is placing a stone in the midst of his people that outsiders will stumble on. But whoever believes in this stone will not be put to shame. It is those who don’t believe who are put to shame. Fast-forward 400 years and here is Israel receiving the stone and stumbling all over it. The same rock that Israel is stumbling over is the same rock that is saving the Gentiles. As Michael Bird says, “The root of Israel’s failure is Christological; their failure to believe in their own Messiah has caused their current misstep. As such Israel’s tragedy is that they have stumbled over the very source of their salvation and have taken offense at what could save them from shame.”
John Piper helps us understand a vital point that Paul is making.
"Here in Romans 9:30–10:10 Paul goes a long way to answering why Israel has rejected her Messiah, Jesus Christ. One explanation which he rejects decisively is that Christ and the law are at odds with each other. That is, he repudiates the notion that Jews rejected Jesus because they were faithful to the law, while Christ contradicted the law. The explanation Paul puts forward is that Israel had misunderstood and therefore misused the law so that when Christ, the goal and fulfillment of the law, arrived, they also misunderstood and misused him. Christ was rejected precisely because he stood for the true meaning of the law, not because he differed so much from it."
Paul uses the Old Testament as his foundation for his argument. First, he references Leviticus 18:5 in verse 5. “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” In context, Moses is talking about not living like the Egyptians or Canaanites but like the children of God. God’s law gave life both now and into the future. But humans are unable to fulfill the law. Sin always gets in the way. It gives the conditions for life but not the power to live. So, how then do we get the power to obey?
Paul answers this question by quoting Deuteronomy 30:11-14. “This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
The word very near to you is the gospel. Paul says as much in verses 8 and 9, immediately after quoting from Deuteronomy. “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." The righteousness needed for justification before God always came from God's gift of obedience, not from human ability to obey.
The problem was a misappropriation of the law. God never intended for the righteousness of his people to be obtained by pursuing the law but by pursuing God through the law. In other words, it’s not the obedience to the law that justified but the faith in the God who gives the law that justifies. Deuteronomy 30:6, just a few verses earlier, helps us see this truth. "The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." It has always been God’s gift of a new heart that has given us the ability to obey from the heart. The commandment is not too hard because God in grace has given the word we need in the person of Jesus Christ, sent down from heaven to live among us. Obedience is not too hard because even though Jesus is now back in heaven with the Father, he did not leave us as orphans. He has poured out the Holy Spirit to dwell within his people, granting the power to obey.
But because the Jews twisted the law from a pointer to God into a ladder to God, when Christ appeared, Israel stumbled over him because they had always stumbled over the law. Jesus was not stepping outside the law to overrule it but stepping inside of it to fulfill it. Now, Christ has both fulfilled the law and given his righteousness to his people. He has not ended the law in that it is terminated or removed or abolished but that he is the goal and climax of it. Jesus ended the law by filling up all the requirements of it on our behalf because of the love he has for us. The only thing remaining is to accept it.
There are basically two ways to live. The righteousness based on the law looks to obedience to God’s law for okayness. The righteousness based on faith looks to Christ and his obedience to God’s law for okayness.
We have two options: make it on our own or accept God's help. The answer, at this point, is obvious. But how exactly do we accept the offer of Jesus? Paul tells us in verse 9. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." To confess with your mouth is to publically identify with Jesus. To believe in your heart is to be fully convinced of the gospel. This is what it means to be a Christian: to identify with Christ and believe in his gospel—to accept the lordship of Christ and receive his grace. With the heart, we believe and are set right with God. With the mouth, we confess and are set free from the rule of sin.
For whom, then, is this message? Who can get in on this? Romans 9 shows us that, ultimately, this is God's decision. He chooses to whom he will show mercy. We cannot see inside his choice. He chooses people over every tribe, nation, and tongue. His mercy extends to all the earth. Therefore, Paul can say in verse 11 that "everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." This is not a new revelation. Paul is quoting the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 28:16) and applying it to his current audience comprised of Jew and Gentile. He circles back to a statement he made in 3:22, that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. All have fallen into sin, and all are saved by grace. The same Jesus is Lord of all. Everyone who calls on his name will be saved.
The gospel is an explosive message in every age. Writing this to Romans living under the strong hand of Emporer Nero, this statement is enough to condemn them to death. It was against the Roman law to proclaim another King other than Nero. But that’s what Jesus is. He’s a king—the King of kings—and he will not be removed from his throne.
That's better news when we consider that the greatest threat to our coming to God is not a Roman Empire but the Prideful Self. We are our own greatest enemy. How good it is then that we have a God who can overcome our own heart! Believing the gospel is more than just agreeing with the premise; it is being confident in God’s work, not in our work. This isn’t too hard for us because it’s God’s work for us given to us and worked within us.
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
The gospel is the most important message ever sent into the world. All it takes to have our sinful soul saved for eternity is to call upon Jesus. But how will people call on him if they have not believed? And how will they believe if they have not heard of him? And how will they hear of him if no one is sent to preach the gospel to them?
It is not that Israel did not hear the words of the gospel. They were privileged beyond all others. They experienced God in their midst. They were recipients of his covenantal promises. But none of that mattered because they now refused to believe in Jesus whom God has sent to fulfill those promises. They would rather cling to the law from Saini than bow to the Savior at the cross. Paul preaches to Jews as Isaiah once did, to a disobedient and contrary people. But Paul’s heart does not deaden. It still rages within and compels him to plead with his Jewish family to come to Christ.
The great need of our day, and of every day, is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We should never stop pressing the gospel outward and onward. But we also must recognize that there are many among us who have not heard the message of the gospel. There is a kind of hearing that Paul is talking about here. It's not merely intellectual ascent. Lots of people intellectually understand the gospel. Rather, Paul is talking about the kind of hearing that penetrates the heart. He's talking about obeying the gospel, as he says in verse 16. We often think of obedience only concerning the law, but the gospel is something to be obeyed as well. To obey the gospel, we must obey Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not leave his throne in heaven to take the form of a baby, endure a life of suffering in righteousness, be rejected by men, die upon a cross, rise from the grave, and ascend back to heaven to await his second coming so that we could look at his message and have a nice, warm feeling in our heart that we’re loved. We may have that nice, warm feeling. In fact, we should feel the gospel goodness. But if it is only that then we’ve not obeyed the gospel. You can feel loved without doing anything in response to that love. But that’s not a life change, and the gospel is a life-changing event.
Jesus gave up his glory to put on skin so that we could become more than long-distance loved ones. He accomplished his work to call us into righteousness. He finished his work to give us a new life. To obey the gospel is to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. It is to forsake all earthly treasures for the joy of gaining eternal riches in Christ. It is smashing the idols of our hearts to lift up the Lord of Life. It is mortifying the sin we love to savor the Savior. Hearing the gospel is nothing unless we obey the gospel. We must follow him. We must come to him. We must lay down all our righteousness and allow him to put his robe on our shoulders.