“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven? ” that is, to bring Christ down or, “Who will go down into the abyss? ” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: 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. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, Everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame, for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:5-13 HCSB)
My journey of faith began many, many years ago. I grew up in a small church in West Tulsa, Phoenix Avenue Baptist Church. I was not only enrolled in the “cradle class” for newborn babies, I was even attending for the nine months BEFORE I joined that first class. I remember that little white building next to the church that was the nursery and I even remember the women who cared for us. As I grew and changed classes, I continued to have many godly men and women, both young and old, who taught me about Jesus and demonstrated real, living faith. In addition to them, my parents and grandmother also demonstrated these things and taught them to us, at home. It wasn’t just something they said on Sunday while living a different lifestyle throughout the week. They lived out their faith each day.
While there are many in that little church who impacted my faith, it was probably my maternal grandmother and my own dad who influenced me the most. My grandmother was just a gentle, kind, and very loving person. She never had much, but she was always willing to share with anyone in need. As for my dad, he did not grow up around church and had never heard the gospel until after he married my mother and they moved to Tulsa following his medical discharge from the Navy. In that little church where I was born, he came to faith in Christ and began to learn what it means to follow Christ. He listened and learned well, and then taught it to his sons. I remember accompanying him to the Tulsa Rescue Mission where he would share Jesus with those men and we would help serve meals and talk to them. I saw real faith at work in the head, heart and the hands of the man I loved and respected the most.
While I certainly heard the Bible lessons being taught in the various classes and from the various people in our church, what I saw in the life of my grandmother and father made it “come alive” and the seed planted in all of those places began to take root and grow. One night as I prepared for bed, I asked my dad about “being saved,” as we often say in Baptist life, and he walked me through what it means to trust and follow Jesus and how to pray. While I don’t remember the specifics of that prayer, I do know that I wanted to follow Jesus and live for Him, just like my dad and my grandmother. In the years that followed, my faith would grow, become stagnate, and then grow, again. A cycle that would continue to repeat throughout my life. I suspect that is likely as true for you as it is for me. But the biggest challenge my faith would face would come from inside me, my own doubts. I’ll share with you how I overcame those, but first, let’s take a look at our focal passage…
Paul begins this section with a comparison between righteousness from the law and from faith. He quotes Leviticus 18:5, “righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them.” Obedience to the Law of God gives life. That’s pretty straightforward and simple… but impossible to achieve for those of us born under sin’s domination. But then Paul compares it with faith: “righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down (to us/mankind, the incarnation) or, “Who will do down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.” At first glance, this seems a bit confusing and the comparison, from our perspective, fails. But don’t give up on it, just yet.
If we go back to the original passage that Paul references (Deut. 30:11-14) and listen to Moses words, it begins to make sense. Moses words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30 are prophetic and allude to the promised Messiah. Moses starts by stating “when all these things happen to you – the blessings and the curses I have set before you – and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you…” So, Moses tells them that they will fail to be obedient to the commandments and God will judge them and drive them out of the land. As we’ve talked about before, while it only takes one sin to make you guilty as a sinner before God we aren’t guilty of just one sin. We’re guilty of many, many sins and countless failures to believe and obey His commandments. Our ability to obtain righteousness through full obedience to the law is now completely impossible. Period.
If righteousness from obedience to the law is not possible, then what are we to do? Deuteronomy 30 actually tells us, “this command that I give you today is certainly not too difficult or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven so that you have to ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven, get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?’ And it is not across the sea so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea (the abyss), get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?’ But the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it.”
Ok, so this gives us context for Paul’s quote but how does it clarify the comparison between righteousness by obedience and righteousness by faith? Paul obviously sees Messianic references and prophetic promises in Moses’ words. If we’re unable to achieve righteousness through obedience, who will go up to heaven and get it for us? Paul sees this as a reference to “bring Christ (or Messiah) down” or the incarnation. He also sees “who will cross the sea” or descend into the abyss as a reference to bringing Christ up from the dead or the resurrection. In other words, Christ descended from heaven with the “good news” of God’s love and mercy through His obedience to and fulfillment of the law and He rose up out of the abyss as He conquered death and defeated death’s threat and sin’s hold on us. There’s no need for anyone to do this for us because it has already been done (as Jesus said, it is finished, done, completed) and it is near us, in our mouth and in our heart.
Let that sink in, a bit. This command is not too difficult or beyond your reach. You don’t have to have someone ascend into heaven to bring it down for you or descend into death to bring you up out of it. That has already been done and it is “near you,” in your mouth and in your heart. Paul makes that clear, “This is the message of faith we proclaim: 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!” Notice how Paul’s comparison falls into place, Jesus came down from Heaven – if you confess with your mouth that He is LORD – and He rose from the grave (the abyss) – and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Now, some see Paul’s call to faith as simply two new things (or commands/laws to obey) that you must “do” to be saved – confess and believe. Well, sort of… but not really. This message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. It isn’t out of reach or beyond your ability. They aren’t really two separate things to do or believe, either. To confess is to believe and to believe is to confess. You can look at it this way, the heart is the seat of the human will and the mouth is the expression of it. When you believe in the accomplishment of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection then you will express your belief as the confession that Jesus is LORD or vice versa, when you confess that Jesus is LORD then you believe and trust in His redemptive work and resurrection.
This is clearly Paul using Hebrew parallelism so that the heart/mouth and believe/confess are essentially the same thing or two sides of the same coin. Belief and confession or heart and expression always, always go together. What you believe you act upon or do and what you do or how you act is an expression of what you believe. Yeah, you read that right. Go back and read it, again. A Christian cannot truly claim to be following Christ when he’s walking away from Him, headed off in the opposite direction. Now, don’t misunderstand. I know we all stumble and fall. We make mistakes. We sin because we’re human. I know all of that. Christ knows, too. And He calls us to confession, repentance and forgiveness.
“If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 HCSB)
Like the Pharisees, we often like to hide behind a veil of false righteousness. However, if our sin was public, our confession and repentance should be public, too.
“So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 HCSB)
Finally, many scholars believe that verses 9-10 are part of an early church confessional or creed. Specifically, the confession that “Jesus is LORD” is a key element in that confessional and may have been a part of the early Church’s baptism rite. Also, this confession or credal statement has huge implications for both Jew and Gentile.
First, the word LORD (kurios in Greek) is the term used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the name of God. So, when a new Jewish Christian confessed “Jesus is LORD” then he/she was confessing that He was more than just a rabbi, prophet or even the Messiah. He was stating that Jesus was the personal God of the Old Testament covenant and the one who gave and also fulfilled the Law. He was near, in their mouth and in their heart.
Next, when a Gentile confessed that “Jesus is LORD” then he was defying the culture of his day and standing in direct opposition to the common confessional, “Caesar is Lord.” He was rejecting the authority that Caesar and the Roman culture, by extension, held over his life. He was rejecting the false gods and idol worship that surrounded him and committed himself to worship and follow the One, True God through His Son, Jesus the Christ.
These were more than just empty words or a meaningless phrase, they were life. I want to challenge you to understand the weight of that confession and to carefully consider its implications for your life. It was a radical statement for both Jew and Gentile and we must approach it the same way. Faith is more than the words you repeat, the songs you sing, the Bible you carry or the things you say you believe. Faith is the confession that Jesus is LORD and trust or belief in His redemptive work, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. That confession and belief in Him is greater than your personal rights and desires. It calls you to a life of self-denial, sacrifice and faithful obedience. When you fail, go back and read that 1 John passage I cited, above, then get on your knees and confess your sin, repent and accept His forgiveness. If it was public sin then let your confession and repentance be just as public. Go to your brother, make it right.
I want to end by pointing out that the “knowledge” the Jews lacked (see last week’s notes and Romans 10:2) or the truth they had missed regarding God was Jesus, His Son. Paul said they had zeal without knowledge, but we’re often guilty of having knowledge without zeal. We’ve heard these things so often and Jesus has become such a standard part of our vocabulary and culture that we often fail to fully grasp the impact of the confession: Jesus is LORD! Like the Jews, we must be willing to recognize and surrender ourselves to the truth that He is more than just a great teacher or prophet of God, He IS God. He has every right to expect and demand that we follow Him, faithfully, and obey Him, fully. But as Lord, He also has every right to lead us in a way that is direct opposition to our culture and their expectations for life. That means that our highest aim must not be the “American dream” but to be “Salt and Light” in a dark and hostile world.
What comes out of our mouths and from our hands is an expression of our faith and should line up with what we say we believe, the TRUTH of God’s Word.
I told you that I would share with you how I overcame my doubts. So, here’s the rest of my story. My doubts began to build, perhaps like many of you, when I moved away from my parents. While I told you about my decision to follow Jesus, I can’t tell you the precise day or even the year that happened. I know my approximate age, but not the date. A former pastor (who I believe had good intentions) stated that if I couldn’t identify the date and time, then I must never have been saved. That thought plagued me throughout my teen years and into young adulthood. Finally, in a situation a bit like Jacob at Bethel, I had to wrestle with God through this doubt and find a resolution. I dove into prayer, meditation and scripture seeking an answer. After spending many hours searching scripture and seeking an answer through prayer, I had a life altering encounter with God’s Spirit. My faith is not based on what I’ve done, but is fully based on what Jesus DID. God didn’t save me because I was a good, Bible believing, God fearing, church attending person. He saved me because I was a wretched miserable sinner who couldn’t save himself and I believed in who Jesus was, what He did and I surrendered to His authority and Lordship. In other words, my salvation is NOT based on some date I could or could not name but it is based in the righteousness of Christ. Period. That settled the issue in my heart and in my head and I continue to rely and trust in the Person, love, forgiveness and grace of Christ. Do you?