It is important to remember that chapter 10 falls in a section where Paul is lamenting the fact that his Jewish kinsmen had mostly rejected the gospel. This is the topic of Romans 9, 10 & 11 (remember, Paul didn’t write the letter in chapters). It’s little surprise that Paul spends so much time on the lost condition of his kinsmen, since some were accusing Paul of being anti-Jew (see Acts 21.21). Paul’s proclamation of the gospel fueled this misunderstanding since the gospel declared that justification could only come through faith in Christ and not through the Law, circumcision and physical descent from Abraham. Paul was not antagonistic to the Jews, he sorrowed over their rejection of Christ (9.1-3), but the fact that they pursued a righteousness of works rather than the righteousness of faith meant that they had stumbled (9.30-33).
As always, the broader context is essential to understanding the points made in individual verses and passages. Chapter 9 dealt at length with God’s election, but it does not teach the individual / personal election professed by Calvin and others. Rather, just as Israel had been elected to serve God and bring about the Christ, now the elect are those who pursue the righteousness of faith. Context is key. Chapter 10 is best known for what Paul says about how one can be saved in vss. 9-11. Was Paul saying that sins are forgiven as soon as one believes something in his heart and professes Christ’s name? Many say that’s what these verses teach, but when the context is taken into account we will see that it’s not so simple.
How Israel Went Wrong (vss. 1-4)
- The opening verse of chapter 10 echoes the opening of chapter 9. There, Paul expressed his sorrow over Israel’s lost condition, here he said, “my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
- But, why was Israel lost? It wasn’t for a lack of zeal (vs. 2). They had zeal in abundance, but their zeal lacked knowledge… knowledge of Christ. As we will see, this knowledge was available, but it had not been accepted. Paul could sympathize with their plight as his earlier life could also be summed up as being zealous for God without knowledge (cf. Gal. 1.14; Phil. 3.4-6).
- Vss. 3-4 echo some of Paul’s points from chapter 9. Israel was a blessed nation, but it’s greatest blessing was how God used them to bring about the Christ (9.4-5). Christ “is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,” (10.4), but the Jews had failed to see this. They continued pursuing the righteousness of the Law. For them, the Law was the end of righteousness, not the means to the end: Christ. This is how they stumbled over Christ (9.32-33).
The Righteousness of Faith (vss. 5-13)
- Righteousness cannot be based on the Law (vs. 5). Paul referenced Moses’ statement in Lev. 18.5 that “if a person does them, he shall live by them.” Paul had already stated that “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2.13). The problem was that no one kept the Law! (see Romans 3.9-23).
- Righteousness is based on faith… faith in Christ! (vss. 6-8). In this section Paul made use of a quotation from Deut. 30.11-14. The point of the original quotation was that Israel had what they needed to be righteous; the Law was not hidden from them, it was theirs. They just needed to keep the Law. It’s appropriate that Paul used the quotation in reference to Christ, because true righteousness could only come through Him. They did not have to ascend to heaven to bring Christ down (He had already come!). They did not have to descend into the abyss to bring Christ up (He had already been raised!). No, the word of faith was near to them! They just needed to believe in Him…
- If they would believe in Christ and confess Him, they would be saved (vss. 9-13). Now we arrive at a passage that generates much controversy and discussion. Is salvation simply a matter of believing in the heart and uttering a confession? Again, consider the context. Paul had been lamenting the lost condition of his Jewish kinsmen. They were lost because they rejected Christ, namely Christ as their Lord. They could only be saved if they would believe in their hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead by God (proof of His Lordship, see Acts 2.32-36) and confess His Lordship with their mouths. The Jews weren’t stumbling over baptism, they were stumbling over the Lordship of Jesus! Put it another way, if they would acknowledge and submit to His Lordship, baptism wouldn’t be an issue… they would be baptized once they understood it was something that their Lord required of them. Paul had already made the case for baptism in Romans 6.1-11, to say that he rejected baptism in this passage is ludicrous.
Why Israel had not believed (vss. 14-21)
- They needed the word proclaimed to them (vss. 14-15). To have faith in Christ, one must hear of Christ. To hear of Christ, Christ must be preached. The message of Christ has been entrusted to men, i.e. preachers. (Not an official title, but anyone who would herald the message of Christ). Paul’s statement regarding their beautiful feet (quoting Isaiah 52.7) is interesting when the dangerous and difficult roads of his day are considered. Many went through great peril to proclaim the gospel (consider Paul’s persecutions in 2Cor. 11).
- They needed to heed the word (vss. 16-17). Faith does come by hearing, but for faith to be produced, the message must be heeded. The preacher can proclaim the message, but he cannot make the audience heed it!
- Israel had no excuse (vss. 18-21). They had heard the message, but they would not heed it. They could not blame anyone but themselves for their rejection. God was not responsible for their rejection, even though He knew it would occur as was revealed in the prophets (cf. Isaiah 65.1-2). The Jews’ rejection and the Gentiles’ acceptance is considered further in chapter 11.
A final note on the “5 steps of salvation”
“How can one be saved?” “He needs to hear, believe, repent, confess & be baptized!” We refer to this as the 5 Steps of Salvation. They aren’t called that in Scripture, but we’ve adopted that name since each is required for salvation in the NT. It’s not unBiblical to talk about the 5 Steps, but I don’t believe it’s the most Biblical way to describe man’s role in salvation. A weakness I see in the 5 Steps approach is the arguments that arise over passages such as Romans 10.9-10 and Ephesians 2.8-9. Those passages don’t mention repentance or baptism as necessary to salvation, so if the 5 Steps is what God said we must do to be saved, why aren’t all 5 found in every passage? This is why I think it better to describe how one is saved in the following way:
- Someone hears the Word (the message about Jesus and about His commands).
- They put their trust in Him (faith)
- Once they put their absolute trust in Him, they will do whatever He says they should do (including confessing His name, repenting of sins and being baptized to have those sins forgiven.
This approach emphasizes faith (because the NT emphasizes faith) while showing that everything God says we should do is part of our salvation.
Leave a Reply