Forum Class #11 November 23, 2003
Notes from Ray Stedman
HOW TO BE SAVED
I do not think there is any word in the Christian vocabulary that makes people feel more uncomfortable than the word "saved." People cringe when they hear it. Perhaps it conjures up visions of hot-eyed, zealous buttonholers -- usually with bad breath -- who walk up and grab you and say, "Brother, are you saved?" Or perhaps it raises visions of a tiny band of Christians at a street meeting in front of some saloon singing, "Give the winds a mighty voice, Jesus saves! Jesus saves!" Whatever the reason, I do know that people become bothered at this word.
I will never forget the startled look on the face of a man who came up to me in a movie theater. The seat beside me was vacant, and he said, "Is this seat saved?" I said, "No, but I am." He found a seat across the aisle. Somehow this word threatens all our religious complacency and angers the self-confident and the self-righteous alike.
And yet, when you turn to the Scriptures you find that this is an absolutely unavoidable word. Christians have to talk about men and women being saved because the fact is that men and women are lost. There is no escaping the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that the human race into which we are born is already a lost race. This is why the good news of John 3:16 is that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish -- not perish -- but have everlasting life," ( John 3:16).
We can never deal realistically with life until we face up to this fundamental fact: People are not waiting until they die to be lost -- they are already lost. It is the grace of God that reaches down and calls us out of that lostness and gives us an opportunity to come to Christ and be saved. Therefore saved is a perfectly legitimate word to use. It makes us uncomfortable only when we refuse to face the fact that men and women are lost. They are born into a perishing race in which their humanity is being put to improper uses and is gradually deteriorating and falling apart, and they are facing an eternity of separation from God. These are the facts as the Scriptures put it.
In Chapter 10 of Romans we find once again that the nation Israel is our model for understanding how God works. Paul is answering the question of why some who have little knowledge are saved while many who have much knowledge are not saved. Part of his answer was given in the 9th chapter, in which he explained that behind this strange mystery is the elective, sovereign choice of God. God chooses to call men to him -- but not all men. Paul has dealt at length with that subject in the 9th chapter. But now he turns to the other side. Now we are confronted with the fact of human responsibility. It is true that God draws men to him: it is also true that no one will come unless they respond to the appeal of God.
Now, to us, this is an apparent contradiction. That is why we call it a paradox, a seeming contradiction. We cannot resolve it because at this point we do not have enough knowledge. Chapter 9 has helped us greatly with that. We do not understand even a fraction of how God works, therefore, human knowledge is too limited to resolve this apparent conflict. But both sides are true. God calls men by an elective decree that is irresistible, and yet they must respond by a choice of their will, which they are free to make or not, as it pleases them. Let's see how Paul introduces this other side of the picture and brings before us Israel's responsibility.
Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they disregarded the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (Rom 10:1-3 NIV)
Probably the most outstanding thing about this paragraph is that despite Paul's profound conviction that God saves whomever he will by an irresistible, elective choice, nevertheless this does not stop Paul from praying and yearning over his kinsmen according to the flesh, the nation Israel. You see, prayer is not inconsistent with God's call. It is never right for us to say, "If God calls, there is nothing we can do about it. We might as well sit down, fold our hands, and do nothing." That response fails to see that the way God calls is through the preaching of the Word and the praying of Christians, the yearning of their hearts over those who are not yet saved. Therefore, that is part of God's program, and Paul exemplifies this beautifully for us here. We need to see the importance that prayer has in reaching people. Paul prayed for men. He writes in First Timothy 2:1-3, 8:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-3 NIV)
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim 2:8 NIV)
Prayer is a great factor in that call. C.S. Lewis has said some very helpful things in this regard. Speaking of prayer, he says,
When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation, the thought will often cross our minds that, if we only knew it, the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided. In a sense, it was decided before all the worlds. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really causes it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering.
Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten o'clock. There is no question whether an event has happened because of your prayer. When the event you prayed for occurs, your prayer has always contributed to it. When the opposite event occurs, your prayer has never been ignored; it has been considered and refused for your ultimate good and the good of the whole universe.
That is, even our prayers after an event affect the event. Now that is strange to us, but I think it is true. We are up against a great mystery in the matter of prayer. Those are deep matters, but perhaps that will help us. At least it is clear that Paul does not hesitate to pray, even though he knows God chooses whom he will. The second emphasis in this paragraph is the zeal that Paul notes about Israel. "I bear testimony that Israel is zealous for God." And indeed they are. Perhaps the most noteworthy difference between an orthodox Jew and the average Gentile is right there. Jews take God seriously. Any of you who have seen Fiddler On The Roof or have read any of the writings of Chaim Potok, or other contemporary Jewish authors, know how true this is. The Jewish way of life is built around God. God is the most important element in all their thinking. They sacrifice anything and everything to the centrality of God in their national and community life. This is in stark contrast to the average Gentile. Gentiles have religious feelings -- all men do. Gentiles think of God, but God is out of the periphery of Gentile life. I think we all demonstrate this. We are more casual about God. He isn't the center of life, as he is in Jewish thought and action. Paul takes note of this fact. It was true then; it is true today.
A Gallup poll taken recently discovered that 43% of Americans -- largely Gentiles -- said that their religious feelings really were of very little significance in their lives. And yet the thing that amazed Paul, and amazes us today, is that the casual Gentile, who is not necessarily looking for God, nevertheless finds him. At our Thanksgiving service we had two testimonies by people of Gentile background who found God suddenly intruding into their lives when they didn't expect him. They found peace and rest and joy even when they weren't looking for it.
And yet the Jew, with all his zeal, with his consummate desire to discover and to know God, fails to find peace and forgiveness and is not reborn into joy and love. Paul tells us why this is so. The reason is that the Jews sought to establish their own righteousness, and therefore they missed the gift of God, which is the righteousness of Christ, obtained without works. This is the reason why anyone, Jew or Gentile, who seeks to try to establish his own righteousness, is going to be in the same boat. This was the problem with the Jews. They were constantly trying their best to obey the Law of Moses. They were failing to do so, of course, but they were not willing to admit that they failed. Thus they kept hoping and seeking and believing that God was going to accept them, even though they did not obey the Law. Now, there are many people like that today, both Jew and Gentile That is the Jewish view of how to be right before God -- simply keep trying until it becomes easier and easier, and finally you stand righteous before God. Paul says that is the problem. Anyone who seeks to come before God on that basis is doomed to failure. They cannot obey the Law. Paul goes on to show us why they can't and to reveal to us that the issue is always Jesus. Listen to his words:
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom 10:4 NIV)
If your version, as mine, says "the law," I suggest you take a pencil and cross out the word the. It is not "the law," as though it affected only the Mosaic Law, it is law. Christ is the end of law -- any kind of law -- so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Of course this doesn't mean that Christ does away with law. He does away with law as far as bringing you to God is concerned; he makes a total end of it. And, as we have seen in this letter, the reason is clear. What was the purpose of law? Why, to make us aware of the fact that there is something wrong with us. If you don't have a standard to try to live up to, you have no idea that there is anything wrong with you. You think everything you do is natural, and therefore right. You hear this argument all the time today. Anything that is natural is right. That is because more and more today the Law is being set aside.
Now, the Law was given to make us realize that there are things that are wrong, that are destroying us. All the injury and death and darkness that come into our lives come because of the things that we are doing, the attitudes we have. We are producing the problem. We think it comes from everyone else, but law helps us to see that we are what is wrong. But once it has shown us that, what good is it? It can do no more. At that point, unless we come to Christ, there is no way out. The Law cannot cure our evil; it can only show it to us. At that point, the Law becomes our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, as Paul puts it in Galatians 3:24. That is the end of the Law, that is its purpose. It has been fulfilled when it does that work and brings you to Jesus Christ. He can change you. He can give you new life. He can wipe out the old pattern of failures and all the hurt and agony and anguish that you have been going through and give you a wholly new heart. Therefore Christ is the end of law, that there may be righteousness to everyone who believes in him. Now, Paul, in his logical way, is very careful to show us how this works. He quotes Moses to prove what the Law is for (Verse 5):
Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things [the righteousness that is by the law] will live by them." (Rom 10:5 NIV)
Moses said that in Leviticus: "Here is the Law, the Ten Commandments. Anybody who does these things will live," (cf, Lev 18:5). That is, God will bless him, fulfill his humanity, make him to enjoy all that God had for man in the beginning. It will all come if a man will simply obey these ten rules. You know, when you read the Ten Commandments, they always seem so reasonable, they seem like such an easy thing to obey. This is the way people have always reacted to them. You say to yourself, "Why, this is not difficult. I can do that easily. All I have to do is just decide to do it, that's all!" But when you actually start to do it, you soon discover that there is a rebelliousness inside that sooner or later stops you from doing what you want to do. We have seen this all through Romans. Therefore, the Law reveals the evil that is in your life. Moses said the Law was given to make people try to live this way. He said that he who did these things would live. Now Paul goes on to quote Moses again. He doesn't say that Moses said the next part, but he did. He sets the faith-way to God right next to the law-way (Verse 6):
But the righteousness that is by faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down), or "'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). [The comments in parenthesis are Paul's.] But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart"; that is the word of faith that we are proclaiming. (Rom 10:6-8 NIV)
It may startle you to realize that Paul is saying here that Moses taught salvation by grace through faith just as much as Paul did. Moses knew that the Law would not work. Why, even as Moses was bringing it down from the mountaintop, the people at the bottom of the mountain had broken all ten of the commandments before they were given to them. Moses knew that the people could not keep them, and therefore Moses also taught that God had provided another way by which people could be delivered when they failed to keep the Law. He saw clearly that God would lay the foundation for salvation in the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus. That is why Paul quotes these words from Deuteronomy. Moses saw the coming of Christ down from heaven; he saw the resurrection, the raising of Jesus from the dead. Paul clearly indicates that all along God had this basis in mind for how people were to come to Christ.
Therefore, when the angels sang the song to the shepherds in the darkness of the night on the plains of Bethlehem, and the glory of the Lord broke out upon those humble shepherds out there in the fields and the angel said to them, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all men; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord" (cf, Luke 2:10-11), this was the historic fulfillment of the basis on which God had been saving people for centuries before this. Now it is being worked out in history -- but God had been saving people who saw beyond the Law to the work of Christ long before that.
And when the angels, in the brightness of the Easter sunrise, said to the woman at the tomb of Jesus, "Go and tell his disciples that he is risen, as he said" (cf, Matt 28:6-7), that was the culmination of God's program to work out human redemption quite apart from any effort on man's part. Jesus had done it all. That is why Paul points out here that Moses understood that the way to lay hold of and personally appropriate the value of these incredible events was by believing the divine announcement with the whole man, with your whole being. That is why he adds,
But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart"; that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: (Rom 10:8 NIV)
The mouth is the outward man, the intellectual understanding of what has happened, expressed in words; the heart is the inner man, the will, the spirit deep within us understanding the basis on which God saves. And lest anyone miss it, Paul goes on with these clear words, Verse 9:
That 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Rom 10:10-11 NIV)
Now I don't think it could be put any clearer than that. That is the clearest statement in the Word of God on how to be saved. It is very simple, isn't it? Paul makes it very simple. He says that it begins with the confession of the mouth that "Jesus is Lord." Now, don't twist those words to mean that you have to stand up in public somewhere and announce that you believe Jesus is Lord before you are saved. Paul does not mean it that way, although it does not exclude that. He means that the mouth is the symbol of the conscious acknowledgment to ourselves of what we believe. It means that we have come to the place where we recognize that Jesus has the right to lordship in our lives. Up to this point we have been lord of our lives. Up to this point we have run our own affairs. We have decided we have the right to make our own decisions according to what we want. But there comes a time, as God's Spirit works in us, and we see the reality of life as God has made it to be, that we realize Jesus is Lord: He is Lord of our past, to forgive us our sins; He is Lord of our present, to dwell within us, and to guide and direct and control every area of our life; He is Lord of our future, to lead us into glory at last; He is Lord of life, Lord of death, he is Lord over all things. As Jesus himself said after his resurrection, "All power is given unto me, in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18 KJV) -- all power! He is in control of history. He is running all human events. He stands at the end of every path on which men go, and he is the ultimate one we all must reckon with. That is why Peter says in Acts 4:12:
"Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NIV)
You cannot read the book of Acts without recognizing that the basic creed of the early Christians was: "Jesus is Lord." These are days when you hear a lot about mantras, words that you are supposed to repeat when you meditate. I suggest you adopt this as a mantra: Jesus is Lord. Say it again and again, wherever you are, to remind yourself of this great truth. When Peter stood up to speak on the day of Pentecost, this was his theme, "Jesus is Lord." And all the thousands of Jews listening to him could not deny what he pointed out -- that Jesus had lived a unique life, had been witnessed to by the prophets before him, had been raised from the dead in a most astonishing way, had died a most remarkable death, then had poured out supernatural signs from heaven, evidences they could not deny, and they had to recognize the fact above all facts, that Jesus was Lord -- whether they liked it or not. Therefore, the great question of all time is "What are you going to do with Jesus?"
Paul tells us here that Jesus is Lord, and if you have come to the place where you believe in your heart that he is risen and available, and you are ready to say to yourself, "Jesus is my Lord," then God acts. At that moment God does something. No man can do it, but God can. He begins to bring about all that is wrapped up in this word saved: Your sins will be forgiven. God imparts to you a standing of righteous worth in his sight; He loves you; He gives you the Holy Spirit to live within you; He makes you a son in his family; He gives you an inheritance for eternity. You are joined to the body of Christ as members of the family of God; you are given Jesus himself to live within you, to be your power over evil -- over the world, the flesh, and the devil -- and you will live a life entirely different than you lived before. That is what happens when you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.
I think it is very helpful to see that nowhere in all the Scriptures are men ever asked to believe in Jesus as Savior. They are asked to believe in him as Lord. When you believe in him as Lord, he becomes your Savior. But you don't accept Christ as a Savior -- you accept him as Lord, as the one who is in charge of all things, including you. When you come to that point, when you respond with the whole man, then God says the work of redemption is done. The miracle occurs.
"Well," someone says, "what if I'm not elect? What if all the time I've been wanting God and seeking God, and then it turns out I'm not chosen?" Anyone who talks that way -- and people do talk that way -- are indicating they have never understood what Paul is saying here. You see, if you believe in Christ, you have given proof that you are elect. As Jesus himself put it, "No man can come to me except my Father draw him," (John 6:44). You can't believe in God until God has called you and drawn you. The very desire to believe is part of that drawing, therefore we needn't struggle over this apparent conflict.
What Scripture everywhere confronts us with is the necessity for every individual to settle the question, "Is Jesus Lord of your life? Is he your Lord? Have you enthroned him and acknowledged him where God has placed him, as king over all the earth, the Lord of glory, the one who is in charge of all things?" When you do, that is the moment when redemption begins to occur. Now, see how Paul confirms this in the verses that follow (Verses 11-13):
As the Scripture says, "He who believes in him will not be put to shame." [Here Paul quotes Isaiah. It is not on the basis of works, but on the basis of belief -- he who accepts what Christ does, who believes on him, will not be put to shame.] For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile -- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." [That is the word of Joel the prophet.] (Rom 10:11-13 NIV)
These verses indicate that this is not something new with Paul, but it is something all the Scriptures have taught, both Old and New Testaments alike -- that faith is the way by which we lay hold of what God has to give us. It is never gained by earning it, or by trying to be good, or by the good outweighing the bad, but simply by acknowledging that Jesus Christ has done it all on our behalf.
Probably some of you here this morning have been coming to this church for weeks, and even years, and yet you have never come to the place where you have acknowledged Jesus as your Lord. You have been religious, but you are not saved, you have not been redeemed and changed. I am asking any who have never settled this, to say to the Lord, "Jesus, you are Lord, I accept you and receive you as my Lord because I believe you rose from the dead and you are available to me right now." That is the basis on which God says he will act.
"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." That is the way it happens.
HAVE THEY NOT HEARD?
This [next] section of Romans 10 brings before us the answer to the most frequently asked questions we hear, especially from non-Christians. That question is, "What happens to all the people who never hear about Jesus?" That question in phrased in a variety of forms, but basically it is the expressed concern of many -- especially when they hear Christians talking about the uniqueness of Jesus. When we say, as Paul so strongly says in this passage, that Jesus is Lord and it is only through him that men come to God, immediately it raises the question, "Well, what about those who never hear of Jesus?" We are going to come to the answer to that in Verses 14-21 of Romans 10. In the first part of Chapter 10, the apostle said that in order for any individual person to be salvaged from the wreck of humanity, he must call upon the name of the Lord. Notice how Paul quotes the prophet Joel in Verse 13:
...everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; (Joel 2:32a NIV)
Well, how do you do that? How do you call on the name of the Lord? I'm glad you asked that question. It gives me another opportunity to preach a message on it. Paul goes on in Verse 14 to outline the steps that lie behind this essential to salvation -- calling on the name of the Lord.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom 10:14-15 NIV)
Now, there are five steps involved in calling on the name of the Lord. Paul begins with that final step, the call itself. He traces it back for us so we can see what is involved in bringing people to the place where they cry out to God in a sense of need and desperation and are saved, born again, changed, regenerated, made alive in Jesus Christ. Paul begins by stressing the fact that each person individually must call on God. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." The important thing, therefore, is to bring people to that place.
As we have already seen, in the first part of this chapter, this is not just a routine matter. It involves the whole being. The heart must be involved, that is, the inner consciousness, the deep conviction of the will. Then the mouth must acknowledge it. There must be a willingness to consciously confess that Jesus is Lord, and this must be done before God and others as well, to evidence a deep-settled conviction that Jesus is Lord. This means, of course, that God does not hand out salvation like some free coupon that comes in the mail; it is yours whether you like it or not. There has to be this individual, personal conviction. It is not enough to come and sit under the hearing of the gospel. Some people think that if they go to church regularly and hear the gospel they will be saved. No, there has to be a time when you personally call on the name of the Lord. I want to stress that, as the Apostle Paul does here. But behind the call is belief. Paul says, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?" So there has to be belief. That means the mind has to be engaged -- the intellect is called into play. I think this is important because so many times today we think it is enough to get the emotions stirred up. I have been in many evangelistic services where people were stirred emotionally but they did not understand anything about what God had done. They had nothing to believe in; they were just stirred up to want something.
Years ago there was a great evangelist named Gypsy Smith. He was born a gypsy in England and came to Christ as a boy. Gypsy Smith used to preach up and down this country. I remember Dr. H. A. Ironside saying that Gypsy Smith came to Moody Church on one occasion and held meetings and told about his conversion and about his gypsy life. The people would sit, entranced with these wonderful stories he told. At the end of the meeting he would give an altar call, and people would surge forward in great numbers. Dr. Ironside said he used to wonder what they were coming for. Did they want to be gypsies, or what? They had really been given nothing in which to believe. I so well recall Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, my great teacher at Dallas Seminary, saying to us in class, "Men, remember, you have never preached the gospel until you have given people something to believe, something God has done that their minds can grasp, something they can use as a basis for understanding what God has offered to them -- their salvation." Behind the belief, Paul says, is a message -- something heard. "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" Something has to be preached. Some message must come. Again, this is a very important aspect of Christian faith. These days we are hearing much of the 'isms' and 'asms' and spasms that are coming into being, new cults that are springing up on every side, dominating the religious field. Often they make their appeal to some mystical feeling or philosophy, some idea that men have of what could work. But it is not grounded in any historic entity.
Now, the glory of Christianity is that it has a message that is grounded in history. It is objective truth, not just something that happens inside of you. It is not some feeling that you are following that you hope will work out; it is the story of historic events. One of these events is the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger of Bethlehem, the coming of the wise men from the east and the uproar and unrest that it caused in the kingdom of Judea, beginning with Herod the king himself. That is all part of history. Then there was the resurrection and the events that followed in the church. These are all historic events -- objective truth. The great thing of the Christian faith is not that we are presenting some philosophy, but a faith that is grounded in events that cannot be explained away. That is our message. Behind the message, of course, is the messenger. "How can they hear without someone preaching to them?" There has to be a messenger speaking forth this message. This is why I believe God has always used some object or person to convey truth and that this method will never be superseded. All the marvelous machinery and inventions that we have today -- the media of communication -- are only ways of conveying the preaching of the Word of God. You can preach today on television, on radio, on cassette tapes, and on video tapes. You can have the message flung up to satellites and back to the four corners of the earth. But in every event, someone has to deliver the message. God has chosen preaching as his means of conveying this great truth in every generation.
That is why I don't believe that the distribution of the Scriptures alone will ever be sufficient to win men. Now, I do not demean that ministry, because it is a very important one. The translating of the Word of God and the spreading of the Scriptures all over the earth are important. But they are only supplementary. That, alone, will never reach and change nations as does the gospel when proclaimed by a human messenger. God has sent men out everywhere, therefore, to preach this word and to proclaim the truth. And behind the messenger, as Paul brings out, is the sender. "How can they preach unless they are sent?" I don't think there need be any doubt as to who does the sending. Jesus himself said, "Pray the Lord of the harvest, that he may send forth laborers," (cf, Mark 9:38, Luke 10:2). It is God who sends men. The great initiative in the process of redeeming men and women, healing them and restoring them, healing the fragmentation of their lives, is the great heart of God that sends men out. He calls out men and women and sends them into the far reaches of the earth.
I think that Paul has brought all this before us in order that we might understand what a wonderful and beautiful thing this is that God has done. That is why Paul quotes Isaiah here: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (cf, Isa 52:7). What a welcome and beautiful thing it is to think of God sending out men and women all over the earth with this message. What a marvelous thing it is when this message takes root in the human heart! We never forget the ones who bring it to us. I am sure that many of you can think of people who came to you with the message of Christ, and they are dear to you because of that. "How beautiful are the feet" ... feet are not usually the most beautiful part of the body, but even they become beautiful when the message is conveyed and God delivers and frees and heals us and makes us whole.
I have often thought it is like turning on a light switch. You flick the switch on the wall and the lights go on. It seems like such a simple thing. Yet behind it is a very complicated process. There are the transmission towers, the substations, the dam that was built to hold back the water, the poles on which the wires are strung -- a tremendous complexity lies behind the simple act of turning on a light switch. Every time you do it, power surges forth -- and it comes only because that complicated process has been gone through.
Every time an individual comes to the place where in quietness he calls out to the Lord, a tremendous process is behind it. There is the darkness and anguish of the mystery of the cross, the birth at Bethlehem, the wonder and miracle of the resurrection, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost -- all this is the process behind a single individual when he calls on the name of the Lord. God is behind it, he has started it. The apostle wants us to understand this activity of the sovereign character of God. But what if all this is provided, but still men do not respond? That is the problem Paul is facing here, with regard to Israel, Verses 16-17:
But not all the Israelites responded to the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:16-17 NIV)
Paul is telling us here that a strange reaction occurs when people hear this message. It is what we might call the puzzle of unbelief. Isn't it strange how some people seem to be so suspicious, so self-dependent, that even when good news comes, they don't want to receive it? This is the reaction that preachers and other who tell the good news run into all the time. ..This is what is universally discovered by those who bring the good news of the gospel. Even the prophet Isaiah discovered this when he came to the people of Israel at a time in their history when they were surrounded by enemies. They were about to be overrun by the nations around them, they had turned to the idols of the nations about them, degrading practices had come into the national life, and peace and joy had fled from the land. Isaiah the prophet, in the dark days, 725 years before Christ was born, came and preached to this people good news about one who was coming. And on the basis of this person's life and death, God would work on their behalf. He had to confess, as Paul brings out here, that they would not believe his message. The great and luminous 53rd chapter of Isaiah begins with those words:
Lord, who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before them like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (cf, Isaiah 53:1-6 RSV)
Yet the nation of Israel said "No!" to that tremendous revelation of Isaiah the prophet -- at least, most of the Israelites did. Now Paul isolates the difficulty for us in Verse 17: "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." This, by the way, is a more accurate translation than the Authorized Version, which says, "and hearing comes by the word of God." It is really "the word of Christ." Paul says that faith is aroused by hearing. If you hear a message, then you either have to believe it or disbelieve it. Your faith is aroused by the message. But if it is to be saving faith, he says, it must be a word about Christ. Once again, Paul sets Jesus right at the center of the universe. He is the very issue of life. Even back in ancient Israel, when they heard the news about Jesus, it precipitated the puzzle of unbelief. People refused it, and that word "refused" brings the whole project of God's enterprise to reach men to a point of failure. ..This is the position that Jews still take today regarding Christ. Paul says that is the issue. Well, someone says to me, "The trouble is that the Jews never really heard the gospel. Maybe the problem is that it never reached them!" This brings up the question about what to do about those who never hear. Paul takes this up in Verse 18:
But I ask, did they not hear? [His answer,] Of course they did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." (Rom 10:18 NIV)
If you have read the 19th Psalm recently, you know that this is the great Psalm that details nature's witness to God. It begins with the words,
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4a RSV)
There has been a universal proclamation of the gospel through nature. Now, this is not a lot of light about God, but it is light. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul mentioned that very thing (Chapter 1, Verses 19-20):
...what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20 NIV)
The answer to the question "What about those who have never heard about God?" is: "There aren't any people who have never heard about God." Everywhere men and women know something about God. He is revealed in nature. There is a universal proclamation that has gone out. And if it is observed, if it is noticed and followed, more light will be given. This is why Hebrews 11, that great chapter on faith, gives us the simplest declaration of how men come to God (Verse 6):
...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb 11:6 NIV)
First, there must be belief, or faith. Then you must believe that God is, and, then, that he rewards men who diligently seek him. So all men everywhere are responsible to seek the God who is revealed in nature. Now, they may have no more light than that. But, if they, are obedient to it, that is enough to bring them through gradually dawning light to the knowledge of Christ. God will see to it that they have further light. And Israel had that proclamation. No matter how low they sank in their understanding, no matter how dark it became in the land, they at least had that universal proclamation of truth that would have brought them back to truth and to God.
But that isn't all. There is another stage of the revelation of God. God, in his grace often gives more light even when people refuse the light of nature. No one deserves more light, but God gives it nevertheless. I think the United States of America, above all nations, ought to be grateful for the grace of God that has poured light out upon us when we did not deserve it anymore than anyone else. God has given us much light. But we must remember that more light does not necessarily mean more belief.
To turn up the light brighter does not mean that people are going to believe more than when it was dim. Unbelief can reject bright light as well as dim light, so more light does not necessarily mean more belief. That is why this nation, with this great and shining light pouring so brilliantly upon it, is still a nation filled with unbelievers. God sends men (Verses 19-20):
Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by means of those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." Then Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." (Rom 10:19-20 NIV)
God sent the prophets to Israel. He sent Moses and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and all the other prophets in the Old Testament. Through many years and centuries he sent them to this people -- and he did it in order to arouse them to jealousy through the fact that although they often rejected the prophets, the nations around would believe. This would be true more fully in the day when the Gentile nations would suddenly turn to God in large numbers while the Jews remained obdurate in their unbelief. This, of course, is exactly what has happened in history. Paul singles out the specific principle here that God uses to arouse belief, even when people tend to reject truth -- jealousy.
I was watching my grandson play with his cousins the other day. He was playing with a certain toy, then he got tired of it and threw it away. One of his cousins picked it up and started playing with it, and immediately the little boy ran over and grabbed the toy away. "No, that's mine!" he said. He wanted to play with it only because he was made jealous by someone else having it. You see, God understands this principle in fallen human nature. He even uses it at times to make people wake up. This is why God pours out blessings upon an individual or a family, with one member of the family receiving spiritual insight. He does it in order to make the others jealous so they will listen to him. This is why God will pour out blessings upon one nation in order to make other nations jealous. "What is the secret of your blessing?" they will ask. Thus they might hear the witness about God.
If you understand some of these things, you will be able to read your newspapers differently than you ordinarily do. What is God doing in the human events of our day? We see them as simply a conflict of warring factions of humanity. But God is using these events to arouse people to jealousy. Paul gives two instances of this:
First, he points out that Moses said that God would use a people far less intelligent than the Jews. One of the striking things about Jewish history is the brilliance of the Jews. It would be impossible to list the many Jewish leaders in the fields of science, philosophy, literature, art, and music in our day. They dominate the field. Over 12 per cent of the Nobel Prize winners have been Jewish. And yet, these brilliant people, with their tremendous minds, are often confronted with people, savages in the jungles, untaught, dark and clouded in their thinking, who find God and become Christians and are delivered and given blessings, hope, peace, and even prosperity. God is doing this only to arouse his people and awaken them.
Then Isaiah came along. Not only will God use those who are less intelligent, he says, but God will use people who are less motivated: "I was found by those who did not seek me: I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." Another characteristics of the Jew has been his zeal for God. Paul has talked about that already. Jews seem to be haunted by God, driven by a fanatical loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet, despite all that, careless Gentiles, who are not even thinking about God very often, through Christ, learn to revel in the grace and love and blessing of the living God. This is to arouse the Jews to jealousy. God uses this principle with Gentiles too. That is why people watch Christians. There is blessing there that the Gentiles can't understand. God is trying to use it to awaken them to listen, that they might be saved, to turn and settle the issue at the feet of Jesus. There is a final stage of divine pursuit that is described in Verse 21:
But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." (Rom 10:21 NIV)
What a beautiful picture of the character of God. Here is his patience -- all day long! That day has stretched now for almost four thousand years of human history. Four thousand years ago, Abraham set out. Four thousand years later, God is still holding out his hands to this stubborn people, wanting to draw them to himself. He is not only patient, but loving. He held out his hands. This is the stance of God toward those who resist his will -- with wide open arms, all day long he is waiting to draw them back.
Remember how Jesus put it to the Pharisees of his day? "You will not come unto me that you may have life," (cf, John 5:40 KJV). And looking over the city of Jerusalem, he wept as he saw the stubbornness of this people. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered you under my wings, as a hen gathers her chickens, but you would not," (cf, Matt 23:37, Luke 13:34). With those sorrowful words, he comments on the stubbornness and the pride of people who will not admit their need. This is being repeated again and again throughout the world today. God longs to draw men to himself. He must somehow arouse faith in the individual. In order to do so, he sent messengers with a tremendous message, and still there is resistance to the will and purpose of God.
So the chapter closes with this picture of God standing with his arms open, longing to draw men to himself, admitting that the problem is a disobedient and obstinate people. I think the most amazing thing from this account is to realize that in order to perish, i.e., in order to go to hell, you must resist the pleas of a loving God. God never damns anyone to hell without a chance. Don't ever let anybody tell you the Bible teaches that. It does not teach any such thing. It teaches us that no one, no one, will end up separated from God who has not personally resisted the claim and appeal of a loving God who sought to reach him. The historic fulfillment of God's longing to draw men to himself began at Bethlehem, in the very event that we celebrate this Christmas season. If there are any here who have never settled this with God, I urge you, in the name of the Lord, not to resist his plea any longer, but to open your heart to him that you might be healed by the word of Jesus. (From Ray Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/)
Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (Romans 10:3)
Most people today are impatient with precise definitions, especially theological definitions or definitions of biblical words, which do not mean much to them in any case. I have had people tell me, "I tune out whenever you start talking about words." This is because they are impatient with precision about almost anything.
Yet some things require precision.
You cannot send a satellite into orbit, wire a house, diagnose an illness, prepare an accurate financial balance sheet, nor do hundreds of other important things without being precise. In the same way, you cannot make much progress in learning about God without precision, since God is himself precise and is the source of all precision. One of the words we have to be precise about is "righteousness," which Paul uses twice in Romans 10:3 and many times more in the verses that come immediately before and after it. This is because, as one writer says, "the issues of life and death, of time and eternity, hang upon a proper understanding of the righteousness of God and our relationship to it."
We have difficulty with this, however, and the biggest difficulty is that our ideas of righteousness are completely different from God's idea of righteousness. This is what Romans 10:3 is saying, of course. It is saying that there are two kinds of righteousness, ours and God's, and that the basic spiritual failure of human beings is that they are so pleased with their own righteousness that they will not have the righteousness of God, which they need if they are to be saved from sin.
The opening word of the text is "since." It introduces the reason for the charge made in the preceding verse, namely, that the zeal of Paul's countrymen was "not based on knowledge." It was a zeal that was ignorant of the precise, accurate meaning of this word.
"Righteousness" in Romans: It would be a fair statement to say that one cannot understand the Bible without understanding what it has to say about righteousness. To be sure, there are books of the Bible that do not use that word. But the pivotal books do, and Romans in particular uses the word a great deal. "Righteousness" is found thirty-three times in Romans, as compared with seven times each in Matthew and 2 Corinthians, which are the books using it most frequently except for Romans. The word occurs eight times alone in Romans 9:30 through 10:6. The longer phrase, "the righteousness of God, " is found eight times, one of these also being in our text.
Righteousness is prominent in the Old Testament, too, being linked with the name of God hundreds of times. In a valuable note on "the righteousness of God" in his Romans commentary, the Australian scholar Leon Morris points out how with us righteousness is an ethical virtue, but that with the ancient Hebrews righteousness was first and foremost a legal standing. God is righteous, so righteousness in man is that which enables us to stand before him: "The man who is ultimately righteous is the one who is acquitted when tried at the bar of God's justice."
Yet here is the problem. God is the only righteous one. We are not righteous. So who is able to stand before God or be acquitted in his court? The answer is: No one, unless God provides his own righteousness for us as a free gift.
This is what Paul has been explaining in Romans and will continue
to explain in this important tenth chapter.
Our Righteousness and God's: A few paragraphs ago I wrote that it is hard for us to understand the meaning of righteousness, because our ideas of it are so completely different from God's. But one thing we should be able to understand clearly is the meaning of our text when it distinguishes sharply between our righteousness (human righteousness) and God's. It is saying that although we use the same word when we are talking about God's righteousness and our righteousness, we are actually speaking about two entirely different things.
God's righteousness is his very nature, for God is righteous, just as God is love. It is associated with his holiness and is perhaps better discussed as that word. Holiness is what sets God apart. It is what makes him utterly unlike us. Human righteousness is merely a social quality achieved by the avoidance of certain gross forms of depravity and the contrary accumulation of outwardly good deeds. It is what enables people to live with each other in partial peace, when each person actually wants everything in life, as well as all other persons, to focus on himself.
Because they are two different things, the accumulation of human righteousness through avoiding evil and performing good deeds can never add up to the true, divine righteousness that God requires of us if we are to be saved from sin and have fellowship with himself.
Let me give a few illustrations.
When I was thinking about this theme during the week I was preparing this material, I remembered when I was in college and my roommate and I were talking. He was a music major. He had been playing a violin concerto on the stereo, and I was humming along, making a noise to mimic the violin. He found my noise offensive and asked whether that was really the way a violin sounded to me. It was a put-down. I told him I was doing the best I could and asked him to make a noise like he thought a violin should sound. I am not competent to judge whether his noise was more like a violin than my noise. I suppose, because he was the music major, that his noise was closer, though I don't know that for sure. But one thing I do know: No sound that either of us made was anything like a real violin. Our noise and the sound of a violin are in two entirely different categories and will remain so.
Here is an illustration I have used before. I have imagined a situation in which a platoon of American soldiers is captured by soldiers from the north during the Vietnam War and put in a prisoner-of-war camp. The American soldiers have no money and have to barter for whatever one soldier has and another soldier wants, which is a not very satisfactory arrangement. But one day a CARE package arrives, and in it is a game of Monopoly. The soldiers are delighted, not because of the game but because of the money. They divide it up, each man getting an equal number of white, pink, green, blue, beige, and gold bills (except for the sergeant, who gets an extra $500). Now, whenever one soldier has an extra cigarette and a second soldier wants it, the first can sell it to him for $100, or whatever. The money is very useful.
In any group of Americans there is always one who is a born capitalist, and this group is no exception. The capitalistic solider knows how to buy low and sell high, and as a result of his dealing it is not long before he has accumulated nearly all the money in the camp.
About this time there is a prisoner-of-war exchange, and this platoon of soldiers is air-lifted to Danang and then to a base in the Hawaiian Islands. Not long after this, our capitalistic soldier arrives home in San Francisco. The first thing he does after greeting his family is go downtown to the Wells Fargo Bank, make his way to the clerk dealing with new accounts, and tell her that he wants to open an account in the bank. 'That's good," the teller says. "We like to see servicemen coming to the Wells Fargo. How much money would you like to start your account with?"
The solider responds by pushing his Monopoly money across the counter. "$1,534,281," he says. The teller takes one look at it and calls the manager, because it is obvious to her that the soldier is suffering brain damage from his confinement.
The Monopoly money might have helped this man get along very well in the prisoner-of-war camp, and even in America it could be used to play games. But it is no use at all in the world of American commerce. In that world you need genuine American greenbacks from the U.S. Treasury.
My third illustration is from Paul's description of his conversion in Philippians 3. He writes there how he had spent the early years of his life trying to accumulate righteousness, which he thought would make him acceptable to God, and he lists the things in which he had confidence: "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (Phil. 3;5-6). These items had to do with his birth, religious traditions, affiliations, personal zeal, and outward morality. He thought that was all he needed to attain heaven.
But then Jesus appeared to Paul when he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, and when he saw Jesus in his heavenly glory, a glory that blinded him, all his own righteousness faded away into darkness and seemed to him to be nothing. I have sometimes said it was as if Paul had been considering himself a 100watt light bulb, surrounded by people who were only 75-, 60-, and 25-watt light bulbs.
But, when Jesus appeared to him, the righteousness of Jesus was like the brightness of the sun. When Paul realized that, he gave up trying to create his own righteousness and instead placed his faith in Jesus, which was the only sensible thing to do.
A Fatal Error: I have used three illustrations of how the righteousness of God and the righteousness of human beings are different things, because this is an important point and I hope to have driven it home by repetition. Yet I admit that I worry about one thing as I do. Illustrations like this tend to trivialize the issue. They even make the distinction seem fun, when actually the matter is deadly serious, and the failure to distinguish our righteousness from divine righteousness has fatal consequences.
A feeling for the seriousness of the issue can be seen from Charles Hodge's observation on Romans 10:3. He wrote that the Jews' "ignorance on this point implied ignorance of the character of God, of the requirements of the law, and of themselves," obviously three important matters. He added rightly, "Those who err essentially here, err fatally; and those who are right here, cannot be wrong as to other necessary truths."
What Paul actually says is that those who failed to see the distinction I am making sought salvation in the wrong way. But that needs to be spelled out more fully. There are five fatal consequences of this error.
1.Those who make it are satisfied with their own righteousness. This is like a woman dying of some disease saying that she is sure everything is all right with her because her face looks good when she puts on her makeup. I have no doubt that a dying woman might look a great deal better with some makeup, particularly if she is very sick. But it is utter folly to trust the makeup and fail to see a doctor, if there is any chance that the doctor can detect the disease and cure it.
Yet this is exactly our folly. Millions of spiritually dying people are willfully ignorant of their true condition and instead trust their efforts to paint over the surface of their lives with human morality. Some do it with sacraments. They suppose that if they have been baptized or take communion regularly, they must be all right with God-since God himself proscribed these things--failing to see that these are meant to be signs of an inward change, not the reality itself, and that in any case they are not something that adds up to God's righteousness. Other people try the same approach by charitable giving, or by giving their time to volunteer causes. They suppose these acts of righteousness add up to God's righteousness. Because they are satisfied with what they have done, they suppose that God must be satisfied, too. They fail to see that they are spiritually dying men and women.
2. They look down on other people. People who fail to distinguish between God's righteousness and human righteousness, and who are therefore satisfied with their own righteousness, inevitably look down on other people--whom they suppose to have achieved less. Because they have no high, absolute standard by which to judge themselves, they assume that they are somewhere near the top.
This is one reason why, in our natural sinful condition, we refuse to look up to God and his righteousness. If we were to look up, as Paul was forced to do on the road to Damascus, what we should be most conscious of is how far short we are of the divine requirements. In fact, we should realize that we are but light bulbs compared with the sun, and it would be foolish to boast of being brighter because we are a few watts above someone else. Seeing the righteousness of God humbles us and takes away all grounds for proud comparison. So we avoid it. We refuse to look up. Instead, we keep our eyes focused on other people and pat ourselves on the back because we imagine ourselves to be superior to them.
3. They resent Jesus and his gospel. This explains the next point, too, because when Jesus came to earth it was as if God brought down to our level the righteousness We in our fallen state refused to look up to or acknowledge.
It explains the fierce hatred of the leaders of Israel for Jesus when he was among them. Even people who do not trust Jesus as their own Lord and Savior generally acknowledge that he was a good man. He was gentle, kind, loving, and active in good works. Why is it that such a person should be as hated as Jesus was, hated even to the point of a trial and execution? The only explanation is that he was too good, too kind, too loving, too active in doing good works. In fact, his good was of such a high quality that anyone with any perception at all saw that it was other-worldly. That is, it was a divine righteousness rather than being merely a human righteousness. It was unattainable and--this is the rub--an intolerable offense to people who before Jesus' coming considered themselves to be quite good and clearly better than others.
This is why Jesus had a much better reception among social outcasts than among the model members of the community. The outcasts had no illusions about themselves. They knew they were sinners. They were merely overwhelmed and happy to find that Jesus loved them. But the self-styled righteous people felt offended by Jesus, someone whose true righteousness exposed the limits and falseness of their own.
4. They misunderstand and mishandle the law. God gave the law to show that we are sinners, not for us to be saved by it. Paul has already made this point in Romans, and we studied it in some detail earlier. If we reject the revelation of God's true righteousness in Christ and suppose that We are doing well in our efforts to achieve our own righteousness, we will then use the law wrongly, misinterpreting it to require what we feel able to do and then praising ourselves for our achievement.
There is no better illustration of this than how differently the Pharisees and Jesus thought about the law. The Pharisees spent a great deal of effort defining What the particulars of the law meant. When the law said, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8), they asked, "What does it mean to keep it holy?" The law said, "On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work" (v. 10). "But what is work?" they responded. Out of this type of thinking came an elaborate system of rules that proscribed how far you could walk on Saturday, what you could carry with you when you did walk, and the kind of activities you could pursue. It was the same way with each of the other commandments and with the many additional ordinances found in the first five books of the Old Testament. Following these regulations was a daunting task, an enormous burden, but this is precisely what the orthodox set out to do and believed they had accomplished. Paul was one of them himself before his conversion on the road to Damascus. He said of himself, "as for legalistic righteousness, [I was] faultless" (Phil 3:6).
But how did Jesus think about the law? He got to the heart of the law's teaching in Matthew 5, saying, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment..." (w. 21-22).
Jesus also argued, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (w. 27-28).
And Jesus taught, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (w. 43-44).
Jesus understood the law rightly. Therefore, if we, following his example, also use it rightly, which we refuse to do if we are satisfied with our own deficient righteousness, we will see that we can never measure up to this or any right standard and will turn to the mercy of God to save us from our sins, rather than plead our own corrupt morality as grounds for God's approval. If we see this clearly, we will acknowledge that we are condemned by whatever standard we choose, ours or God's, since at the deepest level we have all broken every right standard and will continue to do so.
5. They will not submit to God's righteousness. The final consequence of failing to see the difference between the righteousness of God and our own righteousness is that we will not submit to God's righteousness, which means acknowledging that we need it and seeking it in Christ, where alone it may be found. This is the point at which Paul closes his argument (Rom. 10:4), for everything else leads up to it.
Let me summarize. Paul says that the people of his day pursued
a law of human righteousness but failed to achieve God's true
righteousness because they sought it in the wrong way. They thought
they could attain it by works, when it can be received only as
a gift of God though faith. The reason they sought it in the wrong
way is that they were ignorant of these two types of righteousness.
They trusted in their own righteousness and thought that, if they
had enough of it, their righteousness would add up to the righteousness
of God. Therefore, they did not abandon their own efforts and
submit to God's righteousness.
"Cannot" or "Will Not"?
"Abandon" and "submit"!
That is exactly the problem. Although God tells us that Our own good works will not save us, we love them too much to abandon faith in them. He tells us that we must submit to the gift of his righteousness in Jesus Christ, but We will not submit to righteousness. We say we cannot do it. We "cannot believe." We "cannot understand. " We don't even like the distinctions. But God tells us that it is not a question of "cannot. " The real problem is that We will not, and the reason we will not submit is Our sin. One commentator says, "If We are not to be ignorant of God's righteousness, if We are to turn away from any attempt to establish our own righteousness, We must come to the place where we submit Ourselves to the righteousness of God--as it is seen inJesus Christ. "
Won't you do that?
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I urge you to
bow your proud head and put your whole trust in Christ alone.
There is no other way of salvation, not by knowledge, not by sacraments,
not even by good works. The Bible says that he, that is, Jesus,
"has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness,
holiness and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). (James M. Boice,
Romans, Baker Books 2000)
As the Scripture says, "Everyone who
trusts in him will never be put to shame."
(Romans 10:11, from Isaiah 28:16)
The new idea in this verse is "shame." 1 have not discussed it before in this series, so 1 want to explore it now. But it is hard to talk about shame today, for the reason that very few people in our day are ashamed of anything or even think in such terms.
On the contrary, ours is an exceedingly shameless age.
Nearly twenty years ago, Dr. Karl Menninger of the famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? I thought of that book and its title as I began to work on this subject, because it struck me as I proceeded with my study that in our day "shame" is an even more elusive subject than "sin," and probably for connected reasons. Menninger argued that in recent years "sin" has first been reinterpreted as "crime," which means that it has lost its core definition as being chiefly a violation of the law of God and has become instead only a violation of human law. Then it was changed from being a "crime" into a "symptom," meaning that it is now seen as being no one's fault particularly. At this stage, anything bad that anyone does can be blamed either on one's genes or the environment.
And that is why the sense of shame has gone away, too. Shame implies guilt for wrongdoing. But if none of us ever does anything wrong, there is no need to feel guilty about anything; and if there is no need to feel guilty, there is no need to be ashamed.
People have no sense of shame today. We are a shameless people.
I was surprised to discover this by what is not being written today, though 1 probably should not have been. Let me explain. As I began this study I turned to the many books on pop-psychology, counseling, and self-discovery that find their way to my bookshelves, thinking I would discover lots of interesting material about overcoming or dealing with shame in those books. But I did not. Hardly anything has been written about shame. I couldn't even find it in Menninger's Whatever Became of Sin? Apparently, it is not in the category of what are popularly called "felt needs. "
Next I looked in my books of anecdotes and quotations. But there were no stories or snappy sayings there.
In the end I turned to the massive Oxford English Dictionary, where I found pages of definitions of "shame," supported by scores of quotations from English writers. But here is the interesting thing. The quotations from which the editors of this great dictionary derived their definitions are numerous only from the early centuries of the English language. They become less frequent as the centuries go by and cease somewhere in the last century. Apparently, no one has felt much shame about anything since roughly 1896, the last date for which I could find a quotation.
"Shame" in the Bible: What a difference when we turn to the Bible! I have a computer program that will run through all the occurrences of a word or combination of words in the New International Version text, the one I use. When I ran a check on the words shame or ashamed, I found that these words occur 181 times: 149 times in the Old Testament and 32 times in the New Testament. So, obviously, shame is an important biblical idea.
What does shame mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines shame as a "painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous or indecorous in one's own conduct or circumstancesor of being in a situation which offends one's sense of modesty or decency. " But the Bible carries the meaning further and deeper than that. The Bible definition contains several important elements.
1. Disappointment. The first element is best described by the words "acute disappointment," which means being let down by someone or something in which we have believed. Paul has already used the word this way at least twice earlier in Romans, in Romans 1: 16 and 5:5. In Romans 1: 16 he says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel." He does not mean merely that he is not embarrassed by the gospel, though that is also true, but that he is sure he will never be let down by it, since "it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Similarly, in Romans 5:5, where the NIV even translates the word "shame" as "disappointment," the apostle writes, "And hope does not disappoint us." It doesn't let us down. Therefore, in terms of our text, we can say that "the one who trusts in Jesus Christ will never be disappointed by him," either in this life or the life to come. Jesus will always be found to have fulfilled his promises to us completely.
2. Being confounded. The second category of texts carries the idea of shame a bit further, envisioning a situation in which a person is confounded or left speechless. This is the way Job felt in his suffering. He said, "Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, I for I am full of shame I and drowned in my affliction" (Job 10: 15). Similarly, God says of those who have done evil, "you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation" (Ezek. 16:63).
In my opinion, one of the most offensive things about sin is that it is never silent. Whatever the offense, the one who has committed it will find an excuse, blaming God or others or the environment or his or her genes. But this will cease in the day of God's judgment. In that day all sin and all the circumstances leading up to it will be laid bare, the shame of the wicked will be acute and profound, and they will be utterly speechless, silent, abashed, humiliated, and disgraced. No one whose sin is not covered by the blood of Jesus Christ will have a single thing to say.
3. Exposure. Perhaps the most important element in the biblical idea of shame is exposure, particularly exposure of our sins and sinful natures in God's presence. This idea is found in the earliest pages of the Bible in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.
We are told in Genesis 2:25, which describes the condition of our first parents before the fall, that "the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." Rightly so, of course. They had nothing to be ashamed about. They had not sinned. So they stood naked before God and felt no shame, and naked before each other and felt no shame. They had no shame in their own eyes either. But when they sinned, which is what Genesis 3 is about, they did feel shame and tried to hide their nakedness by making clothes of fig leaves. Later, when God came to them in the garden, they tried to hide from him by retreating into the shrubbery.
And how about the day of God's final judgment? Jesus said of the wicked in that day, "They will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!'" (Luke 23:30; cf. Hosea 10:8), so great will be their dread of this ultimate exposure.
4. Disgrace. The final element in the biblical idea of shame is disgrace or extreme humiliation. It is what Daniel was speaking of when he wrote of God's judgment, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). There are scores of similar texts.
No Shame Now, But Shame Hereafter: We come now to the main point of this study and our text, and it is that those who do not trust Christ, though they may be shameless now, will be overcome with shame in the day of God's judgment, while those who trust Christ here, though they may be made objects of great ridicule, scorn, and shame by unbelievers, will have no shame hereafter.
The first case is that of the unsaved. The unsaved may have no sense of shame now, but they will have shame hereafter.
The unsaved sometimes talk about Christians as if they have faith in faith while the worldly build on facts. But everyone has faith in something, even unbelievers. What do the unsaved have faith in? Well, many trust their good reputations. As long as people think well of them, they suppose they will always be able to get by. Some trust their achievements. Certainly they will count for something, they think. Many more trust in their stocks, bonds, property, Or bank accounts. Still others place faith in their family, friends, and acquaintances.
But these "good" things do not always last, even here. Reputations fail, achievements are overshadowed or forgotten, wealth is lost, and friends and acquaintances reject us.
And the situation is even worse when we think in terms of heaven. What is a human reputation to count for there? Nothing at all. In fact, it is worse than nothing. We are sinners, according to the Bible's teaching, and the only reputation we have in heaven is for having rejected God, broken his law, and scorned his warnings. Achievements? The only achievement God will recognize is perfection. Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is per, feet" (Matt. 5:48). None of us have done that. We are all condemned for our willful and sinful imperfections. Wealth? We know that wealth wilJ not help us in God's day of judgment. We even say, "You Can't take it with you." Besides, what could our wealth possibly mean to God, who has created and actually owns all things! If God should regard it at all, it would only be to censure us for coveting, hoarding, or misusing the wealth he has entrusted to us. Finally, even friends will fail us in that day, for at the judgment each will be concerned for his or her own standing before God and will not be thinking of us at all. In an excellent sermon on this text, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, "It will be a sorry business if we have been trusting in our good temper, our charity, our patriotism, our courage or our honesty, and when we come to die shall be made to feel that these cannot satisfy' the claims of divine justice or give us a passport to the skies. How sad to see robes turn to rags, and comeliness into corruption!
In that day the people who have had no shame here, who are like those described by the prophet Jeremiah--"they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush" (Jer. 6:15)--these shall be utterly confounded. They will find that the objects of their hopes are empty. They will have nothing to say. Their shame will be exposed, and they will be disgraced in their own eyes and the eyes of others forever.
No Shame (Here or) Hereafter: The second case is that of Christians. Those who trust Christ here, though they may be made objects of ridicule, scorn, and shame by unbelievers, will have no shame hereafter.
If the object of their trust Jesus Christ, were not who he is, I suppose they might know shame hereafter. If they should get to heaven and discover that Jesus is not the Savior they imagined him to be, they would certainly be confounded. If they should find that his death on the cross was not adequate punishment for their sins or that his power to keep them from falling in this life and even after this life was not sufficient, they might be ashamed.
They might be ashamed that they confessed him openly before other men and women or that they induced others to turn from their sin and trust him. They might be disappointed that they had placed him first in their lives, when there were so many other good things to be enjoyed. If Jesus should not be found to be altogether lovely, the treasure above all treasures, they could conclude that they made a bad bargain. They had only Jesus, but they could have had money and land and good times and the pleasures that sin provides.
But how could that be? Jesus is who the Bible declares him to be. He is the very Son of God, our Savior. He is the lily of the valley and the bright morning star. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the Light of the World. He is the Bread of Heaven. He is the living water; anyone who drinks of him will never thirst again. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the Word of God. He is the Lamb of God. He is the faithful and true witness. He is Immanuel, "God with us."
How can anyone be disappointed with Jesus? How can anyone be con, founded or disgraced when his or her hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone?
But aren't Christians sinners, too? Yes, they are. But they are sinners whose sin has been forgiven and whose nakedness has been covered by the righteousness of Christ. 1 go back to the story of Adam and Eve in Eden. Our first parents were made innocent but lost their innocence through their sin of eating the for, bidden fruit. Before that, they were naked and felt no shame. Afterwards they knew shame and proved it by trying to hide their nakedness, even when God came to them in the garden. Although that is the place in the story at which we left off earlier, it is not the end of the story. God came to them in the garden to expose their sin and deal with it, for God cannot ignore sin and all sin must (and will) be exposed in his presence. But, having exposed the sin and judged it, God did not stop there. We are told that God killed animals and "made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21).
What a wonderful picture that is! There was no way Adam and Eve could go back to the innocence they had enjoyed before the fall. Lost innocence can never be restored. But, although they could never go back, they could go forward, and the way forward was through the clothes of skin that symbolized the righteousness of Jesus Christ, given to all who put their trust in him.
Shame? Yes. But shame recognized, confessed, and dealt with permanently in God's own way. Sin is real. So is the shame that should and eventually will accompany it. But the atonement is also real. Restitution has been made by Jesus. 'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1)
Whoever You Are: I call your attention to one final point. I have pointed out that in Romans 10:11, Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:16. But to be exact I need to note that at this point he introduces a slight change in the text, a change made readily evident by comparing his first citation of the text in Romans 9:33 and his second citation in Romans 10:11. The first is closer to the Hebrew (and Septuagint, which Paul is actually quoting) when it begins "the one who." Paul broadens the text in his second use of it by substituting "anyone" for the original rendering.
Why does he do this? Doesn't Paul have a proper respect for the biblical text? Doesn't he want to treat the Old Testament carefully?
It is not that at all. What Paul wants to do (and is doing) is to bring out the full meaning of the passage, showing that "the one who" means anybody, Gentiles as well as Jews, Americans as well as Europeans, rich people as well as poor people, the disadvantaged as well as the mighty, and so on. If you do not Come to Christ, you will be confounded and ashamed in the day of God's judgment. But you may nevertheless come to Christ, whoever you may be.
Do not delude yourself into thinking that you can do nothing and that everything will nevertheless be all right for you. Apart from Christ you are in deadly peril. The day will come when the Judge of the earth will summon you to his high court, and you will be required to account for your life and explain your wrongdoing. What will you say in that day when the holy God confronts you? What possible excuses can you give? In Romans 3, Paul describes what will happen. He says that in that day "every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God" (Rom. 3:19).
I tell you as a minister of the Word of God that the day is coming when you will stand in God's court. You will stand there in either one of two ways. Either you will stand clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ as one for whom he died, whose sin and shame have been taken away. Or you will stand in the horror of your own spiritual and moral nakedness, in shame, and you will be condemned for your sin.
The Book of Revelation speaks of such people, echoing the words of Jesus himself, which I quoted earlier. "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Rev. 6:15-17).
But the rocks will not fall. The rocks obey their Master in heaven, and neither they nor anything else will intervene to cover the exposure of those who have rejected Christ and spurned the gospel of God's grace. Their shame and your shame will be profound if you are not in Jesus Christ...(James M. Boice, Romans, Baker, 2000)
Romans Class Notes: Index | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18
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Lambert Dolphin | http://ldolphin.org | firstname.lastname@example.org | 10/13/03