Romans 10:5-11 “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ 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). 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: 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. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”
How can anyone get into a real right relationship with God? In other words, how can my ignorance of God be overcome? And how can my guilt and sin be forgiven? And how can I become a righteous man or woman? There is scarcely a more helpful passage in all of Scripture to tell us clearly how this new relationship with God can be established. Shouldn’t you ask God to help you to listen intently to these words? Then they could be new life to you. Don’t be afraid of coming to a knowledge of God in this way. God created you and the whole world. God brought you here again today. God is the one who blesses you with every good and perfect gift. God will give your life meaning; he can answer your biggest questions; he can strengthen and guide you through the years ahead, and the God you have grown to know in this life will be there awaiting you with joy and love in the world to come.
The great theme of this section is something utterly revolutionary to man’s natural way of thinking. Can you believe that it is not by anything that we do – our actions and good deeds and resolutions and religious behaviour – that we get into a right relationship with God. That’s not the way. Every other religion and every human philosophy says that that is the way, by keeping a rule book, by abstaining from fleshly and unseemly behaviour, by praying a certain number of times a day, by going regularly to a place of worship, by observing special days and times, by meditating, by confessing your sins, by giving money to your religion and by good deeds to poor and needy people. That is the way to get right with God. That is what young people think or are even taught that this is the message of every religion, but it is not the message of the Bible. Not at all.
1. THIS WAS THE OLD COVENANT MESSAGE OF THE LAW.
Paul begins our text by quoting from the great leader of the old covenant, Moses; “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them’”(v.5). He is actually quoting from a little known book of Moses, the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. His quotation is a very adequate, indeed a watertight, definition of the belief that we get right with God by what we do day by day; ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ We will have life at its fullest, life with God, eternal life, if only we do the right things, the things that the law lays down. That is the voice of legalism. We’ve got to be up and doing such things. That is our only hope, every day we do and do and do what the law says. You’ve got a little list at the end of every day, and then every week, and then every year. Have I prayed? Tick the box. Have I gone to a place of worship? Tick the box. Did I put money on the plate? Tick the box. Did I abstain from drunkenness and bad language and fornication? Tick the box. Have I been kind to my neighbours? Tick the box. And the more boxes I tick the more righteous I am. I am OK because I am doing what the law spells out. This life of mine is what it approves of. I am a righteous man by doing the things of the law.
Now that is law righteousness, legal righteousness, and a vast tide of it came into Wales 150 years ago via the theological colleges and theological books and the pulpits of every single denomination without exception, and law righteousness has became the religion of Wales, and England, and Scotland, and Europe and effectively emptied most churches. Who needs Jesus Christ and his salvation? Who needs redemption? Who needs a new birth? Who needs the gift of God, eternal life, if life comes to us by our doing things that a moral code and our own consciences tell us to do? This righteousness is a garment that men and women design and weave and cut out for themselves by what they do, by their own chosen lifestyles. They save themselves. They give life to themselves.
What is wrong with that? I will tell you clearly. There is imperfection in everything that we do. Our hearts are not right. We are often reluctant. We do things out of mere habit and duty. We are sorry for ourselves. There is pride mixed with our best actions. We don’t do good things to the end that God will be glorified by them. It is not just our major falls that need mercy but our very best actions that also need forgiveness. If we hand these things over to the angels guarding the entry to God’s dwelling place at the end of our lives, and we say, “This is my passport to heaven” then they will shake their heads. No Admission! Depart! Imperfection to this degree will not gain for us heaven. The doors are locked and barred to us for ever. Only to hell can we find an open door.
The problem you face (if your hopes lie all in that you do) is that however much you try and however more earnest and zealous you become the more you’re aware of the great gulf between your desires and your achievements. The more you strive the more you see your sinfulness. This has been the experience of everyone in the history of the church who has tried to find life by activities. They have left the bustle of the city to find a deserted place in the wilderness but there they have found temptations and falls week after week. One lived his life on top of a pillar thirty feet above the surface of the planet and he lived for 25 years up there, his food being drawn up and his chamber pot being lowered down. But a man like Simon Stylites who did that found up there, on top of the column, he certainly did not get drunk but other sins and weaknesses and failures were as close to them as the air he breathed. Thirty feet of elevation above the ground did nothing to make him acceptable to God. The weakness of the law is our own weakness, and instead of it bringing us life it draws us under its curse. Righteousness is not to be obtained by our naked efforts. Life in all its fulness and happiness is not to be found by what we do by our wits and muscles. If we live by that then we will perish. There is no hope for us at all. Obtaining righteousness by way of the law is the broad road that leads to hell.
2. THERE IS A RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES TO US BY OUR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
What does that say? Paul says two things; firstly negatively he warns us what we must not say or even think. Then positively he tells us what we must do if this righteousness is to become ours. What does the righteous that comes by faith say?
i] Negatively. “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).” (vv.6&7) If you say that then you are still obsessed with what you’re going to do, and men have done the most extravagant things in the name of the Christian religion. They have built huge buildings of marble and precious stones, and covered them with gold and the ceilings with beautiful vast paintings. They have established empires in the name of Jesus. They have led the marriage service of a thousand couples in vast wedding ceremonies. They have sent people all over the world spreading their message going from door to door and from one continent to another. That is the way they all seek to obtain their own righteousness. But listen to the wilder boastings found in our text. Some thought that they might raise Christ up from the place he rests in death or they might bring him down from heaven. Don’t think like that about the extraordinary things that you are going to do in your life. Think them not! That’s not going to be the way that righteousness comes to us. How absurd to ask questions like these, to look around your family or your group of buddies and say to them, “Who is going to come with me and go up and up to heaven?” or “Who is willing to come with me and go down and down into the deep?” How will you go up? Climb a mountain, or take a helicopter, or a rocket to a space station? Do you think you are going to meet Jesus up there and you’ll bring him down by your own extraordinary enterprise and present him to the world’s press with all their flash photography? Or will you go down the deepest gold mine of South Africa, or travel in a submarine or one of those new bathyspheres into the very depths of the ocean to discover Jesus there and raise him up from the dead? What nonsense! He is not up there, and he is not down there. You are never going to find him on your voyage of discoveries. Jesus is not like the lost ark of the covenant, or the location of Noah’s ark with fancy theories about their locations drawing religious expeditions from Japan and America to go searching for them. There are better things for Christians to do with their money and time and strength than that. Guard your hearts because out of them come all the dreams and schemes of life. So what must you see . . .
ii] Positively, “‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.” Jesus Christ has already come down from heaven at his incarnation. Jesus Christ has ascended from his grave on the third day according to the Scriptures. His body is not buried in some deep tomb. There is no need for us to make our plans, launch our own special expeditions, and scale the heights or plumb the depths in search of it. He has already opened his eyes and risen from the dead and he is not far from us. He is not hidden away somewhere in a cave in the Himalayas. He is not living in an island in the South Seas. He says to his people, “And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He lives, and where two or three gather together in his name he is there in the midst. He is not here at the front. I often say to you that if Jesus were here at the pulpit then I would ask you to come to the front, but he is not here especially. He is in our midst; in fact he has brought you here and he is dealing with you even now. He is accessible. He speaks to you at this moment and he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me.” We’ll talk together.
This word is near you. We make sure it is one you can all understand by writing out the sermon for those to read who cannot hear, and installing a loudspeaker system so that the hard of hearing might hear the word of God. The message is on the world wide web so that friends in New Zealand can have the word come to them. It is near you, and you would expect Paul to say, “in your ears” but in fact he says in your mouth. In other words, the word you hear cannot help demanding a response. When a policeman says a word to you, “Can I help you sir? What are you doing here sir?” then that word isn’t simply in your ears it is faster than that it’s onto your tongue and in your mouth, your response to that question of authority. What are you doing with the word that you’ve heard today about Jesus Christ? Speak! Tell me! He is the Son of God. He came to live the righteous life that we could not live, and he died to make atonement for our sins in a sacrifice we couldn’t make. What are you going to do about this? He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” That word is in your ears and on your tongue, your response to his great claim that you cannot get to God except by him. It is in your heart and it’s been there for many years. It is the “word of faith that we’ve been proclaiming,” Paul says. And I too have been proclaiming this apostolic message to you. Do you believe it? It is, in other words a message that requires the response of faith. It is a trustworthy message. Believe it O sinner believe it! Receive this glad message. It’s true.
3. THAT MESSAGE IS VERY CLEAR AND LUCID.
There is no need of mother church and her cardinals and bishops and popes and encyclicals to explain it to us. It is here in the Bible and it is transparent. It makes wise the people who’ve been simple, and we are all mighty glad of that. This is it, “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” (vv.9&10). Believing and confessing; this is the mark of salvation.
i] Salvation comes to those who believe in their hearts. What is believing? It is to assent to something, that we affirm that this is true. We believe in our hearts, Paul says, but he does not mean by that that saving faith is principally emotional. The heart in the Bible is the complex of conviction and understanding and motivation and affection within us. Out of our hearts come all the issues of life. From our hearts we make a commitment and it is first an intellectual commitment and an intelligent commitment: the submission of our minds to the truth of the Christian message. We believe first of all that the living God has given us some knowledge of the truth. We’ve heard that God is, that God became incarnate in Christ, that Christ is able to save us, that Christ offers to save us, that Christ pleads with us to come to him for salvation, that he died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. We’ve heard the message of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. We’ve heard that God has imputed the sin of his people to Christ and that also to them he imputes the righteousness of our Saviour. We’ve heard this report in the Word of God. That is the message of this letter to the Romans and of the four gospels. And faith, at the most basic level, means that we believe those facts to be true. We accept those great doctrines. Our minds are convinced. Faith is bound to lead to emotions and to decisions, but those emotions and decisions are based on convictions and the convictions presuppose knowledge. In this sense, faith is rational. It is not rationalistic but it is an act of reason. It always involves an act of the heart and mind. We believe the report that God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. We receive it into our hearts.
But faith in our hearts also is trust. It begins with belief, but it is always more than belief. It is a personal commitment to God in Christ. The Reformers emphasised those two components firmly. They spoke of fides or belief on the one hand; and fiducia or trust on the other. Only where these two exist in combination is there a real saving faith: that is, such persuasion of the mind that leads to personal trust in God our Father and Jesus Christ our Saviour. We particularly believe this, Paul states in our text, that God raised Jesus from the dead. We believe that Jesus is the ultimate, he is the highest and he is the greatest power in the universe, more powerful even than death. Death could not hold him. He broke its bonds and came back to life on the third day. We have looked at the evidence, the promises he made to that effect, the open tomb, the body not there, the message of the angels, the handling and sightings of him and conversations with him for 40 days and the transformation of the frightened disciples. We believe in our hearts that Jesus lives. We trust him.
Trust is emphasised firmly in the New Testament. With the heart we believe and because we believe we come to the living Christ. We turn to Christ; our eyes are focused on him. Our faith is directional. It is dynamic. It is mobile. It is faith in; it is faith into; it is faith towards; it is faith upon. Faith is a leaning grace. It leans on God. Faith is a grace that wraps the soul around its Saviour, not all that far removed from love. It is a personal relationship. It begins with the belief that, in the light of all the information we have, Christ is trustworthy. That is a proposition: ‘the risen Jesus is a trustworthy Jesus.’ But my faith moves on from that to actual commitment, and that is brought out fully in many of the biblical metaphors. We trust God as we trust our father. We trust Christ as a flock trusts its shepherd. We trust Christ as we trust a physician. We trust our doctor because we know certain things about him. He has been trained; he has studied; he has experience; he has skills. Our trust is not divorced from these propositions. If we trusted just anybody to perform surgery our faith would be misplaced and irrational, but because our faith is based on implicit propositions it is reasonable and well warranted. So salvation comes to those who hear and believe in their hearts the great truths of the apostolic message, and these people trust in the risen Jesus Christ as Lord, he who is the heart of that message.
ii] Salvation comes to those who confess with their mouths. I have come to ask people being baptized “Who is Jesus Christ?” and their customary reply is, “The Son of God and my Saviour.” They believe that truth in their hearts, but then they confess it with their mouths to all who will hear it. They are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have come to know that it is the power of God unto salvation. They speak it forth with their voices so that all may hear. For them it is impossible to have a secret submission to their Lord for either the secrecy is going to destroy the Lordship or the Lordship is going to destroy the secrecy and the latter is what they have chosen. Jesus Christ is their Lord and they want you to know it. They make the highest possible, the very maximal confession about him that it’s possible to make, that he is their personal Lord and master, but more, that he is the Lord of creation, that he is Lord of lords, and so he is Caesar’s Lord, that he is the Lord God Almighty, Jehovah Jesus. His name is above every name in heaven and earth and sky.
This confession with their mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” means, “I submit to his commandments. I repose confidently in his protection. When all around is giving way, when there is such insecurity, questioning whether life itself has any meaning and purpose, whether there is anyone in control of the cosmos then I acknowledge that the one who is in control of my life and my family and my world is Jesus Christ. He is the cosmos-bearing Sovereign.” By such confessions with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead it is thus that we are saved. Have we done that? Have we believed in our hearts? Good. Have we confessed with our mouths? Not yet. It is all very simple yet surprisingly difficult. There was a student who had never told anyone that he had become a Christian. One day he was standing in the University refectory with a tray in his hand lining up for lunch, and along the line came the wife of a first year student who at that time was wonderfully zealous for her Saviour. She wore two or three badges and stickers and she had an engaging smile and a hand full of leaflets, and she went down the line of students offering one to every man and woman. It was good primitive holy evangelism of which I fully approve and only have lame excuses for not being engaged in myself. She got nearer and nearer to the student who attended our congregation who had never confessed with his mouth that Jesus Christ was his Lord until she stopped opposite him and offered him a tract. He took it and said, “Thank you. I am a Christian,” to be rewarded with a smile and on she went. The following Sunday he told me of the incident, and how his heart was flooded with joy as he confessed Jesus Christ as his Lord.
4. PAUL AFFIRMS IT ONE MORE TIME AS IT IS SO IMPORTANT.
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (v.10) How are we justified? In other words, how are we declared righteous? Is it by trying to keep the ten commandments, and living by the Sermon on the Mount and carefully trying to live as righteously as we can? In other words is it because of our works, and efforts, and striving that God declares us to be righteous? No it is not! In our hearts we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord. We believe that as much as we believe that the earth is round and grass is green. We have looked at the life of Jesus Christ, so uninventable and spotless, so majestic and loving, so powerful and divine. We have heard his teaching, we have pondered over his miracles, we have considered the consequences of his resurrection, and the conclusion we have come to is that he is God incarnate and he is our Saviour. This conviction we have in our hearts, and God sees it. God can measure it. God can distinguish between the temporary emotional feeling and the real lasting conviction that he has given us, rooting it in the centre of our beings and nourishing and protecting it for ever. When God sees this saving faith that exalts Jesus Christ as Lord then he declares us righteous with the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ. He has made our Lord to be the righteousness of God in us. He of God is made unto us righteousness. How do we become righteous? When in our hearts we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we are justified.
But no one knows this. They cannot see our hearts. They cannot read what God has written there in marks of indelible grace, “Jesus Christ is God and Lord.” It is hidden from them, and our family and friends can only see a nice person, a religious person, a serious person. We may have been truly declared righteous by God, but they don’t know that. We have to tell them. We have to be always ready to given anyone who asks us the reason why we are such optimistic people, why we are not full of despair as so many are in the world today. We tell them with our lips that Jesus Christ is alive, that we have a living relationship with him, that we believe that on the third day he rose again from the dead. He lives and he reigns and he keeps me and I serve him. I confess that he is my Saviour, and then my beliefs and longings and feelings that reach out to him are translated into salvation. With my mouth I confess him and I am saved. Paul does not say that one day when you get to heaven you will be saved. He does not even say that I am in the process of being saved now. I am saved. And we can mock that phrase, and we can caricature it by talking about a wild-eyed fanatic with the hair of a mad scientist, standing on a street corner and shouting out to everyone, “Are you saved? Are you saved?” The devil will bring those images to dissuade anyone from true religion. That is not a method of evangelism that I would encourage, in fact I would dissuade such a gentleman from shouting in that way. However the words of our text are that if we believe in our hearts the truth given to us by God, and we confess it with our lips then we are justified and saved. That is what the word of God says. Is it difficult to understand? No. Is it difficult to do? All by ourselves it is impossible to do, but we can do all things through Christ who saves us. Ask the Saviour to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you. Ask him to help you confess what you believe and you will know the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.
5. PAUL GIVES US A FINAL WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO DO SO.
“As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” (v.11)
You ask what right you have to entrust your life and soul to the Son of God? It’s for anyone. You feel you’ve been very bad. It’s for anyone. You’ve had notorious falls. It’s for anyone. You are unworthy. It’s for anyone. You have delayed too long. It’s for anyone. You would be a hypocrite to come after such long resistance. It’s for anyone “It’s not for me.” Yes it is. It’s for anyone. Why should God hear you and pay any attention to you and accept you? Because it’s for anyone. The answer to your doubts is utterly unambiguous. You are entitled to come to Christ now and take him as your Saviour because every other person in the world without exception, every sinner as a sinner, the foulest, the vilest and the most vicious person that angels have ever seen has got that right to come to Christ. That right is for anyone. I am saying that God commands you personally and individually, and every other human being, to believe. He exempts none. He does not exempt you for what you have been. You have the right to come Christ, whoever you are, because God commands us to come.
In the words before us today is a divine offer and a divine invitation to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Bible says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” There are many similar statements in Scripture; “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:22). “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” (Ez. 33:11) “Let the wicked forsake his way… and let him return unto the Lord” (Isaiah 55:7). The offer is absolutely universal. If we do what God says, believe in our hearts and confess the Lord with our mouths, we also shall be saved. That is God’s invitation to anyone. Of course it is not an unconditional promise. The salvation of God is conditional upon our believing. But God’s promise is made categorically to anyone who hears, that if we believe and confess him then we shall be saved.
He gives this warrant to you today for you to be to be saved. I’ll put it in these terms, the promise of God explicitly states that there is no further price to be paid. The debt has been cleared, The price of sinners’ redemption has been fully met by the life and death of Jesus Christ. It does not depend on our works. Scripture does not say that if we love him enough that we shall be saved, or that if we have broken our hearts into pieces and wept gallons of tears that then we shall be saved. The price of salvation is not paid by us but by Christ. His salvation is utterly gratuitous (Isa. 55:1). We receive the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). We have mercy without money and without price (Isa. 55:1). The consequence is this, that every human being on this globe, no matter how sinful, has the right to come and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour, his prophet delivering him from ignorance, his priest delivering him from guilt, and his king delivering him from the world, the flesh and the devil – anyone! Simply anyone, and so you! John Duncan put it most succinctly: “Sin” he said, “is the handle by which I get Christ.” He said, “I don’t read anywhere in God’s Word that Christ came to save John Duncan, but I read this: He came to save sinners and John Duncan is a sinner and that means he came to save John Duncan.” Luther argued in the same way. He said to the devil, “You say I’m a sinner and so I will take your own weapon and with it I will slay you, and with your own sword I will cut your throat because sin ought to drive us not away from Christ but towards Christ for he came to seek and to save sinners.” The Bible has taught us to come to Christ – just as we are.
Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come.
Every human being is warranted to come to Christ. The great fact here is that the universal becomes the particular. If all are warranted, anyone is warranted. If anyone is warranted, then I am warranted. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.13). This is supremely important in relation to those who are tempted to spiritual despair: the backslidden, those who were once bright, shining Christians, but from whose lives the glory has gone and who feel that for them there is no hope. Wherever we stand, we have the warrant to believe.
So you call on the name of the Lord today, and you believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and later on you confess this to others with your mouth. Or you can confess it by an Email – you send me an Email – and you say that Jesus has become your Lord and Saviour, and that will help you to know that God’s free salvation has come to you. You have been saved in the same ordinary way that God saves all who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths the risen Saviour.
24th February 2013 GEOFF THOMAS