Summary: Paul urges us to hear the word and believe the gospel.
We are in Romans 10. In this chapter the Apostle Paul describes the way of salvation from the human perspective. He unfolds for us what our role is in terms of receiving the gift of salvation. Let’s read Romans 10:5-13 and see what he says:
5For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:5-13)
Romans, “that noblest sermon of grace,” as one Bible commentator has put it, has been thought difficult and not suitable for Sunday morning’s ministry of the Word. The “bad reputation” of the letter is, however, refuted by two facts.
In the first place, the apostle did not write for scholars, as some have surmised. He wrote for common people, as a quick scan of Romans 16 will confirm. Paul wrote theology that all could understand, for not many wise according to the world were found in the early churches (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26).
And, in the second place, it is not strictly speaking correct to say that the modern churchgoer is simple-minded. It is true that the evangelical church is overrun with superficial and shallow literature, as a trip to the local Christian bookstore will confirm. And yet, in spite of this, many Christians are longing to find and read more substantial material. In fact, at the same time that we are deluged with simplistic literature there is also a revival of the reading of Puritan theology and of the writings of other more recent Reformed authors.
The problem that people have with Romans is related, not to its form, but to its content. When people go to church, they expect to hear sermons on morality, but Paul preaches grace. The change of subject matter is so startling that many become confused. It is not surprising to hear it said after a sermon on grace, “That was over my head.” The sub¬ject of grace is incompatible with the mindset of many, and they are inclined to blame their failure to pay attention to the message on the difficulty of the topic or the dullness of the speaker. Morality they understand; grace they do not.
It is the duty of every preacher of grace to cut away the under-growth of morality that inevitably gathers around sound gospel preaching in order that the pure grace of the gospel may be seen. That is one of the chief reasons why I so often expose the unbiblical notion of human free will. I want to clear away the things that hinder you from gazing upon grace, and in this I stand in the steps of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, the Hodges, Warfield, and many others.
In the preceding context of today’s text the failure of the Israelites from the human side has been emphasized, for the divine side of things was handled in Romans 9. Paul traces the failure of the Israelites in Romans 9 to the pride of self-righteousness (cf. v. 3) and unbelief (cf. 9:32-33; 10:4). The root of both is a failure to hear the word of God, to heed the exhortation in the stanza we often sing,
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.
I. The Righteousness of the Law (10:5)
The apostle begins his exposition of this section by commenting on the righteousness of the law in verse 5, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”
What Paul says, very simply, is that there is a righteousness set forth in the law, but it is a righteousness of human works (cf. Philippians 3:9). Ideally, or hypothetically, it might be possible for a person to attain to righteousness by the law. Of course, that is impossible because of the fall. Only Jesus Christ has ever fully obeyed the law of God.