Monday, December 25, 2023

2023.12.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 10:5–9

Read Romans 10:5–9

Questions from the Scripture text: In whom did those who sought righteousness by works of the law (cf. Romans 9:32a) think they were trusting (Romans 10:5)? What sort of righteousness were they hoping for? How did they think they could get it? But what righteousness had they missed out on (Romans 10:6, cf. Romans 9:32b)? How does it speak (cf. Deuteronomy 32:12)—what are they not to say? To what does the apostle liken attempting to ascend into heaven? What else are they not to say (Romans 10:7)? To what does the apostle liken descending into the abyss? What does the righteousness of faith say (Romans 10:8)? To what does the apostle liken the Word being near (verse 8)? What does the Word of faith, which the apostle preaches, look like in their mouth (Romans 10:9)? What does it look like in their heart? What will surely happen, if it is in both of these places?

Had God offered His people to earn life by works? Romans 10:5–9 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these five verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God has always presented Himself as His people’s salvation, not upon a principle of works, but always upon a principle of faith in Him. 

In Romans 9:31, the apostle had mentioned those Israelites who pursued a law of righteousness, but did not attain to it. His answer for why their pursuit failed was that they did not seek it by faith but by works of the law (Romans 9:32). If by the Spirit’s grace they would have pursued the law by faith before Christ came, then when He came and presented Himself as the LORD our righteousness, they would then have acknowledged Him as the LORD and hoped in Him from righteousness (by the same Spirit!). 

However, they were accustomed to reading Moses as saying that doing this merits life. They would quote Leviticus 18:5 as if it supported their pursuit, by works, of the law of righteousness. In God’s good providence to us, we are still working through Leviticus in the Lord’s Day evening preaching, and chapter 18 is fresh in our minds. We remember how the chapter as a whole is about how YHWH is the One Who makes a difference in His people, how He prefaces it by His saving them and binding them to Himself, just as He had prefaced the Ten Commandments with the same announcement of grace (cf. Exodus 20:1–2, Deuteronomy 5:6). 

So, in God’s providence, we have been well-prepared to come to Romans 10:5 and not read the apostle as if he is asserting that Leviticus 18:5 presented some republication of the covenant of works or even some “works principle” for the relationship between God and Israel. No, if they were going to walk in the manner that enjoyed life and laid hold of life, it was going to be by the grace of the same Lord Who had come near them already in His Word.

The apostle answers the wrong way of reading “those who do them shall live by them” is to refer them to Deuteronomy 30, where the Lord had also said, “I have set before you today life […] keep His commandments […] that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15Deuteronomy 30:16). It is the same principle in both passages! Not a works principle in one passage and a faith principle in the other. We have already seen that the obedience and life in Leviticus 18 did not operate on a works principle but a faith principle. Now, the apostle chooses a parallel passage in which the faith principle is even clearer.

In Romans 10:6-8, he quotes and explains Deuteronomy 30:12–14, which immediately precede the offering of life that parallels the Israelites’ quote from Leviticus 18:5. And the apostle’s explanation clearly mirrors Deuteronomy 30:11, which presents the commandment as being something accessible and near: not something difficult that they are to produce for God, but something that God brings so near as to put in their hearts Himself and to put in their mouth Himself; this is the key to doing it (Romans 10:8, cf. Deuteronomy 14).

The logic of faith that was already there in the law in Deuteronomy 30 is even plainer in the Lord Jesus. In Deuteronomy 30:12, the Lord points out that He has brought His Word from heaven to earth; they did not have to go retrieve it. Now, the apostle makes the same point in an even greater way in Romans 10:6. You can’t contribute to your own righteousness any more than you could contribute to bringing Christ down from heaven in the incarnation!

In Deuteronomy 30:13, the Lord points out that His Word is not far away so that they would have to brave the depths of the sea to go retrieve it. Now, the apostle makes the same point in an even greater way in Romans 10:7. You can’t contribute to your own righteousness any more than you could contribute to bringing Christ up from the grave in the resurrection!

The logic of Deuteronomy 30 holds in Romans 10. If the Lord has gone to the lengths that He has already, to put His word in their mouths and in their hearts, then surely He will complete their salvation (Romans 10:9). This is not a works-principle for the confessing and believing of Christ in the gospel any more than Deuteronomy 30 was a works-principle for obedience to the law. Rather, it is a demonstration by Who saved us (Jesus!) and how (Incarnation! Resurrection!) that the only way of being made right with God is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is not at all by works, but by Christ, as God graciously makes us to confess Him with our mouths that He is YHWH in the flesh, and to believe in Him with our heart that He is the resurrected Redeemer.

Now, this does not mean that the confessing and believing aren’t important. They are very important. Indeed, they are required. But “necessary” does not mean “meritorious.” The confessing is a gift of grace; the believing is a gift of grace; the Christ to Whom this believing unites us is a gift of grace. And we can be absolutely sure that to every single one to whom God gives all of this by His grace, He will surely give the whole of His blessed salvation by that grace, in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you don’t believe in the incarnation of the LORD, or if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you can be just as sure that you are lost as the Christian can be sure that he is saved. For, it is God Who saves, and He does so in this incarnate and resurrected Christ, Whom the saved confess as incarnate and believe in as resurrected. 

But if you do believe, then that believing is not a work that you have done, but a work that God has done. The same Savior God Who gave Jesus from heaven and brought Jesus from the grave is the Savior God Who has given you to confess Him and to believe in Him. Hallelujah!

In what ways are you tempted to treat your confessing as needing to be good enough to earn salvation? In what ways are you tempted to treat your believing as needing to be good enough to earn salvation? Where do confessing and believing come from in the first place? What (Who!) is good enough to earn your salvation? From where can you get more of confessing Him and believing in Him, as you find that your own confessing and believing are too small?

Sample prayer:  We thank You, our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that You have saved us entirely by Your grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Without our contribution at all, You gave Him from heaven to become a Man for us. Without our contribution at all, You brought Him up in the resurrection on account of our salvation. And without our help at all, it is You Who have given us the faith by which we confess Him as LORD and believe His bodily resurrection. So, keep helping us by Your Spirit, we pray, until You Who started the work have brought it unto completion. Give us to work out our own salvation by Your working in us both to will and to work according to Your own good pleasure, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH517 “I Know Whom I Have Believed” 

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