Reflections on Romans 10:1-15
In Romans 10:1 Paul says that it was his heart’s desire to see his fellow Israelites saved. But there was a problem: the Israelites that he knew were relying on the law to be right with God (Romans 10:2-4). Christ is the end of all that, Paul says. You cannot be right with God by improving yourself. The only way to be right with God is if God makes you right with him.
We have all lived under laws at times. When I was a boy I lived under my mother’s laws. One of her rules was that you didn’t track mud and dirt all over her clean kitchen floor when you came in from playing in the yard. You had to get the dirt off before you came in the house, even if it meant being hosed down on the back porch.
God cleans us up
God is no different. He doesn’t want the filth of our sins tracked all over his house. The problem is, we have no way of cleaning ourselves up. It’s a catch-22 situation: we cannot come in until we are clean, but we have no way of getting clean. Only those who are holy, sinless and pure of heart can see God, yet no one can achieve that purity on his or her own.
That’s why God had to come out of his house, in the person of Jesus, and clean us up. Only he could make us clean. If you are waiting to come into God’s house until you get the dirt off, you will be waiting until judgment day. But if you believe what he says, that he has already made you clean, you can come in right now and sit down to dinner at his table.
Understanding the remainder of Romans 10 hinges on understanding this fact. It is impossible to know God until your sin has been removed. Knowing God does not make it possible to have your sin removed; having your sin removed is what makes it possible to know God.
To back up this point in Romans 10:5-8, Paul quotes from the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down).” As human beings we cannot seek out and find God; he comes to us.
God has found us
Moses had been to the mountaintop, seen God, received his word, and brought it down to Israel. They did not need to go find God and see what he says—God had already found them.
It is the same with Jesus, Paul is telling us. The eternal Word of God has come down to us, being made flesh as the man Jesus. We could not go up to heaven and find him, or summon him to our aid. But he could, and did, choose in his divine freedom to come down to us. Jesus saved the creation by cleaning up the dirt of sin and thus opened the way for us to come into God’s house.
That leaves us with the question: will we believe what God says? Will we believe that he has come down to us, found us, and already made us clean so that we may enter his presence? Will we believe that Jesus has already washed the dirt off us so that we can now come into his house? To fail to believe this is to remain outside God’s house.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9-13. This is reality: God has redeemed his creation through Jesus Christ. This is reality: he washed away our sins and made us clean by his own work and righteousness, without any input, help or even request from us. When we believe in Jesus, confessing that he is Lord, we are now living in reality.
Here is an example. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This executive order said that all slaves in all states in insurrection against the U.S. government were now free.
The news of this freedom did not reach the slaves of Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865. For two and half years those slaves had been legally free, but they did not know it and could not live in the reality of it until soldiers of the U.S. Army arrived to tell them.
Jesus saves us
It is important for us to realize that it is not our confession that saves us. Jesus saves us. Remember what Paul has already told us earlier in Romans 10: we cannot obligate God to do anything. Our good works do not make us right with God, and it does not matter what kind of work we are talking about. Whether it is the work of obeying a rule—like keeping a day sacred or avoiding alcohol—or whether it is the work of saying, “I believe.” As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, even our faith is a gift from God!
Maybe it is helpful to think of the difference between a contract and a confession. A contract is a legal agreement in which an exchange takes place. Each party is obligated to trade something to the other. If we have a contract with God, then our confession of Jesus obligates him to save us. But we cannot obligate God to act on our behalf; that would be like ascending to heaven to bring Christ down. Grace is Christ choosing, in his divine freedom, to come down to us.
In a confession, however, a person stands in open court and admits to the reality that already exists. A criminal might say: “I admit it. I stole the merchandise.” He has confessed to the true state of his world. Likewise, followers of Jesus say: “I admit it. I needed to be saved and Jesus
saved me.” They have confessed to the true state of the world.
Confess that we are free
What the slaves in Texas in 1865 needed was not a contract to buy their freedom. They needed to know and confess that they were already free. Their freedom had already been established. President Lincoln could set them free, and he did set them free by his executive order. God had the right to save us, and he did save us by the life of his Son.
What the slaves in Texas needed was to hear that their freedom had been established, to believe that it was so, and to begin to live accordingly. This world being what it is, their freedom was only the first step in a long road toward being treated as free. Slaves need someone to come and tell them they have been set free. This is Paul’s point in Romans 10:14.
Can you imagine what it was like for those slaves, chopping cotton in the 100-degree heat of Texas on that June day to hear the good news of their freedom? When they looked up and saw the U.S. Army coming, don’t you think that was the most beautiful sight they had ever seen?
I think Paul would say that it was. In Romans 10:15 he quotes from Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” What does that tell you about our role in God’s plan of salvation? We are his army, carrying the good news of what he has accomplished to all those who have not yet heard. We cannot save a single person. Our job is to be the heralds, the
messengers, the newscasters of the good news of what Jesus has already accomplished.
Why should we tell people about Jesus? Because they are living as slaves when they should be free. Jesus won their freedom 2,000 years ago, and they still haven’t believed the good news.
The Israelites that Paul knew were relying on the law to be right with God (Romans 10:2-4). Christ is the end of all that, Paul writes. You cannot be right with God by improving yourself. The only way to be right with God is if God makes you right with him.
Author: Jonathan Stepp