Only By God’s Grace - Romans 9:30-10:13

Recently I listened to a public debate between an atheist and a Christian. And during their debate, the atheist made a short but telling statement revealing his understanding of how God deals with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. The statement came after the atheist asked the Christian why God could not simply do away with the punishment of sin and just put everyone in heaven.  

Only By God's Grace - Romans 9:30-10:13

The Christian stated that for God to do that would mean that he would have to go back on the things he had declared, making himself a liar. So, God would not, in effect, change the rules regarding how a person is saved from the penalty of sin. The Christian pointed out a statement in the Old Testament book of Numbers, which says, 

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” But attempting to cast doubt on the Christian’s answer and on the Bible, the atheist said this: “Moses had one covenant; God gave us a second covenant with Jesus. That changed the rules.”

What do you think about that statement?  
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, did God “change the rules” for how people are saved from sin? If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, that’s ok. I’ll explain as I go. But based on what you know about the Bible or what you’ve heard, what do you think? Are there two sets of rules in what the Bible refers to as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant for how people are made right with God?

Were people in the Old Covenant nation of Israel made righteous with God by keeping laws, whereas people after the coming of Jesus Christ were and still are made righteous simply by grace through faith in Jesus? Well, in the New Testament book of Romans, chapters 9-11 especially, the apostle Paul argues against the idea that the OC Jewish people entered into and remained in a right relationship with God through keeping laws. 

Instead, Paul makes it clear that other than Jesus Christ himself, no person in the history of the world has ever been able to enter into or remain in a right relationship with God by their own human efforts.

No one other than Jesus has achieved the perfect life required to be righteousness before God. And if we stopped there, it would be a hopeless situation for human beings. But the Scriptures reveal that God has done what is necessary for us to enjoy a right relationship with him. And he gives us these things by his grace as an undeserved gift.

Maybe you’ve heard that before. Maybe you’ve heard it many times. But you need to hear it today. You need to hear it again. Because there is real danger in losing sight of this fundamental truth: Grace has always been mankind’s only hope when confronted with a holy God. This is demonstrated in the Bible beginning with the sin of Adam and Eve, and it was the case even for Old Testament Israel.

In our focal passage today, Paul explains that righteousness only comes as an undeserved gift through faith in, or trusting in, the work of Jesus Christ.

And for that reason, we should reject any teaching or temptation which leads us to believe that anyone could ever make themselves right with God through human effort. But what are the things that has God done through Jesus, which, by only by his grace, he gives to us?
Well, I see a few things in this passage of Scripture. Through Jesus, God: earns righteousness for us, brings it to us, and bestows it on us. Let’s look at each of these.

First, through Jesus, God earns righteousness for us (9:30-10:4)

In ch.9 prior to v.30, Paul addresses something that will be important for our understanding of the book of Joel. If the Jews are God’s chosen people, how do we account for their unbelief? So many rejected, and still reject, Jesus.  What does that mean for God’s promises to Israel? Beginning with verse 30, Paul explains that those Jews who did not believe  did so because they of a false idea about righteousness. He says they interpreted the OT laws as a system for earning righteousness by their efforts, rather than receiving righteousness by faith – faith in God’s willingness and ability to make them right with him when, on their own, they never could.

“Righteousness by faith” is the one of the main themes of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Verse 30 mentions the Gentiles, which are non-Jewish people. So non-Jews can be made right with God through faith in Jesus. So can Jewish people. However, many Jews up until the time of Paul, and even today, believed that because they descending from Abraham, and because of their ability to follow Old Testament laws, they could achieve righteousness before God.

Verse 31, they pursued this, but they failed because they act, as verse 32 says, “as if it (meaning righteousness) were based on works.” Then Paul supplies this quote from Isaiah 28 that refers to Jesus as a “stumbling block.” The grace God showed to Israel in the Old Covenant was based on what Jesus Christ was going to do in the future.  Christ was the “cornerstone” of what God was building.  

By “stumbling” it means that Jesus blocked their way. So rather than having access to God, they can’t get past this stone that God has put in the way. He puts them to shame because he magnifies their guilt and arrogance before God, regardless of how good a job they think they’ve done. They’re delusional to think they’ve earned righteousness. Not that they didn’t try hard, ch. 10, v.1-2. The Jews were committed to keeping the laws. They were passionate about it, devoted to it. However, Paul says, verse 2, “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”

So, verse 3, they are “ignorant of the righteousness of God.” Why were they ignorant? Because, “seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

Only God can provide it, only he can earn it. And how did he earn it for us? Verse 4, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” God himself came to earth to do earn it. Philippians 2 says, “Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Perhaps there was a time when you did something or created something, and you put a lot of work into it and you felt like you did a really good job. You were proud of what you had done. Maybe you even boasted to someone about it. But then you saw the work of someone else, doing the same thing, and that person did an exponentially better job than you did. I mean they blew you out of the water. 

Like the crayon drawing of a little child compared to a detailed work of art. You might say, “Wow, I thought I did well, but what that person accomplished really put me to shame.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – everything that he did to earn righteousness for us, which altogether we call the “work” of Jesus, is so spectacular in its perfection that it puts the efforts for righteousness of all mankind to utter shame. If you trust in Jesus, he’s the rock on which you can stand secure before a holy God. If you trust in yourself, he’s the rock that stands in the way between you and a holy God.

Have you been thinking that you must earn God’s love, earn his favor, earn his blessing? Have you been thinking that you COULD? Have you been treating others as if they must earn God’s righteousness? I don’t mean to say that believers don’t do things that please God. Ephesians 2 says “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” But apart from faith in Christ, your good works might impress other people, and they might make you feel good about yourself, but they condemn you before God because they aren’t good enough to cancel the sinful things you’ve done. You need the righteousness that through Jesus, God earned for us.

Also, through Jesus, God brings righteousness to us. (v.5-10)

Paul then gives examples from the OT law books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to prove that the Old Testament taught salvation by grace through faith. He roots his explanation in Old Testament Scripture.  Verse [5], he says, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.

That last half of the verse is from Leviticus 18. Paul quotes it here as a warning. Moses knew that the law was the full human requirement for pleasing God, and he anticipated that the people would not fulfill it. If you’re going to reject God’s grace, then you have to be prepared to seek righteousness with God through your own “doing.” Throughout the first 8 chapters of Romans, Paul affirms that no one can actually do that. Then Paul quotes from Deut. chapters 9 and 30. Romans 10:6 “But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart,(…) That’s from Deuteronomy 9, in which God tells the people that when they go into the promised land, “Do not say in your heart…‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.’” 

And then Paul goes on: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) [7] “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). [8] But 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) 

Now compare Deuteronomy 30. Let me read that to you: Moses says this: 

[11] “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [12] It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ [14] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

When Moses tells the people that the commandment was not “too hard” he means it is not too hard to understand. He knew it was too hard to do perfectly. Previously in Deut. 30, he reveals that he expects to fall short. And when he says “neither is it far off,” he means they don’t have to go on some long journey to discover the truth. God brought them out of Egypt, brought them to the truth, and made it clear and simple for them. The Israelites couldn’t argue that they didn’t know God’s will. Now look at Paul’s words. He updates the words of Moses by saying, “Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) [7] “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). [8] But 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).

We don’t need to go up to heaven to get Jesus.  He came down here to us. And we don’t need to go down into the grave to get Jesus.  He rose up from the grave. See, humans aren’t the ones putting in the effort to be saved. God has put in the work. Read the account in the book of Exodus about how the people of Egypt were saved from slavery there.  God does all of it. And just as with the Old Covenant, so with the New Covenant, “the word (or message about this) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

Think of it this way: how far away is salvation?  Well, how far away are your words? Aren’t they right there in your mouth? Of course they are. How far away is the righteousness of God?  Well, how far away is your belief? If you have it, isn’t it right there in your heart?

When Paul says “the word” verse 8, which he then says is “the word of faith that we proclaim,” he means the good news they were preaching, 2 Corinthians 5, “that…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”

And then we come to verses 9-10, which came up in my preparation for Joel. Verse [9], because, 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. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 

These are well known verses. In fact, they get quoted a lot with no reference to the point Paul is making when he writes them. The mouth/heart language comes from Deut. 30, so the point is that we are saved by faith and not by works. Sometimes, pastors try to comfort people by assuring them that their loved ones are saved regardless of how they live, as long as they confessed belief in Jesus at some point in their lives.

Often, this verse is sited and treated like steps to being saved. But that’s not exactly what it is in the sense that here Paul says nothing about “repentance.” John the Baptist and Jesus and the apostles including Paul didn’t just call people to believe; they also called people to repent – which is, to turn from their sin and turn to God.

Listen to this summary statement of what repentance is. Repentance is a saving grace, by which a sinner, being truly aware of his sinfulness, understands the mercy of God in Christ, grieves for and hates his sins, and turns from them to God, fully intending and striving for a new obedience.

You might think, “Well, is repentance a work?” No, it’s not a effort toward being made right with God.. Think of it like this: you can’t turn to Christ in faith without turning from your sins. We sometimes talk about faith and repentance separately when we teach the Bible, but they are basically like two sides of the same coin. One author writes, “Christ calls us to give up everything to follow him, and that includes our sin and any attempt to earn favor from our good works…True faith is repentant faith.”

Notice verse 10 says, “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” The order of “heart” and “mouth” is switched from how Paul stated it verse 9. This lets us know that “justified” and “saved” mean the same here. Confessing with the mouth is simply stating what’s already in the heart. The belief, the faith, is what is key. Don’t forget that the argument Paul is making is that the people in the Old Covenant community of Israel were saved by faith, which is in the heart. And he hammers that home in the last verses that we will look at.

This brings up why it’s not helpful to tell people, especially children, that they become Christians simply by “asking Jesus into their hearts.” We need to help people, including our young children, understand what Jesus means in Mark 1 when he says, “Repent and believe the good news.” Acts 11 says that “repentance leads to life.” When we examine all of the Bible, we see this repentance/faith connection, and people need to understand that. Turning from sin and turning to Jesus, not just repeating a pre-fabricated prayer during an emotional experience. But at the same time, people must understand that God’s righteousness is not far away. It’s not hard – not for us. Jesus did the hard part. And through Jesus, God brings it near to us.

I have to ask: do you know Jesus in this way?  Through repentance and faith? Do you hate your sin, and have you turned from it to follow Jesus and his way, rather than your own way?  Do you believe that he has come, and lived and died from sins, and that he rose again? Keep in mind, even Satan and the demons know and believe that. But they don’t want to belong to Jesus. They don’t want to give their lives to Jesus. Do you? Do you want to belong to Jesus? He brings salvation to you. Will you receive it? These last verses tell you how.

Through Jesus, God bestows righteousness upon us. (v.11-13)

Verse [11], For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” This refers again to Isaiah 28:16. It means they will not being ashamed at the time of judgment. Jesus is for “everyone” and this leads into Paul’s statement that the gospel  is for all who believe, not just Jews. Verse [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; Paul explained the problem of all people, Jew and non-Jews, in Romans 3. Romans 3:23, All have sinned Romans 3:24, and are freely justified by his grace. And here he adds, “for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”

Yes, you repent when you put true faith in Jesus.  Yes you give up much. But it pales in comparison to what you get. And here you see how God bestows his righteousness on us. Verse [13], For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This, ironically, is a quote from Joel chapter 2. Salvation is received no other way than by coming to the one true God in faith. Being made right with him is not a matter of doing, but of receiving. Which he makes this possible by his grace.

Wouldn’t you give up temporary, less-valuable things, if you have confidence that doing so ensures that you receive something much more valuable later on? We do this all the time in our lives; I’m sure you could think of examples. And this is something available to all people – all kinds of people. All walks of life. No one is too far away because it’s so close, right there in the belief of the heart and in the words of the mouth.

Do you exclude anyone in your mind?  Do you think some people are too far gone? What about the atheists out there debating Christians, trying to discredit God and the Bible? Well interestingly, Paul himself had previously been out there trying to discredit Jesus and even taking the lives of Christians. He was persecuting the first century church.