The Charge Against Israel Romans 10:2-13 – Part 1
One evidence for the Bible being the inspired and inerrant Word of God is its apparent contradictions. The fact that there are certain truths presented in the Bible that appear to conflict with each other indicates that God is the author of Scripture. If men had come up with the Bible on their own initiative, they would have been certain to smooth out its difficulties and apparent discrepancies. However, the Bible contains no contradictions, but, rather, theological tensions which cannot be resolved by human comprehension.
Perhaps the most noted theological tension in the Bible exists between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. While the Bible teaches that salvation is totally of God, and man is incapable of coming to Christ on his own initiative, it also calls men to believe in Christ and holds them responsible if they do not believe. We are naturally inclined to try to resolve this tension, but the Bible does not do that. It simply lets this tension stand as a testimony to its divine origin.
The ninth and tenth chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans demonstrate God’s approach to the tension existing between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In chapter 9 Paul answered the question Has God been unrighteous in His dealings with Israel by declaring that God had faithfully fulfilled His Word to Israel through an elect remnant. The emphasis of Chapter 9 is on the sovereignty of God in choosing a handful of Jewish people to be saved. However, toward the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10, Paul shifted gears to deal with another aspect of salvation – human responsibility.
The purpose of chapter 10 is to prove that the nation of Israel is responsible for her unbelief. Neither God nor the doctrine of election is responsible for Israel’s lack of faith in Jesus. Paul presents three reasons why Israel must be blamed for not being saved.
In this article we will examine the first two reasons, and the next article will focus on the third reason.
SALVATION HAS BEEN PROVIDED (w. 2-5)
Paul’s heartfelt concern and prayer for Israel’s salvation opens the chapter (v. 1). Paul had such a burden for Israel’s salvation because he understood her true spiritual condition. He wrote, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (w. 2-3). The Jewish people of Paul’s day had an incredible zeal for God. They were known as “the God-intoxicated people.” Their entire lives were centered around their religion. Before Paul’s conversion, he was driven by this religious zeal (Phil. 3:5) to kill and persecute Christians.
Although religiously fanatic, Israel’s zeal wasn’t based on a full understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. While they were familiar with God’s Word, they misunderstood the intention of His Law. They believed they could establish their own righteousness by obeying the numerous biblical laws. Their zeal for good works stemmed from an ardent attempt to be in a right relationship with God.
Orthodox Jews today are still characterized by this type of religious fervor. My grandparents were Russian Jews who were deeply committed to their beliefs. In spite of moving to a new world, they tenaciously clung to their old ways. They regularly attended synagogue, meticulously observed their traditions, and, although it required more work, they kept a strict kosher home (they had one set of dishes for meat and another set for dairy products). Their refusal to work on the Sabbath (they considered traveling by automobile to be work) forced my parents to schedule my bar mitzvah (the ceremony of a Jewish boy becoming a man) on a Monday, rather than the customary Saturday.
In spite of Israel’s great zeal, the Apostle Paul knew that their lack of God’s righteousness was due to their own ignorance. This ignorance, however, did not stem from innocence or sincerity but was a culpable and willful ignorance. Paul appropriately described their ignorance when he said they did not submit “themselves unto the righteousness of God” (v. 3). Their ignorance was caused by rebellion to God’s plan of salvation. The Jewish people of Paul’s day chose to ignore their own Scriptures which revealed God’s provision of righteousness. Every time an Israelite read of an animal sacrifice in the Law of Moses, it should have reinforced the fact that fellowship with God only comes through the payment of sin and not by zealous works. Every time an Israelite participated in the Temple sacrifices, it should have reaffirmed the fact that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Therefore, when Jesus was identified as “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29) and died in the manner of a sheep led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), Israel should have recognized Him as God’s provision for their need of righteousness.
In light of Israel’s stubborn ignorance of God’s righteousness, Paul boldly declared, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (v. 4). Jesus Christ is the termination for everyone trying to attain righteousness. When one properly looks at the Law of Moses, he sees himself as unrighteous because he has violated its holy standard (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). In brokenness, he comes to Christ as God’s provision for righteousness. Paul wrote, “For he hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). While the Jewish remnant submitted to God’s plan to give them righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, the majority of Israelites rejected Him. Stubbornly they clung to their zealous efforts to establish their own righteousness.
These Jewish people were unable to attain righteousness by works because it was an impossibility. Paul expressed the futility of such an exercise when he wrote, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man who doeth those things shall live by them” (v. 5). By quoting Moses in Leviticus 18, Paul used the words of the “lawgiver” to prove that righteousness by law-keeping was unattainable since the Law demanded perfect obedience. James declared this same truth when he wrote, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” ()as. 2: 10). If a person is going to get to Heaven by observing the Law, then there is no room for error. He must keep all the laws at all times, which is a human impossibility.
In spite of the marvelous truths revealed about election in chapter 9, Israel’s lost condition is not God’s fault. The Father sent the Lord Jesus to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but they rejected Him. He came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him. In spite of having God’s provision of righteousness through faith clearly spelled out in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish people of Paul’s day rejected God’s provision in Christ. In the final analysis, Israel was responsible for her unbelief. God is absolved from any blame because He provided a salvation the Jewish nation should have accepted.
However, in light of Paul’s teaching about election, some people might wonder if Israel could have accepted Christ or was salvation out of their reach? Was salvation possible for them or did sovereign election make it as impossible as being saved by keeping the law?
SALVATION HAS BEEN POSSIBLE (w. 6-13)
Paul wrote, “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above); Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is near thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach” (vv. 6-8). just as the apostle quoted Moses to prove the impossibility of salvation by works, he again quoted him to prove the possibility of salvation by faith.
In Deuteronomy chapter 30, Moses gave a charge to the children of Israel. After clearly explaining God’s will to them, he told them that there would be blessings if they obeyed the Lord and chastisement if they disobeyed Him. Then Moses said, for this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it fur off It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very near unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it (Dt. 30:11-14).
The meaning of his words can be summed up this way: The knowledge of God’s will is now accessible to you. You are not required to do the impossible, such as ascend into Heaven or go beyond the sea. God’s will is not unreachable. You do not have to go searching for something you cannot possibly attain!
Paul used the language of Deuteronomy 30 and applied it to Christ. His point was that righteousness by faith does not require us to scale the heavens to bring Christ down or to go into Hades to raise Him from the dead. These are both impossibilities! How ever, the message of salvation is not fur away and beyond reach It is so near to you that it is actually in your mouth and heart. How was the gospel close to the Jewish people of Paul’s day? The message about Jesus was the talk of every synagogue. Paul’s preaching had turned the world upside down, so that Jewish people across the Roman Empire were discussing this matter.
God cannot be blamed for Israel’s unbelief. Salvation by faith was within their reach. Unlike salvation by law-keeping, salvation by faith was possible and available to Israel. In fact, it remains available today to everyone who will meet its one requirement of faith. Paul wrote, ”That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (w. 9-10). All a person must do to be saved from the penalty of sin is trust that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Since it is the resurrection that confirmed the person and work of Christ, faith in His resurrection means a heart trust in Jesus Christ as the God-Man who paid the full penalty of sin.
It is important that we do not misunderstand the relationship between confession with the mouth and faith in the heart. Paul did not teach that public confession of Jesus must be made before a person can be saved Paul mentions confession before belief only because that is the order Moses gave in Deuteronomy 30. Faith in Christ is the only requirement for salvation. However, true faith in Christ will be expressed by confessing Jesus as Lord. If your heart trusts Christ, then you will have to let that fuith out of your mouth because the heart and the mouth work in harmony. Jesus said the same thing when He declared, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mt. 12:34).
just as Moses told Israel long ago that God’s will was not beyond reach, so Paul revealed that salvation for Israel was not an impossibility. It was simply a matter of faith. To support his point, the apostle quoted from the Prophet Isaiah: “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (v. 11; cp. Isa. 49:23b). The only thing Jewish people need to do for their eternal salvation is trust Jesus. However, this invitation goes beyond Israel, as it calls Gentiles to faith in Christ as well. Paul wrote, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (w. 12-13; cp. Joel 2:32).
Salvation is an open invitation to both Jews and Gentiles to come to Christ. Righteousness is available from the Lord, who abounds in riches, to whoever calls upon His name for salvation. This truth brings together both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, for while all are invited, only the elect will come. Therefore, God should never be blamed for a man refusing to come to Him. He has not only provided salvation, but He has also made it possible to be saved. He simply calls us to come to Him in faith.
If you want salvation, you can come to Him . . . today!