JESUS IS THE ONLY SAVIOR

 

Week of November 2, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Romans 9:33-10:15.

 

Life Impact: This lesson can help you realize the urgency of telling others that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ and of helping to send out those who will go and share the good news with people who have not heard of Jesus.

 

The Stumbling Stone: Romans 9:33.

 

[33]  just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."   [NASU]

 

Characteristically Paul rounds off this section of his argument with a quotation from Scripture, this time one in which he combines words from Isaiah 28:16 with some from Isaiah 8:14. The former passage has the stone motif, but there it is a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation. This Paul replaces with words from the latter passage about the stumbling stone. He could have used the original words, for Christ is the sure foundation on which Israel might well have built. But at this point he is more concerned to bring out Israel’s stumbling, so he concentrates on the words that make this clear. Israel failed to recognize the stone God laid in Zion, and she bears responsibility accordingly. Paul ends not with despair but with hope and confidence. He who builds on the sure foundation of Christ is delivered from the situation in which the Jews found themselves, and which meant that they would be ashamed when they stood before God. Not so the believer who puts their trust in Christ, takes Him as the foundation of their lives and builds on Him.

 

The Deal About Zeal: Romans 10:1-3.

 

[1]  Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. [2]  For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

[3]  For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.  [NASU]

 

Paul is deeply concerned about his own nation. Here his concern has to do with Jewish error about the righteousness that meant so much to them; they put tremendous effort into securing righteousness before God but went about it the wrong way. The only way is through Christ, and Paul speaks of Him as the end of the law. [1]  Paul is emphasizing his warm affection for his own people. With this affectionate goodwill he links his prayer to God. Prayer is, of course, always addressed to God, but by saying this specifically Paul emphasizes his concern for his fellow countrymen before the highest tribunal. His use of the third person (for them) seems to indicate that he is writing to a church that is predominantly Gentile. [2] Paul knew the Jewish zeal from firsthand experience and indeed at one time had been as zealous as any of them and in the same way. His word zeal can be used in a good or a bad sense; here it is used in the good sense, with a meaning something like our enthusiasm. But unfortunately this zeal had to be qualified with not in accordance with knowledge. Enthusiasm is good, but enthusiasm run riot can lead to disastrous results. The proper word for zeal without knowledge, commitment without reflection, or enthusiasm without understanding, is fanaticism. [3]  For introduces the reason for the foregoing statement. The Jews were ignorant of something of first-rate importance, God’s righteousness. Here Paul says no more than that they did not know; later he will make the point that their ignorance was culpable: they should have known. The Jews did not understand that they could not establish their own righteousness by their own efforts, so they sought to establish it themselves. Sincerity is not enough. If we are in the wrong, no matter how sincerely we believe we are doing right, we are going astray. Their activism meant that they did not submit to God’s righteousness; they were sure they could do it themselves. Their attempt to be righteous as their own achievement was a refusal to submit to God’s way.

 

The Message of Faith: Romans 10:4-13.

 

[4]  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. [5]  For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. [6]  But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "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 which we are preaching, [9]  that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; [10]  for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. [11]  For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." [12]  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; [13]  for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."   [NASU]

 

[4]  For gives a reason for what was implied in the previous verse even if not stated explicitly – they were wrong in the way they looked for righteousness. Paul is speaking of the decisiveness and the finality of the work of Christ. Here end of the law may be understood as “termination” or “fulfillment” or “goal”. Most scholars take it to mean end in the sense of termination which means that Paul is saying that the work of Christ means the end of the law. Paul is saying that Christ’s atoning work has made a way whereby those who believe receive a right standing before God. This means an end to the law of Moses considered as a way of attaining righteousness. Once we grasp the decisive nature of Christ’s saving work we see the irrelevance of all legalism. It is true that Christ is the fulfillment of the law. It is true that Christ is the goal of the law. But here Paul is saying that Christ is the end of the law as a way of attaining righteousness. This does not mean the abolishing of the law, for Paul claims that he is establishing it [3:31], and he claims value for it [7:7]. What Paul is emphasizing is the decisive end to all such claims as those of the Jews. The saving work of Christ has brought to a close any attempt to attain righteousness by way of law. We should not overlook the importance of to everyone who believes. This is not a way for the Jews only or for the Gentiles only; it applies to everyone. But we are not to interpret this as meaning that everyone without exception attains the righteousness in question; it is everyone who believes. Faith is absolutely necessary, and without it no one obtains the righteousness of which Paul writes.

 

[5]  Paul insists that his view of justification by faith is scriptural. It is important for him that it is not some new-fangled idea, but that God has always accepted people on this basis. So now he assembles a group of passages from Scripture to show that God has always accepted people through grace. All that has been required on their part is faith. For gives grounds for what Paul has just said. How could the Jews be expected to know the truth of what he has been saying? Because it is the teaching of the law and the prophets. Paul begins with Leviticus 18:5, a passage which evidently meant a good deal to him [cf. 2:13; Gal. 3:12]. There are two ways of taking the words, both of which are true. We may understand them as meaning that the Jews did not take the law in which they delighted seriously enough. The law pronounces a curse on anyone who does not keep all its requirements [Deut. 27:26]. Salvation by works meant doing all of the things the law teaches. If they had really taken notice of the law and compared their lives with its teaching, they would have seen that they did not and could not keep all of the law. Since they were not meeting its demands, they needed a Savior. The other way is to understand Paul to be saying that the law really pointed people to Christ. If it had been properly observed, it would have taught the Jews that God’s way is grace. This was basic to Paul’s understanding of the law.

 

[6-8]  But introduces a contrast: over against the righteousness that is by the law, Paul sets the righteousness that is by faith. This does not, of course, mean that faith creates the righteousness of which Paul writes, but that faith is the means by which it is received. He goes on to speak of it in words found in Deut. 30:12-14. Paul read these passages as witnesses to the grace of God. There are two courses of action which one is not to advocate in one’s heart. The first is put in the question: Who will ascend into heaven? Or introduces the suggested alternative. The abyss was seen as the abode of the dead. In these two verses Paul is using expressions that had become proverbial for what is impossible. The righteousness of faith does not demand that we be supermen; it does not set some impossible task before us. God has done all that is necessary, and we receive His gift of righteousness by faith. The quotation in verse 8 carries on the thought of the previous verses that God does not set His people too difficult a task. They have no such problem as how to attain heaven or descend into the abyss, for the word is near them. For Paul the word is not a series of commandments, but the word of faith, the message that calls for faith as he immediately explains. This means the whole way of faith that was the burden of his preaching, the word that tells of faith and that invites to faith. The verb we are preaching is in the present tense, denoting the habitual act. Paul and his companions constantly proclaim the word of faith.

 

[9-10]  Paul proceeds to speak of confessing and believing. We would have expected the reverse order, but we should probably not make too much of this. The two are in the order of mouth and heart in the passage Paul has just quoted, and he goes on to put them in the order we would expect in verse 10. In any case we should understand them to be closely related as the outward and the inward aspects of the same thing. If anyone really believes he will confess Christ, so it is natural to link the two. To confess Christ is a public declaration of commitment to Christ and of faith in Him. The content of the confession is Jesus as Lord. It points to the deity of Christ. With that confession Paul links believing in the heart. The reference to the heart points to the inwardness of faith; Paul is not referring to a superficial confession, accompanied by no more than a token faith. He is referring to a faith that takes hold of the whole of the inner man. This construction means that faith has content; Paul is not advocating a fideism in which all that matters is to believe. To Paul it matters that we believe, but it also matters what we believe. Here he speaks of believing that God raised Him from the dead. The resurrection is of critical importance. It is at the cross that God did His saving work, but Paul does not believe in a dead martyr but in a living Savior. Where we have the confession and the faith of which he has been speaking, we will be saved. As usual, salvation is envisaged as future. Paul is looking to the end of this age and the coming of eternal salvation, the life of the world to come. For introduces a reason, or more precisely a further explanation of the preceding. We should not treat the two clauses as though they were detailing separate happenings. They belong together and are two modes of the same thing: the new divine life in the soul. Once again we have this leading idea of Paul’s that righteousness is not a matter of law works; we attain it by faith. Here this faith is expressed in believing and confessing.

 

[11-13]  Once again Paul cites a scriptural passage that witnesses to the importance of faith [Isa. 28:16]. He has already quoted these words in 9:33. The quotation is concerned with faith, not confession. It is in faith that Paul’s deep interest lies, and it is on faith that he constantly places his emphasis. For carries the argument along in logical sequence. Earlier he made the point that there is no difference in sin [3:22]; now he says there is no difference in salvation. Once again Paul links Jew and Greek, the fifth time he has done so in this epistle [1:16;2:9,10;3:9]. There is but one God, who saves people by the way of the cross, that is to say, by grace and through faith, and that means that distinctions like those between Jew and Greek are irrelevant. A second for carries the argument a stage further. Jews and Greeks must have the one way of salvation because there is but one Lord over both. This Lord has the riches to bring blessing to all. Yet another for carries the argument along, and once again this is done by citing Scripture [Joel 2:32]. We must understand call on as a calling on the Lord out of a sense of inadequacy and need and proceeds from a genuine conviction that the Lord can be relied on. It is significant that once again Paul takes words which in the Old Testament are used of Yahweh and uses them of Christ. Characteristically we have the future of the verb “to save”; it is salvation in the final state of affairs that Paul has in mind. The salvation Christ brings is adequate through eternity as well as in the here and now.

 

The Necessity of Evangelism: Romans 10:14-15.

 

[14]  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [15]  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"    [NASU]

 

Paul now launches into a series of rhetorical questions. By taking up the key word of the preceding member in the following one, Paul builds toward a climax. The point of the second question is that Christ is present in the preachers; to hear them is to hear Him, and people ought to believe when they hear Him. Paul’s third question brings out the impossibility of hearing without someone preaching. “Hearing” is a reflection of first-century life. Paul does not raise the possibility of the message being read. The ordinary first-century citizen depended rather on being able to hear something. If the message of God was going to be effective in biblical times, it had to be heard. And for this a preacher was needed. The fourth question is the climax that Paul has been building towards. The verb preach properly denotes the action of a herald, someone who was given a message and told to proclaim it. The notion of a higher authority is implicit in the concept: a self-appointed herald is a contradiction in terms. Paul is saying that the preaching of the Christian message is impossible without the divine commission. A herald can have nothing to say unless it be given him. The gospel is derivative. It does not originate with preachers, and the other side of that coin is that nobody can operate as a preacher in the sense in which Paul is using the term here unless God has sent him. The words also point to a certain confidence. Paul is sure that those who proclaimed the gospel did so because God had sent them. Typically he hammers home the point with a quotation from Scripture [Isa. 52:7]. To those who eagerly awaited good news, the feet of the messenger were beautiful because they brought the messenger to them.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.          What does it mean to have zeal for God but not according to knowledge? What knowledge is Paul talking about? What crucial mistake were the Jews making concerning salvation and their relationship with God?

 

2.          How is Christ a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense? How does building on Christ as our foundation prevent us from stumbling over Him? What is the key distinction between the one who stumbles and the one who builds?

 

3.          What does Paul mean when he writes that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness? What is the relationship between righteousness and faith? Why is the correct understanding of this relationship crucial for our salvation?

 

4.          In 10:14-15, Paul asks four rhetorical questions to show (in reverse logical order) the conditions necessary to call on the Lord and be saved. What are those four conditions?

 

References:

The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.