You can listen to the audio message by John Piper here.
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. (Romans 9:30–10:10)
One of my aims this morning is to clarify as well as I can what the apostle Paul means in Romans 10:9 when he says that “if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.” This needs clarification because Satan believes that God raised Jesus from the dead. But Satan will not be saved. Satan also confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord. Again and again Satan’s demonic messengers, when confronted by Jesus, cried out, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34); or, “You are the Son of God” (Luke 4:41); or, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Luke 8:28). Satan and his forces have no doubts about the true identity of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, Lord of all. Therefore Jesus said in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” And so everyone in this room today is faced with the most important question of your life: Is my acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and my conviction that God raised him from the dead like Satan’s, leading to destruction, or like Paul’s, leading to salvation?
My goal is that everyone go out of this room rejoicing in the confidence that God raised Jesus from the dead and that by this confidence you will be saved. I do not want merely to teach your heads that there are people who say, “Lord, Lord, we believe in your resurrection, ” and yet are lost. I want to move your hearts out of that category of people. I appeal to your mind for the sake of your heart for the sake of your salvation.
The Problem of Israel’s Rejection of Messiah
Let me try to provide some help in understanding Romans 10:9 in its larger biblical context. Behind Romans 9–11 lies a practical theological problem that Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was trying to solve. Two thousand years before Christ, God had chosen Abraham, the father of the Jews. He promised to be his God, to make his posterity great, to give him a land, and that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him (Genesis 12:1–3; 15:1–6; 17:7). All Abraham and his descendants had to do to enjoy the fullness of this blessing was trust the promise of God (Genesis 15:6) and obey his counsel (Genesis 18:19; 22:18; 26:5).
The descendants of Abraham multiplied greatly in the land of Egypt and became enslaved there. But God stretched out his arm, struck the oppressor, divided the Red Sea, and brought his people out. At Mount Sinai he re-established the covenant with them, reminding them of his great love for them and his purpose to bless. He calls them once more to rely on his help and obey his commands (Exodus 19:4–6; 20:1, 2; 34:6–10). If they do this, blessing and salvation lie before them.
As the history of Israel progressed, it became increasingly evident that the final blessing and great salvation of God’s chosen people would not be achieved without a Messiah, a coming Son of David, who would purify God’s people from all sin and bring judgment on the enemies of God (Malachi 4:1, 2; Isaiah 61:1, 2; 53:6). He would not be the contradiction but the fulfillment of all that God had taught his people from the time of Abraham. The message of the New Testament is that Jesus is that Messiah. But the problem which the apostle Paul faced, which lies behind Romans 9–11, is that Israel, God’s chosen people, are rejecting Jesus, while Gentiles are accepting him. Paul agonized over the curse that his kinsmen were bringing upon themselves (Romans 9:3; Acts 13:46). His heart’s desire and prayer to God for them was that they might be saved (Romans 10:1). He struggled to understand why those who had lived under God’s teaching in the law for so long would reject the one who fulfilled that law.
Christ Does Not Contradict the Law
Here in Romans 9:30–10:10 Paul goes a long way to answering why Israel has rejected her Messiah, Jesus Christ. One explanation which he rejects decisively is that Christ and the law are at odds with each other. That is, he repudiates the notion that Jews rejected Jesus because they were faithful to the law, while Christ contradicted the law. The explanation, rather, that Paul puts forward is that Israel had misunderstood and so misused the law so that when Christ, the goal and fulfillment of the law, arrived, they also misunderstood and misused him. Christ was rejected precisely because he stood for the true meaning of the law, not because he differed so much from it.
Look at Romans 9:31: “Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness (NOT as RSV says, “the righteousness based on law”; it was the law they were pursuing; cf. NASB; NIV; KJV), did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” Do you see what that little phrase “as if” implies for Paul? It implies that the law was never intended to be pursued by works but only by faith. When God made the covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, the divine requirement was not that they should try to earn their way into salvation by works, but that they should trust his mercy and let all their obedience flow from the joy of faith. That is the heart of what the law aimed to teach. And that is precisely what Christ taught as well: turn away from reliance on works, trust wholly in the mercy of God, and let all your obedience flow from the joy of faith. But since Israel missed the point of the law and turned it into a job description by which to try to earn wages from God (v. 32), they also missed the point of Christ and saw their own righteousness threatened by his message of faith. Therefore when it says in verse 33 that Israel stumbled over the stumbling stone, there is a double meaning: they stumbled over Christ because they had already stumbled over the true meaning of their own law.
So Paul’s answer to the problem, Why is Israel rejecting her Messiah? is not that the Messiah contradicted Israel’s law, but that he was the goal and fulfillment and reaffirmation (Romans 3:31) of that law. Since Israel missed the point of the law which was faith, they also missed the point of Jesus which was also faith.
The message of the law and the message of Christ are essentially the same message: God has taken the initiative to love you and seek you out in mercy and redeem you and be your God. Trust him, love him, and walk in his ways. Therefore when Paul says in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness for everyone who believes,” he does not mean “end” in the sense of termination and abolition (Romans 3:31), but “end” in the sense of goal and climax and fulfillment. Christ is what the law has been about all along. Here is the way Jesus put it in John 5:39, 40, 46. Jesus says to the teachers of Israel, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” That is Paul’s point in Romans 10.
The Righteousness from Faith
Now what Paul wants to do in verses 5–10 is show from the Old Testament that this is so and that believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead is a fulfillment of the law. Let’s try to follow Paul’s line of thought in verses 5–10 and see how he saw Christ in the writings of Moses and how this relates to believing in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. (Remember verse 9 is our goal, and we are simply trying to see it in its context, so we give it its proper interpretation.) Verses 5–8 say, “Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it (Leviticus 18:5). But the righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’ But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach).” A quick reading of this text would leave the impression that, contrary to all we have seen so far, Paul sees opposition between the “righteousness from law” in verse 5 and the “righteousness from faith” in verse 6. The word “but” at the beginning of verse 6 seems to confirm this impression. But three things make this very unlikely.
- We saw in verse 32 of chapter 9 that the law itself taught a righteousness that is from faith, not works.
- The Greek word translated “but” at the beginning of verse 6 (de) can just as easily mean “and.”
- The biblical text Paul uses in verses 6–8 to illustrate the righteousness from faith is taken straight out of the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 30:11–14.
Therefore, what Paul is doing in verses 5–10 is justifying his assertion (in 10:4) that Christ is the goal and climax of the law. The righteousness demanded by the law is none other than the righteousness that comes from faith. The righteousness which the law commands and the righteousness Jesus gives are the same, and they are attained in the same way, by faith in God’s promises.
Now what Paul does in verses 6–8 is try to show that the righteousness from faith is already there in the Old Testament law. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy 30:11–14. To see how he uses it, we need to go back and look at it. So turn with me to Deuteronomy 30:11–14. Moses says to the people:
This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” 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?” But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
The clear and unmistakable point of that passage is that the commandments of God are not too hard. You can do them and you can have life through them. But now that sounds exactly like what the legalistic Pharisees thought. How then did Paul hear this passage as though it were the righteousness of faith speaking? Why did he see Christ in this passage and not Pharisaic presumption?
The answer, I think, is found in Deuteronomy 30:6, which explains that the reason God’s command is not too hard is that God himself will give the power and ability to love him and obey him and live. “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Moses is deeply aware that without a supernatural act of God in our hearts we are utterly unable to love God and obey him and live (Deuteronomy 5:29; 29:4). Therefore when he says a few verses later that the command of God (to love him and obey him) is easy and within our reach, he does not mean that we are strong enough or good enough to attain it. He means that God is strong enough and good enough to bring it near and put it in our heart and cause us to walk in it. So now we can see why Paul was able to hear Deuteronomy 30:11–14 as the voice of the righteousness of faith. For only those who have faith in this gracious, enabling work of God in their hearts can truly say that the commandment is not too hard (cf. 1 John 5:3, 4; Romans 8:4). The commandment is near because God draws near to those who trust him.
The Law Fulfilled by Faith in Christ
Now what does Paul do in Romans 10:6–8 with this Old Testament passage? He says to himself: Now if the law taught so plainly that the righteousness which leads to life is not something to be attained by heroic strivings but by resting in the merciful work of God for us and in us, then all men ought to see that this is a foreshadowing of Christ: specifically, his incarnation and resurrection. Just as then, so also now (verse 6) no one should ever say, “God’s demand is too high. The hope of salvation and life is beyond our reach in heaven.” For Christ has already come down from his distant heaven. He has approached us in the incarnation precisely because we couldn’t reach him on our own. And just as then, so also now (verse 7) no one should ever say, “God’s demand is too deep. The hope of salvation and life is beyond our reach in the depths of the sea.” For though Christ entered the depths of the dead, he has risen and is pursuing us for our good precisely because we can’t pursue him on our own. Therefore, faith never says, “The righteousness that leads to life is inaccessible.” But faith recognizes its own helplessness and gladly accepts this righteousness as a gift from God. That’s the way faith speaks in the law, and that’s the way faith speaks in the gospel of Christ.
What does it say? Verse 8: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach).” In Deuteronomy 30 the righteousness of faith says: “I trust God to circumcise my heart, to give me a white-hot love for him, and to put his will in my mouth and in my heart that I might do it and live.” Paul hears this word from Deuteronomy and says, that’s the way it is with Christ too. The word of faith which we preach is a word that God aims to put in your heart and in your mouth. God draws near to us in the “word of faith” and, by the gracious work of his Spirit, writes it on our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). And since (as v. 10 says) the heart is the faculty that trusts, and the mouth is the organ that confesses, therefore what the law was leading up to all along is verse 9: “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.”
And now we are back where we started. What does it mean to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? It can’t mean mere agreement with the fact, because Satan does that, and he is not saved. The key is verse 7. Faith does not ask despairingly, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Faith will not accept the Satanic suggestion that righteousness and life and hope are beyond reach. To be sure we are paralyzed in sin and have no hope of salvation in our own strength (contrast 10:3). But Paul declares, it is not as though Christ were waiting in the abyss until we could bring him up by our own strength. God has taken the initiative and raised him from the dead and brought righteousness and life and hope within the reach of all.
The meaning of the resurrection in this Scripture is that God is for us. He aims to close ranks with us. He aims to overcome all our sense of abandonment and alienation—the feeling that he is too far up or too far down. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s declaration to Israel and to the world that we cannot work our way to glory but that he intends to do the impossible to get us there. The resurrection is the promise of God that all who trust Jesus will be the beneficiaries of God’s power to lead us in paths of righteousness and through the valley of death.
Therefore, believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is much more than accepting a fact. It means being confident that God is for you, that he has closed ranks with you, that he is transforming your life, and that he will save you for eternal joy. Believing in the resurrection means trusting in all the promises of life and hope and righteousness for which it stands. It means being so confident of God’s power and love that no fear of worldly loss nor greed for worldly gain will lure us to disobey his will. That’s the difference between Satan and the saints. O might God circumcise all our hearts to love him and to rest in the resurrection of his Son.
By John Piper © Desiring God