Why Proclaim the Gospel? - Romans 9:30-10:17
Why do we need to proclaim the Gospel and salvation that is available through faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection alone? Are we failing to get with the times? Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but there is a message of growing popularity in our culture which says that “God is love and a loving God would never send anyone to an eternal hell.” Just a few short years ago a popular pastor by the name of Rob Bell wrote a book which he entitled Love Wins. The main idea behind the book was that everyone would eventually spend their eternity in heaven because God’s love is so great that it will eventually win out. It was a book that was celebrated by many who profess to be believers in Christ and that has even altered the message that some pastors now preach and teach. Even this week while I was watching the news, the anchors referenced a newspaper article entitled, “Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.” The pope, in an open letter written to the founder of another newspaper, was responding to questions which the founder of the newspaper had asked him. Part of the pope’s response read, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience . . . sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” In other words, the pope declared that sin only really exists if we don't follow our conscience. If we will follow our conscience throughout the course of our whole life then we can be without sin. And if we are without sin (regardless of whether we even believed in the existence of God or not) then we can have eternal life in God's presence. Living a life of good conscience then becomes the ultimate goal - and we can do that without belief in God, without belief in Jesus, without participation in a church, etc. The pope's message is that eternal life with God can be achieved by our own efforts to live in accordance with the direction of our conscience - nothing else is necessary.
Without doubt, the more popular message being declared around our world today is that God is love, and that because His love is so great, heaven awaits. Some like Rob Bell have said that it is the certain outcome for all. Others, like the pope, are now saying that belief in God isn’t necessary for salvation as long as individuals follow their conscience. So why do we make such a big deal about the Gospel? Doesn’t this just demonstrate our close-mindedness? Couldn’t we grow a church faster and set more people’s minds at ease if we would leave this out-dated Gospel behind and teach something more along the line of what we see and hear other Christian leaders teaching? In fact, one of our core values says that we will have a willingness to change and innovate. So why tie ourselves to this message of the Gospel? The apostle Paul articulates a great answer this question in his NT letter to the Romans (Romans 9:30-10:17) and this week we are going to examine that text to help explain our commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Paul began verse 30 with the question, “What shall we say then?” Paul was using this question to introduce an amplification of what he had already been teaching in 9:6-29. So we find ourselves jumping into a portion of Paul’s letter where he has already been striving to make a point, but more specifically we are jumping into a section in which he is striving to emphasize a point more strongly than he has in the preceding verses. So let’s hear what Paul wanted to emphasize:
“That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by 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 of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame’” (verses 30-33).
Paul began by making some statements about the Gentiles. Paul used the term ‘Gentile’ very broadly to refer to all of the nations outside of the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel (the Jews) had been specially designated by God as His chosen people. So for Paul, everyone outside of that particular nation could be broadly lumped together and identified as Gentiles. The first thing that Paul said about the Gentiles was that they had not pursued ‘righteousness.’ It is important here that we define the way in which Paul was using the word ‘righteousness.’ Paul was defining righteousness as “right standing with God.” So then, the first thing which Paul said about the Gentiles was that they were not actively pursuing right standing with God (i.e. they weren’t trying to get into right standing with God by keeping certain laws or doing certain works). And yet, while they were not a part of God’s chosen people, and while they had not been actively pursuing right standing with God, the reality was that they had attained it.
What follows is a very important word of clarification! The Gentiles had attained a “right standing with God” that came as a result of faith. Paul had just declared that the way in which one found a right standing with God was not through laws or works, but through belief. Generally speaking, the nations outside of Israel had never had a history of pursuing right standing with God through the keeping of laws or the doing of good works. And yet Paul was daily witnessing those who were not a part of the nation of Israel and who had never been in pursuit of right standing with God obtaining it as they were hearing the message of the gospel and believing it in faith.
Having made that declaration about the Gentiles, Paul then went on to make some declarations about the Jews (Israel). Paul said that historically the Jews had been a nation and a people who had sought to have a right standing with God and that the means by which they had pursued that was through the keeping of the Mosaic Law. The Jews had believed that by keeping the law which God had given to them, it would result in their right standing before Him – that it would make them righteous. So they had dedicated their lives to the keeping of the law, striving to understand how the law applied to every scenario of life and even adding to the law at times to make sure that they did not act in disobedience by mistake. But Paul said that while the Jews strived to live their lives in complete obedience to the law that God had given them, they had all still fallen short of perfect obedience, and because of that, they had failed to attain the righteousness (the right standing with God) that they had been in pursuit of.
Make sure you grasp the magnitude of the statement which Paul just made. The Jews were experts at keeping the law! Most of them had dedicated their lives to it. Yet Paul said that even those who excelled at keeping the law had been unable to obtain righteousness. Their works were not good enough! Now stop and think about your own personal scenario. If you are striving to obtain salvation and righteousness by keeping some system of laws or endeavoring to do enough good works, Paul’s declaration here has to be terrifying! If those who focused their entire lives on keeping God’s Law had not been able to attain right standing before God, what makes you or I think that our efforts would ever be good enough?
How could that have happened? “Why?” Paul asked, did the Gentiles (who had never pursued right standing with God) receive it, while Israel (who had always pursued right standing with God) did not? Paul answered, “Because they [Israel] did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.” Please make sure you hear this clearly this week – righteousness before God is not now, nor has it ever been, the result of one keeping certain rules or doing certain good works. Righteousness before God is now, and has always been, the result of one’s faith in Jesus. The Jews had been so focused on the purpose of the Law and their keeping of the Law that they had failed to see Jesus for who He was and failed to see what He had accomplished. Paul wrote, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame’” (verse32-33). Generations before, the prophet Isaiah had foreseen a time when God would send more than a system of laws – it was a time when God would send a person. That individual – the Messiah - would be the keystone for God’s plan of salvation. And the righteousness of humanity would have to be built upon that individual and the work that He accomplished. Throughout history though there have been multitudes who have been so focused on keeping the Law and/or doing good works that they have failed to give consideration to what God has communicated through the Law. God has used the Law to show humanity the areas in which we fall short of His glory, of His character, and of His standard. He has also used the Law to help us recognize the One who would come and who would live the perfect life that no other person was capable of. Not being able to establish righteousness by our own works, we would have to recognize this perfect One and look to establish our righteousness on His perfect obedience. To those who would recognize that and put their faith in that one, the prophet Isaiah foresaw that those individuals would not be put to shame and would not be forced to spend eternity in hell. But those who failed to recognize Jesus’ sinlessness would stumble over His claims to be God and the idea that God would use His death, burial, and resurrection, to rescue humanity from their sin. One commentator summarized Israel’s failure this way: “Israel has missed Christ, the culmination of the plan of God, because she has focused too narrowly on the law. . . Israel’s failure to perceive in Christ the end and goal of the path she has been walking leads her to continue on the path after it had served its purpose.” In other words, the Law was supposed to point people to Christ. But rather than looking up long enough to see where (or should I say, ‘to whom’) the path ultimately leads, the Jews have kept their heads down, focused on the path itself (not it’s end) and have therefore continued to walk only in what they see – the Law.
Paul continued in verse 1 of chapter 10¸ “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Paul longed for the Jews to know the salvation that God had made available to them. He knew that some of them were passionate about God – he could see that in the way they strived to keep the Law. But their passion for God had not resulted in their salvation! They possessed a passion for God but did not possess salvation from God.
Don’t misunderstand me this week. God’s desire is that we would possess both a passion for Him and salvation from Him. Unfortunately, many churches today seem to be content leading their people to only possess a passion for God. They have powerful and emotionally charged times of praise and singing. People throughout huge auditoriums have their hands raised and joyfully sing about the awesomeness of God. Then after the singing is over they hear very practical messages from very charismatic teachers on how they can be better parents, better spouses, and more financially sound. But in some of those churches rarely, if ever, do they hear that the sin they have committed has left them spiritually dead and an enemy of God. Rarely, if ever, do they hear that Jesus’ death was one of substitution – that Jesus was taking their place, suffering the wrath of God on their behalf, and dying the death that they deserved. Rarely, if ever, do they hear the challenge to repent of a life in which they are lord and master over themselves and to surrender fully to Jesus’ lordship over their lives. Instead they come to church, they sing about the love of God, they hear sermons about the kind of lives they ought to live, and the assumption that they make is that if they are passionate about God and if they live their lives according to the last sermon series that focused on five ways that they could be better husbands, then they will find right standing with God. But that is not enough!
“For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes” (vs. 3-4). The Jews did not rightly understand God’s plan by which He would declare people right. They thought it would be accomplished through their zeal for God and their obedience to the Law. If anyone understood this well it was Paul. There was a time in his own life, prior to his conversion which began on the road to Damascus when he encountered the resurrected Jesus, when he had been both zealous for God and when he considered himself to be blameless in regards to the Law. But that wasn’t God’s plan for declaring people righteous. God’s plan would revolve around Jesus! Jesus was the perfect righteousness of God and He came to earth to offer to humanity an exchange. First, He would perfectly fulfill the Law which humanity was incapable of fulfilling. Then He would take all of humanity’s sin and all of its consequences upon Himself (which He did in His crucifixion and burial), and in return He would offer to all who would believe in Him new life and all of His righteousness (as a result of His resurrection). The Jews misunderstood this, and rather than receiving the offer that Jesus extended to them through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, they sought to establish their own righteousness through the keeping of the law.
Most churches in America wouldn’t claim to possess a full-blown ‘works-based’ theology like the Jews had. While most churches would probably claim to possess a ‘faith-based’ theology, the reality is that our American culture and the “American Dream” have conditioned most of us to think with a ‘works-based’ mentality – the harder we work the more we are rewarded. We teach this to our kids in school and in sports – the harder you work the more playing time you will receive or the better grades you will get. We also teach this in our businesses – if you work hard you can be rewarded with higher pay and promotions. So is it any surprise that this kind of mentality finds it way into our American churches – that the better I do at following the commands of the Bible and the more involved I am in serving at my church, the more favorably God will look upon me. Then without even realizing it, we too can put too much of our focus on and too great of an emphasis on works. And Paul has just demonstrated how a preoccupation with works can cause one to miss the righteousness made available to him or her through Christ.
Then Paul looked to the OT to provide a warning to those who might have been looking to works to earn their salvation. Paul said, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, ‘that the person who does the commandments shall live by them’” (vs. 5). Paul quoted the OT text of Leviticus 18:5 to say that those who choose to try to live their lives in obedience to the Law as the means by which they earn their right standing with God will have the Law as the standard by which their lives are measured. God will take the Law which He delivered to Moses, hold it up next to that individual’s life, and the only way in which that individual will be counted righteous is if he has fulfilled that Law in perfect obedience. If that individual has missed the mark at all during any point in his life then he cannot be counted righteous according to the standards of the Law. And that is exactly what Paul had declared earlier in his letter to the Romans when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Because there is no hope for anyone to establish his righteousness through his own efforts Paul continued by making known what the righteousness based on faith declared. “But the righteousness based on faith says, ‘Do not say in 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 is say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (verses 6-10). The message of the Gospel, which made known the righteousness of Jesus that was available through faith in Him, wasn’t a message that was kept away up in heaven. Had it been kept away up in heaven then someone would have had to make it up to heaven to hear the message and then bring it back to earth to declare it to humanity. Instead, the NT declares that that Jesus (the second Person of the Divine Trinity) took on flesh, left His throne in heaven, and brought the message down to us by means of His incarnation. Neither was the message of the Gospel buried with Jesus in the grave and hidden away from humanity there. If that was the case then someone would have had to descend into death, take possession of the message, and then escape from death’s grasp with the message to return to humanity and make the gospel known. But we know that Jesus, Himself, defeated death and the grave and came back to life where He continued to proclaim the message of the Gospel. So the righteousness based on faith – made known through the Gospel – is near to us! It is a message that God has made known to us and which has become our possession. “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)” (verse 8). And because God has revealed the message of the Gospel to us (neither keeping it up in heaven nor allowing it to be hidden away in death) it is the means by which we believe and thereby receive salvation and right standing with God. “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (verses 9-10).
[As a quick note of clarification: in verse 9 Paul only made mention of belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Paul was not here overlooking the death and burial of Jesus nor saying that belief in those things was not essential. When Paul referenced belief in Jesus’ resurrection he was assuming belief in Jesus’ death and burial as well – for one cannot be resurrected unless one has first experienced death and burial. On the other hand, one can make mention of belief in Jesus’ death and burial without assuming that others also believe in His resurrection (for there are those who believe that Jesus was crucified and buried but that He never rose again). Paul understood that salvation and right standing before God is granted when one believes in the substitutionary death, burial, AND resurrection of Jesus, but he could express that in fewer words by simply referring to Jesus’ resurrection because belief in His resurrection also required belief in His death and burial.]
Jesus is the only means through whom God chose to rescue sinners from their captivity to Satan and their eternal separation from Him. Jesus, Himself, had made this known in John 14:6 when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” And Paul was (in verses 9-10) saying the same thing. Salvation and right standing with God starts with right belief – that Jesus took our sin upon Himself, that He died the death that we deserved to pay completely our penalty for sin, and that having experienced death He proved Himself victorious over death and the grave by rising again to new life. We have to believe that it is only through what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf that we can be saved. That’s what it means to “believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” In addition to our belief, we are also called to repent of our sin and of our allegiance to ourselves (or any other) as Lord and Master of our lives. Most of us who have grown up in America daily worshipping the idol of ‘self.’ We live to delight and satisfy our own hearts and it is evident in almost all of the choices we make on a daily basis – from what we are going to eat, to what we watch on television or look at on the internet. But the Gospel calls us to believe what Jesus has done for us and then to respond by surrendering our lives to Him as Lord and Master. Too often we don’t understand the context in which Paul was writing and saying that believers in Christ needed to confess Him as Lord. In the 1st century Roman Empire the people had to profess the Roman Emperor as Lord and Master and live their lives in obedience to him. To confess another individual as Lord and Master was to commit treason – which was ultimately punishable by death. When Paul said that one was to confess with his mouth Jesus as Lord, he was talking about far more than just lip service. Paul was saying that one’s confession with his mouth was to be a declaration of complete surrender to Jesus that could not be kept secret, but which was willing to expose the sincerity of one’s belief even in the greatest contexts of danger.
Then Paul went on in verses 11-13 to demonstrate that this was not a new teaching that was inconsistent with the Jewish scriptures, but that it was in fact what their very scriptures had taught. He did this by quoting two OT texts. He wrote first, “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” Paul first referenced Isaiah 28:16 and demonstrated how the prophet Isaiah had foreseen the Messiah whom God would send to rescue humanity and that all who believed in Him would be rescued from eternal hell and shame. It wasn’t just all the Jews who would believe, but all humanity who would believe in Him. What was Paul’s grounds for this understanding? Verse 12, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him.” Jesus wasn’t just the Lord of the Jews – He was (and is) Lord of all the nations. So Jesus did not make distinctions between one tribe or people group but was willing to lavish His great grace on all would call on Him. Then Paul quoted a second OT text, Joel 2:32, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The prophet Joel had declared the same thing as the prophet Isaiah – that salvation and right standing with God was available to any and everyone who, in total dependence, believed in the saving work of God’s Messiah on their behalf.
So all of this led up to a few final questions. If what the prophet Joel had written was true – that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – then Paul asked in verse 14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Logic kicked into Paul’s argument here. The fact is, people can’t call on another for rescue if they haven’t believed that individual has done what is necessary for their rescue. Then Paul added, “And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” Furthermore, people can’t believe that an individual has done what is necessary for their rescue if they haven’t even heard of that individual. Continuing to progress through a series of logical questions Paul then added, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Individuals can’t hear a message unless another individual is telling the message. And finally Paul added in verse 15, “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Messages that are potentially dangerous aren’t often proclaimed unless someone is sent to proclaim the message. So working backwards through Paul's questions - if the Gospel is going to be believed by individuals and their lives transformed by its power then there have to be those who are sent to faithfully declare the message to those who have not heard of Jesus and what He has done on their behalf. For only when they hear the message will they have the opportunity to believe the message and then cry out to Jesus for rescue. Paul summarized that idea in verse 17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
After Jesus’ resurrection and just before He ascended into heaven He left his followers with some final commands. Matthew recorded one at the end of his gospel account, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Luke recorded another in an account that he was commissioned to write, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In both of these accounts we find Jesus instructing His followers to take the message of salvation through faith in Him alone and to declare it to those who have not heard it. What was the reason? So that those all over the earth who had not heard the good news could hear it, believe it, and call on Jesus for salvation.
That is why we are committed to the proclamation of the Gospel! By God’s design the Gospel is a message to be heard. By God’s design that Gospel has been placed into our possession. And by Jesus’ command we have been sent to declare it. So even if popular culture and highly esteemed religious leaders begin to tell us that our message is close-minded and out-dated we are going to continue to make it known. For salvation and right standing before God has to be built upon faith in Jesus Christ, and the only way by which those who have not believed on Him in faith will have the opportunity to do that is if we are faithful to proclaim the message to them! So that is our commitment and our resolve – to preach the Gospel!
Connection Point Questions for Discussion:
1. Can you think of times in the past when you worked hard at something so that you might benefit from your effort/labor? What was it that you chose to work hard at and how were you hoping to benefit from that hard work? Is there an area(s) in your life where you are presently working hard with the hope/expectation that your hard work will work in your favor (e.g. increased pay, job promotion, recognition, etc.)? Is there anything wrong with working hard for something?
2. If the mentality of working hard for something in terms of jobs, school, and sports can be a good thing, what about in regards of church, faith, and ministry? When can the mentality of working hard for something in terms of church, faith, and ministry be a good thing? Can the mentality of working hard for something be a bad or dangerous thing in regards to one's faith and ministry, and if so, when?
3. Why did Paul argue that the proclamation of the Gospel is so important? What arguments do we hear in popular culture or from other religious leaders that contradict Paul's argument? Was Paul's argument one that was only fitting for his particular cultural context, and shoud we be open to new ideas about the salvation and righteousness in our current cultural context? Why or why not?
4. In verses 14-15 Paul argues that in order for the Gospel to be believed it must be heard; and if it is to be heard it must be preached; and if it is to be preached someone must be sent. Who, if any of us, have been sent to proclaim the Gospel, and what evidence do you have for your answer? Who are we to proclaim the Gospel to? Can you think of one or two people in your current spheres of influence who need to hear the message of salvation through faith in Jesus? Will you begin to pray for and look for opportunities to share the Gospel with them?
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