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Being "Religious" Won't Save! Romans 10

Updated on August 10, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

Introducrtion: Seeking Righteousness the Wrong Way

Pastor A.C. Dixon told this story in one of his sermons of a man in Brooklyn, New York. He says:

"A detective who had been looking for a local citizen finally tracked him down in a drugstore. As the man began to make his purchase, the officer laid his hand on the citizen's shoulder and said, "You're under arrest; come with me!"

Stunned, the man demanded, "What did I do?"

The detective calmly replied, "You know what you did. You escaped from the Albany penitentiary several years ago. You went west, got married, and then came back here to live. We've been watching for you since you returned."

Quietly the man admitted, "That's true, but I was sure you'd never find me. Before you take me in, could we stop by my house so I can talk to my family?"

The officer agreed. When they got to his home, the man looked at his wife and asked, "Haven't I been a kind husband and a good father? Haven't I worked hard to make a living?"

His wife answered, "Of course you have, but why are you asking me these questions?" Her husband then proceeded to explain what had happened and that he was now under arrest. He apparently had hoped that his record as an exemplary husband and father would impress the officer. Even so, he was still an escaped criminal. Though he was "right" with his family, he was all wrong with the state of New York."

Unfortunately, many people in this world make that same mistake with God. They reason that if they can live a good, exemplary life that somehow God is going to overlook their sins and let them into Heaven when they die. However, as we have learned from the book of Romans, this is impossible. For we know that God's standard is perfection and even the best person among us is not perfect and without sin

What we need to have in order to stand before a Holy God is not our own righteousness. It is the righteousness that Jesus offers us through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus, the righteous one, took our sins upon Himself and paid them in full with His death on the cross. And now the resurrected Christ offers to give us His righteousness if we would only accept it as a free gift (Romans 3:21-26; 5:17).

Unfortunately, this failure to understand and accept what God requires for salvation is what caused the people of Israel as a nation to fall. In Romans 10, we have Paul's continuation of his explanation regarding what happened to National Israel. They had everything going for them. They were God's chosen people and had many promises from God that they would be a great nation. They had the Law, the prophets and from them came the Messiah, Jesus. But now it seems that the Lord has abandoned them. What went wrong? And if God's promises to them can fail, what does that mean about His promises to us?

In chapter 9 we find that nothing went wrong with God's plan. It is proceeding wonderfully despite His people's rejection of their Messiah and of God's only means given to mankind in obtaining righteousness.

Lawrence Richards, in his "Complete Bible Handbook" , summarizes Paul's argument in chapter 9 in just a few sentences. He writes:

  1. Physical descent from Abraham never guaranteed that a person has a right to God's free grace.
  2. God retains the right and freedom to be merciful to whomever He likes.
  3. The Old Testament Scripture reveals that God had long ago chosen to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
  4. The Nation of Israel has lost its place because of its failure to seek righteousness through faith.
  5. On no account then can God be charged with unfairness to Israel.

As the Apostle continues his explanation of Israel's present condition, Paul, once again, expresses his love and concern for the Nation from which he came and then tells us the reasons why it's their own fault that they don't presently have a relationship with the God who loves them.

I. Israel Sought to Establish Their Own Righteousness (1-15)

The first mistake that National Israel made was one that a majority of people still make today. They sought to be saved by working for it. In their case, it was the work of following the Law of Moses. But, no matter what you try, there are no works that can make a person right with a Holy God. Otherwise, Jesus would not have had to die.

Paul's lament over his people speaks of this works-righteousness in which they trusted. He tells us:

"Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." (10:1-3).

Before we look down our noses on this Nation chosen by God it must be said that, in America, most people who call themselves Christian don't do much better than the Nation of Israel.

A recent Beliefnet/Newsweek survey asked the question of over 1000 random individuals: "Can a person who isn't of your religious faith go to Heaven or obtain salvation, or not?" In other words, for the Christian this question would be asking: "Can a person who is a Muslim, Buddhist, or of another faith entirely than the Christian faith obtain salvation?"

The answers are startling. Here are the results:

Of those who called themselves Evangelicals 68% said that the non-Christian could be saved by their own religious faith. Among other Protestants a whopping 83% said yes to this as did 91% of Roman Catholics. Of those who didn't claim to be Christian, 73% believed that salvation can come from something other than Christ. And among the general American population, it is 79%.

Obviously, this question doesn't include that 10% of the population who don't claim any religious faith or any need of salvation at all. Like atheists or agnostics, for instance. But it does go to show that the Jewish people are not unique in their refusal of God's righteousness. It would seem that a majority of people who call themselves religious in any way are in the same boat. And it demonstrates the need for the message of the book of Romans that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. Rather than believing this, most of the world is seeking to establish their own righteousness.

For those Paul says in verse 4:

"For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to everyone who believes."

The Apostle's point here is not that Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law through His teaching or His perfect life, (although that is true as well). What he is saying is that belief in Christ as Savior ends all the futile quests to obtain righteousness by your own efforts to work or obey the Law. People with faith in Christ come to the end of a pointless road to nowhere and arrive at their destination of righteousness and salvation.

In the next verses, we have a comparison of the difference between the righteousness that comes from the Law and that which comes from faith in Jesus Christ. Simply put, Moses tells us:

"The man who practices the righteousness which comes by the Law shall live by that righteousness." (5).

As we all know, these words are much easier said than done. As a matter of fact, they are impossible to do, or live up to.

Paul then goes on to speak of the righteousness based on faith as if it were a person. And he puts in his mouth the words of Deuteronomy 30:12,13. His point is that it doesn't take going up to Heaven to bring Christ down to earth, or going into the abyss to bring Christ up from the grave to obtain the righteousness that comes by faith. It doesn't take some impossible task at all. It simply takes the word of faith which Paul has been preaching to the Romans (Romans 10:6-8).

And what is that message:

"That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth, he confesses, resulting in salvation." (10:9,10).

Confession here doesn't mean that one must be able to physically talk out loud that Jesus is Lord. If that were true, then people who can't physically speak could not be saved. Confession means: "to say the same thing." The one who confesses Jesus as Lord agrees with God the Father's declaration of who Jesus is. He is not just a good man or a great teacher. He is Savior and Lord. This is what the whole universe will one day confess, according to Paul in Philippians 2:8-10. The believer recognizes this fact now because of faith.

Does this mean that we fully understand the implications of Jesus' Lordship when we're first saved? Probably not completely. When a child accepts Christ, for instance, they may not understand what it means to acknowledge Christ as their Lord. However, as they grow and mature in their knowledge of who Christ is and what He has done, they will grow in their acknowledgment of His Lordship as well.

And the truth is, we don't make Jesus Lord of all when we are saved anyway. He is, in fact, already Lord of all whether we understand or accept it or not. It's not, therefore, a work that we do, as some would suggest any more than our acceptance of Him as Savior is a work. It comes as a result of faith and is a realization and acknowledgment of who the person is with whom we are getting into a relationship. He is our Sovereign or Master.

The Roman Christians would have understood the full implications of this more than we do. They were forced to acknowledge Caesar as Lord, or Master. To Rome, Caesar was a God. And to acknowledge Christ as their Kurios or Lord, meant that they had to deny Caesar's divinity and accept Christ's divinity. To do this often meant death. But they did it anyway, because Jesus was, in fact, God in the flesh.

Believing in our heart that God the Father has raised Jesus from the dead is necessary because His resurrection was the supreme validation for our Lord's ministry. It proves that Jesus is who He claims to be and that the Father has accepted His sacrifice for sin and for sinners. Indeed, if it were not for the resurrection, there would be no salvation and we would be still steeped in our sins.

Further, Paul sees this particular capsulizing of the Gospel as compatible with the word of faith that he has been preaching all along to the Romans (9). And verses 11-13 say that it applies equally to the Greek (Gentile) and to the Jew. He tells us:

"For the Scripture says, 'Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.' 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; for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Here, once again, Paul is using Old Testament writings, originally written to Israel, to demonstrate that the Gentiles were always to be included in God's plans. In this dispensation in which we live, it is despite the fall of National Israel, or rather because of it, that Gentiles are saved. Israel has fallen so that God can have mercy on all the world. But salvation by faith has always been God's plan for Jews and Gentiles. Works have never saved anyone and never will.

Next, in verses 14-15, we have a series of rhetorical questions. In other words, they are questions that have obvious answers. He tells his readers:

"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? 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!"

What Paul is saying here is that, in order for there to be a belief in the gospel message, there must first be a clear presentation of that message. True good news always has content. True faith comes from hearing and believing the facts of the gospel. The question is, did Israel clearly hear it? The answer to that question is yes, they did. This leads to the second reason that God's chosen people have been set aside by God.

II. Israel Neglected the Gospel (16-21)

Israel rejected the gospel. The Nation indeed was given the full understanding of the good news that Jesus came down from Heaven, has died, and is risen again. They were given the good news that there is salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus' name alone. All that is left for a person to do is believe.

However, Paul writes that not all obeyed the gospel, even though they had ample opportunity to do so. This is just as Isaiah had predicted would happen in chapter 53 of his book (16-18).

And once again, as we stated in the previous study of chapter 9, we must understand that, though the whole idea of the Church, the Body of Christ was a mystery, the salvation of the Gentiles was well documented by the whole Old Testament. Paul quotes both Moses and Isaiah to show this fact and to remind Israel that this was to anger them and to make them jealous and want to turn back to the Lord (19-20). And, in this case, to turn to Christ in faith.

After showing the prediction of Gentile salvation from Israel's very own Scriptures, the great Apostle ends this section by quoting again from Isaiah as proof that it indeed was National Israel's fault that they are in the situation that they're now in. He says:

"But, as for Israel, He (God) says: 'All the day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." (Romans 10:21; Isaiah 65:2).

Conclusion

Once again, from this chapter of Romans, we can see that God is in control. The good news of salvation is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Israel too will hear it, but only a few, a remnant, will be saved in this Dispensation of Grace in which we are living.

The Gospel proclaimed to the Gentiles is not evidence of God's rejection of Israel. It is rather the evidence of Israel's rejection of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But as we will learn in chapter 11, Israel has not been cast away permanently. God will again deal with His beloved people when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

In the meantime, Paul hopes that some of his people will be moved to jealousy by Gentile salvation and be awakened from their stubborn disobedience.

From what we have read so far in the book of Romans, if you could talk with the Apostle Paul today and ask him what the single-most-important issue is in the world, he would say that it is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Grace of God.

If you are sitting here without Christ today, then my plea to you is that you don't make the same mistake National Israel made and reject the Lord Jesus Christ. I plead with you to accept His sacrifice for sin that He made on your behalf. Please take His gift of salvation which is by grace, through faith in His death on the cross, and in His resurrection from the grave in order to give you eternal life.

And I say to all of us sitting here as God's people in this Age of Grace in which we are now living, never take this truth of salvation lightly. We have heard it so many times and tend to take it for granted.

As someone has said: "If we had the cure for cancer, would we not share it and save millions of lives from that dreaded disease?" Well, we have the cure for death, Hell and total, eternal separation from the God who created us.

We have the privilege and the responsibility to carry this Gospel to the ends of the earth as Christ's ambassadors. May we, like Paul, proclaim this truth until the Lord takes us home to be with Him in death, or until He returns. For this good news is worth giving our lives for. Because it alone has the power to give us righteousness and eternal life!

© 2019 Jeff Shirley

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    • Jack Jenn profile image

      Jack Jenn 

      7 days ago from Nelson Bay NSW Australia.

      Hi Jeff,

      I too liked this lesson, which is for all who will forget their own pride, perhaps even arrogance and just submit their human nature to that of His. And so many today in this late age of Laodicea are bent on material possessions rather a spiritual possession, which is only choking their advancement.

      Submission is the very first requirement after believing, which is often the hardest step for all of us, myself included.

      There are two natures in everyone - our human nature and our divine nature and they are constantly at war with each other, which one will win - THE ONE YOU FEED!!!

      Belief alone is not enough, even Satan believes but what hope has he? You mention confession and I was hoping you would expand on it in the way that most interpret confession - that is to be truly sorry for our sins. And because we all sin in some form everyday and we will continue to do so, we must confess them everyday - and don't just wait until your 'end of the day' prayer, confess them immediately otherwise you will only agonise over them.

      Romans 7: 15-25 is a good analogy of the above.

      Jeff, please don't take my response is being critical of you, far from it, as already mentioned, I liked the message.

      Again Jeff, my best regards,

      Jack.

    • GodTalk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Shirley 

      11 days ago from Kentwood, Michigan

      Thanks Bill! I have been taking a lot of extra time with Romans 9-11. These chapters are a bit difficult but rewarding. I love Paul's passion for his people and for the Gospel. It gives me a greater love for the good news as well! Thanks for your comments!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      12 days ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      You've laid out these lessons very clearly, Jeff. And I love the illustrations you use. they really help make the point, Brother.

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