I’m switching back to NIV after some recent feedback about the ESV. This is not about its accuracy, the ESV is an accurate translation, it’s about readability. I will continue to use the ESV alongside other translations as one of my Bibles for studying, and may well quote from it, but will “favour” using the NIV again.
So, I’m reading Romans 10 from v5 through to v13 in the NIV …
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by 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 deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
First thing to note is that this is a reference to Deuteronomy 30. In this section of Deuteronomy we read about how Moses has had all of the Israelites gather and how God renews His covenant with them. In it Moses says this:
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it”(Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
What righteousness is not
The first part of today’s passage, in quoting Moses, the first thing Paul is doing, is making a point of saying, righteousness is not something which is far away and unachievable, it is close by.
To ask questions, or make statements like, “who will ascend to heaven”, or, “who will descend to the deep” in order to get close to Jesus is absurd to Paul, just as trying to get close to God by your own efforts was to Moses. We don’t get close to God, HE draws close to us! We don’t have to, by our own effort, get to Jesus. He has already come to us, we don’t have to work to get to heaven, He has already done the work, we don’t have to atone for our own sins, He has already atoned for them.
Draw near to me, says God, and I will draw near to you (James 4:8).
Hebrews tells us “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, BY WHICH we draw near to God.”(Hebrews 7:18-19).
Also note that the desire for man and God to live in close relationship is NOT just a New Testament concept, we find it in the Old Testament as well.
- Malachi prophesies to the people “return to me, says the Lord of hosts and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
- As does Zechariah: “Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 1:3).
- Jeremiah says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
Not for nothing does the Psalmist say: “But for me it is good to be near God” Psalm 73:28.
One of the foundational truths of the gospel and the human condition is that our sinfulness separates us from God, and that GOD himself did the work necessary to reconcile us. Paul is doubling down on the importance of understanding that it is NOT by our actions that we reconcile with God. Righteousness comes by faith, and Paul goes on to describe what faith IS – AND – HOW it is revealed.
Look at vv 6,7 we can see two things people think they can do to get close to God, which Paul points out, righteousness by faith does NOT say:
v6 “Who will ascend to heaven? (that is to bring Christ down)”.
Does this remind you of anything? I’ll give you a hint … Genesis 11v1ff.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens.
Babel. What is it about the account of the building and confusion in Genesis 11 which is important? Genesis 11v4 is the key … “let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”
The people on the plain of Shinar had got to the point where they believed that they could become equal with God, that they could build a tower tall enough to reach into heaven. The root of temptation and sin, at its core, is this: “you will indeed become like God” (Genesis 3:1). We are all infected with this desire to be in charge of our own lives and to control our own destinies.
Ever heard people say “you Christians think you’re so much better than everyone else”, yet they, rather than us, live with a belief that their good deeds are enough to get them into heaven. They will get upset and offended when they are confronted with the truth that the “my good deeds will get me into heaven” belief is a lie from the pit of hell, and couldn’t be further from the truth. At its core it dismiss what Christ did on the cross, and reject the gospel. Which at its core says, there is NOTHING you can do go gain your salvation – Jesus paid it ALL, we contribute nothing, all we can do is trust Him and accept the free gift of salvation offered to us.
So one thing righteousness that comes by faith will NEVER say, is “I can get to heaven by my own efforts”.
The second thing Paul asserts is that righteousness by faith does NOT say is this,
v7 “Who will descend to the deep? (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead)”.
The apostle’s creed has in it the confession that we believe Jesus,
“was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven.
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;”
Jesus died that our sins might be forgiven. He died, to atone for our sins, and He rose again which proves His power to do that.
But we are fiercely independent and we seem to think that we have it in ourselves to atone for our own sins. We tend to do this in two ways.
firstly, again, we cite our good deeds as a mitigation against anything we might have done wrong that their deeds are somehow put on a balancing scale, good deeds on one side and bad on the other, and if the good deeds outweigh the bad, they will atone for their sins and, by implication, be forgiven for them. This argument is not persuasive, it simply cannot be true, because if it was, God would not be a God of justice. And people would understand and agree with this if they really and honestly thought about it …
no court in the land would acquit a murderer on the basis of the good he did apart from the murder. He is convicted because he is a murderer, not acquitted because he did lots of good works in the community as well. In fact if he was acquitted, people would be up in arms about the fact it was not a just trial.
secondly, many people (even, or perhaps especially, Christians) hate the word and concept of sin. They have a core belief that people are essentially good and not evil, and they downplay human sinfulness. They will talk in terms of not being perfect (“I know I’m not perfect, but …”), they will rarely, if ever, accept that they are “sinful”. Instead they change the language and talk of “making mistakes” AND, they get really offended if anyone suggests sinfulness in them, or in other people for that matter.
This is a quote from Joel Osteen, the pastor in America of a church of tens of thousands of people and he is describing the human condition and why we need Jesus … “When Jesus hung on the cross, He took all of our mistakes, all of our failures, our weaknesses, all of the times we’ve blown it and all of the times we ever will blow it”. NOTE – not once does Osteen use the word “sin”, not once does He declare that, as Paul has said “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We must really get to grips with and understand this:
- SIN is a theological word, it does not speak to our actions but to our standing before God, if we deny our sinfulness, we belittle sin and its impact on our lives, and the consequences it carries.
- This perspective at best minimises and at worst disregards the Christian doctrine of original sin, the idea that all of humanity is sinful because of its connection with Adam. We looked at that when we looked at Romans 5.
Not for nothing does John say “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
Those who have gained righteousness by faith know full well that they cannot get to heaven under their own terms either by atoning for their own sin, OR by doing enough good deeds. Paul describes these things as being incompatible with righteousness which comes by faith.
- My good deeds will get me in, and
- I can atone for my own sins
Both attitudes are very much characteristic of people who reject the Gospel.
Having pointed out things which righteousness which comes by faith does NOT say, Paul them asks this:
What righteousness IS
V8 “But what does it say?”, ‘it’ being the righteousness which is by faith (v6).
He goes on to elaborate (again noting it is a reference to Deuteronomy 30) …
“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:”
There is a connection between what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths, and it is this connection Paul points out. He says that the nature of righteousness by faith is truly embedded in the heart and in the mouth.
One of the first verses I learned, and one of the most significant we can get to grips with comes next ….
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”.
The Bible makes real connection between our hearts and our confessions. The first part is about declaration … “if you declare with your mouth”. Why is what we say important? this is not a preach about the tongue generally, and everything we can know about it, I am specifically looking at what impact it has with regard to our righteousness and salvation.
Thought I would note that Proverbs 18:21 tells us that, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit”. Note that the “fruit” of the tongue can be either life or death — and we can choose which!
Back to “if you confess with your mouth”. Moses says of the word that it is “in your mouth”, and Paul is telling us what that looks like.
Firstly, our words reveal our beliefs.
Matthew 12:34-37 / Luke 6:45 both say this …
“the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Secondly, our words dictate our actions.
James says that what we say drives who we are and what we do. James 3 especially teaches this.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
thirdly, what we say has power to overcome evil
The first half of Revelation 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;”
fourthly, spoken declarations reverberate in the spiritual realm.
When we speak out, our words speak to our own selves, they speak out to others and the world, and when we are using our tongues to bless or curse, or even to worship God himself (or a false idol), they speak into the spiritual realms.
- James says to us that we use our tongue to curse people, and we use it to worship God, he says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).
- e.g. Psalms 103:1 “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name”. is speaking to one’s own Spirit.
- Ephesians says: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(Ephesians 4:29).
- Ezekiel 3:18 “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood”.
- Proverbs 10:11 “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” and Proverbs 15:4 “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit”.
- Witness, spoken witness, is commanded by Jesus, *“go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” *. The great commission is a command to verbal witness, it uses terms like “proclaim” “preach” and “teach”
- Psalm 34:13 “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies”.
To believe that our “faith should be private”, and therefore we should keep our mouths shut, or that our words have no real power so there’s no point trying, remember that many of the prophets didn’t want to speak up. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Jonah, Ananias (Acts 9), to name just a few balked at God’s command to go and preach (for different reasons).
In fact God says this to Ezekiel …
“Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me” (Ezekiel 3:4-7, which is part of the “call” I recieved).
But just saying things, although important, is inadequate (Matthew 6:7,8),
“when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.
Next, the second thing Paul says is, “and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead”. The important thing to note here, is that our words come from a place of faith. Paul says, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”. Note that (and this is one of the main thrusts of Paul’s arguments here), neither faith nor profession are out of reach to either Jew or Gentile. As Paul says, “there is no difference” between the two.
We have a real focus on equality nowadays, people are very sensitive to inequality, which they believe is directly related to some form of injustice. I won’t comment on why I think that is nonsense, but I will say this, the most EQUAL thing ever is the Gospel. The Gospel is the true leveller, it provides for only two categories. It is available to EVERYONE who has existed, who does exist and who ever will exist in the future. There is nothing about you which will exclude you from its message.
- EVERYONE, no ifs, no buts no exceptions, fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).
- EVERYONE, no ifs, no buts no exceptions, who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
And Finally … Note the thing we must believe is … THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. This is the lynchpin of our faith, If Christ was not raised, then it’s like a pack of cards and it all comes tumbling down. It was a requirement for the disciple chosen to replace Judas: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21,22). It is the core of Peter’s message on that first Pentecost day, so for example in Acts 2:32 he says, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it”. In Acts 17:31 Paul speaks in Athens and says of God that “He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”. And to the Corinthians, Paul writes “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17)
Of all the things which should mark us as followers of Jesus, a belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is the most important. Whether we believe it or not DIRECTLY impacts our eternity.
The question we must ALL answer, then, is this one.
Do I declare Jesus as Lord? Do I believe in His bodily resurrection?