Monday, October 25, 2010

Who can be Saved? (Romans 10:5-13)

The most important question that a person can ask is: “What must I do to be saved?” This is the question that was on the heart and mind of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16). This young religious leader came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” It’s interesting that the first thing the Lord said to this young man was the truth of man’s total inability to do good because man isn’t good. “And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good…’” (Matthew 19:17). This truth alone puts the possibility of obtaining the righteousness God requires out of the reach of fallen men. To show this young man his inability to inherit eternal life by the works of his own hands, the Lord said, “But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

Notice the unusual response of the young ruler to the Lord – “Then he said to Him, ‘Which ones’” (Matthew 19:18)? Behind this question is the false notion that as long as ones partial obedience to the commandments outweighs his disobedience then God will be pleased. It’s the false notion that as long as my good outweighs my bad then God will grant me eternal life. This overlooks the truth that God’s Law and God’s holy nature requires perfect perpetual obedience and partial obedience is disobedience – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). Also the Law itself said, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).

The Law puts the requirements of God for eternal life out of reach of sinful humanity (Romans 3:20) and witnesses to the truth that eternal life must come as a gift by faith in the only One who is good and lived in perfect perpetual obedience to the Law (Romans 3:21-24). Since salvation is by grace through faith in Christ and not by works of the Law then that which is impossible becomes possible – that which is out of reach through the works of sinful man becomes near and in reach through faith in the One and only Sinless Man. This is the truth that Paul is establishing in Romans 10:5-13.

The righteousness of God is impossible for sinners through the work of the flesh (Romans 10:5). Eternal life is out of reach and impossible for sinners to accomplish themselves. In order to do so he or she would have to have perfect perpetual obedience to the Law. Impossible!

The righteousness of God is possible for sinners through the word of faith (Romans 10:6-8). Eternal life is in the reach of sinners as a gift through faith in the finished work of Christ. Notice that this requires faith in Christ and not oneself. This means that we must believe in our own inability in order to believe in Christ and His ability. We must believe that we are truly unrighteous and in need of imputed righteousness. We must believe that we are sinners, God is holy, and our only hope is in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ must become to the sinner his sole source of righteousness.

This truth humbles all who will receive it and removes all boasting before God so that he who boasts, boasts in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). Do you see how a person must be humbled by the truth of his own inability in order to believe in Christ as his sole source of righteousness? Man must see that the righteousness of God is so far out of his reach that it is impossible for him to attain to it. It is only then that man can see the wonderful truth of how God has made possible the impossible as a gift. By making the righteousness required for eternal life a gift through faith in Christ, God has made the impossible, possible; and that which was out of reach; near.

This is why Paul personified the righteousness based on faith and showed us how it speaks. What does faith say? “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)” (Romans 10:6-7). Those are two impossible tasks for men, both of which are a denial of the work of Christ, and faith doesn’t talk that way. How does faith talk? It says this, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8).

In order to be saved by faith a person must see his total inability and his hope of any self-sufficiency must die so that he can trust in Christ’s work as his only hope of righteousness and eternal life. By this he will confess his own sinfulness and Christ’s righteousness; his own inability and Christ’s ability; and his own insufficiency and Christ’s total sufficiency – [this] is, the word of faith which [Paul] was preaching (Romans 10:8).

The word of faith must affect the heart to inform the mouth (Romans 10:9-13). The word of faith connects the mouth and the heart so that what the mouth says actually comes from the heart. It is possible for the mouth to speak and not mean what it says. Jesus said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say” (Luke 6:46). He also said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). To speak the right words without believing or understanding those words in the heart is not confession but confusion! For genuine confession to take place the heart must be supernaturally affected by the truth if it is to inform the mouth with real understanding. Jesus said, “For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15).

Since the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, the heart must be changed for one to turn from self and sin to the Lord Jesus Christ. This only happens through the preaching of the word about Christ (Romans 10:17) which confronts man with his own sinfulness and inability with the sinless, sufficient work of Christ on his behalf in stark contrast.

Then and only then will the sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection of Christ become heart knowledge and not just head knowledge and it will result in the confession of Jesus as Lord.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vicarious Law-Keeping (Romans 10:4-5)

The aim of the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel is to remove the false notion that man can be justified through keeping the Law in the power of his flesh. The aim of the Gospel is to show that justification is on the basis of grace along through faith alone in Christ alone because of His vicarious Law-keeping, vicarious Law-paying, and vicarious Law-releasing. In other words, the aim of the Gospel is to show Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and not its nullifier so that the righteousness of God can be attained by faith and never by the flesh. We are justified solely as a gift through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24) based on His sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrectionall on our behalf. Therefore we cannot be justified by our own Law-keeping (because we can’t keep it) and we cannot be justified without Christ’s Law-keeping (He’s the only One who could) for it must be fulfilled and not nullified. Our justification is based on the works of another and not our own! We are justified by a Savior who serves as our Substitute who alone was qualified to pay a debt He didn’t owe for those who owed a debt they couldn’t pay!

Since it is true that the aim of the Gospel is to remove the false notion that man can be justified through keeping the Law in the power of his flesh then of necessity you will understand that God has never justified any sinner through works of the Law but only on the basis of faith in God’s perfect Substitute – the Lord Jesus Christ. There has never been nor will there ever be a dispensation in which men are justified by their own law-keeping. It is error and heresy to believe that God has at one time in history justified men by their own law-keeping but today has nullified the Law through a dispensation of grace. There has never been anything but a dispensation of justification by grace through faith in the One and only Vicarious Law-Keeper.

Let me define vicarious so that you know exactly what I’m communicating so that you can also communicate this wonderful good-news to all men everywhere. Vicarious means “performed, received, or suffered in the place of another” (Webster’s Universal College Dictionary). All three meanings of the word apply to the totality of the work of Christ on our behalf. Christ performed Law-keeping in our place through His sinless life; Christ suffered Law-paying in our place through His sacrificial death; and Christ received Law-releasing in our place through His supernatural resurrection. Every single aspect of the work of Christ is necessary for our justification. Without His sinless life He could not become the Sacrificial Lamb and would not experience a supernatural resurrection by which we could be justified and become the righteousness of God in Him. Therefore faith in Christ does not nullify the Law but establishes it (Romans 3:31) and brings to an end all attempts at meriting justification through our own works by receiving it through faith in His works (Romans 10:4).

Here is the wonderful truth of redemption in Christ – we can’t keep the Law; He never said we could! He can keep the Law; and He always said He would! It is in this and this alone that the weary and heavy laden find rest for their souls. We don’t have rest because the Law has been abolished – we have rest because our Lord has been sufficient! Christ didn’t abolish the Law; He fulfilled it just as He said He would.

There are those today who believe that the Law has been abolished and that Romans 10:4 is teaching that the Law has been abolished. These are so against the Law that they discount the sinless life of Christ under the Law as a non-essential to salvation. They would dare divide the seamless garment of the work of Christ and reject His obedience to the Law as a necessary part of our justification. This is a severe misinterpretation of this passage that not only overlooks its immediate context but also the overall context of Scripture. That the Law has not been abolished but fulfilled is the explicit teaching of the Bible and so it does not imply in this verse or any other verse that the Law has been abolished. Faith establishes the Law because it trusts in the vicarious Law-keeping of Christ!

In Romans 10:4-5, Paul is contrasting Gospel righteousness (Romans 10:4) to the righteousness of the Law (Romans 10:5) in order to show that we are saved by Another’s Law-keeping and not our own. Why is this so? Because to be saved by the Law through our own ability to keep it is impossible for sinful man since the Law requires perfect obedience at every point perpetually throughout man’s life in order to receive the Law’s promise of life. The Law promises life for those who live by it in perpetual perfection but it promises death for those who don’t. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them’” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).

So the Law does not bring righteousness to man, it actually reveals man’s unrighteousness through his inability to live by it in perpetual perfection. It is because of this that men must trust the only sufficient Substitute, Jesus Christ, in order to be justified by God. “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for ‘The righteous man shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11).

We are justified by faith in the finished work of Christ alone. It is not that He kept nine of the commandments and we kept one – it is that He kept all the commandments and we kept none – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). We don’t add anything to the work of Christ – He did it all and He did it all by Himself. That is why we read that “when He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

That, my brethren, is vicarious Law-keeping - the Law-keeper dying for the Law-breakers and being raised from the dead for our justification and His own vindication. Christ performed the whole Law, suffered the Law’s penalty, and received the Law’s release on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him and also receive the Law’s release. That is justification; that is liberation; that is the Gospel!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Christ: The End of Trying (Romans 10:4)

Since man cannot meet the righteous requirement of a holy God through works of the Law and cannot by the labor of his hands fulfill the Law’s demands, his only hope is found in Jesus Christ who did perfectly fulfill the Law in order to redeem him. People that believe they can serve God and please God in the flesh are ignorant about the righteous requirements of an absolutely righteous God and their own sinfulness (Romans 10:3).

The most difficult people on the face of the earth to reach with the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are those who have been taught that they are pretty good people and therefore God owes them salvation. The absolute need for any person to be saved is that he or she sees his or her inability to please God in the power of the flesh through works of the Law. The self-righteous are excluded from salvation because salvation is by mercy and not by merit. So the first duty of the faithful witness is to exalt the absolute righteousness of God and thereby show man his absolute inability to measure up. Men must be convinced of their sin if they are going to be convinced of their need for a Savior. As long as we allow men to remain in their self-righteousness by not exposing their sinfulness then we play right into the hands of the enemy of souls and join him in excluding them from salvation.

Many redefine sin in order to remove its offensiveness. Redefining sin as something other than what God has defined it in the Bible and telling men that they are not really as bad as God says they are is a hindrance to men coming to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Sad to say, but this is much of what characterizes today’s evangelism. Sin and repentance are either overlooked or toned down so that men aren’t offended or hurt by the stinging truth of their real condition before a holy and righteous God. The end result is men are offered grace without guilt, healing without hurting, and response without repentance. So these poor souls end up with a false assurance of salvation and will either be legalistic or licentious – not knowing about God’s righteousness!

Since man cannot achieve the righteousness of God – it must be achieved for him through a Substitute and received as a gift on the basis of faith. That being true, then all effort by man to please God in the flesh is an exercise in futility and ends in destruction. However, since the Lord Jesus Christ did achieve the righteousness of God as a Substitute for men who would believe, for them He is the end of attempting to please God in the flesh (Romans 10:4).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). Those who come to believe are those who come to see and know God’s righteousness and their inability to achieve it. They come to know themselves as sinners in the need of mercy! These are the ones that can see that they need a Savior and are no longer blinded by their self-righteousness or their zeal without knowledge. They come to know and understand – not the labors of my hands, can fulfill they law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and thou alone (Baptist Hymnal, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, second stanza, Hymn 163). For everyone who believes, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness! Christ is the end of trying!

Salvation isn’t achieved by our trying to live a good life – we can’t; salvation is achieved by our trusting in the finished work of Christ. We become the recipients of the righteousness of God through faith not through the flesh. This is why it written, “The righteous man shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Believers experience the great transaction – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore, “[we] no longer live for [ourselves], but for Him who died and rose again on [our] behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:15). We no longer live by the flesh and for the flesh but we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20).

I want you to notice three aspects about this verse:

For Christ” - Salvation is exclusive - it is in Christ alone – He is the exclusive Savior and Liberator for there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Is the end of the law for righteousness” – Salvation is liberative – it sets men free from trying and gives them rest through trusting.

To everyone who believes” – Salvation is inclusive – it is for everyone, Jew or Gentile, who comes to know God’s righteousness; his inability to achieve it; and that God has provided it through the finished work of Christ.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Zeal without Knowledge (Romans 10:1-4)

In Romans 9:1-33 the apostle Paul gave two reasons for Israel’s failure to obtain salvation: (1) Israel failed to obtain salvation because of God’s sovereignty – God saves by grace through faith whoever He chooses on the basis of unconditional election. God saves by grace not race; by mercy not merit; and by faith not flesh. Therefore no man can put God under obligation to save on any other basis. (2) Israel failed to obtain salvation because of human responsibility – since God saves by grace through faith man is responsible to see his inability to be saved by the Law through works of the flesh on the basis of conditional election. Israel pursued salvation as though it were by works rather than by faith (Romans 9:31-32).

Paul was at one time in the same shoes that the majority of his Israelite kinsmen were in. He also pursued salvation as though it were by works and believed in conditional election rather than unconditional election – until the Lord saved him on the Damascus Road. So what Paul was about to write in Romans 10:1-4 was not only true to Scripture but also his own personal experience – he had zeal without knowledge and was attempting to establish his own righteousness.

Paul’s prayer was for Israel’s salvation (Romans 10:1). There are two discoveries to be made in this verse by keeping it in its literary context (the verses that precede and follow it) and in its historical context (the situation in life for the author and the meaning of the message to its original audience): (1) We discover that believing in God’s sovereignty (chapter 9) does not discourage praying for the lost or witnessing to the lost. (2) We discover that while Paul was accused of preaching against the people (his situation in life), his telling them the truth and praying for them showed his genuine concern and love for them. It was those false teachers that told them what they wanted to hear and preyed on them that were actually against them.

Paul’s problem was Israel’s religion (Romans 10:2-3). We notice four problems with Israel’s religion in these two verses that made it almost impossible for them to receive Paul’s message: (1) the first problem with Israel’s religion was that they had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (2) The second problem with Israel’s religion was that they were ignorant of God’s righteousness. (3) The third problem with Israel’s religion was that they were seeking to establish their own righteousness – being ignorant of the righteousness of God that He requires. (4) The fourth problem with Israel’s religion was they did not subject themselves to God’s righteousness.

Paul knew all about these four problems because at one time in his life he was the epitome of Israel’s religion. Paul said that he was more zealous for Israel’s religion than the rest of his countrymen – “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:14). Paul also said that he was “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). While being attacked in the temple at Jerusalem and given the opportunity to make a defense before the Jews, Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3).

Paul had a zeal for God but without knowledge. The word knowledge is epignosis which means “real knowledge” or “true knowledge.” Gnosis is the word for common knowledge which is a lower form of knowledge and may even be a false knowledge. However the prefix epi means “over” or “above.” So epignosis is “true knowledge” which is “over” or “above” common knowledge and must be revealed by God because it does not originate in man. It is knowledge from above as compared to earthly or natural knowledge (see James 3:15, 17).

Paul also at one time was ignorant (without knowledge) of God’s righteousness and sought to establish a righteousness of his own. After being confronted by the Lord on the Damascus Road, Paul threw away his attempts at having a righteousness of his own derived from the Law and relied totally on the imputed righteousness of Christ as his only hope for attaining to the righteousness of God (Philippians 3:7-9). To be ignorant of God’s righteousness is to fail to see that God’s standard is beyond the reach of sinful man and that what we need we cannot attain and therefore it must be received as a gift through the works of another who was able to completely meet God’s righteous standard – this is why salvation is by faith in Christ.

The whole time Paul was depending upon his zeal for God and his personal obedience to the law in order to establish a righteousness of his own by which to be acceptable to God and merit His favor, he was not subjecting himself to God’s righteousness. Believing that he was pleasing God – being very sincere in that belief – Paul was refusing to place himself under God’s revealed way of salvation and was despising God’s authority. Nothing would have looked more like subjecting oneself to God’s righteousness than the earnest pursuit of rules and regulations – but those rules and regulations were for pointing men to Christ by pointing men to their own sinfulness. So instead of subjecting themselves to God’s way of righteousness – they rejected it.

Paul’s prescription was Israel’s Liberator (Romans 10:4). Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Christ is the goal to which the law points and in Him men can rest and cease striving. By this He is the end of attempting to gain God’s required righteousness through the works of the law because it cannot be done. Christ fulfilled the Law of God completely. In His sinless life He upheld the precepts of the Law; in His sacrificial death He upheld the penalty of the Law; and in His supernatural resurrection He upheld the Person of the Law so that faith in Christ establishes the Law rather than nullifies it (Romans 3:31). Men are saved through the work of Christ alone and not one iota of their own!