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.