This is part of a series of posts on Romans. The main focus of this series will be chapters 9-11 of the letter. These chapters, particularly chapter 9, have been interpreted in various different ways. My aim is to demonstrate what I consider to be the correct interpretation. I will do this by considering the structure and context of the letter and then focusing in on these chapters, showing how the proposed interpretation fits with the context and structure of the letter, as well as being internally consistent within chapters 9-11. Click here for the contents page.
Having looked at Romans 9:30-10:3, now we come to Romans 10:4-13, which is the central section of chapters 9-11. It starts with this:
“ For Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  For Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.””
Jesus has fulfilled the law; he is what the law was pointing towards. The result of this is that everyone who believes in him is considered righteous before God – they can claim Jesus’ righteousness for themselves. Because Jesus has fulfilled the law, living a sin-free life and being the spotless sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of the world, those who trust in him can rely on his record instead of their own. Jesus is “the person who does these things” (verse 5, i.e. the person who perfectly keeps the law), and he lives, as seen by his resurrection. So, those who trust in him will live as he lives.
However, for someone who is trying to live a righteous life on their own without relying on Jesus, the words “the person who does these things will live by them” are to the condemnation of that person. No one apart from Jesus fully obeys all of the law (“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23), so no one who is living a life separated from Jesus and trying to obey the law on their own will be able to live by this.
Paul contrasts the “I’ll meet the law’s requirements on my own” attitude (righteousness by the law, which is doomed to fail) with the “I’ll rely on Jesus’ righteousness as I have no hope without him” attitude – the righteousness that is by faith:
“ 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 word of faith that we proclaim),”
Paul’s exciting news is that righteousness by faith is possible! We can actually achieve it. Whereas a person trying to be righteous by obeying the law on their own is doomed to fail, this radically different strategy of trusting in Jesus (to share in his righteousness) is something that we can actually achieve.
The quotations in these verses are from Deuteronomy 30:12-14. We can see the point Paul is making by looking at the surrounding text from the quote from Deuteronomy, which Paul’s ethnic Israelite audience would have known well. It is from Moses’ final speech to Israel:
“ “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,  I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live  and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Moses was presenting the people with two options, and both of these options were possible thanks to the grace of God in giving them the word. In the same way, Paul explains that righteousness by faith is possible for all.
How is righteousness by faith something we can actually achieve, when “there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11)? The reason is that, despite the situation that we don’t seek God, God seeks us! The Spirit-breathed word of God comes to us and enters our hearts. With the word of God in our hearts, our hearts are opened so that we are able to trust him. Without the word of God coming to us, God would be so far away from us that we would never be able to get to him, and in fact we would never even try given our sinful nature and rebellion against him. But because the word of God comes to us and enters our hearts, we become enabled by this Spirit-filled word to trust in Christ.
Note that the word Paul speaks about is near to the people but not all of the people believe it. This word therefore doesn’t automatically cause people to trust in Christ. What it does is make belief possible. People are graciously given the option of trusting in Christ and the ability to do so, which is a change from their natural (fallen) state, in which they do not have this option or ability and so would never trust Christ on their own. The word changes the situation from one in which none would believe to the situation that some people believe while others do not. The reason why some people do not believe is not a lack of provision by God such that it was ultimately impossible for them to believe – the word is near to all of them.
Although God could cause those who hear his word to trust him automatically, it’s clear that he hasn’t made things be that way. He wants people to make a genuine decision about whether or not to trust in Christ, rather than not giving them any option but to trust in Christ. Who are we to question God’s sovereign decision to let people have a decision?
This situation is in fact great news for all of us. If it were the case that all people who become Christians had no option other than to trust in Christ, that would mean that there are many people who are never given the option or ability to trust him (as many do not become Christians). Someone not yet a Christian would then have no way of being sure that God will give them a genuine opportunity to trust in Christ, and Christians would not know whether God ultimately wants to save their non-Christian friends and family. Thankfully, that view isn’t true – it would run completely against Paul’s message that the gospel is for everyone. The next part of Romans 10 makes this clear – the good news of the gospel is for everyone! Let’s carry on with Paul in this section of Romans, with arguably his most emphatic message of the whole letter:
“ But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim),  because 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 the heart that one believes and is justified, and it is with the mouth that one declares their faith and is saved.  As Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, for 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.””
What great news! God has not excluded anyone, so everyone can be saved! All they have to do is to believe the word of God and, as a result of this, declare that Jesus is Lord. This is not too difficult to do, as the word of God has come to their hearts and their mouths (verse 8), so that they are able to do this.
Note the abundance of inclusive terms like “all” and “everyone” – the gospel is for all!
In verse 12, Paul again returns to one of his main themes of Romans, by saying that “there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile” (see Romans 1:16 and Romans 3:22 for other examples). We can deduce something very significant from all of this – God has not excluded ethnic Israelites! (More of this in Chapter 11.) God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), he enables all to be saved (see the next post if you’re not yet convinced of this), and all who are saved are saved in the same way – through faith in Christ (Romans 3:30, John 14:6).
This teaching of “no distinction between Jew and Gentile” appears both in this section of Romans (chapters 9-11) and in the corresponding section of Romans 3:1-4:25 (in Romans 3:22). Righteousness by faith is also taught in both of these sections (3:22, 10:6). The structure of Romans as a whole is explained here, the structure of Romans 3:1-4:25 is explained here, and the structure of Romans 9-11 is explained here.
We’ll end this post with a look at the structure of this section. It’s no surprise that the key verses of this section have a chiastic structure, as Paul sets out his great news in a beautiful way:
“Saved” is given an extra emphasis by being mentioned at the end as well as in the middle.
Here is a structure for the whole section, with the chiasm above forming the middle section:
Verses 11-13 also have a chiastic structure, with verses 11 and 13 having similar quotations, and surrounding verse 12.
In the next post, we’ll look at the next section (Romans 10:14-21).
“Humbly accept the word planted in you, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21)
This was first published at the Predestination Station, where comments can be made.