For the past 2 weeks we have emphasized the fact that God is sovereign. He has complete and absolute authority over and control of His creation. He allows and sometimes causes some to rise and others to fall. He showers blessings upon some and withholds them from others. God exercises His sovereign will as He sees fit upon nations and individuals, and thereby directs the course of history toward its predetermined end. In addition, He alone calls His people to salvation and apart from His intervention into our depraved, sinful lives no one could ever be saved.
Some have taken the doctrine of God’s sovereignty so far as to believe that God predestines those who will be saved and those who will not. According to this type of theology, God has from the very beginning already elected or chosen all of His children. During their earthly lives He grants them faith, so that they can recognize Him while all others can’t. He extends to them irresistible grace which cannot be rejected or denied, thereby ensuring their salvation. Thus, His elect are saved solely based upon God’s prerogative, while the rest are lost and condemned. While embraced by many, I believe this particular interpretation of Scripture is faulty.
Those who believe that a person’s eternal destiny in either heaven or hell is predetermined by God and cannot be changed misunderstand the Biblical meaning of predestination. Such a rigid belief completely undermines the doctrine of free-will, which is also clearly and thoroughly taught throughout Scripture. In order to reconcile these seemingly contradictory teachings so that both can be accepted, one must understand that predestination does not refer directly to a person’s choice to accept or reject Christ, but rather to the result of their choice. In other words, that which is predestined is the outcome that will take place as a consequence of a person’s decision - not the person’s actual decision itself.
Paul has written extensively about God’s sovereignty over our earthly lives and the fact that He chooses us as candidates for salvation. In chapter 10 he turns the spotlight upon humanity - what must we do in response? These verses affirm that people do have a choice as to whether or not to accept Christ. It is important to realize that our freedom to make this decision in no way dilutes God’s sovereign authority over us.
I. CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW (Romans 10:1-4)
In the previous chapter, Paul began by expressing his sorrow that the Jewish people as a whole had rejected the Messiah. Here he adds that his heart’s desire and earnest prayer is for their salvation. He applauds their zeal or passion for God, acknowledging that many are devoted and diligent in their commitment to Him. Yet, he points out that they lack the knowledge of how true salvation works.
The Jews (as a whole) do not know recognize their need of God’s righteousness. Of course they believe that God is righteous, but they do not understand that it is His righteousness that they need in order to be saved. Instead, they seek to establish their own righteousness through strict obedience to the Mosaic Law. Such efforts to attain self-righteousness are futile, as no person can perfectly adhere to the Law. Scripture teaches that violation of just one command brings about the same level of guilt of breaking them all. Thus, salvation through works is impossible.
Christ is the end of the law. This should not be interpreted to mean that with the advent of Jesus the law is no longer useful. The commandments of God are not like something that ends and can be forgotten or discarded. Rather we should understand this verse to mean that at the end of the law’s road, we find Christ. In other words, the law is a pathway that leads us to Jesus - where the law ends, Christ begins. When we arrive at this destination, the road that guided us there does not cease to exist does it? Absolutely not! It still serves as a guide, but is not itself the goal.
II. THE WORD OF FAITH (Romans 10:5-8)
Earlier in this series we discussed justification, the first step in the salvation process. Justification includes God’s forgiveness of our sins, His pardon of our penalty, and His making us righteous by imputing the righteousness of Christ upon us. The person who receives salvation by faith is justified and is therefore covered with the perfect righteousness of Jesus, while the one who seeks salvation through the law is not justified and remains uncovered in their own flawed self-righteousness. This is an important distinction to make and to understand.
As one having been saved by faith, Paul poses a couple of questions to his self-righteous kinsmen (the Jews). He asks if any of them can, by their own might, ascend to heaven and bring Jesus down. He follows up with a similar challenge requesting any of them, by their own power, to descend into the abyss and bring Jesus up. With these questions he is trying to demonstrate that no one can successfully go and find Jesus in their own strength. Salvation in Christ can never be founded or achieved on the basis of human effort or works.
The inaccessibility of Christ through works should not make us upset. It is not as if He is in some far, distant place or hidden in some remote location. On the contrary, the word of God is very near to us - “in our hearts and in our mouths”. It is not the location of Christ that is the chief concern here, but rather the means by which we approach Him. We must hear and receive the “word of faith” which Paul (and others with him) are preaching, namely that salvation comes solely on the basis of faith and not of works.
III. CONFESS AND BELIEVE (Romans 10:9-13)
In the previous set of verses Paul stated that the “word of faith was near - in our hearts and mouths”. Now he will explain what we must do with them (our hearts and mouths) in order to actually receive the word which is near to us. It is important to remember that “the word” is often used in reference to Jesus Christ. That said, it is Jesus who is near to us. This passage is teaching us what we must do in order to receive salvation in Him.
First, a person must confess (with their mouth) that Jesus is Lord. The title “Lord” is significant because it indicates that we must accept Jesus as the lord or master over our lives. If someone expects to receive Christ as Savior only, but not as Lord, their salvation will be counterfeit - not genuine. Second, a person must believe (in their hearts) that God has raised Him from the dead. Again, the words matter. It is not enough to just believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but we must also believe that He actually rose from the grave and lives eternally. The resurrection proves that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.
When a person acts in faith both confessing and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, God graciously responds by granting them salvation and making them righteous. As you may recall from earlier in this series, righteousness refers to a “right standing” with God. Those who accept Christ are reconciled to God; they enter into an eternal, saving relationship with Him and have the promise of eternal life in heaven.
The invitation to receive salvation through confession and belief in Jesus is available to all - both Jew and Greek (Gentile). There is no distinction or variation in the manner in which these 2 people groups are saved. The grace of God to save sinners is always initiated on the basis of faith, regardless of who you are - never on works or by any other means. In addition to this, salvation is not limited to certain persons or groups, but is available to “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord”.
As we have been discussing, in order for a person to choose God he must first be chosen by Him. This simply means that God must afford the person with an opportunity to overcome their abject spiritual blindness in order to recognize Him. These brief glimpses of God’s true glory can be few and far between. They are moments of Holy Spirit conviction. Only God can cause these moments to occur. When they do, it is an instance of God calling out to the chosen individual. Only under these circumstances can a person be genuinely saved.
Seeing that salvation is extended to all, it stands to reason that God must be calling out to all people generally and to individuals on occasions of His choosing. That said, God has not chosen only certain humans to be saved but rather He has chosen all of humanity to be candidates for salvation. I understand Scripture to teach that all people have at least one moment of conviction (and often many more) over the course of their lives in which they have the chance to receive salvation by faith. Because of this, no one can rightly stand before God and accuse Him of being unjust by not granting them an opportunity to be saved. Everyone has an opportunity to place their faith in God by confessing and believing in Jesus Christ at some point. But we must not go so far as to believe that someone can come to God whenever they feel like it; this cavalier, any-time access to God is unscriptural.
The faith we show as humans simply allows the application God's saving grace. It is God’s grace alone that affects salvation. He forgives us of our sin; He pardons us of our condemnation; He makes us righteous by imputing the righteousness of Christ upon us; He reconciles us to Himself thereby restoring our relationship; He makes us into a new creation through spiritual rebirth; He sets us apart for His purposes and fosters our growth; He secures our salvation by the power of His hand; and someday He will give us incorruptible heavenly bodies. God alone is wholly responsible for all of this. Our faith does not entitle us to lay any claim on salvation. It is entirely a gift that we are offered - all we can do is either accept it or reject it.