Romans (Part 32) – Justified by Faith (10:8–13)
So far through chapter 10, we have discussed how the Jews misunderstood salvation’s righteousness and the right relationship of good works to righteousness. The Jews’ misunderstanding placed works (obedience to command—following the Law) as a means to show righteousness. It was a works-based righteousness whereas Paul’s argument was that works did not bring about righteousness, but rather a righteous heart naturally produced good works. Since Paul’s whole discussion correcting the Jews’ wrong thinking has been going on since the beginning of the letter (and is about to wind up in chapter 11), we should pause to ensure we have all the elements straight in our minds. We will discuss definitions of these covenant terms regarding redemption and relationship first and then try to put logical sequence together.
Righteousness is, of course, as we’ve discussed dozens of times, faithfulness to a covenant. It can be confusing simply to say someone is righteous unless we understand about which covenant we are talking. We have all been unrighteous regarding the Covenant of Life originally given in Adam. But we may all be righteous in regard to the New Covenant of Life when born anew into Christ.
The Greek word for justification rests on the same root as righteousness. The difference is that while righteousness was a status—in right relationship to the covenant—justification is the declaration (or verdict in the law court scene) that we are righteous. We have been justified (declared righteous) at our conversion. However, that declaration is in anticipation of the final declaration at the Great White throne where, because our names are found written on the heart of our Savior—the “book of life” (Rev 21:12), we our declared righteous in finality, being rescued from the second death.
Faith plays a tremendous role in Paul’s discussion. Simply put, faith is confident and trusting belief. However, that is a little too simple for any discussion of note. We are discussing theological terms—covenant terms regarding redemption and relationship, so it is not enough merely to talk about confident and trusting belief, but we must also identify in whom or what we place that confident and trusting belief. Therefore, in regard to redemption we must have faith in God as source of truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB) by which we have life. Remember that life is defined as relationship with God (as opposed to death, which is separation from God). Since relationship with God rests on the basis of his essence (his TGB), the operation of faith in our redemption is our positive response to God’s revelation in moving our dependence (confidence and trust) back to God’s essence from our own. The fall, remember, was when Adam and Eve removed faith from God’s essence, placing it on their own, and thus destroying relationship. The renewal of relationship occurs when the reverse is played out—our faith returning to rest on God’s essence.
We usually think of salvation as the whole redemptive process, and there’s really nothing wrong with doing so. However, in particular, salvation refers to our rescue from death. Again, death is defined as separation from God. Our rescue from that—our salvation—restores us to life (relationship with God).
Works are activity in response to God’s commands. But here we find a little more complexity. Whether works are good or bad depends on motivation, and that motivation is whether we perform them based on our TGB dependency or based on our own effort for our singular benefit. It is in Romans 10 that we found the Jews misunderstanding works. Although the Law itself is righteous, as Paul has discussed, we may refer to works of Law (as the Jews performed them) as obedience prompted by duty in response to command. In our Isaiah study (and as discussed in our last summary), we found that God hates mere duty as the response to his leading. Therefore, works of Law may be distinguished from good works, which are works of obedience as well, but prompted by desire for the same result as rests in God’s heart—God’s essence—God’s TGB.
I think that is important to teach to Christians, especially to our children. It eliminates the picture of God standing over us with a baseball bat ready to whack us down if we step out of obedience. It is not simply our conformity of action that he wants. It is conformity of heart embrace of those things on which relationship rests. We should never not think of it as obedience. But the obedience aspect comes from being created for good works (Eph 2:10)—that TGB of his (not our) essence and also based on his infinite knowledge of his TGB essence. Think of it this way. Imagine two detectives going into a building to apprehend a lawbreaker. One of those detectives knows the building well. The other has never been there before. The detective with knowledge directs their movements, telling the other detective where to go. That other detective obeys the direction because of the superior knowledge of the first. I know analogies don’t always fit on every point, so yes, our relationship with God is a bit different. But regarding relationship and the basis for command and obedience resting on God’s essence, the similarity exists. God wants relationship for the derived fellowship in joy, not so he can be shown to be master over groveling creation. The exaltation of the glory of God is exactly that—the praise and worship of his manifest essence—his TGB.
Okay then, with this understanding of covenant terms, we find that where the Jews misunderstood is that they believed they were chosen simply according to the flesh. They had no need for salvation—they were born into covenant relationship with God. They performed works of Law, then, not to attain relationship (they already had that) but rather to promote their own individual righteousness (or faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant). But since it was not founded from hearts already set in righteous relationship on God’s TGB, the works were merely dutiful obedience for their own perceived singular benefit and blessing. There misunderstanding took shape as this sequence:
Chosen by flesh —> Works of Law —> Righteousness —> Individual blessing
Paul countered that sequence throughout the first 10 chapters of his letter. Paul’s explanation of God’s covenant goal shapes up as this sequence:
Faith —> Chosen —> Salvation —> Righteousness —> Justification —> Good Works
The good works are not really in the process of redemption but are an outworking from it. Faith begins the process. We are chosen by condition of faith. Of course, technically, I should say God begins the process because it is only through his revelation that we, who have turned away from him, can spiritually perceive so as to respond in faith. But for Paul’s discussion, he has bookended the process with faith and justification. As Romans 5:1 tells us, we are justified by faith. That statement works only if faith begins the process that leads through to justification. If we, for example, place faith between righteousness and justification in this logical process, we lose the logic. Justification requires being righteous, and if that is true, how could Paul then say we are justified by faith? The only logical way is through the sequence above.
In the discussion then of Salvation’s righteousness, Paul continues in verses 8b through 13 to describe the righteousness from faith. He does so by continuing his link to Moses’s declaration that the message of God is near—in your mouth and in your heart (10:8a). Paul takes these two points and applies them to salvation in Christ. He says salvation is in the confession (with the mouth) that Jesus is Lord and belief (in your heart) that God raised Jesus from the dead. Of course, the confession is a denial of the 1st century expected declaration that Caesar is Lord. Caesar was the one whom the Roman world depended on for livelihood and therefore had little problem praising him as Lord. But Paul says no. The one who has relationship with God sees that as of primary and necessary importance, and it is Christ who accomplished that relationship of humanity with God. Realizing that we confess, “Jesus is Lord!”
The heart belief that Jesus was raised from the dead encompasses all belief about that redemptive process. Remember the definitions of life and death: relationship with God and separation from God. Jesus was dead—separated from God (unjustly because without sin). But Jesus being resurrected, born again into life—relationship with God, shows his sinless condition, shows his death was not for himself, shows his own true relationship with God, and shows his firstfruits ability to give his death to us so that we too may be born again.
Interestingly, Paul goes on in verses 11 through 13 to prove through OT Scripture that belief opportunity is extended to all humankind. In both quotations—from Isaiah and Joel—Paul applies the good news, first given to Israel—the image—to those whom Israel imaged—the world—so that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).