Paul has a weighty task on his hands. As a recovering Pharisee, he is wanting to ensure that a tenuous tension remains in play: (1) that the law is not meant to be followed for the Christian convert because it has proven to not save, but only condemn and (2) that the law was and is good.
Good luck, Paul.
Jokes aside, Paul makes a careful and workable argument in the middle sections of Romans to hold this tension together. For Paul, believers in Christ are grafted into God’s covenant with Abraham and become the elect of the covenant. It is, after all, faith that made Abraham righteous, not works, not law. Paul argues that Moses, while the author and receiver of the law, knew this.
Quoting Moses’ words in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, he shows that Moses’ vision of the law was to live out the heart of the law and not simply know the law; to embody the principles of the faithful life and find that embodying the law follows. It is problematic to point to the law, but not have a heart that follows. For Paul, word must meet action. Belief in the heart must match words, and vice versa. This is an issue of integrity: the life of faith is holistic.
This same struggle with the law follows into the new work that God is doing through Jesus. If you believe in your heart and confess with your lips, you will be saved. Calling upon the name of the Lord implies belief. One does not call upon something or someone they do not believe exists or can save. This is a fundamental axiom of the Christian faith.
But, Paul notes, Jews who are struggling to reconcile Christ, but still call upon the Lord (Yahweh), join Christians in the fundamental act of turning to God for their salvation – to be known, seen, and cared for by their creator. This leaves Paul with the belief that there is no difference between Jew and Christian (v. 12).
If calling upon the name of the Lord for salvation is necessary to faith, then we need to invite more people into this calling on the Lord. Endless debate over who, how they came to know God, what they assert or believe in this moment, pales compared to the work of being the feet that brings good news. Bring good news! Don’t get lost in debates over who is in and out, who is more correct, who is more elect!
Bring good news to those who need it! Invite people to call upon the one in whom they believe or yearn to believe. The work of salvation for our neighbor is more important than theological arguments. Both Moses and Jesus’ projects were making God known for the sake of salvation and grafting into the covenant of God. Let’s get to work there, expanding the list of those in, rather than arguing who is out or not enough.
If Jews, Calvinists, Arminians, Adventists, Catholics, moderates, liberals, conservatives, Orthodox, non-denominational, etc. are saved – all the better! And we are better for those voices preaching the salvation of God than we are nit picking each other’s shortcomings. The time is short, workers are few, and the task is before us. Our call is to proclaim salvation. May the world hear that through us.