Romans 10:8b-13 With Paul’s letter to the Romans being his flagship epistle, it is as contextually rich as it is theological. While the sermon will not allow time to educate the congregation in the context of the Roman church, the tensions between Jew and Gentile, and the strong influence of Old Testament passages in Paul’s words, the preacher would do well in gaining awareness of these elements. All these elements give tremendous clarity to the thrust of Paul’s description of belief in heart and verbal confession in regards to salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Tensions are pretty thick in Paul’s Roman community. He has an influx of gentile believers attending both synagogue and Christian worship along with Jews who found themselves walking that same line on one side or the other. The hot button issue of the day would most certainly center around the means of salvation between the law of Moses and faith in Jesus Christ. Is not salvation through circumcision in obedience with the law of Moses? Is salvation not exclusively only for those who are found worthy by the law? As we will see, Paul essentially says “yes, but not in the categories you are using to describe circumcision and law. They must be redefined by the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.” In these several verses, Paul makes use of the rabbinical tradition of reconciling apparent contradictions in scripture by comparing scripture to scripture. The primary texts we see Paul use are Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and Leviticus 18:5. Paul essentially wraps his reading of Deut 30:11-14 with Lev 18:5 viewing rabbinic standards through the grace of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. By interpreting these texts in that fashion, Paul displays that the way of Jesus Christ was most definitely the goal of the law. For Paul, this then gives God’s children new categories of belief. Belief would be through a circumcision of the heart, rather than by other means, resulting in a reorientation to faith in the Lordship of Jesus and His resurrection. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not overthrow the law, but rather the gospel is both the anticipation and fulfillment of the Law of Moses for Paul. In his ensuing polemic, Paul shows that faith in Jesus Christ upholds the law of Moses by employing categories of verbal confession and heart belief. Paul asks in verse 8, “but what does it (scripture) say?” He answers this question by quoting Deut 30:14. The ‘mouth’ functions as a figure of speech to represent one’s verbal confession. In verses 8-10, Paul references the heart three times. He surely would have been communicating its Hebraic definition as the heart being the center of motivation for our being, purpose, experience, reason, and emotions. To change the heart, for Paul, is to have total reorientation of a person’s self and relationships. This reorientation to faith is the only proper response to the Lordship of the resurrected Christ. The word confess rarely shows up in Paul’s letters. The Greek word he uses (homologeó) is a compound of two words that express “I say the same thing.” To confess as Paul would have us is to declare that we have come the same conclusion about Jesus as God has. Pressing the “heart” and “mouth” wording of Deut 30:14, Paul is presenting the only proper response of the heart and verbal confession of Jesus’s Lordship and that God raised him from the dead. The Lordship of Christ is a common theme all throughout the New Testament, but to confess “Jesus is Lord” was “not only to make a claim about his divine status but also to reveal one’s own identity and commitment of final loyalty to him.(1) Confession is not a static declaration of belief, but a communication of one’s deepest and reoriented identity. Some have argued that Paul is advocating a peripheral treatment of the sacraments, such as baptism within the church. Others have argued against the need for the church altogether in advocating that heart belief and verbal confession is all an individual needs. However, as it is with all scripture, these verses need to be kept in context with the rest of Paul’s letter and the New Testament at large. In so doing, one would find both arguments illogical. The very reason Paul is driving this “heart” and “mouth” language home is due to the tensions mentioned at the beginning between believing Jews and Gentiles within community. The law could not deliver the life it promised in Lev 18:5 because of the pervasive power of sin, but Jesus who reigns as Lord brought eternal life. Faith in Jesus, the fulfillment of the law, brings one unrelentingly to salvation and through Jesus this salvation is offered to all, whether Jew or gentile, if they believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. The Greek word Paul uses for ‘believe’ in verse 10 is in the present progressive tense. In so doing, Paul is emphasizing the necessity of ongoing sustained trust and obedience for the Lord. Consequently, the verb ‘confess’ Paul uses is also in the same present tense propelling the expectation communicated in Romans chapter 6 that believers live lives that perpetually acknowledge their baptism.(2) John Wesley has been quoted as saying, “the Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness.” This is the pervasive thought in this section from Paul. In preaching this to our people, we should surely emphasize the universal scope of the gospel of Jesus. That God desires that none should not be recipients of salvation through Jesus Christ. When we who believe have gained the blessing of our new identities in Christ Jesus, we cannot help but turn and share that blessing with all who we come into contact. Not only does this have tremendous connotations on consistently gathering together as the church to share in the blessing of the resurrection, but it also must drive us to be social with our holiness. Even and especially to those who we may think is undeserving. For we were all undeserving, but we who believe came to the realization that it is not our being deserving that should be our focus, but rather our focus should always be on the name of the Lord. We then should never forget that anyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.
Jewett, Roberts. 2007. Romans: A commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress. Pg. 630
Lyons, George. 2008. Romans. 9-16: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press. Pg. 80