The Word is Near You (Romans Sermon 74 of 120)
July 24, 2005 | Andrew Davis
Faith, Salvation by Promise, Purpose of the Law
I. Introduction: The Quest for the Holy Grail
Isn't it great to be a Christian? Isn't it great to be saved by grace? Aren't you glad that you are saved by a free gift and not by some great achievement you have to earn? And the text talks about that today, a righteousness that is by law, contrasted with the righteousness that is by faith. And I started thinking about the great things that people would be willing to achieve to save their souls. What great thing would you be willing to do to save your soul? I was thinking about that when I came across a story found in the New York Times, November 2001, and I was just amazed by this, listen to this, the story goes like this,
"The snows had scarcely melted last June, when 24-year-old Joama and her three male cousins, yak herders in the remote mountains of Northern Tibet, embarked on the most sublime journey of their lives. Their departure was not marked by any ceremony. "We just started out," she recalled. The four began mumbling mantras and raised their hands to heaven. They dropped to their knees and flung their bodies forward, fully prone against the damp earth, then they stood up, took three small steps forward, and repeated the entire sequence."
"For more than five months now, they have prostrated themselves this way, all day every day, inch-worming their way to Lhasa and its holy sites. They slowly made their way through more than 100 miles of some of the world's harshest terrain, starting from above 14,000 feet, and then followed a highway 200 more miles into Lhasa. They reached the city in early November. These days, they are inching their way along busy sidewalks in the city as they follow the three hallowed circuits around the Jokhang Temple, the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, in advance of praying at its inner shrines. Only here, it seems safe to say, could such a roadside spectacle attract little notice. Thousands of Tibetans undertake similar pilgrimages each year, not to mention the far greater numbers who reach holy sites by bus, tractor or ordinary treks of weeks or months."
What great thing would you do to save your soul? These people are willing to throw themselves on the ground for months and months, inching their way forward to save their souls. Religions around the world have an amazing, an astonishing array of answers to this question. Frankly, the more costly, the more fascinating, the more difficult and the more bizarre, the better. In Islam, Muslims are commanded, once in their lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and many do so at great cost. In Hinduism, people make extraordinary efforts to travel to the River Ganges, one of the holy rivers of Hinduism, to wash in its supposedly holy waters. We had a testimony a couple of Sunday evenings ago from Timothy, who told us a heartbreaking story of a Hindu woman who drowned her infant to atone for her sins. She came to faith in Christ and then wept and said, "Why couldn't you have come here a day earlier?" Because it was the day before she had done that.
Medieval Europeans, under the superstitious system of medieval Catholicism, made long pilgrimages to Rome and crawled up the staircase of Pilate on their knees, uttering prayers on every step, in an effort to save their souls. Also, during this time, the dark ages of Europe, a legend arose concerning the Holy Grail, which was the cup that Jesus supposedly drank from at the Last Supper. And the Knights of the Round Table went out on a quest to find this Holy Grail, because if you drank from it, you could have eternal life. And they were willing to basically spend their entire lives in this quest for the Holy Grail. What great thing would you be willing to do to save your soul?
Now, this theme is touched on in 2 Kings, interestingly, when a pagan military commander named Naaman desired to be healed from leprosy. He was urged by his Jewish slave girl to go see the prophet Elisha, Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. At this point Naaman became irate. He said, "The rivers back in my home country are better than this one," and then his helpers came and said this interesting thing to him. "If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, you would have done it." That's the aspect of the human soul I'm latching on to here today. If we could save our souls by doing some great thing, we would do it.
Suppose salvation were a scavenger hunt of incredible achievement. Suppose immortality awaited anyone who did each of the following tasks: Suppose you had to climb a sacred mount in Tibet and pick a pink and white flower that blossomed there once every seven years, and then after that, you had to go and gather a vile of water from the Nile River and bring it to an Aborigine in the Australian Outback for him to drink, and then you had to rescue an orphan from the street of Calcutta and get them enrolled in a private school, and then you had to earn $10,000 by making something with your own hands and giving it to the poor, and then, finally, you had to go up to the Arctic and cut a block of ice from a glacier and transport it, without melting, down to the South Pole. Would you do it?
Aren't you glad you don't have to? Praise God that salvation is not a scavenger hunt of astonishing achievements that God looks to see on your resume at the end of life, and sees if you are righteous enough to enter. But instead, we have a righteousness that is ours simply by faith, and that's exactly what Paul is talking about here in Romans 10:5-10. "Moses describes in this way, the righteousness that is by law: 'the man who does these things will live by them.' But the righteousness that is by faith says, 'Do not say in your heart, "who will ascend into the heavens?" 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,' the word of faith that we are proclaiming: that if you confess 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 you believe and are justified, and it is with the mouth that you confess and are saved."
II. Righteousness By Law: What Seems Possible is Impossible (verse 5)
And so we have two different kinds of righteousness here in the text. We have a righteousness that is by law and we have a righteousness that is by faith. Now first, this righteousness that is by law, I describe it this way: What seems possible is actually impossible. Look what Moses said in verse five, "Moses describes in this way, the righteousness that is by law, 'the man who does these things will live by them.'" Well, what are these things? They're precepts of the law, the rules and regulations that God gave through Moses. If you do these things, you live by them. Well, live by them doesn't just mean live your life by them, it doesn't just mean pattern your lifestyle or organize your life by means of these laws. What does it mean? It means you will live eternally by them, you will go to heaven by them eternally. Leviticus 18:5, the Lord said, through Moses, "Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them; I am the Lord." But history proved that no human being, other than Christ, no human being could fully obey the law. Peter, in the council in Jerusalem, in Acts 15, said, "Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" None of them could bear the yoke of the law. They couldn't do it, and so it seemed possible, but it actually was impossible.
First Problem: Obedience Must be Perfect
Why? Well, the first problem is, your obedience must be perfect, must be comprehensive and perfect. God intends that all of his law be kept. In James 2:10-11 says, "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you've become a law breaker." So you have to keep the whole law.
Well, how often do you have to keep the whole law? Well, you have to keep it all the time. That's the second aspect of this problem. You have to keep all of the law, all of the time. It says in Galatians 3:10, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone [listen] who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law." So you can't have your good days and your bad days under the law, it's impossible. Not and be saved by it. God intends heart obedience to the law, so you have to keep all the law, you have to keep it all the time, and you have to keep it from the heart, not just external regulations and ceremonies, you have to keep it from the heart.
It says in Deuteronomy 6:5-6, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," and then he says, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts." It's a heart obedience. For example, in the 10 Commandments, he required that the Israelites not covet. He said, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, you shall not covet your neighbor's house, or his property, or his manservant or maidservant, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Now, one of the things about making a law is, that it has to be enforceable. I'm telling you, No Congress, no state legislature, no parliament will ever make a law against coveting. You know why? Because they can't enforce it. "Oh, you were coveting, I saw it right there. 30 days in jail." How can we read hearts and minds? But God can, and so he put it in his law. It's invasive, it invades your heart and your mind. It says, "You shall not think these thoughts, you shall not set your desire on it," says in Deuteronomy, "Anything that belongs to your neighbor." Only God can enforce that law. It's a heart obedience.
Second Problem: Extra Credit Impossible
The second problem, as we've mentioned before, is that extra credit is impossible and unavailable. You can't get a 105% on the test and then take that 5% and put it toward your bad day. Is it possible, on any given day, to do more than this? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Can you do more than that on any given day? So there is no extra credit possible.
Third Problem: No Atonement for Past Sins
And thirdly, there's no therefore atonement for past sins, you can't use present righteousness to atone for past sins. Imagine a criminal standing in front of a judge, saying, "I know I committed murder, I admit it, but from now on, I won't murder anybody." "Oh, well, great! Go home. I am so glad to hear that, from now on, you will not break the law." No judge will say that. We can't use future obedience to pay for past disobedience. We are stuck, and therefore, there can be no salvation by the law.
Now Jewish legalists, like the scribes of Pharisees, set up a system of human traditions, and they lowered the standards of the law, and they figured that God would be gracious to cover the rest, and figured that, by the law, they had righteousness. This is the very problem that Jesus had with them. And what ends up happening when you do that, is it leads you to either hypocrisy or despair. Hypocrisy, in that you lower the standard and think you've met it, and then put up the front that you really are righteous and you don't need a savior. That's what the Pharisees did.
Or it leads to despair. Or, along the road to despair, insecurity, perhaps? Like the rich, young ruler, remember him? Rich, young ruler comes to Jesus and says, you remember the question he asked at the... Upfront? "What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?" That's the question before, it's right at the beginning of this sermon. "What good thing must I achieve to inherit eternal life?"
Do you remember what Jesus did with him? He handed him the law first. He said, "What do you read? What about the commandments? Have you obeyed the commandments?" He said "Yes," and he listed, Jesus listed five of them, and two of them were, "Honor your father and mother," and "love your neighbor as yourself." I tell you that positive commands are harder than negative ones. It's harder to honor than not to dishonor. It is harder to love than not hate. You have to be active, you have to be out doing things, it's an energetic life. And do you remember what the rich young ruler said? He said, "All these I have kept from my childhood," and yet he came to Jesus, didn't he? You know why he came to Jesus? Beause he's insecure. He's not sure he's going to heaven. He's insecure, and so he says, "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Because he's not sure yet. And so, that whole life does not work. The insecurity. And it's built into the system.
Recently, we saw a movie about the 1980th Olympic hockey team, and it's called Miracle, it's a great movie, we enjoyed watching it. And the coach in it, Herb Brooks, a true story, Herb Brooks was a tough, tough man, tough coach, he was a whip-cracker. And after the initial tryout, he already had knew the players that he wanted for his first 25. He sat them down and he said "I'll be your coach, but I won't be your friend." Whoa! Alright. Well, decidedly, he's not going to be their friend, and he said, "There are 25 of you sitting here, 20 of you will go to the Olympics. If you give 99%, you'll make my job very easy." And what is he doing? He's holding the ultimate prize over them as a motivator, so that he's driving them by it. That is the righteousness that is by the law.
Another illustration is a story that Christie and I have enjoyed, is Anne of Green Gables. And this young orphan girl comes to live with a family that didn't want her there, hoping to get a boy to help with the chores and then, instead, they get a girl. And she's a handful, to say the least. And so she lives there under probation, she's on trial. Not really adopted. Maybe someday she'll be adopted, but she's on trial, and she just can't seem to ever do the right thing, she just goes from one trouble to the next. Do you wanna live before God like that? Maybe some day you'll be adopted, if you're good enough? That's the righteousness that is by the law. And thanks be to God, I don't stand before you today and none of you Christians who have trusted in Christ stand before God in that kind of righteousness. Amen. We stand before God in a righteousness that is a gift, a righteousness that is by faith.
III. Righteousness By Faith: What Seems Impossible Has Been Accomplished Already (verses 6-7)
That's the second part, and this is what Paul says in verses 6 and 7, "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.'" Now, the righteousness that is by faith is exactly the opposite. What seems impossible has actually already been achieved. Now these two commands, these two kinds of life are contrasted. You've got the life of righteousness by works, or by law, and then that is by faith, by grace, by gift. They're contrasted here. And there are two key verses that support them in the Old Testament. Leviticus 18:5, "The man who obeys them will live by them." That's Leviticus 18:5. Then you've got Habakkuk 2:4, "The righteous will live by faith." The two are mutually exclusive, you can't have both. They're at odds with each other, they're opposite. It says in Galatians 3:12, "The law is not based on faith. On the contrary, the man who does these things will live by them." They're two different ways of approaching salvation.
From the very beginning of Romans, Paul has been commending the righteousness that comes by faith. He says "I'm not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is from faith, for faith. Just as it is written, the righteous will live by faith." There's a righteousness that is by faith. It's a simple gift of God, that's what he's been preaching all through the Book of Romans. Now, Paul decides to talk about what's impossible for man. He says, "Do not say in your heart, "Go up the heavens, go up to the heavens and get it."" Or, "Go down to the depths," these are impossible things, it's the language of impossibility.
Now he's reaching for Deuteronomy 30, in which Moses was talking about the law, and there in the law, in Deuteronomy 30, it says this, verse 11 and following, "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It's not up in the heavens, so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascended into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us, so we may obey it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' No, the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it." Now, Moses was saying, "You Jews didn't have to go up to heaven, scaling heavenly Olympus to get the 10 Commandments, to get the law, God has come down to where you are and has given you the law. You didn't have to go any great distance, God brought it right to you."
But notice what Paul is doing here; he takes this Deuteronomy verse and he applies it to Christ. You see, the law came down and was right there, but it was in their face, it wasn't in their heart, it hadn't transformed them, it couldn't save them, it gave them no life. So actually, though the written code was near them, it wasn't in them. But Paul is talking about a word from God, that is Christ, the Living Word, who is more than just near you, he is in you. And so he takes it and mixes in Christ into the Deuteronomy quote. "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 deep?" That is, to bring Christ up from the dead.'" You see how he mixes in the Gospel with the law. These were impossible things, but what is impossible for us has actually been achieved by Jesus.
Christ has done it. Christ has given us a perfect achievement. Now listen, if you wanted to try to persuade Jesus to come to the earth, first of all, you couldn't get where he lives. He says, "I live in a high and holy place, a high and lofty place." You can't get there. Man tried by building a tower of Babel to scale to the heavens, couldn't make it. You can't get there, and if he were not inclined to come to the earth, you could not have persuaded him to do it. He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. You couldn't have done it.
Two Central Doctrines: Incarnation and Resurrection
It was impossible for you, but what was impossible for you, Christ has done. He has come down from Heaven to Earth, that's the doctrine of the incarnation. In the fullness of time. He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, he came down from Heaven to Earth. He says this again and again, "I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of Him who sent me, and this is the will of whom he sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day." That's why Jesus came down, he came down.
And the second doctrine that is to bring Christ up from the dead is the resurrection. We could not have made Christ be incarnate and we could not have made him rise from the dead. What is impossible for us, however, Christ has achieved.
By the way, these are the very two doctrines that Paul says are essential to your salvation, that if we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved. When you confess with your mouth Jesus that is Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, he's actually Lord, he is God, you're confessing the incarnation. That Jesus is God will talk more about this next time I preach on Romans. It's the doctrine of the incarnation, you must believe it that Jesus is God, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. These are the two doctrines, that he gives to us. And therefore Christian salvation, is essentially simple.
IV. The Simplicity of Salvation
Look what he says in verse 8 and 9. He says you don't have to ascend into the heavens, you don't have to go down to the depths. "What does it say? 'The word is near you. It's in your mouth and in your heart,' that is the word of faith that we are proclaiming. That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." The simplicity of salvation. Now listen our salvation was immensely difficult for Jesus. Immensely costly to him. Don't ever say that salvation was free. It's free for you but for him it was costly. But he's paid that price so that we wouldn't have to. Our salvation cost him everything he had.
He stood day after day under the full weight of the devil's temptations. And under the full weight of the Law of Moses and bore it all perfectly never sinned, and even more on the cross, when he was nailed to the cross and He shed His blood, He bore our sins in His body on the tree, so salvation was immensely difficult for Christ. But for us, it is simple. We're not on a scavenger hunt of righteousness where you have to go day after day and seek your own justification day after day, seeking to do something that will be righteous enough for you to go to heaven. You don't have to do that, you don't have to go on a pilgrimage kneeling up the stairs of Pilate muttering a prayer every step. You don't have to do what they're doing in Lhasa. So, taking months and months to travel, inches at a time to some shrine. You don't have to go to some filthy river in India and bathe in it, so that you can be cleansed and reduce your karma or whatever it is they believe.
No single righteous work or deed or action is justifiable in God's sight, it is not our righteousness. Now, many good works flow from saving faith. We'll talk about that, God willing, next time. And so there's a whole righteous life that flows but none of those justify us. We stand in Christ's achievement and therefore for us justification is simple. You believe in Christ and that's all. Paul is stressing here, therefore the incredible simplicity of salvation, just as Jesus did. There's a day in Matthew 18, it's recorded a day when the disciples came to him and they were arguing about which was the greatest in the kingdom. I'm always amazed at what the disciples had done to think they were even in the running. Do you ever wonder that?
I mean they're arguing about which of them was the greatest. They were just fishermen and tax collectors and other things, they were just ordinary people. But after a couple of years with Jesus, they started thinking very highly of themselves. And so they're having an argument about which was the greatest. And Jesus, it says, calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly I say to you, [unless you are converted] unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." That's incredible, the astounding range of the Gospel. We just got done with what I would think is one of the hardest chapters in the entire Bible to understand, Romans 9. The depths of it is so amazing that Paul himself says in Romans 11, "O the depth of the riches, the wisdom, and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor," the deep things of God, and they are deep.
But here, we have the simplicity of God. That if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you'll be saved. It's a simple Gospel that we preach with incomprehensible depths behind it. It is so simple a child could understand it, frankly, it's so simple Jesus said that unless you become like a child, you'll never accept it. It is that simple. The Word is near you, that's what he says. God is bringing salvation right to you. Right to where you live, right to your heart, right to your mouth. He's come down from Heaven to do it. That's what he is doing. Right to where you live, right to this room today, he's bringing it right to you.
You don't have to travel to him, he's seeking you and he's bringing the Word right to where you live. Now later in this chapter, he will advocate, why preachers need to go because they're going to fulfill that very thing. The preacher will go to bring the Word of God, right to where those folks live but he's bringing it right to where you live. Emmanuel, it means God with us. John's version of this is so beautiful. John 1:1, it says "In the beginning was... " What? "The Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse 14, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we beheld his glory, glory, the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." Jesus took on a human body and just brought the word salvation, right to us. God is proclaiming a word of faith to the human race and that Word is Jesus, that is the word he's saying, he is Hebrews 1, God's final Word to the human race, it is Jesus Christ, the word of faith that we are proclaiming.
V. Why God Made Salvation Simple
Now, why did God make salvation simple? Next time we're going to talk God willing, about these great verses, verses 9-10, "If you confess 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 your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." There's a lot in there friends, and God willing when I get back from vacation, we'll talk some more about it. It's going to be an incredible time. Saving faith is deep and these verses are deep, we're going to talk more about it. But there's an essential simplicity here. And I want to ask a question, why did God make it so simple? I think there are two reasons I want to consider with you. First to destroy all human pride. Suppose God had given you that scavenger hunt of righteousness.
God Made Salvation Simple to Destroy Human Pride
Suppose you had gone to the ends of the earth for righteousness. And suppose you'd achieved it. Do you know what you'd spend eternity doing? Boasting in your achievement or comparing stories. "How did you get that block of ice from the North Pole to the South Pole?" "Well, this is what I did, wasn't I clever?" "How did you get that vile of Nile River water down to the aborigine in the Outback?" And we'd be boasting at each other. God doesn't want it, he doesn't want it. And so to cut the root out of all human boasting, to destroy pride in knowing deep thoughts. To destroy pride in achieving great achievements. Instead, he made a salvation like this in which he does all the impossible things and we do the simple thing. We just believe in Him, and we just trust in Him. The message of the cross destroys all boasting, it says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." And again, it says in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, "So that no one may boast before Him, therefore, as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
God Made Salvation Simple to Save All Kinds of Sinners
The second reason he made salvation simple is to save all kinds of sinners. To save all kinds of sinners. Friends, most of the people in the world are simple people. Most of the people in the world are basic thinkers. Simple people. God knows that they're not going to spend lots and lots of hours doing the deepest theological pondering. They will live simply, they will eat simply they will love simply, they will work simply and they will die simply and they'll be buried simply and within three generations, no one will know where they are buried or what that marker is except God. And so God wanted to save simple people. As a matter of fact, God delights in saving simple people.
And so it says in 1 Corinthians 1, the fuller passage, it says, "Brothers think of what you were when you were called not many of you were wise, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong, he chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus." Ponder that. "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us, wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore as it is written, 'Let him who boast, boast in the Lord.'"
Having chosen many simple, humble, folk to be his own, he crafted a saving message they could understand just as they are and then published it abroad to the ends of the earth, that's what he's doing.
Now, application for us. First of all, friends, your quest for self-righteousness ends here, drop it. God doesn't honor it, it's not possible. It seems possible but it isn't, so drop it, rather simply humbly come to the cross of Jesus Christ, simply humbly say that is my righteousness. His death atoned for all of my transgressions, his righteous life has become my righteousness simply by faith. Don't despise the simplicity of the Gospel. It's right here, in two verses, don't despise it. He's made it so simple a child can understand it. Don't despise that. And along with that may I urge you, preach the Gospel to children, share the gospel with your own young children, and if you're grown share them with somebody else's young children.
Little children, you don't have to work to get them to be like little children, older people, you have to work on them. Like Jesus' disciples. He said, "Unless you turn and convert and become like little children," the little children are already there. They're teachable, they're leadable, they're ready to believe. Share the gospel with children. Conversely, don't despise the complexity of Christianity because this very same one who gave us a simple Gospel gave us a deep Gospel and you'll be the rest of your life pondering it's depths. Ponder away, but realize you are saved the moment you believe this simple message that Jesus died for me. Close with me in prayer.