With the help of Augustine and Aquinas, we discuss how Jews, and in fact all men, have always been saved–at least according to Romans 10. By faith!
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
Paul desires that his own kindred be saved, because on one hand they really do want to please God in a sense. They think, though they are deluded, that they are doing God’s will. As Jesus warned, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). So, even if one were to assert that those who have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit cannot desire spiritual things, it would still be true to say that such a person may think he is spiritual.
3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
These misguided men did not understand that it was by faith in Christ God had intended to save them, so they pursued the lie of paganism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, secularlism, and every false religion: “all that matters is if you are a good person.” Hence, they pursued being good by following man-made rules and using the Law to puff up their own pride. They should have used the Law to see that they could not be made righteous by their works, so that they would have subjected themselves to God by faith.
The “righteousness of God” is not a righteousness that is our own as a result of our obedience. To be subject to it is simply to have faith in God and thereby be given an alien righteousness, a righteousness that is given by God’s grace and not a result of our works. Augustine writes, “It is called the righteousness of God, because by His bestowal of it He makes us righteous, just as we read that salvation is the Lord’s, because He makes us safe” (The Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 18).
For by faith, Christ is the end of the Law because He fulfills it on behalf of those who are in union with Him. In the Epistle to Diognetus it says:
For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors (Chapter 9)!
It is worth re-quoting Augustine in case we forget that “we are made righteousness (our righteousness being not our own, but God’s, not in ourselves, but in Him); He being made sin, not His own, but ours, not in Himself, but in us” (Handbook on Hope, Faith, and Love, Chapter 41).
Apart from faith in Christ, one is still under the Law/law of nature. Christ both fulfilled the Law on behalf of believers and ended the necessity for one to comply with it in order to attain right standing before God.
5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.
We know that our exegesis of the preceding verses (that Christ is the end of the Law for believers in the sense that He literally ends it!), because of what Paul says in verse five. In other words, verse five states that Christ is the end of the Law, because if He weren’t the only possible way to be right with God is to perfectly follow the Law. In Gal 3:13 he calls this a curse, because no man can possibly fulfill it.
However, doesn’t this contradict what the Law says of itself? The Law says:
[I]f you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach (Deut 30:10-11).
One one hand Paul calls it a curse and says that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16). On the other, the Scripture says obeying God “is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” How may we understand this consistently so that the Bible does not contradict itself? Paul, by the Holy Spirit, exegetes Deut 30 and tells us how.
6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”
Here, Paul unlocks the spiritual meaning behind Deut 30:12-13:
It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’
In Deuteronomy, “it” is clearly the Law. The passage is saying not to ask who will go up to heaven, cross the sea, and bring the Law back for us so that it may be observed? Paul shows us that the rhetorical question is about Jesus.
How so? Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, so he can be accurately equated with the Law in the passage. So, the “it” is Jesus and we should not be asking ourselves who of us can bring Christ down or raise Him up.
Why? The righteousness based upon faith is not accomplished by striving, but by believing. Thus we observe the Law by having faith in Christ. We know this is the case because of how Paul follows up:
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,
God does not want us striving to attain Jesus Christ’s resurrection, but to confess the “word of faith.” As Aquinas observes:
For there is no need to say, he means, that one must go up to heaven, or cross a great sea, and then receive the commandments, but things so great and grand has God made of easy access to us. And what means the phrase, The Word is near you? That is, It is easy. For in your mind and in your tongue is your salvation. There is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to get saved…For the Law is galling, but grace is easy.
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
This verse is the pearl of the Scripture. As said previously, salvation is not attained by doing but by believing. This is why, as we already covered, Aquinas taught that one could die before being baptized and be saved. Faith alone saves, but faith that endures leads to water-baptism and other good works.
Therefore, there cannot be any specific act that saves a man, but there are acts that are consistent with the life of faith. The moment we say anything other than believing in Christ is necessary for salvation, we contradict the above verse. The debate should not be over what saves us, it is obvious that faith alone saves. Instead, we should be debating what constitutes living by faith so that we may evaluate whether we are really in it. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5)!
10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Likewise the thief on the cross was saved when he confessed Christ. Though he was not martyred for the faith, he knew in his heart that he deserved his punishment and Christ did not. In fact, he had done nothing good nor did he partake in any sacrament. His believing resulted in righteousness and he was spiritually baptized by the Holy Spirit. Then, he confessed with his mouth these things and Christ told him of his salvation: “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Paul adds this Old Testament citation in order to show that it’s consistent teaching is salvation by faith, and not by works.
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Salvation by faith alone is applicable to Jews and Greeks, Catholics and Protestants, former atheists and former Muslims equally. The usage of the term “whoever” in the Old Testament is seen as proof that anybody can be saved from their sins by simply trusting in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins, and not in their works, heritage, or church. Denominations do not save, God saves in His Son Jesus Christ. The thief on the cross did not belong to a visible church, but by faith He was made one of the members of the invisible Bride of Christ.
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Who is the “they” here? It is easy to forget and just think Paul is speaking in general (i.e. nobody can be saved apart from faith in Christ, and only those who have heard of Christ have this opportunity.) This may be true, but this likely is not what Paul is getting at, specifically. The last time the word “they” was used in the chapter was in verse three. There, it pertained to the Jews.
So, after discussing how salvation is by faith, and not by works, Paul returns to what he was getting at in Rom 9:33 (how the Jews have stumbled on the rock of offense). These Jews at one time could have attempted excusing themselves by saying they did not know the name of Jesus Christ. And, this appears to be a legitimate excuse according to verse 14. The work of the Apostles in Judea thereby is something commendable as seen in the Scripture quoted in verse 15.
16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”
In verse 16, Paul is quoting Is 53:1 which states, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Anticipating the discussion in Rom 11, Paul in verse 16 is referring to the hardening of Israel. In effect, Paul is saying, “The Jews have not believed because God has purposely not revealed Himself in their hearts.”
This sounds like a stretch given the immediate context, which is simply discussing how much of ethnic Israel has rejected the faith. However, this same verse is quoted in John 12:38. There, John exegetes the verse: “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted…’” (John 12:39-40). So, it is fitting in light of Rom 11:8-11 that when Paul here refers to Is 53:1 he is desiring that his audience keep in the back of their minds the exegesis offered by John.
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.”
Paul goes to show that the Jewish people are now without excuse. Isaiah reports that the Israelites disbelieved his report and the word of Christ indeed went out to the whole “world.” Obviously, Paul does not mean the planet Earth because in Rom 15 Paul speaks of going to Spain to preach the Gospel where it has never been preached. So, the citations of the Old Testament here are being cited to show that all the Jews throughout the world have heard of Christ, and so their rejection is not of ignorance but of outright defiance.
19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation,
By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”
20 And Isaiah is very bold and says,
“I was found by those who did not seek Me,
I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
“Surely Israel did not know, did they?,” Paul asks rhetorically. To their shame, they did know. Paul uses Scripture to show that God had ordained the bringing in of the gentiles, who are beginning to accept Jesus as their savior, while the Jews have universally heard of Jesus Christ and have rejected Him. The Jews have Him prophesied in Deut 30 and throughout the Old Testament, and in accordance with prophecy have had His name preached clearly to them. It is easy to see that Paul is throughout this chapter building a case up against the Jews.
21 But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
Paul definitively answers the rhetorical question in verse 19 by quoting the Old Testament. Even though God has entrusted them with the Scripture and sent them prophets so that they would repent, they have been disobedient and obstinate. Their rejection and hardening is deserved (Rom 11:7-10).