Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Word Is Near You

In my last post, I argued that Paul was not setting up “faith” as an alternative to keeping the law. Neither is “faith” the opposite of works in the sense of trying to earn one’s own salvation, since no first century Jew had in mind to attempt that. Instead, Paul was arguing that faith(fulness) was actually the way to maintain and uphold the law all along because the law’s goal was always the faithfulness of Christ as opposed to the law being an end in itself.

Paul continues this train of thought throughout the rest of Romans 10. We see it almost immediately in v.6 when he writes “the righteousness based on faith says….” and he goes on to quote the law. It wouldn’t really make much sense to be quoting from Deuteronomy, itself a part of the law, if everything written in it were contrary to the faith Paul has been talking about. But since Paul has been arguing that faith(fulness) is actually the right way to pursue the law, it is perfectly logical to think that we might be able to find that idea somewhere in the Torah itself. So Paul quotes words from Deuteronomy that speak to the nearness of this law. It is so near in fact that “It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

“That is the word of faith” - the one that is so near that it is actually in your mouth and heart rather than something that is external to you - “that we proclaim.” For so many chapters Paul has been talking about this righteousness that comes out of faithfulness and often he has only hinted at what that means, what that looks like in everyday life. It is submitting ourselves to righteousness, in chapter 6, walking by the Spirit in chapter 8. He will give us many more details in that regard starting in chapter 12. But here is another important hint - this “law of faith” is not something external to us but rooted deeply within our very being. Although Paul does not quote it here, one easily thinks of the words of Jeremiah 31 which are so often quoted in the New Testament where God promises to put his law within his people and write it on their hearts. This, I think, is why Paul can say “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is not because a few words passing through your lips once is all God wants. It is because the law of faithfulness is not something outside of us. It is something that is imprinted on our innermost being leading us to confess our allegiance to Jesus as Lord.

All this, however, only seems to make Israel’s rejection of Jesus all the more troubling for Paul. He acknowledges that perhaps not all have heard the message about the Messiah preached specifically to them but he says it is not as though haven’t heard at all. Psalm 19, which Paul quotes in v. 18, says that all of creation declares the glory of God. In Romans 1, Paul said this was the same reason that Gentiles were without excuse. Surely, his fellow Jews can not get off any easier. Neither is the problem that they haven’t understood. Isaiah describes his very own people as “disobedient and contrary”. As a result, God is using others who do not know God and have not sought God to incite his own people to jealousy. It is this idea on which Paul will expand in Romans 11.

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