Romans Bible Guide – Day 27
March 12, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has been exploring why many of his fellow Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the mercy and compassion of God for them.
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “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). 8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Points of Interest:
- ‘the person who does these things will live by them’ – This line attributed to Moses is in several places in Deuteronomy, the last of the Old Testament’s opening five books, often called the law for short. In fact, it’s almost a thesis statement for Moses, and it shows up in a key moment in Chapter 30, which is something of a climactic one. “Do what God says, and you will live!” he says. Of course, in Romans, Paul says it’s rarely that simple. People don’t simply do these things. They have opinions about them, they complicate them, they take the law’s ropes and look for loopholes for themselves and nooses for others.
- ‘but the righteousness from faith’ – Paul is bold enough to say that there’s a better way than what Moses emphasized. Drawing back to his own thesis statement (1:17), Paul says you live when you get the good life out of a trusting relationship. God’s not looking for minions, but partners and friends and children.
- ‘the word is near you’ – Paul digs back to that same chapter of Deuteronomy and wonders if Moses saw this as well, whether or not he realized what he was seeing. The three quotations in verses six through eight are also all from the same thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses was saying poetically that God’s words aren’t out of reach for you. Paul takes it further. God’s word is Jesus. And you don’t need to do anything impressive or extraordinary or even particularly mystical to find him. He’s right here, as close as your speech and your mind and your heart.
- ‘confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord’ – If Jesus the word is so near, how do we find him with our lips and heart? One way Paul suggests is a subversive oath of loyalty. To confess with your lips that Caesar is Lord is to give your loyalty to the tyrannical regime of Rome. Perhaps you’d say this as you gain your citizenship or serve in the army. Paul subverts this phrase and tells the Romans that if they offer this loyalty to Jesus, they will find rescue and standing in this life and the next. This feels like both an insult and a promise. It’s an insult to the pretend claims to ultimate power that any tyrant or institution can ever make. And it’s a promise that Jesus can deliver good to us in ways they never can.
- ‘and believe in your heart…’ – The loyalty oath is really just the beginning of a compact, but pretty full treatment of connecting with this so-close living word of Jesus. Verses 9-10 are a chiasm, a common Hebrew poetical/rhetorical form that Paul makes use of, even while writing in Greek. Chiasm begins with one thing, moves on to the next, and then reverses course.Here the chiasm begins with what you say with your lips, then moves to what you believe in your heart, and then reverses, with a repeat of the heart and then another statement about what you say. Chiasm serves to focus attention most in the center, here the two-fold invitation to heart belief. The invitation here is to believe at the center of your being that Jesus has been raised from the dead. That’s connected to justification – comfortable and confident standing with God. Why is this so important? Well, if Jesus is no longer dead, he is alive still, able to communicate, to love, to help, to intercede – in short, to be there as our help and friend and backer.
- ‘no one who believes in him will be put to shame’ – Paul just quoted this line from Isaiah in chapter 9. But it’s important enough to bring up in his little summary here. It’s hard to emphasize just how much being put to shame was the great fear of both Jew and Gentile in Paul’s age. To be exposed as a loser in society’s status rankings, to lose standing and reputation and the privileges they conferred – this was the great fear, or the tragic reality, of Paul’s audience.I wonder how much times have changed. In my more honest moments, I am aware that fear of failure and insignificance loom as pretty powerful forces in my imagination, ready to haunt me and drive a defensive, stressful existence. With Jesus, this possibility is off the table. God will be generous to all the Jesus people, regardless of their cultural or religious background, and regardless of their standing in the world. And Paul will insist that these churches mirror this reality as well.
Taking It Home:
For you – Want to try a “word is so near” moment for yourself? If you’re ready, say with your lips, Jesus is Lord. I’ll wait, go ahead – “Jesus, you are Lord”…. And then ask Jesus for faith to believe that he is risen from the dead, alive and present still. Thank Jesus for making you a child of God and promising that you will never be put to shame.
For your 6 – Like those people looking up to heaven or the abyss for God, are any of your six in an uphill battle to find meaning and significance and love and standing in the world. Perhaps you don’t even know if they feel that way. Pray for them all by name, that they would know Jesus as near to them, advocating for them and giving them all that they are looking for and more.