Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 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) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 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); 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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
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. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
– Romans 10:5-15
To make sense of this passage, you need to know that Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 30:12-14. Here it is:
It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
First the context for the quotation from Deuteronomy. The people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness around the Sinai peninsula for 40 years and they are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. Moses is recapping the Law as it has been given to them over these 40 years of wilderness time. Entering and staying in the Promised Land, as Moses outlines it, is contingent upon the people continuing in obedience to this Law. It’s a covenant, similar to the kinds of agreements between a king and a king’s subjects. Or, perhaps similar to the kind of agreement parents make with their grown children who can’t seem to move out of the house: “You can live here, but as long as you’re under my roof, even though you’re all grown up now, you still have to live by my rules.”
Moses is recapping the law, the rules these people are required to live by if they want to continue to live in this place, and by way of assurance, tells them, “Look, this is not really that hard. You know what you are required to do, and you don’t need anyone to go to heaven to get it, nor do you need to travel to some far away place across the sea. You don’t need anyone to tell you what to do. Just talk it over together and follow your heart.”
So much for Deuteronomy. Paul is re-applying this same idea to following Jesus. In Romans 10, Paul is in the middle of trying to explain why the Jews won’t follow the Jesus program. He had concluded in the previous chapter that they couldn’t follow the Mosaic law “because they didn’t strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works.” (Romans 9:32). In other words, they didn’t take Moses’ advice to talk it over and consult their hearts.
In these verses, Paul links that “failure” to follow the law to a similar failure in the Christian program. You don’t need to look to the heavens for advice (or wait for Christ to return), nor do you need to search the depths of the earth (you don’t have to bring Jesus back from the dead on your own). You can talk it over and follow your heart. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need to be a professional theologian to follow Jesus. In fact, you’re probably better off if you’re not. Everyone and anyone can do it. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” between the thoroughly indoctrinated and the rube on the street.
That said, however, you can’t just go do whatever you want and call it Christian. Anyone can work the Jesus program, but you have to know what the Jesus program is. So the last few verses here affirm the importance of those who bring the gospel. Somebody has to keep the Jesus story alive by re-telling it.
So, here’s the question:
In what ways have you been over-thinking the Jesus program? And, where do you find a community to talk it over and consult your heart about things? And, after you’ve talked it over and consulted your heart, what do you see is the Jesus program in your part of the world?
If you’re Christian, how would you (or can you) explain this passage to a Jew? Or, if you’re Jewish, how do you explain to a Christian where Paul went wrong in his assessment of the Jewish situation?