Paul picks up where he left off in the previous chapter referring to Israel and their present standing before God. He prays for Israel’s salvation but knows that their ignorance of the gospel is the reason they’re not yet redeemed. Their zeal for God has blinded them (zeal without knowledge Scripture condemns) to God’s righteousness while trying to establish their own through law-keeping (Vv.1-3):
“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. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
Paul continues to pound the anvil with the hammer of Christ’s work and says that, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes, for Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Vv.4-5). Paul here is quoting Leviticus 18:5 which is the giving of God’s moral commands and says:
“You shall keep my statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD”
It seems that the life of the individual is to rely solely on his ability to do the requirements of the law. It seems that Paul is accentuating the motif again between Christ’s righteousness which is given not merited (thus crushing human boasting), it’s imputed not earned. Recall that the Law’s purpose was never to be a means of “I do and God rewards”, but instead to shine the light on the sin within, never was it to liberate us from its jaws. If one trusts in law-keeping to become righteous before God it will only result in death.
Having said that, a believer must not conclude all is well even if he lives an immoral life. This is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel, for to be in Christ produces the fruit of obedience to God (never without the struggle of Rom.7). Here, the believer has been freed from slavery to sin in order to live for God. And by living for God we are thus freed to live for one another (Rom.5:17-6:23; 8:1-14). By Israel trying to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ, they have rejected God and have been cut off from life indeed.
So the righteousness based on law can’t save, but the righteousness based on faith (i.e., Christ’s work) does save (Vv.6-7):
“ 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).”
I’m however a bit puzzled here about the meaning of verses 6-7. First, verse 6 is a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12 where God is laying out before Israel the blessings and cursing if they choose to obey or disobey. Now much attention in Deuteronomy 30 is given to what God did and will do for Israel: namely restoring them from captivity which we know occurred because of their idolatry. God is said to:
“…restore you from captivity…have compassion on you…etc”. (Deut.30:3-8) “circumcise your heart (v.6) to love the Lord which is to obey the Lord (v.8)
This word of salvation is not far, seems to be the point or would eventually manifest (which it did in Christ the Logos), but is now here. Still a bit hazy on verses 6-7. Nevertheless, the word is being preached and its content is faith (trust) in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who conquered the grave and offers the righteousness of God as a gift to all peoples and this word will not disappoint because God always keeps His promises. Let God be true and every man a liar (Vv.8-13):
“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, 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; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 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.”
This word of faith however comes in a specific way which if not given dooms sinners with no hope of rescue. Paul now asks four rhetorical questions which an inclusivist view of salvation seems to contradict. I’m going to point these out in reverse order because the apostle Paul begins with the end and ends with the beginning of the logical order (Vv.14-15):
“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!”
First, there’s the bearer of good news whose beauty is too often hidden from those presented with the Gospel (v.15). Second, there’s the need to send vessels willing to impart this good news which means they must be supported with finances and prayer. Third, the sent must be preachers who proclaim the news of the Kings arrival in a way that’s understandable so that people may have the opportunity to both hear and respond to the message. Fourth, hearing is essential for belief to arise, otherwise they will not trust in Christ which is the word of faith that requires preaching. Fifth, after the message is preached and the preacher heard, people then have an opportunity to believe and when belief arises, then one is ready to call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.
Now Paul says that that word is preached in both creation (v.18 cf., Ps.19:4) and through the prophets (Isa.53:1; Dt.32:21; Isa.65:1-2). And so in response to Israel’s hard heart, God will stir them to jealousy by revealing to the pagan world Christ’s righteousness of which the apostle has been writing. Thus, Israel has no excuse for their unbelief and God is not unjust having mercy on whomever He wills.
But when the word goes forth and people respond we must understand that God has ordained conversions to happen through the word of Christ—God’s word of promise fulfilled in the Messiah by the lips of a preacher proclaiming it. This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God to us who believe. (SDG)