Oftentimes, we in the church tend to oversimplify the canon of Scripture. Some look upon the Old Testament and the Nation Israel and consider it a particular dispensation of salvation through sacrifices, rituals, etc. and look at the New Testament and the time following it as a dispensation of Grace whereby God saves men by grace through faith in Jesus Christ–his death, burial, and resurrection.
The Apostle Paul, however, will not allow us to think in such neat divisions and dispensations. Thus, throughout his letter to the Roman church, the apostle has instructed us with phrases such as, “Not all Israel is Israel” (v. 9:5), “a Jew is one who is one inwardly” (v. 2:29), there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (v. 3:22), Abraham was saved by faith alone (v. 4:3), and, now, Moses writes both about a righteousness based on the law and a righteousness based upon faith (vv. 10:6-8).
For salvific dispensations to be true (i.e. that men at different points in history are justified before God by different means), the means by obtaining righteousness must be singular in each dispensation. The apostle, writing to the Roman church, demonstrates that this notion of salvific dispensations is false in vv. 10:5-9:
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith [which Moses also declares] says, “Do not say in you heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (i.e. to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (i.e. to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your hear” (i.e. the word of faith that we proclaim).¹
What is this to say but there has always existed two means by which men might be justified before God: either they may come in the former fashion–by perfect law-keeping and self-righteousness or they may come in the latter fashion–through faith in Christ, who is “the end of righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 10:4)? Since the apostle has demonstrated thoroughly in Romans 3 that all men are under sin and are therefore defiled, the only remaining means to righteousness is through faith in the Lord.
It is in the context that the apostle writes, “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” (v. 10:9). It is only after one come to grips with his own unrighteousness and sin and realizes that no amount of law-keeping or good works will commend him to God that one will look upon Lord for his gift of righteousness.
¹ Obviously, the text does not say “which Moses also declares,” but it can be easily affirmed since Moses originally penned what the apostle quotes in Deut. 30:12, 13.
Next: Sola Fide, II. If You Believe in Your Heart
Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study