Who Will Ascend into Heaven & Bring Christ Down?

The great theologians of centuries past were correct when they saw in the Scriptures two covenants–the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Both have existed since before the fall of man in the Garden, and both continue to exist to this day. Moses, after writing of both covenants in the historical account of Adam’s Transgression of the Commandment and the Promise of a Crusher of the Serpent’s head, continues to write of both after he has received from Yahweh the Law. Concerning this, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 10, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them” (v. 10:5). This is, by Moses, the acknowledgement of the perpetuation of the Covenant of Works, viz. that he who obeys the Law will be declared “just” by the Law. However, since it is made quite clear by the apostle in the preceding chapters of his letter that no one has kept the Law, the apostle appeals to Moses’ appeal to the Righteousness that comes by faith. For Moses writes and the apostle adds:

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your 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 heart” (i.e. the word of faith that we proclaim) (vv. 10:6-8). 

The apostle’s appeal to the revelation given to Moses demonstrates that there are, even now, two methods to approach Jesus Christ (i.e. God) and his righteousness. The first way is the way of works. This method is a declaration by the heart that one will pull himself up by his own boot straps and rise to meet God halfway. It is rule keeping that manifests itself in self-righteousness based upon tithing, wearing nice suits on Sundays, and not being a drain on the government as other low-lifes are. These might acknowledge with their lips that Jesus Christ is God and that he came down to Earth and dwelt among men and died and rose up from the dead, but they do not base their righteousness upon him. They instead look to themselves and their own law-keeping and think that they are right with God simply because ten percent of their gross income goes to the local church.

However, the righteousness that is based upon faith in Jesus Christ does not seek to add to what Christ has already done. It does not, as the self-righteous essentially do, ask itself, “What shall I do to aide in making the Incarnation a reality?” nor does it say, “How shall I go about raising Jesus Christ up from the dead?” but it says, “Christ Jesus has accomplished it all, and even now I find him in my heart and upon my lips.” Righteousness that is based upon faith is righteousness that comes solely from the Righteous One–Jesus Christ, our Lord, for “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who has faith” (v. 10:4, variation mine).

Therefore, righteousness based upon the law and righteousness based upon faith are polar opposites, for the one who seeks righteousness that is based upon the law attempts to ascend to God by his own will and exertion, and the one who is righteous by faith sees that God has come to him and has taken out his heart of stone and has put in a heart of flesh and has written his law upon his heart (cf. Jer. 31:33; Ez. 11:19). Righteousness based upon the law puffs men up, and righteousness based upon faith tears men down. Righteousness based upon the law exalts human religiosity, and righteousness based upon faith exalts God. Righteousness based upon the law is filthiness before God, and righteousness based upon faith is perfect before God. Righteousness based upon the law condemns a man’s soul, and righteousness based upon faith saves a man’s soul. Therefore, these two methods to righteousness are absolutely incompatible with each other.

After distinguishing the two methods to righteousness, the apostle, using a parallelism or a chiastic structure, demonstrates the manifestation of the righteousness that comes by faith. He writes:

A) If you confess with your mouth and
…..B) believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
…..B) For with the heart one believes and is justified,
A) and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (vv. 10:9, 10).

Using this structure of mouth, faith, faith, mouth, the apostle demonstrates that the core of righteousness that comes from faith is the heart of a man. For it is from the wellspring of the heart that genuine confession comes, just as the Lord said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). Therefore, in line with the declarations of the New Covenant, those in whom the Spirit has placed a heart of flesh will confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

It cannot be stressed too much the influence of the Lord upon the hearts of men, for if this is not stressed, righteousness by faith becomes righteousness by works. Indeed, this has happened in a majority of our American churches, for those who call themselves evangelists, instead of proclaiming the Gospel and waiting upon the work of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of men, have made these verses of holy Scripture into a checklist of do’s for salvation in Jesus Christ instead of proclaiming them as the manifestations of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit upon men’s hearts. They instruct men to pray a prefabricated prayer that includes some declaration of Jesus Christ as Lord and then falsely assure them that since they have vocally called upon the Lord that they are saved, neglecting that the apostle writes, “If you believe in your heart, etc.” Countless ignorant souls have walked away from such “evangelistic” encounters falsely assured of their salvation because they “asked Jesus Christ into their heart.” As Paul Washer quoted a man rightly saying, “Jesus does not stand at the door of one’s heart and knocks; if Christ wants in to a person’s heart, he knocks the door down.”

This is not to say that those who call on the name of the Lord are not saved, but that calling upon the name of the Lord is much more than verbalizing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ declares as much to be true, for he says that there will be those who have called him, “Lord, Lord” all the days of their lives, and he will say to them on the day of Judgment, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:23). Therefore, our understanding of this text must be in the context of the heart, and in the greater context of the letter that declares that those who are in Christ have been freed from slavery to sin and by the Spirit put to the death the deeds of the body, and in the greater context of the Bible that declares that the one who is in Christ does the will the Father. Any declaration of this text apart from this context is a distortion and an abomination to God and a grievance of his Spirit.

Being that the apostle has adequately prefaced this section of his letter with these declarations, his purpose in these verses is not the genuineness of one’s profession, but it is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It is a Gospel that is intended to be preached around the world to every tongue, tribe, race, social class, political figure, etc. for, in Christ, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him; for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (vv. 10:12, 13). Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has been loosed and the devil has been bound, let us go to the Nations with boldness knowing that all who call on the Lord from a new heart will be saved.

Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study

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