First Sunday in Lent (Year C)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is about “the good news of God” (euangelion theou) for which he was called as an apostle and set apart.

Luke 4:3
"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Photo by Jarren Simmons on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

March 10, 2019

Second Reading
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Commentary on Romans 10:8b-13

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is about “the good news of God” (euangelion theou) for which he was called as an apostle and set apart.

“The good news of God” (or “the gospel of God”) means that God is the good news because he is righteous, merciful, steadfast and caring. In a chaotic, unjust, uncaring world, Jesus proclaimed this good news of God and disclosed God’s righteousness through faithfulness (Romans 3:21-22). His faithfulness proves that God is righteous. Now God justifies those who share the faithfulness of Jesus. Paul is not ashamed of this gospel of God proclaimed by Jesus because it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). He goes on to say: “For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17).

By this letter, Paul aims to correct some misunderstandings about the gospel he proclaims. In fact, some Roman Christians thought that his gospel was law-free (an antinomian attitude) or anti-Jewish. But he vehemently rejects such a view, saying that faith cannot overthrow the law, which is holy and good (Romans 3:31; 7:12) and that the faithlessness of Jews cannot nullify God’s faithfulness (Romans 3:3; 11:1-10). Eventually, in Romans 9-11, he deals with the place of Israel and the gospel of faith.

Romans 10:8b-13 is part of Romans 9-11 that deals with the salvation of Israel and faith. While Paul hopes that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26), he, nevertheless, maintains the same ground of faith for all, Jews and Gentiles, as he said earlier in Romans 3:30: God “will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”

In Romans 10:8b-13, he deals with this same condition of faith for all. Jews are no exception to this. Earlier in Romans 10:1-7, he points out the problem of Jews. That is, they sought to establish their own righteousness, not based on faith. He contrasts “the righteousness that comes from the law” with “the righteousness that comes from God” (Romans 10:3-6). The former implies that Jews have “a zeal for God,” which is not enlightened (Romans 10:2). That is, the problem is their absolutizing of the law without submitting to God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3).

In contrast, “the righteousness that comes from God” means all things are done through faith in God, which means trusting God and submitting to his righteousness. In Romans 10:6, this righteousness is said to come from faith. Faith is God-centered, and it is not law-centered. The law can be fulfilled through faith and love (see also Romans 10:4).

Then, in Romans 10:8b-13, Paul reinforces faith by talking about its content and benefit. First, in 10:8b, he uses rema (“the word”) to explain faith. He says rema is “the word of faith” that is proclaimed by the followers of Jesus. Rema is different from the law or works of the law because faith informs “the word.” In other words, all sayings and deeds must be done through the lens of faith, which orients a person’s mind and heart toward God. Also, this lens of faith must see what Christ has done for God’s righteousness. Christians proclaim what God has done through his Son Jesus.

Second, Paul says this word is “near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8). This means that “the word of faith” must be part of everyday life. “Near you” means Christians must live with it in their workplace. “On your lips” means that the truth of the gospel must be spoken boldly in public space, in streets or in shops. But this proclamation of the word comes out of the heart (kardia) because the word is “in your heart” (Romans 10:8). This implies that every spoken word of faith must reflect the deep inside of the heart where the Spirit dwells.

Third, in Romans 10:9, Paul explains what it means to have faith: “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.” Faith involves specific content and action. A person must confess that Jesus is Lord (kyrios). This means the real Lord is not the emperor or any human master but Jesus Christ who exemplified God’s love and his righteousness. Because of this confession, a person must live by the spirit of Jesus. Likewise, a person must believe in his/her heart that “God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.”

Here faith means to acknowledge the power of God and to trust him. God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him. Jesus did not fail on the cross; he revealed God’s righteousness. In sum, faith means to trust God and to live with the lordship of Christ. Christians must be ruled by Jesus or his spirit, not by their sinful passions (Romans 6:6; 7:5). Then, they “will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Salvation is not a once-and-for-all event. Justification and salvation have to be worked out in everyday life until the Parousia. Romans 10:10 emphasizes this point: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” Notice here that justification and salvation are made with the present tenses (“so is justified” and “so is saved”).

Fourth, in Romans 10:11-13, Paul states the power of the gospel of faith. In Romans 10:11, he quotes from Isaiah 28:16: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” This verse also echoes Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “Believing in him” in Romans 10:11 means recognizing the works of Jesus for God’s righteousness and following his spirit. Those who are in Christ are not condemned because they live in the Spirit.

In Romans 10:12, Paul says: “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.” This verse refers to what he said earlier in Romans 1:16 and 3:29-30 where he emphasized the gospel of faith for all. In Romans 10:13, he quotes from Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This verse means that the gospel of faith is open to all, but there must be a proper response, which is to call on the name of the Lord. Obviously, “to call on the name of the Lord” means understanding Jesus’s work, following his spirit, and living under the lordship of Christ.