Romans 10:1-21.
Religion:  The World's Stumbling-block

Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.


Thanks to the resources of the Internet, I recently made a contact with an "old friend" who I last spoke to over 20 years ago, a friend and university colleague that I worked closely with for a period of six years.  Always the philosopher, he still maintains a firm resistance to faith.  His response to the gospel is, "I am not into this religion thing.  Religions are responsible for most of the violence and wars in this world.  I want nothing to do with anything that promotes such bigotry and violence."  I am not sure if he understood my answer to that statement when I fully agreed with him.  Religion is the motivation for most of the violence in the history of man.  Religion serves to divide man into a mosaic of competing cultures.  Religion drives man away from one another, and away from God.  Christians should not be into this religion thing either.

What?

How can religion drive people away from God?  Is not religion designed to bring people to God?  Much of the answer to this paradox lies in the nature of what religion really is.  Religions all have one thing in common, and it is that one thing that promotes all of its errors:  religion is a system of behaviors and beliefs that a practicing group believes will make them good enough to be accepted by God.  One can play the part of an anthropologist and study the behaviors of people groups throughout the world and see the efforts of every group to worship God in some way.  These systems of religions carry the common trait of requiring attitudes and actions that are meant to atone for the believer's ungodliness.  Thinking themselves godly based upon their actions, religious groups tend to despise all others as ungodly, as infidels, as pagans, etc.  This devaluation of others leads to all manner of inhumane thoughts and actions.

God's plan is not that mankind become religious.  God's plan is that mankind would have faith in Him.  God's plan is not for man's obedience to a set of religious rites and rules.  God's plan is for man's salvation from the consequences of his sin, sin that separates all people from God. 

God's plan of salvation is open to all people.  First introduced through the early patriarchs such as Adam, Noah, Moses, and the nation of Israel, God set his plan for mankind before all people, a simple plan that is a call to faith.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he first outlines the sinful nature of man, the righteous nature of God, and the huge disparity in between.  Paul teaches that mankind is fully aware of his own unrighteousness and is responsible before God for his depraved behavior.  All people come short of the righteousness that God demands for fellowship with Himself, short of the righteousness demanded for eternal security in heaven.  Consequently, man is left with no hope unless God intervenes.  The good news is that God has intervened.  Through Abraham and the nation of Israel, God has revealed his simple requirement that people turn to Him in faith and trust.  However, God's offer of grace and mercy did not come without a cost.  Sin exacts an enormous cost, for the payment for sin is death: separation from God.  Sin has a pervasive and intrinsic power over mankind, a power that separates humanity from God, sin that is exposed to all people through many means including the Law that was given to Moses.  However, Jesus, the Incarnate Messiah, the person of God who is the Creator, the Savior, and the Judge, paid the sin debt for those who place their faith and trust in Him.  Those who place their trust in God find that their sin-debt is paid:  sin has lost its power to separate the faithful from the God who loves them, and if sin can no longer separate us, our salvation from its condemnation is eternally secured.  This is the great news of the gospel that Paul presents to the Romans.  Yes, we still struggle with sin, but as we grow in faith, the intensity of that struggle lessens as we make more godly choices in life.  However, when we do sin, we fall into the hands of a loving Father who forgives us and empowers us to overcome much of the sin in our lives.

Romans 10:1.  Brethren, my heartís desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 

By the time we get to the 10th chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, Paul has been bringing the message around to focus on the Jewish nation of which he is a part.  Trained as a Pharisee, Paul, whose Hebrew name was Saul, was extremely zealous in his expression of the Jewish religion, proclaiming and teaching the Law and Hebrew traditions as he also actively persecuted those who he considered heretical.  Our first biblical introduction to Paul is when he supported those who stoned Steven.[1]  He was famous for his persecution of this new Jewish sect, "The Way," those who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah:  those who were later first called Christians at Antioch.[2]  All that changed when Paul met Jesus when he was traveling to Damascus to bring charges against Christians.  His zeal for Judaism was refocused toward Jesus, and he responded to God's call to proclaim the gospel among the Gentiles, a task that even the Jewish Christians, because of their deep-seated prejudices, found difficult.

Paul's turning to the Gentiles brought intense criticism and persecution from the Jews who sought every opportunity to discredit him and destroy the work of this ďtraitorĒ of their religion.  So, as Paul endeavored to bring God's message of salvation to this lost world, he found his world divided into two constituents:  the Gentiles to whom he was specifically called to bring the gospel message, and the Jews who formed the context of his life and experiences.  While the Jews are bringing heavy criticism and persecution upon Paul, his desire for them to follow God in faith has never ebbed.  Paul's desire for the salvation of Israel was always the most acute.  In the previous chapter Paul stated that he would give up his own salvation if it would serve to bring Israel into the Family of God.  Paul made it clear that his desire for the salvation of the Gentiles was not greater than his desire for the salvation of Israel.  In fact, the salvation of Israel was his "heart's desire" and his continual "prayer to God." 

Romans 10:2.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 

Certainly, the Jews knew who God is, and did not lack in their zealousness concerning their interpretation of the Mosaic Law and their religious traditions.  Ancient Judaism was not dissimilar to modern Orthodox Judaism in that there was a zealous, dogmatic, and traditional strength to the faith in many of those who were near to Jerusalem either geographically or emotionally.  Then there were also a far greater number of those who were not as zealous.  The spectrum continued to include those who were Jewish by heritage, but were entirely disinterested in it. 

We find this same spectrum of commitment across lines of religion and denomination, where a small remnant of a group often represents its most zealous.  However, regardless of their zeal for the Jewish faith and traditions, it is through the sons of Abraham that God presented His promise to bless the world.  Yet, their zealous approach to their religion stands in the way of their understanding of the truth of the gospel: 

Romans 10:3.  For they being ignorant of Godís righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 

The "twenty-percenters" that Paul refers to did not lack for zeal.  He was an influential member of this group when he so avidly persecuted the followers of Jesus Christ.  It was the same zealousness of the Jews that he now experienced as an object of their persecution.  However, as Paul points out, their zealousness was not based upon their knowledge of the truth of God's plan of salvation, but was instead based upon their own devised plan of righteousness:  the keeping of Mosaic and traditional law.  The Jews established a complex religion of works that laid down a systematic plan for righteousness that involved keeping to a set of hundreds of rules and regulations.  The Jews had created a man-based religion. 

This propensity for man to form a religion is certainly not limited to Israel.  We can look across the globe and across history, and we will find no culture that has not created a religion: a plan to appropriate righteousness through some act of personal effort.  This pattern of attaining one's own righteousness through works is the hallmark of all world religions.  Religions are formed so that people can "establish their own righteousness," and if we use this principle as a definition of faith, Christianity is not a religion.  Christianity is not a set of rules that, if followed, result in righteousness.  Christianity is a faith: faith in God and His plan for the redemption of mankind.

The formation of religion does not lack for sincerity of purpose.  As Paul stated in the first chapter of this epistle, God has revealed his righteousness to all people.  However, developing our own form of religious practice does not bring righteousness.  Developing our own system of religion cannot bridge the gap of sin that separates us from the righteousness of God.  Sincerity means little when we are sincerely wrong.  We have little argument among ourselves when we consider as incorrect the theology of religious cults that overpower or even destroy the lives of their members.  We are far more hesitant to direct a similar distinction on less radically divisive world religions.  Some have adopted a universalist viewpoint that espouses that all religions are sufficient to bring people to God.  However, belief in God cannot save.  Jews believe in God.  Research shows that the preponderant majority of the people of this world believe in God.

Satan believes in God.

This latter point should get our attention.  When people form their own system to "establish their own righteousness," they substitute God's plan for the salvation of mankind with their own, and by so doing, actually reject God's sovereignty.  With their sincere words they claim that God is sovereign and righteous, yet they do not submit to God's revealed plan of mercy and grace.  Instead they submit themselves to a religious system of rules and regulations that they consider "godly," or obedient to God.  This describes Judaism well.  The Jews were (and some still are) willing to die for what they believe.  The practice of their religion often held the primary priority and focus of their lives. 

The same is true for religion today.  We see the devastating power of religious zealotry in our daily headlines as people use religion to justify bigotry and violence in the name of their understanding of God.  These people are fully submitted to their religion, fully loyal to their cause, but have not submitted themselves to the plan of righteousness that God has revealed to man.    

Romans 10:4.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 

In the previous verse, Paul refers to the problem as one of ignorance, not one of sincerity.  Many, if not all religions and cults have a savior, or a focal person around which their faith is built.  Consequently, they see Christianity as simply another religion that is built around yet another person.  However, to so characterize Christianity is a profound oversimplification.  Christ is not the center of the Christian religion:  He is the end of religion as we know it.  God Himself visited, or tabernacled,[3] with mankind in order to show us His plan to grant His righteousness to those who place their faith and trust in Him instead of in some world system of rules and regulations.  Those world rules and regulations, including the Law of Moses only serve to clearly expose the unrighteousness of man.  They have no power to make people righteous. 

A good illustration is to consider the relationship that the Jews had to their own law.  Even the most zealous of Jews knew that they did not personally keep every law in their complex system, though they dedicated their lives to doing so.  They also agreed that to break even the smallest of the tenets of the law was to break the law, and to be exposed as unrighteous.  This left the self-righteous Jews in a frustrated, hypocritical, state.  The more the Jews knew of their own law, the more they knew that they were unrighteous.  It is no wonder that Jesus found it so appropriate to expose the hypocrisy of the most zealous Jews. 

What the Jews, and many today, simply do not understand is that God's plan for embracing mankind was never predicated upon man's keeping to religious rules and regulations.  Godís plan was never the formation of a religion at all.  God's plan is simply to bring to Himself those who turn to Him in faith and trust.  However, the sin-debt still must be paid, even for those who do place their trust in God.  This is a debt that we cannot pay.  There is simply nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous.  Therefore, God intervened when He paid the sin-debt Himself on the cross of Golgotha.  Christ's death on the cross freed those who place their faith and trust in Him of the law's power to condemn any longer.  Sin will no longer separate the faithful from God.

Romans 10:5.  For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. 

The Law of Moses and the Law of Paul's day differed somewhat.  The Law of Moses is recorded in fragments of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, a space of a fraction of an inch of page-thickness in the average Bible.  The Jewish law of Paul's day included voluminous commentaries (Talmud), and hundreds of added traditional and oral laws (recorded in the Mishnah and Gemara) that served to "protect" one from breaking the original Law of Moses.  This body of law and tradition encompasses thousands of pages of text, and several feet of library shelves.  The words of the Biblical law simply describe the character and behavioral patterns of a righteous person.  If a person were to exist whose life exemplified each tenet of that law, that person would be understood as one who is righteous.  Such a characterization is something worth striving for, but is something that cannot be accomplished.  When human nature embraces such a concept it is easy to interpret it in a more backward fashion:  righteousness is obtained by keeping the law.  There is a subtle difference here.  The law was not given to make people righteous: the law was given to describe righteousness.  The law that Moses brought could not in and of itself make one righteous simply because no man can live by the law.  Sooner or later he will break one of its laws, be a law-breaker, and be characterized as unrighteous, and separate himself from God because of his sin.  Trying to live by the law only brings hopelessness and frustration.

Romans 10:6-8.  But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven?  (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7Or, Who shall descend into the deep?  (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) 8But what saith it?  The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

If the righteousness of the law can only bring frustration and separation from God, what hope is there?  Rising above the law that dooms man to destruction is faith that brings man to life.  This is not a new message from Paul.  Paul is quoting from the Law of Moses.[4]  God's plan of salvation has never changed:  salvation has always been a reward of faith in God.[5]  One who lives by faith strives for obedience to God, and when one matures in the faith, making God-centered choices, their lives are more characterized by that which the Law of Moses describes.  This is a different way of looking at the law that the Jews had come to develop, when they placed the law between man and God, using it as a measuring tool to determine who is righteous and who is not.  To the Jew, the law was written in the books.  To the person of faith, the law is written in the heart.[6] 

Deuteronomy 4:4-9.  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.  8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.  9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

The orthodox Jews took words from scripture, placed them in little boxes, and bound them to their foreheads, to their hands, and nailed them on their doorposts.  They believed that they were being obedient to the Shema, the venerated words of the Mosaic Law recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  They did not (and still do not) realize that the scripture they were trying to obey is not instructing them to make boxes.  This scripture defines faith.  It refers to one's living with the law in their hearts as they see their world though a filter of Christ-centered faith (eyes), express that faith in the things they do (hands), and do so in a way that all people see faith expressed in their household (doorposts.)  The orthodoxy symbolically replaced these expressions of faith with three little boxes containing written scripture, one placed on the hand, one placed on the forehead, and one placed on their doorposts.  In the 1200 years prior to Paulís ministry, Judaism replaced faith with the Law and works of tradition.  Paul is pleading with Israel to come back to faith. 

Romans 10:9.  That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  

Showing the insufficiency of the law, or any religious rites or practices for that matter, to save one from the sin that always separates them from God, Paul then presents the solution in one short sentence.  Consequently, this short statement is one that all Christians should be quite familiar with, for in a few short words Paul presents the very foundation of the gospel message in a way that can bring a person to saving faith.  Paul states how salvation can be found through two very simple acts of the heart:

1.  Confess the LORD, Jesus Christ.  Satan believes in Jesus.  The Jews believed in Jesus.  Even Muslims believe in Jesus.  However, each reject (in quite disparate ways) that Jesus is YAHWEH, who we meet in the historical accounts in the Old Testament, the Eternal LORD, the promised Messiah.  The Jews looked for a political messiah, a man who would free them from political oppression.  They did not understand the prophecies that showed the God, Himself would come to free them, not from political oppression, but from the oppression we experience from our transgressions.  It is very difficult to understand and fully accept how God could descend from His place in eternity and indwell the life of a newborn baby, that through that child He could both communicate His message to mankind and pay for mankind the sin-debt that they cannot pay themselves.  The fundamental step of faith is to accept the fact that God did indeed leave His throne and reveal Himself to us in Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God, is not separate from God, or a piece of God.  Jesus is Immanuel:  God with us. 

However, even satan knows that Jesus is "God with us."  Paul's words state, "Confess ...  the Lord Jesus,"  meaning to submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in so doing, we are submitting to YAHWEH, the LORD.  To submit to the LORD Jesus is to place ourselves under His authority, and by so doing place ourselves under God's authority.  This is where the Christian and satan take separate ways.  This is where the Christian and this lost world take separate paths. 

2.  Believe in the resurrection.  Faith in the resurrection cannot be separated from faith in the LORD.  As a man, Jesus can die on the cross as any other man can do.  As YAHWEH, Jesus could not be held in the grave.  However, even satan believes in the resurrection.  What separates the Christian from satan is faith in the resurrection: accepting for one's self the payment for the sin-debt that Jesus' crucifixion brought.  The resurrection was not simply a historical event.  The resurrection was the very act of God to pay the penalty for sin for all people who would place their faith and trust in Him.  The resurrection was in the very nature of Jesus as Savior, the One who would save us from our sins.

We can see how faith in the LORD, and faith in the resurrection are choices that the spirit of satan will not accept.  It is this choice of faith that separates us from satan, from his perverse and pagan world, and brings us to God.  It is our choice to accept Jesus Christ as both LORD, and as Savior.  Refusal to do so will keep satan separated from God forever.  Refusal to do so will keep the unrepentant separated also.  The only act that will keep any man separated from God forever is the withholding of a heart that refuses to turn to God in faith, replacing God's gift for a cheaper imitation of man's design: powerless religion.

Romans 10:10-11.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Paul then drives home a simple point:  salvation comes, not from the keeping of the law, but by a simple act of the heart.  Salvation comes from a confession of choice:  The Christian chooses to turn to God in faith and that faith is expressed in a believed confession in who Jesus is.  It may be worth noting that there is no teaching in scripture that states "Believe in Jesus and you will be saved."  Again, satan believes in Jesus.  All such references always refer to the "name of Jesus" or some similar predicate.  To believe on the "name of Jesus" is to appropriate for one's self an acceptance of who He is, and all of who He is, including, LORD and Savior.  We might remember that this word, LORD, is the same as that name, YAHWEH, of the Old Testament.  Paul again quotes the Old Testament[7] to illustrate that this plan of salvation by faith has always been God's purpose.  People who turned to the LORD YAHWEH in faith in the Old Testament were turning to the same LORD as those who turn to Jesus Christ in faith do today.  God's message has always been "whosoever believeth on Him (the LORD)" will never be separated from God for their sin. 

Romans 10:12.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 

If we can understand that the LORD of the Old Testament (YAHWEH) and the Incarnate LORD of the New Testament (Jesus) are one in the same, we come away realizing that there is really no difference in the plan of salvation offered either to those of the Old Testament or the New.  There is no difference between the plan of salvation offered to the Jew or to the Greek.  God's offer of grace is open to all, both the Jew and the Greek.  God is not a "respecter of persons"[8] and does not favor any individual over another, quite contrary to the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles.  In the same manner, God does not show favoritism among "good" people while showing less love to "bad" people, for no person is good, and all come short of righteousness.  There is simply no distinction of righteousness among people.  It is we who judge one another based upon our own perception of righteousness.  The Jews did the same as they evaluated one another based upon their perception of how closely they kept to the law.

This is a very hard message for the ancient Jew to accept.  It may be equally difficult for many today who harbor bigotry towards others.  However, the great news is that, no matter how low our circumstance, no matter how unredeemable we may think we are, God is "rich to all" who call upon Him.  God does not think any less of the one who cannot seem to get their lives out of the gutter than He does of an honored and respectable priest.  Where a priest might look down at the down-and-out, God reaches to all with His offer of mercy and grace. 

Romans 10:13.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 

"Whosoever" is a quite inclusive list.  There is no person in the human race who is unredeemable.  Can the Jews be saved?  -- of course.  Paul focused his greatest desire and prayers towards the salvation of Israel.  Many of the most excited and inspiring Christians are Jews who have realized that Jesus is YAHWEH, the Messiah.  Jewish Christians often refer to themselves as "Messianic Jews."  They have the unique opportunity to have fulfilled their original call to faith that God realized in Abraham.  Though God is not a "respecter of persons," it seems that there must be a special celebration when a member of the Jewish community comes back to the LORD.  Salvation is offered to all people who will simply turn to God in faith, without regard to their social, religious, ethnic, economic, personal, or any other status that we use to pigeonhole people into categories. 

When we look at this verse, we must remember to keep it, and all scriptural references, in context.  What does it mean to "call upon the LORD?"  Many will say "Lord, Lord,..." and be found without faith.[9]  Again, we find ourselves instructed to call upon the "name" of the LORD, appropriating for ourselves an acceptance of who He is, our own LORD (YAHWEH), and Savior.  A call that Paul described in the verses immediately preceding this one.

Romans 10:14-15.  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  and how shall they hear without a preacher?  15And how shall they preach, except they be sent?  as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Paul has been providing an apologetic for the faith to those whom he most desires to bring the message of salvation: the Jews.  It is those same Jews who want Him and his Messianic message destroyed.  His act of accepting Gentiles into the faith is seen as anathema to his Jewish community.  God, in His wisdom, sent His Son so that people could clearly hear the message of salvation that they refused to glean from the ancient writings, and with the coming of the Messiah to earth on that Christmas morning, all of world history changed.  However, with Jesus' ascension came the need for the message to continue, shared by those who understand the gospel and are willing to share it in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul could not have stayed in Jerusalem and enjoyed his faith, agreeing with the other Apostles as they shared the faith among the believing Jews.  Paul was constrained to take the message out, as God had always planned, bringing it to all who would hear, for the Gospel is for all persons, not just a fellowship of the faithful few.  If people do not hear the message, how can they respond to it?  How can people respond to a gospel they have never heard?  As Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 he points out how God sees as beautiful the work of those who go out and bring the gospel to others, and this is the work to which Paul has been called.  In this Paul justifies his own actions.  However, in this he also challenges every Christian to follow his lead. 

Not all Christians are called to be preachers of the gospel, but all Christians are called to be witnesses to the account of their faith.  If we cannot go, we can support those who can through both prayer support and tangible gifts. 

Romans 10:16-21.  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?  17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  18But I say, Have they not heard?  Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.  19But I say, Did not Israel know?  First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.  20But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.  21But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.

We can see Paul's frustration with Israel in his writing.  He has a deep desire for the Jewish community to turn to God in faith, and shows how through history they have never been willing to do so.  Not only can Paul not significantly penetrate the Jewish community with the gospel, it is his own Jewish community that is his greatest opposition.  The message of the gospel is being persecuted by the one entity in this world that should embrace it: religion.  If religion is a plan of rites, secret knowledge, and rituals that are implemented to make people righteous enough for God to accept, that religion stands in the way of the truth.  There is no rite, ritual, or secret knowledge that can make God accept our sinful hearts.  More than any organization of man, religion has stood between man and God.  We are convinced "our way" is the best, or only way.  Entire religious sects think that they are the "only" righteous people because of their unique approach to God, yet at the same time reject the Messiah, Jesus Christ:  God's way.  The Jews needed to set aside their "religion" so they could embrace the gift of salvation by faith.  Regardless of the religious system we may have created around ourselves, we will be found unrighteous before a righteous God if we have not turned to Him in faith and appropriated for ourselves His righteousness through the incarnate life, death and resurrection of the LORD.  Those in the great world religions can be saved.  Israel can be saved:  just turn to Jesus.  Islam can be saved: just turn to Jesus.  Buddhism can be saved:  just turn to Jesus.  Some religions espouse some tenets of Christian faith, but still reject Jesus as YAHWEH.  These too can be saved by recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, YAHWEH in the flesh.  If these approached faith in God through Jesus Christ with the same zeal they approach their own religious practices, this world would see an explosion of grace beyond imagination.  Paul illustrates here the foolishness of religion that foolishly rejects God.  For many, all that is needed is to place their religion in the hands of a loving God who is waiting for their simple call of faith.


[1] Acts 7:59-8:2.

[2] Acts 11:26.

[3] John 1:14.

[4] Deuteronomy 30:14.

[5] Hebrews, Chapter 11, e.g.

[6] Jeremiah 31:33; Psalm 37:31, 40:8; Isaiah 51:7, et.  al.

[7] Isaiah 28:16.

[8] Acts 10:34.

[9] Matthew 7:21.