Suppose I wrote you a letter, which happened to be a lengthy letter, which covered a particular subject which was near and dear to my heart, and which I wanted to convey to you, in its fullness, which is why the letter is lengthy.
I took the time to cover many different aspects of that subject because there was much confusion being spread on that topic, and I wanted to make certain that I clarified, in great detail, exactly what I meant so that there would be no misunderstanding.
Now, suppose you chose to take out a small section of that letter, out of context, to try to say that I said something I didn’t say in exactly the way in which you were interpreting it. But you used it to prove a point or to support your own hypothesis. By using it out of context, although I did say that, you thus misrepresented my intentions, and that was wrong.
Well, this is what happens many times when we pull Scriptures out of their intended context to try to make them say what we want them to say because they support the belief we want to follow, because it suits our purposes and our lifestyle. Did the Scriptures say that? Yes! But without the right context, we may interpret it wrongly, and that is what happens here.
Romans 10:1-4 ESV
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
So, what is this saying? It is talking about the Jews. They had been under the Old Covenant relationship with God Almighty. But when Jesus Christ died on that cross for our sins, the Old Covenant was done away with, and the New Covenant then came into being.
They used to have to obey all kinds of ritualistic and liturgical laws with regard to ceremonies, purification, and sacrifice. They couldn’t eat certain foods, they had to follow particular ceremonies and customs, and they had to perform all kinds of sacrifices, etc. But Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of that law which had been put in place to lead them to Christ.
Yet, even though their Messiah had now come, and he had given his life up for them for their salvation, probably the majority of them did not believe in him as their Lord and Savior, but they tried to be declared righteous by God by following those Old Covenant requirements. So, they were trying to establish their own righteousness rather than to believe in Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:5-13 ESV
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 says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For 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.”
So, for a Jew of that era to confess with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ, that he is Lord (God, owner-master), and for him to believe in his heart in Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead, by God, he was separating himself from the Old Covenant and he was accepting Jesus as the Christ.
He was choosing to believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and to make him Lord (owner-master) of his life and to follow him in obedience, and he was also choosing to be persecuted, to be hated, to be ostracized by his family and community, and to possibly lose his job in order to follow Jesus.
This was no light matter. This was not some cursory confession of Jesus. This was dying to his old life and being willing to die for his faith in Jesus Christ. This was putting his life on the line for his faith. There was no turning back. It was all or none. His life would never be the same.
So, for one, we can’t take these few verses out of their context to apply them in ways not intended, plus we must read the whole book of Romans so that we get the correct context, for Scripture must agree with Scripture, and we must judge this passage by the entire context of the letter.
So, let’s take a short walk through this letter.
Romans 1 tells us that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people, “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” This is speaking of their actions (their deeds). Although they knew who God was, they did not honor him as God, but they worshipped their idols and they engaged in all manner of evil.
In Romans 2 we read that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who PRACTICE such sins as were mentioned in Romans 1. And then there is an exhortation to those who judge those who do such things and yet do the same things (see Rom 2:4-5).
And, then listen to this:
“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom 2:6-8).
In Romans 3, when we read that God’s righteousness has been manifested apart from the law, it is clear, in context, that God is speaking of those liturgical, ceremonial, and purification laws, not God’s moral laws. For he said if we practice righteousness (not false righteousness), we are righteous, and we are born of God (1 Jn 3:4-10).
Then, in Romans 6 we read that by faith in Jesus Christ we are crucified with Christ in death to sin so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin but so we would be slaves of God and of his righteousness. For, we are slaves of the one we obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness, to sanctification, and to eternal life.
And in Romans 8 we read that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk (in conduct, in practice) according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. And we read that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:12-14).