Re-Translated In March 2000
1. This world is full of calamities and misfortunes. The shadow of sorrow and trouble is always tagging right along in one's life. In consequence, a search for deliverance or salvation exists in every person in some form or another. Sometimes it may be a seeking that lies vaguely at the recesses of our heart. At times it comes in the form of an urgent crying out. For the person who is looking for salvation of this kind the Bible teaches human salvation lies in a righteous relationship with God. There is a whole heap of needs we must meet and problems we've got to solve. But, if a person does not have a righteous relationship with God he or she does not have true salvation. This world is God's world and we are creatures fashioned by God's hand. The life we have really belongs to God. If [our life] does not have a bond with God we can't expect to have salvation, [can we?]
2. Paul says the following in chapter ten and verse one. "O brothers, I desire from my heart that they be saved and I pray to God on their behalf." Evidently, Paul was praying for people who had not obtained salvation. He was praying for people who had not been living in a righteous relationship with God. But, why had they not obtained salvation? Could it be because they had not been seeking for a righteous relationship with God? No, that wasn't the reason. They had sought for "righteousness," that is a righteous relationship with God more than anything else. Then, could they have been lacking in zeal? Or if they had zeal, could they have been lacking in effort and works? No, that wasn't it either. As we look at verse two, Paul says that "I bear witness that they have been serving God with zeal." So then, what could have been [their] problem? The problem was in that their zeal was not grounded on a correct understanding. So, how does he define their mistaken understanding? In chapter nine and verse thirty-two it is put like this, "It was because Israel thought it could be achieved not by faith but by works." This is what "attempting to seek their own righteousness" means in chapter ten and verse three. They attempt to establish their own righteousness and then would hope to seek a righteous relationship with God drummed up by that. They are not satisfied unless they are building that relationship [with God] on their own. But Paul says this is a deficiency in understanding. As long as they acted like that, he says, they could not obtain salvation.
Righteousness According To Faith
3. Next, let's read from verses five to eight.
"Moses has written on the righteousness that comes by the law that 'the person who keeps the commandments will live by the commandments.' But, as for the righteousness that comes by faith, the following is stated, 'One should not say in his heart Who will go up to heaven?' This is nothing but bringing Christ down. Also, 'One should not say Who will go down to the bottomless abyss?' This is to pull Christ up out of the dead. So, what shall then be said about it? 'His Word is near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart.' This is the word of faith which we are declaring to you," (verses five through eight).
4. The Bible certainly speaks about "a righteousness that comes by the law," that is, a relationship with God which a person can establish by keeping the law. The phrase translated "a person who keeps the commandments will live by the commandments" is a quotation from Leviticus 18:5. "Live" [here] means to have fellowship with God and take part in God's decrees.1 To say a person will truly "live," the Bible states, comes from fellowship with God and that is obtainable by keeping the commandments of God.
5. It must have been based on this phrase that the Israelites tried to obtain righteousness by keeping the commandments and tried to obtain life. They worked very diligently in this. However, if a person really made an effort, he or she should have known that the phrase "the person who keeps the commandments will live by the commandments" comprised an impossible demand. Those who know how sinful humans are and what disobedient beings they are against God and those who are aware of how depraved their characters are could not possibly have not realized how far their own selves are from God's salvation. For a person to obtain righteousness by works is really like going up to heaven on your own power. Or it's like descending on your own down a bottomless abyss. We can tell from the words of those who came to ask things from the Lord Jesus how uncertain many of the pious were in regard to salvation despite their diligence in keeping the law. [There was] a rich young man who stated that he had observed the law since childhood. He asked the Lord, "O master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?," (Matthew 19:16).
6. Indeed, we can find this kind of person not just among Jews. Today we can see the same thinking in many people of this country. They begin to be aware that salvation is necessary for them. In addition, they begin to realize it's a bit more than the kind of problem that's simply right before their eyes that they should solve right now. It is not like a superficial peace of mind [either], rather they see that a fundamental change of their life seems to be needed. In other words, they are enabled with the insight that they cannot obtain such a fundamental salvation without a righteous relationship with God. They even understand that true life is not possible without a bond with God. They go that far. But, they won't go one step further. Why is that? Because they think building a righteous relationship with God is, in the final analysis, the work of the individual. Therefore, for so many people who think so seriously about it, it seems [impossible] like going up to heaven or descending down a bottomless abyss, [and they think,] "I could never make it there."
7. However, Paul says the following in verse six. "But, as for the righteousness that comes by faith, the following is stated." This is an easy to understand translation, but it is not a literal one. It is [actually] written that "But, the righteousness that comes by faith speaks as follows." It is not a righteousness which a person acquires by works, but that "the righteousness that comes by faith" is doing the speaking. "The righteousness that comes by faith " is crying towards us. It is crying, "One should not say in his heart Who will go up to heaven?" One shouldn't try to go up to heaven by struggling hard and there is no need to give up because [you can't go that way]. Why is that? Because it is not that we are going up but that Christ has come down for us. Therefore, the person who still thinks we must go up to heaven is foolish in struggling so hard to try to bring Christ down to the earth again [since he] had descended by the grace of God.
8. The righteousness of faith also cries out the following, "You shouldn't say 'Who will go down to the bottomless abyss?'" In order to build a relationship with God we should not work by bearing our hardships with all we got by ourselves and trying not to go down to the bottomless abyss. Because Christ himself went down for us to the abyss of hades which is the world of death. Will you say I will pull Christ up [out of hades]? That is foolishness. Because God himself pulled up Christ from the dead and resurrected him. Humans did nothing. God did it.
9. In short, the point is God did it all for us. The bond with God is not produced by human beings, but is God given. It is righteousness that comes by faith. A human being just receives it simply by faith. Therefore, [the scripture] puts it like this, "The word is near you and lies in your mouth and your heart." That's right. The word of salvation is near. Where is it? It is wherever the gospel is being proclaimed. It is wherever a word of faith is given. That is, it is in this place where you are now. The Word is near. Next, you should have it in your mouth and in your heart. That's where the righteousness which comes by faith is.
It Is In Your Mouth And In Your Heart
10. So then, what does it mean specifically that the word of faith we receive by faith lies in our mouths and in our hearts? Let's read from verses nine to thirteen.
"For you will be saved if you express publicly with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. In truth, a person is made righteous by believing in his heart and is saved by expressing it with his mouth publicly. Even in the scriptures it is written 'Whoever believes the Lord will never be disappointed.' This is because without distinction between Jew or Greek, there is the same Lord for all persons and he is abundantly gracious to all persons who call out to him. 'Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,'" (verses nine through thirteen).
11. Heart and mouth. One believes with the heart and expresses publicly with the mouth. That's how it is repeated. But, generally when "faith" is mentioned, isn't it understood as only something that has to do with "the heart?" Since one "believes" with the heart, that is considered to be enough. But, when Paul speaks of faith it is not just something that has to do with "the heart" but has to do with "the mouth" too.
12. Indeed, if I go a little further on it, it speaks of "believing with the heart" and "expressing publicly with the mouth" as the same things. They are not separate acts. It is not [two separate things] to express it after you believe it or to start believing in your heart what you express. We understand that from the differences in order in verses nine and ten. In verse nine [we have] "[we] express and believe." In verse ten [we have] "after believing [we] express." This would not make sense if it were taken separately. Also, if believing and expressing with the mouth were separate, being justified and saved would end up becoming separate things as well. But, it is impossible to say things like he was justified but he wasn't saved.
13. It said, "express with the mouth that Jesus is Lord." The phrase "Jesus is Lord" is an early formula of the confession of the faith which existed before the likes of the Apostles' Creed was made which we recited in [our] service. "Jesus is Lord." The basis for this phrase is the resurrection of Jesus. God redeemed our sin through his death and raised him from the dead and made him the Lord in whom we should believe. And they, who have been preached to and believed that in this person [Jesus] everything we need for salvation has been accomplished, have expressed that "Jesus is Lord" and have begun living with Jesus as Lord. What's more, it was not that one certain person felt that "Jesus is Lord," but they all expressed it together, and through the preaching work of the church which expressed as a whole that "Jesus is Lord," others would believe and express with the same words of "Jesus is Lord." In this way, the set phrase to express the faith had been formed.
14. Well, the important thing here is that we express the same words along with the church that has proclaimed to us the Word. The phrase "to express publicly" is often translated as "to confess," but actually the original meaning of this phrase is "to say the same thing." It says the same thing as generation after generation of the church which has passed on the words of faith. To put it differently, it is about a person placing himself or herself in the place where he or she expresses the faith with the same words. A baptized person is asked at the time of baptism, "Do you confess this faith?" "Believing in your heart" is equal to such a confession [at baptism], and it is nothing but [the act of] faith of which the Bible speaks.
15. So, it is clear that being separated from the church and thinking of God and Christ only in your heart is not what Paul calls "faith." As it is stated here the faith which justifies and saves a person and which makes a person alive in a righteous relationship with God is not that kind of thing. At least, it is not Christian faith. Also, regardless of how great an experience we have or how many spiritual experiences we have, they do not have more significance than expressing the same faith along with generations and generations of the Church.
16. The words of the faith which the church has proclaimed and passed on, "it lies in your mouth and in your heart," are important. We sometimes hear the phrase, "[my] faith is getting deeper." This expression is unbiblical [because we cannot find the expression "deepening of faith" in the Bible], but if we dare to use this phrase it should never mean any kind of special new discoveries or experiences with reference to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. That's not what it is about, it is nothing more than truly making as our own the words of faith which the generations of the church have proclaimed. Furthermore, it is promised to anyone who lives believing in the Lord in this manner and lives confessing "Jesus is Lord" that he or she will never be disappointed; for, the righteousness of God which is according to faith is given to those who worship him as the Lord along with generations of others and to those who live as His. His Word is near you. These words of faith alone, whether they "lie in your mouth or in your heart" or not, have decisive meaning.
17. And, that it has decisive meaning means that anything different falls short. So, Paul repeatedly says "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek." When Paul says this it is not an expression of "universal brotherhood." It is based on the fact that there is the same Lord. Through Him, salvation is opened for everyone everywhere. The Lord himself abundantly gives grace to everyone who calls on Him. Paul quotes Joel 3:5. "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Since it [says] "whoever," I can even be in it and you can be there too.
1 Oddly enough, this word could be translated "life" as well as "decree, command, order."