(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 1/9/11 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 10, and let’s read verses 4 through 8:
Romans 10: (4) For Christ [is] the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes. (5) For Moses writes [of] the righteousness [which is] of the Law: The man doing these things shall live by them. (6) But the righteousness of faith says this: Do not say in your heart, Who will go up into Heaven? (that is, to bring down Christ); (7) or, Who will go down into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from [the] dead.) (8) But what does it say? The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the Word of faith which we proclaim).
In Romans 10:1, Paul makes a judgment about the spiritual state of these Jews. He says that they are not saved. In verses 2 and 3, he gives the BASIS, the REASON why he judges these people to be unsaved. He says that although they have a ZEAL TO GOD, which is what most religionists who come in the name of Christianity base their judgments on, they were lacking knowledge – specifically, they were lacking knowledge of the righteousness of God. And because they were lacking this specific knowledge, they were AUTOMATICALLY seeking to establish their OWN righteousness and were not submitted to the righteousness of God. In verse 4, he says what this specific doctrine is that the unbelieving Jews were ignorant of, which is that Christ is the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes. This means that Jesus Christ met in full the demands of God’s holy Law, and acceptance before God does not come through our OWN righteousness but through the righteousness of CHRIST that is imputed to all who believe.
Starting with verse 5, the Holy Spirit through Paul continues to talk about the righteousness that these unbelieving Jews THOUGHT was the righteousness that recommended them to God. They THOUGHT that it was their OWN works of the Law that was the ground of their acceptance before God. This is the ANTITHESIS of the righteousness of God revealed in the GOSPEL. Now do you think it made any difference whether or not they thought they were ENABLED BY GOD to meet the condition? Think back to the Pharisee in Luke 18 who said, “GOD I THANK YOU that I am not as the rest of men.” This Pharisee was THANKING GOD for ENABLING him to meet the condition of Law-keeping. Do you think that God said, “Well, since you believe that I enabled you to meet the condition, then you really aren’t seeking to establish your own righteousness”? No – Jesus Christ said that the TAX COLLECTOR went down to his house justified RATHER THAN the Pharisee. The tax collector cried out to God for mercy, knowing that he could not be justified by his works. Jesus Christ said that the Pharisee was EXALTING HIMSELF, EVEN THOUGH the Pharisee thanked God. So AWAY with the trash that we hear from self-righteous religionists that if a condition is God-enabled then there is no boasting because it’s grace and not works. When we see here in verse 5 and verses like this the concept of righteousness by works, IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE whether or not the person believes that his works are God-enabled or self-enabled or any kind of combination of the two. It’s still WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Let’s always keep that in mind.
So here in verse 5, Paul quotes Moses in Leviticus. He introduces this quote by saying that Moses “writes of the righteousness which is of the Law.” This is the righteousness that is attained by Law-keeping. Let’s go back to Leviticus 18 and read verses 4 and 5:
Leviticus 18: (4) You shall do My judgments and you shall keep My statutes, to walk in them; I [am] Jehovah your God, (5) and you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them. I [am] Jehovah.
Does this mean that God is saying that those who strive to keep the Law, even though they might not be perfect, will inherit eternal life? Well, there’s another passage in the New Testament that quotes a portion of this passage in Leviticus, and it’s in Galatians, and it gives us a clear answer. Let’s read Galatians 3:10-12:
Galatians 3: (10) For as many as are out of works of Law, [these] are under a curse. For it has been written, Cursed [is] everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them. (11) And that no one is justified by Law before God [is] clear because, The just shall live by faith. (12) But the Law is not of faith, but, The man doing these things shall live in them.
Now what does this show us about what Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 are saying? It shows us that these passages are saying that only PERFECT CONFORMITY to God's Law merits eternal life. And, as Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in ALL the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them.” PERFECT OBEDIENCE is required for fellowship with God and eternal life. Now Paul is NOT saying that good works form the ground of salvation; instead, he is saying that in order for good works to form the ground of salvation, they must be perfect, and since no man is perfect, one cannot be justified based on his works. Let’s turn back to Romans 3 and read verse 10 and then verses 19 and 20:
Romans 3: (10) according as it has been written, [There is] not a righteous [one], not even one! … (19) But we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those within the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God. (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin.
We’ve already seen these things in many previous sermons. If anyone wants to be recommended to God based on his works and efforts, then he is a DEBTOR to do the WHOLE LAW, as Galatians 5:3 says. These Jews who thought that their own righteousness was what recommended them to God were required to KEEP THE LAW PERFECTLY, and if they didn’t, then they were under God’s CURSE. And since NO ONE can keep the law perfectly, EVERYONE who thinks that his own works and efforts, whether he thanks God for them or not, form the ground of his acceptance before God and worthiness for heaven, is under a curse. ONLY those who rest in the righteousness of Christ ALONE for ALL of salvation, from regeneration to final glory, are accepted before God, NOT because of even the TINIEST PART of their own works and efforts, but SOLELY because of the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Let’s go back to our text in Romans 10 and read verses 6 and 7:
Romans 10: (6) But the righteousness of faith says this: Do not say in your heart, Who will go up into Heaven? (that is, to bring down Christ); (7) or, Who will go down into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from [the] dead.)
Now this is a passage that’s difficult to understand – at least it’s been difficult for me to understand. The first part that is not as difficult to understand is the phrase “the righteousness of faith,” since we’ve already seen this phrase in Romans 4:11 and 13 and Romans 9:30. The “righteousness of faith” is the OPPOSITE of “the righteousness which is of the Law” in verse 5. While “the righteousness which is of the Law” speaks of attaining righteousness through one’s own works and efforts, “the righteousness of faith” is that righteousness that is OUTSIDE OF OURSELVES, which is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, that is IMPUTED to God’s people and RECEIVED through the instrument of faith.
Now what about the rest of verses 6 and 7? This has been really hard for me. It’s been one of the most difficult passages to understand that I’ve encountered. I’ve looked at the original Greek of this passage and then the original Hebrew of the passage that this passage is based on, and I’ve looked at the immediate context and larger context of this passage and the Old Testament passage, and I’ve consulted 19 commentaries, and I’m still not totally certain about what this passage means. I have some ideas that I think might be on track, but I don’t claim to know for sure. If any of you men have any insights on this, I’d be happy to hear them. So what I’d like to do is to go into some of the reasoning that I used and questions that I asked when I was trying to get at the meaning of this passage, and maybe it will be helpful to you.
First we see that the righteousness of faith SAYS. This is what’s called a “rhetorical trope” – in particular, a “personification” in which human qualities are assigned to an abstraction. In this case, “righteousness” is personified as SAYING something. Basically, it means that the concept of the righteousness of faith NECESSARILY IMPLIES something. So when I look for what this passage means, I am looking to see what the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is saying that the righteousness of faith necessarily implies.
The first thing I see is that before the two questions, Paul says that the righteousness of faith says, “DO NOT say in your heart ...” And “saying in your heart” is the same thing as “thinking.” So when we go into each question, we need to keep in mind that the righteousness of faith necessarily implies NOT asking these questions, because these questions are NOT consistent with the righteousness of faith.
Paul then uses a partial quote from Deuteronomy 30 and then adds explanations after each question. Let’s go to the passage in Deuteronomy 30. Let’s read verses 11 to 14:
Deuteronomy 30: (11) For this command which I am commanding you today [is] not too wonderful for you, nor [is] it too far off. (12) It [is] not in the heavens [that you should] say, Who shall go up into the heavens for us, and bring it to us, and cause us to hear it, that we may do it? (13) And it [is] not beyond the sea [that you should] say, Who shall cross over for us to the region beyond the sea and take it for us, and cause us to hear it, that we may do it? (14) For the Word [is] very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Now let’s go back to our passage in Romans 10. One thing we see right away is that our passage in Romans 10 is not an exact quote from Deuteronomy 30. So we need to be careful in saying that Paul is quoting Moses here. It certainly looks like he is BASING his statement on a part of Deuteronomy 30, using similar phrases, but it’s obvious that it was not Paul’s intention to make an exact quote.
So the first question is: “Who will go up into heaven?” And the explanation that goes with this is the phrase, “that is, to bring down Christ.” The second question is: “Who will go down into the abyss?” And the explanation is, “that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.” What do these questions mean, and why are they not consistent with the righteousness of faith? Well, the Deuteronomy passage clearly states that the command is not hidden or far off, so that someone has to go up into the heavens or beyond the sea to get it, but it is very near, in the mouth and in the heart. And we see in verse 8 of Romans 10 that the Word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart. So there’s definitely the concept of DISTANCE here. The Word is not far, but it is near. Now some commentators have said this is all this passage in Romans means – that the Word, the gospel, is not far or hard to grasp, but it is near and easy to grasp. But that CAN’T be all that it means, because we have the explanation that is NOT in the Old Testament passage regarding bringing down Christ and bringing Christ up from the dead. Some go a little further to say that this means that we don’t need to bring down Christ from heaven or bring Christ up from the abyss to bring us the gospel, because it is already near us. But I don’t think THIS can be all that it means either, especially when Paul doesn’t just talk about bringing Christ up from the abyss; He talks about bringing Christ up FROM THE DEAD, which implies the RESURRECTION. So I think there’s more to it.
What does bringing down Christ from heaven and bringing Christ up from the dead mean then? Well, I think we get a clue in verse 9:
Romans 10: (9) Because if you confess [the] Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from [the] dead, you will be saved.
Notice what is confessed and believed. “The Lord Jesus” is confessed, and “God raised Him from the dead” is believed. Now we if we go back to our passage and apply these things to the two questions, we see that the first question has to do with “the Lord Jesus,” and the second question has to do with “God raised Him from the dead.”
Let’s go back to the first question: “Who will go up into heaven to bring down Christ?” Some commentators see the “going up” and “bringing down” to imply a work of the sinner in some way that puts the person’s works in the place of Christ’s works. I’m not saying that there’s no merit in that reasoning, but here’s how I went about interpreting it. If somebody asks the question, “Who will go up into heaven to bring down Christ,” what is that implying? It’s implying that Christ needs to come down from heaven for some reason – and it doesn’t look like the Second Coming of Christ on Judgment Day. If he needs to come down, then He either hasn’t ever come down or didn’t do everything He needed to when He came down first, so He needs to come down again. Now remember that Paul is contrasting the righteousness of the Law to the righteousness of faith. Thus, if Christ needs to come down from heaven, what does that say about His accomplishing perfect righteousness? He hasn’t done it. He is not the Lord Jesus, the God-Man Mediator, who lived a life of perfect obedience as a representative and substitute of His people, who fulfilled all the righteousness of the Law. This is what those who are of the righteousness of the Law believe. They do NOT believe that it is the righteousness of CHRIST that recommends them to God; they believe that it is their OWN righteousness that recommends them to God.
Now for the second question: “Who will go down into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead?” Again, some commentators see the “going down” and “bringing up” to imply a work of the sinner in some way that puts the person’s works in the place of Christ’s works. Again, I’m not saying that there’s no merit in that reasoning, but here’s how I went about interpreting this one. If somebody asks the question, “Who will go down into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead?”, what is that implying? It’s implying that Christ needs to come up from the dead. If you encountered a person who says, “Christ needs to come up from the dead,” what would you conclude about what that person believes? You can conclude that he believes that Christ has NOT come up from the dead – that Christ has NOT risen, He is still dead. That corresponds to the phrase “God raised Him from the dead” in verse 9. And what does it mean if someone believes that Christ has not come up from the dead – that God has not raised Jesus Christ from the dead? It means that God was NOT TOTALLY SATISFIED with the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It means that Jesus Christ’s work was NOT finished -- it did NOT accomplish full salvation of all whom He represented, meaning that there is still MORE TO DO. This is what those who are of the righteousness of the Law believe. They do NOT believe that it is the work of Christ ALONE that made full satisfaction for all whom He represented; instead, they believe that their OWN works and efforts are what satisfy God.
Now I could go into more detail about what it means to believe in the Lord Jesus and what it means to believe that God raised Him from the dead, but that will be the topic for the sermon on Romans 10:9, the Lord willing. I just wanted to touch on these as they related to these questions. So there’s what I think it means. It might be a combination of what I think and what some of the other commentators have said, but that’s my best shot at this point, and it does look like it has merit. And I’m open to any of the brothers giving me any of their wisdom on this.
Now on to verse 8:
Romans 10: (8) But what does it say? The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the Word of faith which we proclaim).
Paul now switches to what the righteousness of faith DOES say. The righteousness of faith says that the Word is near us. This is in contrast with the righteousness of Law in which the Word is NOT near those who have this works-righteousness. So how is it that the Word is near us, the people of God? In the context of the interpretation I just gave of verses 6 and 7, the Word is NEAR us because the Lord Jesus Christ has come down from heaven as the God-Man Mediator to establish a perfect righteousness that is imputed to His people, and He shed His blood and to make full atonement for the sins of His people, being buried in the grave, and being raised from the dead because God was fully satisfied with the work of His Son on the cross. The Word, the utterance, the doctrine, is NEAR us because we believe that salvation has been ACCOMPLISHED IN FULL by Christ. It is NOT near the ones who believe in works salvation, because they believe that salvation has NOT been accomplished in full by Christ. This Word, this utterance, this doctrine is NEAR us in our mouths and in our hearts. This again ties us in to verse 9 that talks about confession with the mouth and belief in the heart. Paul gives a further explanation of this Word by calling it “the Word of faith which we proclaim.” This makes it even more clear that this is talking about the gospel. The gospel is near to us because we believe it. The gospel is far from the wicked because they do not believe it. Notice how “faith” is used here. Faith, which is belief of the gospel, is ESSENTIAL. We will see this more in verse 9, the Lord willing. There’s no such thing as a person who is ignorant of the gospel, a person who does not have faith, who has been saved. There’s no such thing as a saved person who does not know that the Lord Jesus Christ has come down from heaven as the God-Man Mediator to establish a perfect righteousness that is imputed to His people, and that He shed His blood and to make full atonement for the sins of His people, being buried in the grave, and being raised from the dead. To be ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is to seek to establish one’s own righteousness. Every saved person has the Word near them. Every saved person believes the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Christ is the end of Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Amen.