Wrestling with the Law
As we continue through Paul’s letter to the Romans, you’ll hear the same reminder tonight (Romans 10:5-15) that you heard last week from Pastor Chris (Romans 10:1-5). The author of Romans, Paul, is a brilliant, faithful Jewish man articulating the insights God has given him about how Jesus Christ has changed everything when it comes to Paul’s spiritual life—and our own spiritual lives.
Steeped in his Jewish faith background, Paul wrestles with God’s law throughout his letter to the Romans. But now, in his newly formed Christian faith, Paul wrestles with that law in a different way, by describing it as a barrier to salvation.
Paul now can see that God’s laws, if viewed as the path to salvation, were too difficult to keep. In spite of their intention—to connect God and God’s people together—they’ve seemed to push people to rely more on themselves than on God. Although all of God’s rules and instruction are intended for our good, they’ve only seemed to lead people to boast about how good they are, based on the count of their ability to keep as many rules as possible. And the law in other cases, has led people to despair. Upon looking at God’s laws and seeing all that God requires, other people have given up or they’ve come to the conclusion they’ll never be deserving of a saving relationship with God.
Jesus Fulfills the Law
The good news is that Paul now declares that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. Paul understands and preaches that only God—and only the grace given by God through Jesus Christ—can bring us into a right relationship with God. Jesus fulfills the law, which means that God’s grace can be, and is, extended not only to those who would live only under God’s laws, but beyond. God’s grace extends to all people. This is such exciting news for Jews and Gentiles alike (Gentiles being everyone beyond the Jewish faith), that this is to be our message to carry to anyone who has yet to hear it.
So, Paul wants us to know: faith is a matter of grace. Faith comes to us as God’s gift. It is not something that is earned. In Paul’s slightly confusing words at the beginning of this passage, God’s grace is not dug up from the abyss, nor achieved by clambering toward heaven.
When Paul borrows the beautiful phrase, ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts’, he is reinforcing the idea that it is merely by confessing with our lips and believing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, that salvation is obtained. God’s grace has come to us in Jesus and even faith in this grace and the ability to speak about it is a gift.
Paul’s Stretched Faith
As Paul was a pious and observant Jew who lived his whole life keeping as many of God’s laws as humanly possible, it is a surprise that he developed this line of reasoning. It’s surprising that he became a follower of Christ at all. But that’s the way faith works, right? It comes into our lives and brings about surprising discoveries.
How else could Paul come from his strict Jewish background to believe in Jesus?
And not only that, how could he have his faith stretched far enough to believe that Jesus came, not only for Jews, but for all people?
How could he come to the conclusion that God might wish to save anyone who could hear this good news and be stirred to faith? Such thoughts can only come from God’s grace!
I hear that grace of God in the phrase Paul quotes from the Old Testament that promises, ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.’ What a beautiful reality for you and me to carry in our thoughts and prayers this week. In these days of challenge and stress, what a word of grace for our journey! ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.’
The image that phrase calls to mind for me is my pastor’s office at Madison Campus. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some fun in these last many weeks, looking at people’s backgrounds on Zoom meetings or Facetime chats—whether I’m seeing them in person or viewing them on the news. It’s interesting to see what room a person chooses as they’re interviewed from home or work. It’s fun to explore and wonder what a background says about a person.
If you were to Zoom or Facetime me if I were in my office at church, my background would be my books. Especially all my versions of Bibles: the NRSV, RSV, the Bible given to me at my first communion with Jesus’ words in red letters, the old paraphrase ‘Good News for Modern Man,” the New Testament that lays out stories side by side from different gospels for comparison. I have Bibles, Bible Dictionaries, Bible Commentaries, Bible Encyclopedias.
The Word, God’s Word, is all within reach—on shelves just behind me. The word of God is near me.
It’s a little different at home. The word of God is near, but it’s one of the many rooms in our little house on a book shelf.
Where is the word of God at your house?
Regardless of its physical location, you and I, we proclaim together, along with Paul, that the word is as near as our lips and our hearts. When we too confess that Jesus is Lord, we’re stating that we believe God raised him from the dead offering new life to all, and trusting in that fact is all that’s needed.
Even faith is a gift to us. And it’s a gift we can speak about. And all the rest of our lives we are called to speak about that gift and live out the surprises that God has in store for us as people who believe.
Our calling is to continue to speak about and show others that the word of God lives in us. And it can live in others, too, who have yet to hear this good news. So, we share that word, in order that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Call Out in Faith
I’ll close with an example from a preacher and soccer fan. He and his family were given tickets, just a couple rows up from the bench at a Chicago Fire soccer game a few years ago. On the bench that day was a famous international player and a hero from a recent World Cup, Jermaine Jones. Between halves, as nothing was going on, the preacher called out his name, “Jermaine!”, and Jermaine slightly moved his head to acknowledge that his name had been called.
The preacher made the autograph sign and Jermaine looked away. A few minutes later, another member of the preacher’s family did the same thing. This time Jermaine fully turned his head and waved. The family member did the same sign and he motioned for her to come down for an autograph. The preacher said he was excited another family member got Jermaine’s autograph, but he was bummed that Jermaine ignored his call. Then the preacher reflected, that in this Bible reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that God is not like this. Paul writes that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (, Sermon Central, Aug 16, 2017)
God does not and will not turn a deaf ear to those who call in faith. God welcomes us with open, forgiving, and loving arms. This message and promise is for all people that call on God with faith in Jesus. So, may we continue to speak of and show God’s word and God’s grace in our lives, it’s on our lips and in our hearts, that others might be stirred to faith through our witness.
Thanks be to God! Amen.