Israel and the Gospel – Romans 10

Read the Passage: Romans 10

Zeal and Knowledge (10:1–4)

In Romans 9, Paul demonstrated that God’s promises of salvation to Israel were never solely genetic, even in their original context. Rather, salvation has always been by faith alone in order “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works” (Rom. 9:11). At the time of Paul’s writing, few ethnic Jews believed, as their tendency was to pursue salvation by works, not by faith. In Romans 10, Paul furthers this line of reasoning, as he explains how Israel tried to establish their own righteousness through law-keeping, rather than by faith in the promised Messiah. As he has done at Rom. 9:1–3, so here at Rom. 10:1 Paul writes, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” Although much of Paul’s persecution in ministry had come at the hand of the Jews, he was not bitter toward his countrymen; rather, he continually shared with Israel and prayed for the salvation of the people.

Although Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Rom. 11:13), he never lost his desire to see his countrymen saved. Paul was not attempting to justify Israel’s rejection of Christ, nor their persecution of himself, nevertheless, he wrote, “I bear Israel witness that they have a zeal for God” (Rom. 10:2). Yet, writes Paul, the Jews’ zeal for God was not according to knowledge. This is an important observation, for oftentimes people equate zeal and sincerity with knowledge and truth; yet, it is possible to be sincere (or zealous) and to be sincerely wrong. Indeed, while Israel had many spiritual privileges that should have led them to an understanding of salvation by faith alone (cf. Rom. 9:4–5), they did not accept the gospel message of Christ. Like all those without knowledge of spiritual truth, Israel attempted to justify themselves via law-keeping rather than by trusting in Jesus for salvation (cf. Rom. 10:4).

Works and Salvation (10:5–13)

After citing Israel’s attempts at law-keeping at Rom. 10:3, in Rom 10:5 Paul points out the implication of such self-salvation efforts as he quotes Lev. 18:5, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” Paul’s point here is that salvation by law-keeping would require complete obedience, which is an impossibility (cf. Gal. 3:10, 21; Jas. 2:10). Given that self-salvation is not possible, at Rom. 10:6–7 Paul personifies salvation by faith alone and cites Deut. 30:12–14 to argue that grace-based salvation is freely available to all. Observe that Rom. 10:7, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead),” is often cited in conjunction with Eph. 4:9–10 and 1 Pet. 3:19 to support of the teaching of Jesus’ descent into Hades. While this doctrine may or may not be accurate, Paul’s point in this passage is to show that it is not necessary for mankind to descend into Hades in order to be saved.

Rom. 10:9–10 is one of clearest and most cited explanations of the gospel in Scripture, as Paul explains, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Next, at Rom. 10:11, which is an important verse for Paul’s Jewish readers, Paul quotes Isa. 28:16, writing, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (cf. Isa. 49:23; Jer. 17:7). This Old Testament citation is essential, for here Paul demonstrates that salvation has always been by faith alone and that it has always been available to the Gentiles. In the following verse, Paul exegetes his own citation of Isa. 28:16 as he explains the breadth of the gospel, teaching, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek . . . to all who call upon Him” (Rom. 10:12).

Scripture and Faith (10:14–21)

After explaining the lost condition of Israel in Rom. 9:1–10:13, in accord with his heart’s desire and prayer for the salvation of the Jews, at Rom. 10:14–16 Paul exhorts his Gentile readers to share the Word of God with Israel. While it is true that many in Israel had heard and rejected the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:18), and that some of the Gentiles had heard the gospel and accepted it (cf. Rom. 10:20), God had a greater purpose in this phenomenon (cf. Rom. 10:19). Indeed, this is one reason why the gospel must still go out to all of Israel. Rom. 10:17 is one of the most important verses in this book, as here Paul explains that the Word of God is the only divinely designed conduit through which God is pleased to birth faith in the hearts of the lost (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Thess. 2:13; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). Note that salvation does not come by emotional appeal or by intellectual prowess; rather, since man’s problem is spiritual, it is only remedied through the hearing of Scripture.

Application Questions:

  1. Is it an antisemitic statement to say that Israel is spiritually lost and needs salvation via faith alone in Jesus Christ? How can believers best evangelize Jews?
  2. Do you find it difficult to pray for your enemies? When you have been mistreated in the past, did you become bitter toward those who wronged you?
  3. What does Paul mean in writing that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4)?
  4. What is essential to know in order to be saved? What are the fundamental facts of the gospel message?
  5. Is hearing the gospel contained in the Word of God the only way to be saved (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; Titus 1:3; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23)?