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02.17.13 How Can I Know I am Saved, Romans 10:1-13, Sermon Summary

by on February 20, 2013

Imagine the chaos that would ensue if George W. Bush returned to the presidency tomorrow morning. That’s what Paul was dealing with in the letter to the Romans.

Summary Points

  • The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans
  • Paul’s very technical, creative interpretation
  • Paul’s inclusive solution
  • Two foundational lessons we learn from Paul
  • How we can know we are saved

In 49 AD, the Jews were expelled from Rome by emperor Claudius because of problems he was having with the Christians. In 54 he rescinded his decree, and Jewish Christians began to return. In their absence, non-Jewish (that is, Gentile) Christians had filled the leadership void, and this created some conflict. Paul’s letter to the Romans, in part, addresses this conflict.

Remember that Paul (not to mention Christ) was Jewish. This is to say, Christianity and Judaism were not two separate religions at the time. Christianity was a new, open, and more inclusive way to be Jewish. So when Jewish Christians returned to a Gentile Christian church, questions arose around such things as governing values, the Old Testament, ritual, and law. Most practically speaking, it was a question of salvation—who’s in, and who’s out?

Because Romans is dealing with such complexities, it is a remarkably complex book. Paul uses Greek rhetoric and Jewish midrash in his attempt to resolve the tensions. To simplify things, I suggest that for Paul it is a fundamental question of God’s faithfulness.

If God now includes the Gentiles, what happens to God’s faithfulness to the terms of the Jewish covenant? But if God has changed the terms, is God still faithful to the Jews? God appears to have said two things: 1. You must be faithful to the covenant (exemplifying God’s faithfulness to the Jews); 2. You can be included on the basis of faith (God’s faithfulness to the Gentiles).

In today’s reading, Paul puts it this way. God’s faithfulness to the Jews is demonstrated by Romans 10:5, citing Leviticus 18:5, “Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’”

But then Paul paraphrases and interprets Deuteronomy 30:12-14 as the words of “righteousness that comes from faith”: “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, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” Note that this is a paraphrase and an interpretation (made explicit by the parentheses). The author of Deuteronomy certainly did not have Paul’s gospel in mind but rather the very law that Paul is trying to subvert. But this is Paul’s argument.

And his conclusion arrives in Romans 10:11-13, again quoting from the Old Testament: “’No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ (Isaiah 28:16) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Joel 2:23).

Some observations before a conclusion. First, to understand Christ, one has to consider the Old Testament. Clearly Paul is reading Christ through the Old Testament. But the converse is also operative: to understand the Old Testament, one has to consider Christ. The two are inter-related, and inter-dependent. For Paul, both are expressions of God’s will, and are God’s Word.

Jesus demonstrated the same conviction in Luke’s temptation story. Just as Jesus’ identity as God’s Son was revealed in his baptism, it is tested, and Jesus responds to the test by quoting the Old Testament. He finds his identity, that is, Jesus identifies himself through the Old Testament.

Second, Paul has foundational convictions regarding God’s faithfulness, God’s desire that all people experience salvation, and God’s patience until all do so.

The summary of Paul’s conclusion is that, “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” The reference to the Lord is intentionally ambiguous. If you are a Jewish Christian in Rome, you’re going to hear this quotation from the Old Testament as a reference to the God of the Old Testament. But if you’re a Gentile Christian in Rome, you’re going to hear the word “Lord” and think of Jesus. The point? All, Jew and Gentile, who call upon the Lord will be saved.

The question for us today, who wonder whether we can know we are saved, is this: Are we “calling upon the name of the Lord?”

Jesus’ temptation is our example. What does it look like, according to Jesus’ example, to “call upon the name of the Lord” and thus to experience salvation? We know it must be more than just citing scripture, for that is what the Tempter does. It must be more than just reciting Romans 10:9 or praying the “sinner’s prayer.” The devil treats scripture in this superficial way, and Jesus rejects it.

Instead, Jesus responds with a comprehensive understanding of the Bible, taking the verses the devil offers and putting them in the context of the entire movement of scripture. The devil promised self-sufficiency, power, and security; Jesus revealed dependence, service, and self-sacrifice.

To Jesus, “Calling on the name of the Lord” means depending on God, serving others, and giving your life to this end. In the image of Romans 10:9, it is belief in mind, and action in body.

Lent is a time for practicing this “calling upon the Lord.” And it is God’s (and only God’s) responsibility to recognize the calling. God is like an emperor penguin recognizing its mate’s call among thousands of other penguins. Today, God is listening for your call. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How might Paul’s solution to the tensions in the Roman church be applied to the tensions throughout the church today? In your congregation?
  • How well do you know the Old Testament? Enough to enhance your understanding of Christ? How does your understanding of Christ help you to understand the Old Testament?
  • Do you view scripture more like the devil, a verse here and a verse there, or like Jesus, all verses are subject to the movement of the whole? What effect would adopting Jesus’ perspective have on some of your favorite verses?
  • Is your life characterized more by the pursuits of self-sufficiency, power, and security; or dependence, service, and self-sacrifice?
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