Romans 10: 6-8 “But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is to bring Christ down from above) 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, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach).”
These verses from Romans chapter 10 are a definition of the righteousness of faith. In my many years as a Christian in America, I don’t recall ever hearing them discussed or taught, but almost every American Christian has most likely heard the next few verses, though: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in you 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.” (verses 9 and 10)
Romans 10:9-10 have been used to support the use of the “sinner’s prayer” that so many Christians have been led to recite with the understanding that this was their moment of conversion when they were “saved”. This approach has been brought to prominence in the mid 20th century by evangelists such as Billy Graham and the Campus Crusades for Christ movement, so in the view of history, it is a more recent interpretation of these verses. More importantly, there is no explicit biblical direction or record of any such single prayer that would lead to a “salvation moment”. I am in support of the opinion that these verses from Romans 10 have been taken out of context and used to support this notion of a “sinner’s prayer” that leads to salvation, and this notion has caused many to be confused about their commitment to serving Jesus, and not aware of the radical faith, or deep internal conversion that occurs when passing from this world to the Kingdom of God and Heaven (i.e., being born again of the Spirit).
Verses 9 and 10 of Romans chapter 10 need to be seen in the context of Paul’s discussion in Romans. I would recommend reading through the entire book of Romans, but let me start here with the end of Romans chapter 9, v. 30: “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;” Paul is saying that the Gentile Christians were able to enter into a position of right standing before God, not because they pursued it by keeping the rules and regulation as defined by Moses, but they attained this right standing or acceptance by God because of their faith. Paul calls this the “righteousness of faith”.
Then verses 31 & 32: “But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled over the stumbling stone.” Paul is saying that Israel (the Jews) did not find right standing with God because they did not seek it by faith. The Jews were not able to keep the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses because they did not have the internal conversion that occurs with a true, sincere faith – the type of living faith that causes you to be born of the Spirit. But the Gentiles had this faith and as Paul mentions back in Romans chapter 2, they had the law written on their hearts, so that the faith they exercised caused them to become spiritual, and this spiritual life resulted in the fruit of holiness and love, which fulfills the law of Moses.
What was this faith that Israel had neglected that caused them to stumble? What was this faith that made the Gentiles acceptable before the God and transformed their lives? Paul also had explained this faith, earlier in Romans chapter 4, as the faith that Abraham had placed in the promise that God had made to him, and that Abraham’s true children have this same faith that they place in the promise of resurrection. Romans 4:24, “It [the righteousness of faith] shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
Paul repeats this definition of the righteousness of faith here in Romans 10, verses 6-9, expounding more upon it: “But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, ‘Do not say in your heart, who will ascend into heaven?” Paul is saying that true faith accepts the fact that Jesus was resurrected, receiving a new, immortal, heavenly body and then ascended into heaven to be seated as King of Kings at the right hand of God the Father. Through His resurrection, He has confirmed the promise to us that we too will likewise be resurrected and will join Him in Heaven. We must not question this truth, or it is like undoing what Jesus had done to establish the promise. He became the first of many that will be resurrected. He is like Adam, the first man, but instead He now is the first “resurrected” man.
Paul had to defend this truth also with the Christians in Corinth, in the 15th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. He rebukes them for accepting the teaching that there is no resurrection, and re-establishes the critical importance of our hope in Heaven. 1 Cor. 15:19-22, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died). For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”
Paul continues in Romans 10: “or, (don’t say in your heart) ‘who will descend into the abyss?’” Man’s last enemy, death, has been conquered. The fear of death is no longer holding the Christian in bondage or causing us to spiral into the hopelessness of this world that has no real solution for the meaning of this life in the light of our inevitable death. The world’s philosophy is based on the conclusion that we all die in the end so why not enjoy life while we are here? Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die! But we as true Christians have been set free from this bondage, from this crippling world view that leads to ungodliness by feeding the desires of our lower nature.
We therefore should not question that Jesus died. He entered into the realm beyond the physical death of His body, but came back to life with a new body and was seen by a large group of witnesses. This confirmed that he conquered death, and we should not question this in our hearts because this would be the same as saying that it never happened, or undo what He had accomplished.
True faith, the faith that causes us to be righteous before God and acceptable by Him, the faith that is imputed or accounted to us as righteousness, and leads to an internal conversion and transformation where the law becomes written on our heart with our conscience bearing witness, either confirming or rejecting our actions, is a faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly this is stated in these verses, and explicitly in verse 9: “that if you…..believe in your heart that God has raised Him (the Lord Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved.” If we believe in our heart that God has raised Him, then we will be willing to die with Jesus so that we too can be raised with Him. This is the transformation. This is the cause of spiritual rebirth. This makes room for the Holy Spirit to enter in, when we remove the world and the flesh. This is more than believing that Jesus loved us and forgave us. This is entering into His death. This is living as a new creature who now has all of life’s affections set on the promise of heaven, making the things of this world of no value. The praises of men are no longer to be desired, only the praise from God. The pleasures of this life are seen as vanity. The light momentary afflictions are seen as minor in comparison with the eternal glory that we will share with Jesus. We stand strong with the assurance of the promise, what we are hoping for, confirmed by the Lord’s death and resurrection, as witnessed by the early Christians, and recorded for us in the Scriptures. We walk in the reality of these unseen, spiritual, truths that have been revealed and are a part of this future promised kingdom. This is true faith: the assurance of things hoped for, and the reality of things unseen.
Lord, I pray that our hearts and minds would be constantly in a state of belief, without questioning, until it becomes a reality, when you return, or when you take us home.