"Christ is the end of the law for righteousness," writes Paul, "to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). The word translated "end" here is telos, and it means "goal" rather than "termination." Many Jews in Paul's day tried to keep God's laws so well and so thoroughly that God would examine their record of obedience and pronounce them "righteous" (Rom. 9:31-32; 10:2-3). Their goal to be found right with God was commendable but they were ignorant of the way to attain it.
Their approach would never work, according to Paul, because no human besides Jesus ever obeys God's laws perfectly. The problem with the "trying" approach is not in the Law but in the people trying to keep it (Rom. 8:3). Meanwhile, says Paul, God was pronouncing believing Gentiles "righteous" -- acquitted of guilt in his sight -- who were not even trying to obtain such a result by their own performance (Rom. 9:30).
Moses described righteousness-by-law, says the Apostle, as he quotes from Deuteronomy. No one has to climb up to heaven and bring down God's laws, said Moses, and no one has to go to the underworld to find the divine rules to keep them. No, the great Lawgiver explained, God's commands are right here in front of you, ready for you to hear and do and keep (Rom. 10:5; Deut. 30:11-14). Indeed, that is the what it takes to obtain God's favor by the approach of personal obedience. One must keep God's laws. Not merely memorize them or admire them, or explain them. Keep them -- all of them, all the way, all the time (Rom. 10:5). And this is what the best of the Jews were desperately trying to do (Rom. 10:1-3). Sadly, it is what many weary Christians are trying to do today as well.
Many who consider themselves zealous Christians today are wearing themselves out trying to obey God's commandments in hopes they will obtain his favor. Yet their zeal is misguided (Rom. 10:2), for they seek the divine acquital, "not by faith but as though it were by works" (Rom. 9:32).
The way to God's approval is altogether different, Paul affirms. That way is to trust God. To illustrate this, Paul borrows and adapts the very language from Moses which he had just used to explain "righteousness-by-trying." We do not need to go up to heaven to bring down a Savior, Paul says, for the Savior has already come (Rom. 10:6). We do not need to descend to the underworld to rescue this Savior, for God already has raised him from among the Dead (Rom. 10:7). Again it can be said, "The word is near you." This time it is not a word of law for us to keep, however, but a word or message of faith -- of trust -- in One who has kept all God's commandments perfectly and who has offered that obedient life to God in our stead (Rom. 10:8).
The obedience which sets us right in God's sight has already been accomplished on the earth -- by Jesus Christ our Savior and substitute! We cannot complete it, improve on it or make it better than it already is. We can only trust it, rely on it and respond to it. We cannot contribute to our salvation or right standing before God. We can only agree with God ("confess") about Jesus Christ and depend ("believe") on Jesus' work to obtain our acquital (Rom. 10:9-10). And we can confidently expect just that result, for "whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed" (Isa. 28:16, quoted at Rom. 10:11).
As the old spiritual song put it, "Believe, obey -- the work is done!" Jesus did it all, 2,000 years ago. This is the truth for Jews and it is the truth for all the nations (Rom. 10:12), for "whoever" calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Joel 2:32, quoted at Rom. 10:13). The gospel message rings clearly through the centuries. It's not by trying but by trusting. And none who trusts in God's salvation will ever be left hanging in the breeze.
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