Lee A. Carter
This is what the Scripture says: “God’s message is near you; it is on your lips and in your heart.” – Romans 10:8 ERV
Written between 55 and 58 CE, Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to the Roman churches who were struggling to unify two groups of people from vastly different historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds into one family of God. God was calling Jews and Gentles to faith in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit was being poured out on both. Somehow, they had to become one diverse-but-united people who reflected the image of the Triune God, both in their worship and in their community-life, in the pluralistic world of first century Rome.
Paul could not adequately deal with this issue in the Roman church without addressing what, for believing Jews, would have been a very perplexing question: if God has so liberally welcomed Gentiles into his community based on faith in Jesus alone, does that mean that God’s promises to the nation of Israel were cancelled? In Romans 9 – 11, Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate from Leviticus and Deuteronomy that God’s intention from the beginning was that all nations would be blessed by the offspring of Abraham. Israel would be a light to the nations and that the incoming flood of believing Gentiles was the fulfillment, not the termination, of God’s promises (Rom. 10:4).
In Romans 10:6-8, Paul gives a creative retelling of Deuteronomy 30:12-14. He reinterprets this text for the new dawn of God’s people through Jesus Christ that includes the Gentiles. Paul hangs his reinterpretation using the concept of “being right” or “righteousness” (dikaiosynē). Rather than signifying an individual’s perfect obedience to the letter of the law, “righteousness” means right action, behavior, and loyalty within one’s relational contexts. It is a way of life that honors the community one is a part, especially the head of that community, such as a parent or a king. The Old Testament Law crafted what faithful living meant for Israel as a covenant community. God’s people must live together in a community that demonstrates their love for God. The Old Testament prophets often bemoaned Israel for honoring God only with their lips and sacrifices while their hearts were far from him.
But in Jesus Christ, the relational context has changed! He inaugurated a new covenant sealed in his blood with a new community that is called his body. Righteousness in the “Jesus community” is learning, growing, and becoming a people who reflect King Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). Just as Paul was trying to make one community out of two formerly hostile groups of people, discipleship to Jesus excludes factionalism and division. Discipleship to Jesus welcomes and honors those who God has included through Christ’s death and resurrection, even if they are “other” than us in any way that the Evil One uses to divide us. It is washing one another’s feet in servantship and cruciform love.
How can we possibly do that? Paul, quoting from Deuteronomy, reminds us that its only possible through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to reach into the heavens or go across the ocean to achieve it. It is “near you; it is on your lips and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8). This is the beauty, wonder, mystery, and hidden reality of faith in Jesus. In discipleship to Jesus, He makes the law of His Spirit come alive in us, transforming us into His image who love and obey him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The seed that was planted all the way back to Abraham fully blossoms in us: all the nations experience the shalom of God because of our righteousness.
By Dr. Lee Carter, Bible League International staff, Illinois USA