At the end of Romans 9, Paul writes about how some Gentiles have obtained righteousness by faith, while some Jews did not have faith in God that resulted in righteousness. Instead of building on Christ as the rock and chief cornerstone, they stumbled over him (Rom 9:30-33). As in the beginning of chapter 9, Paul begins chapter 10 with an appeal for his fellow Jews. His appeal is that they might be saved.
Balancing Zeal and Knowledge (10:1-5):
Paul lays out two things that are held in tension when it comes to approaching God. The first is zeal (10:2). He says his countrymen are very zealous. Not only that but they are very zealous for God. They were zealous for the law but in the end they failed to recognize Christ as the fulfillment of the law (10:4 – also read at goal, culmination or end of the law). Why did they miss it? They missed all that the law was supposed to lead up to because while they had zeal, they didn’t have the compliment that must walk hand in hand with zeal – knowledge. Paul says that they had unenlightened zeal (Rom 10:2 – NRSV). He says they were “ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God.” (10:3). Yet they had zeal…uninformed zeal…zeal for the wrong things…emphasis in the wrong place. In the end this kind of zeal dries up and whithers away because it is like zealously/feverishly building a house on a foundation of sand. They labored hard to build it but in the end it sinks and fails.
We see these same things at work today and there is much we can learn from balancing zeal and knowledge. On one hand we see Christians today who have all kinds of zeal but their knowledge is weak. For instance, we can throw all kinds of service projects toward helping the homeless but if we don’t help impact their soul in the process we threw all that zeal into something good, yet temporary. On the other hand there are some Christians today who have all kinds of knowledge and yet lack zeal and enthusiasm. We have to have both. Knowledge without enthusiasm fails to recognize just how large an obstacle God has moved from our path to eternal life. When you recognize all God has done for us (knowledge) the natural result should be zeal. If you have zeal for God, it would make sense you would hunger to know more about him (knowledge). So ultimately the two need to go hand in hand. Either one without the other is problematic.
But the bigger point in the first 5 verses of Romans 10 is that many of God’s people, Israel, had not put their faith in Christ and that no matter how zealously they followed the law, it was not enough.
Superiority of a Righteousness by Faith (Romans 10:5-13):
These verses have caused a whole lot of problems for people who read the New Testament without taking into consideration the context. What Paul is saying here is that first and foremost, righteousness by faith does not require us to do stupendous acts of faith to achieve…in fact it is only so far away as our as your heart and your lips. How is that? Because when you believe in your heart and confess with your lips Jesus is Lord, they show they have acknowledged Christ’s Messiahship, just as God had hoped they would. In other words, the law would have served its purpose to convince the them that Jesus is Lord. Paul is talking about the Jews here. He may even be referencing the Shema with the repeated references to the heart and the lips (10:6, 8, 9). This passage is often read through the lens of justifying what it takes to be saved. On the surface here it seems Paul boils it down to belief and confession, leaving out repetance and baptism. The problem with that is Paul’s point in this chapter is not to make a spiritual “how to” list of how to be saved. He is talking about Jews who need to have faith in God through Christ…but they have not believed Christ to be the Messiah and have therefore not confessed him as Lord. See this post for more on that.
10:13 – “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This has been a hard verse for those who try to maintain consistency from Paul on what it takes to be saved. It appears in Acts, Romans, Galatians and elsewhere the he believes baptism to be a part of that process but here he appears to be saying all you have to do is call on the Lord. Again, remember the context. Paul is encouraging non-Christian Jews to put their faith in who the Law had been pointing to all along – Jesus Christ. He is not making a list of all things pertaining to salvation. The problem in interpretation here is that people read this without considering the broader context of Romans 9-11, where Paul is talking about the problem of the part of Israel that has not responded or believe in Jesus as Lord. Once you read these verses through that lens, consistency is found and baptism is not rejected. It is just not the point Paul is trying to make right now.
God Gave the Opportunity, Some of Israel Still Rejected it (10:14-21):
The point of the rest of the chapter is that Israel did, in fact, receive ample opportunity to believe in Jesus as Lord. This shows God as the one who faithfully knocked on the door, but they refused to open. The result is that we can continue to see God as faithful because God continues to make good on his promises to his people. Remember, the initial concern prompting Rom 9-11 was the claim in 1-8 that God is entirely faithful and will make good on his promises. The question then is, What about the part of Israel that has not believed in Christ…if they are excluded, does that make God any less faithful? The answer is no…God is still faithful. Romans 10:14-21 tells us why. It boils down to the fact that they had opportunity to call because someone was sent to preach/proclaim the message. They heard but did not believe and the result was they did not call. Paul quotes from a variety of OT scriptures to show this to be true. Israel was given the opportunity to turn to Christ, they didn’t, so they are without excuse and God is still seen as faithful. And if God is still faithful, then we can trust in the promises outlined in Romans 8 (that nothing can judge us or separate us from God’s love…not even death itself).
This has tremendous significance for us for God to be proven faithful. If Paul was unable to prove God to be faithful in these matters, we would have much to worry about regarding the promises God has made us because it would make God out to be less than reliable. But Paul has laid out for us here in Romans 10 that it was Israel’s track record that was in question, not God’s. And the hope is that eventually their zeal would be paired with knowledge so they would turn to Christ, who is the culmination of the law.