Christ not Commandments

We’re pressing on with Romans chapter 10 this morning. Last week, we heard Paul speak of his passionate desire that his fellow Israelites, the blood descendants of Abraham, would turn from the religion based on commandment-keeping to the true righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. In fact, this is the reason the Israelites missed the boat in the first place – they misinterpret the Torah as a law of works rather than a promise that calls for trust. We also heard that regardless of what gets thrown against God, whether good or evil, faith or unbelief, God uses everything for the grand purpose of salvation. In fact, it’s all so much out of our hands, so entirely in God’s hands, that He has destined us in Christ even before the world was made, and in Christ everything for our salvation is already an accomplished fact.

But still the nagging question persists. How can a people who are so zealous for religion, so zealous for good works, so zealous to please God, miss the point entirely? As you know, zeal alone is not enough. A person might be zealous for tennis, but if he has no tennis skills, all the zeal in the world won’t get the ball over the net. You can be zealous for religion, for “spiritual things,” yet without the right knowledge of who God is and what He is doing, all that zeal won’t save you.

There is nothing worse, really, that ignorant zeal. Those are the people who already know everything and can’t be taught a thing. If you think you already have all the answers and have plumbed the depths of God, what more do you have to learn? But what if you’re wrong? What if you put the puzzle together in a totally wrong way? What if seeking to please God, you wind up on His wrath-side instead of His mercy-side? That’s precisely what happened. “Being ignorant of the righteousness that come from God (not from ourselves), and seeking to establish their own righteousness (by works rather than faith), the did not submit to God’s righteousness.” The path was already set out for them from none other than Moses. “For Christ is the end (goal) of the Torah, that every one who has faith may be justified.” This is the point, which Israel is all its commandment-keeping zeal missed. The point is Christ not commandments.

That’s a tough sell today, or any day, for that matter. Our natural inclination is to invent religions, ways of reaching up into heaven or plumbing the depths, as though God can’t get to us but we have to somehow get to God. Whether reaching inward or reaching upward, all religion operates this way, and Pharisaic Judaism was no exception. It tried to make the Torah doable, a book of biblical principles, 613 dos and donts to do the righteousness of God. Moses even promised that the person who does the commandments will live by them. But the question is, do you? Do you do the commandments?

Do you fear, love, and trust God above all things? All things, not just some things? Do you pray, praise, give thanks under all circumstances? Are you glad when they say to you, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord?” Come on, be honest. Are you? What about our parents and other authorities? Do you obey them, love, honor, and cherish them? Do you harbor hatred in your hearts? Are you sexually pure? Do you steal, gossip? How’s the coveting going? Are you content with your lot in life?

Ah, not so good, eh? Trying hard, you say. But trying hard doesn’t cut it with commandment keeping. It’s do or die, baby. Do it and you live, don’t do it and you’re dead. Simple as that. All religion works like that. In Buddhism, if you don’t do it right the first time, you get recycled to have another go at it. Do it. Don’t talk about, read about, go to seminars and workshops about it. The Law is something you do in order to live.

But faith looks at things a completely different way. Faith doesn’t say, “Let’s reach up to heaven,” (like we say “lift up your hearts, by which we really mean, turn those broken messed up hearts of your up to the Lord who alone can save you). Faith doesn’t say, “Let’s plumb the depths looking for God.” No. Faith clings to the Word. That’s right. The Word. The Word of Christ that is on your lips and in your ears and on your heart. The Word you hear preached to you by prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors. The Word that declares Jesus crucified, risen and reigning is your Lord who has saved you, won you with His death, redeemed you with His blood.

It boils down to this: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, that is, God in the flesh come to save you, and if you trust in your heart that is so most certainly true on account of the one piece of evidence God has given the world, namely He raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. As simply as that. Not a single work of any commandment is involved. Simple trust in the heart and a confession on the lips.

You say, “It can’t be that easy.” The world chimes in too. It laughs at Christianity over this, that all sorts of riff raff are saved simply for their trust in the promise of God in Christ. They won’t be laughing on the last day, because that will be the only thing that will save them. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. Nothing else, no one else. And it doesn’t matter what your background is, whether you are a circumcized son of Israel or an unwashed Gentile, there is absolutely no difference now that Christ has come. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, on Jesus who is the Name of the Lord incarnate, will be saved.

So how can anyone call on Him if they don’t believe? That’s what so silly about the “sinner’s prayer” and all those steps to becoming a Christian. They all presuppose faith. There has to be faith in place in order to pray in the first place. There has to faith present if someone is to worship. How can anyone call on Jesus if they don’t believe? They can’t. How can anyone believe in Jesus if they never heard of Jesus? Again, the answer, they can’t. Faith needs an object. You don’t believe in your believing. Some do, but that’s not saving faith in Jesus; that’s faith in my believing. Faith has an object, and saving, justifying faith has Jesus as its object.

So how is anyone going to hear unless there is a voice, a preacher? You can’t. God doesn’t ordinarily speak directly. It’s rare, so don’t expect it to happen to you. We all want to be a special case, but then it wouldn’t be a “special case” would it? In fact, Luther went so far, and it’s quoted in our Confessions, that any word apart from the external Word of God is of the devil. That’s how little we trust those voices in our heads. So the Word demands to be heard, and hearing requires a preacher, which is why it isn’t really a “church” in the proper sense if there isn’t preaching going on. And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Again, they can’t. Preaching is heralding good news for another; you have to be sent. God sent Moses and prophets. We have the written record of their preaching. God sent the apostles and evangelists. We have their written record. God send pastors, reminding us that God’s voice continues to be heard. He’s not only the God who has spoken, but He’s the God who speaks. God sends you to your neighbor, to those around you. The apostolic church is a sent church (apostolic means “sent”), sent into the world to put the Word of Jesus into the ears of the unbelieving world.

“Beautiful feet,” Paul calls those feet that bring Gospel good news. I’ve never thought of my feet as terribly good looking; I certainly wouldn’t inflict them on others. But stepping into this pulpit, they are “beautiful feet” when they bring the Gospel of peace. Well-shod were part of the “whole armor of God” that Paul enumerated in Ephesians, feet that were equipped with the Gospel of peace. It reminds us that the Gospel is always on the move; it’s never a static thing. In the book of Acts, it never rests, it never stands still, it’s always in the motion of mission, never silent, because “faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.” The Spirit works faith in the heart “where and when He pleases” in those who hear the good news. Our job is to get the good news to their ears, just as the good news has come to our ears.

So what went wrong with Israel? Didn’t they hear? Weren’t preachers sent? Paul says, “Not at all. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of His hands. Their voice has gone out to the ends of the earth; their words to the ends of the world.” God’s been preaching up a storm to Israel. No one had so many preachers as Israel. And yet they did not believe, not because they didn’t hear, not because the Word is weak and ineffective, but because they refused it in stubborn, hard-hearted unbelief.

Every hearing of the Word is a Day of the Lord, a salvific moment. Rejoice in it. Delight in it. Repent and believe it. Don’t be as Israel – stubborn and contrary – lest God make an example out of you too. Hear the Word of Christ forgiving your sins, raising you from your death, giving you eternal life. Hear it and take it to heart. Trust it. It’s the surest Word there is in your life. It’s the Word that God has been preaching from the beginning, the Word that took your sins to the cross and died for them, the Word that conquered death and rose to life. What a marvelous and wonderful Word God has laid on our ears! “Faith comes by hearing.” Hearing is faith’s inhaling, and telling is faith’s exhaling.

“Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” You have God’s Word on it – it’s right there – in your ears to hear, your mouth to confess, your heart to believe. Hear it, confess it, believe it.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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