For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “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 that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:5-13 ESV
In addressing the issue of justification before God, or the idea of trying to be made right with God, Paul continued to contrast righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith. Because he was addressing some in the church in Rome who were believers, but also Jews, he used many Old Testament references in this section. He was attempting to use the Hebrew Scriptures to prove his point. In verse 5, he makes a clear reference to the book of Leviticus, where we have recorded these words spoken by Moses for God: “I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:2-5 ESV). In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul clarified the meaning behind this passage when he wrote, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them’” (Galatians 3:10-12 ESV).
When God spoke of living by them (the laws), He was not simply talking about life, but about right standing before God, or righteousness. Keeping the law fully and completely was required if anyone wanted to be justified, or viewed as sinless before God. But God made is perfectly clear that if anyone wanted to be justified before Him according to the Law, they were going to have to keep every last one of the requirements of the Law. And Paul confirmed this by warning that failure to comply with all of the Law brought with it a curse. He quoted from another Old Testament passage. “Cursed is anyone who does not affirm and obey the terms of these instructions” (Deuteronomy 27:26 NLT). But Paul also provide the good news regarding this curse. “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing” (Galatians 3:13 NLT). Attempting to earn your way into God’s good graces through stringent keeping of His Law was a dead-end street. It led nowhere. But God sent His Son to pay for man’s sins with His death on the cross.
Paul’s point in all of this was to stress that man’s salvation was to be based on faith in Christ, not on self-effort. It is not what man does that saves him, but belief in what Christ has done on his behalf. And for Paul, that belief was as simple as the following statement: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV). There was nothing more required from men to be saved. Again, using Old Testament Scriptures to prove his point, Paul quotes and paraphrases Deuteronomy 30:11-14. “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In other words, nobody has to go up to heaven and ask Christ to come. He already had. And nobody had to try and bring the crucified Christ back to life. He was already risen and sitting at the right hand of the Father. No human effort was necessary for salvation. Simply belief. “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:10 NLT).
And Paul stresses that these believing faith is open to all. “Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13 NLT). To call on the name of the Lord is to place your hope in someone other than yourself. It is to recognize that your name, your character, is not enough to save you. Calling on the name of the Lord is an act of submission and dependence. It is an admission of need and a cry of help. We cannot save ourselves. It is interesting to note that in Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the newly built temple, he said, “If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors” (1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT). There is the idea of repentance, a turning away from their sin and a returning to the Lord. Acknowledging His name was the same as acknowledging His holiness and righteousness. It was to admit His power, and His power alone, to save. It is our word of faith, our confession of Jesus Christ as our Savior that brings about our justification, our right standing before God. When we turn from trusting in ourselves and place all our hope in Him, we are rescued and redeemed by God.