Not long ago, I had the privilege to visit Wisconsin and host training for various pastors and churches. I have been in that area several times and I knew that nearby there's a restaurant franchise called Culver's that I have always enjoyed eating food at when I was nearby. The food at Culver's is delicious. In addition to their fresh "Butter Burgers" and deep-fried cheese curds, they also serve frozen custard. I was craving several things on their menu, so I was quite pleased when the group I was with suggested that we eat there. My craving was definitely satisfied.
There are things we all crave in life, and some of our most significant cravings go much deeper than our desire to enjoy good food. Our hearts were designed to only be truly satisfied through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Every other desire we experience is secondary in importance, but sometimes, we treat our secondary desires like they're primary desires.
God has desires as well, and we can see what He desires by what He reveals in His word, and through the actions He has taken to intervene throughout the course of human history. Since God has desires and we have desires, it's worth asking the question, "What would it look like if my desires started to align with God's desires?" Do you believe that would matter? Do you think that would make a difference in the life you live and the things you choose to prioritize? I believe it will, and Romans 10:1-13 gives us a picture of how that plays out...
I. Do you desire to be zealous and knowledgeable?
Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend of mine who has an older brother he's been praying for. His brother doesn't know the Lord, and expresses no desire to experience new life through faith in Jesus. This man's brother has lived a hard life, mainly due to regretful decisions he continues to make, yet he doesn't see why this is an issue. He is zealous for his destructive lifestyle, yet his zeal has ignorance as its foundation.
At one time, we all lived in ignorance. As children, there were certain realities of life on this earth that our parents worked to keep us ignorant of until they felt we were ready to handle heavier subjects. I still remember the day when my children asked me to explain what abortion was. They kept hearing the subject referenced in the news, but up to that point we were protecting them from learning that there is a procedure our country has legalized that allows for the life of a child to be violently taken before they're born. I will never forget the shock on their faces when they were no longer ignorant of this painful reality.
And while it's possible to remain ignorant in many areas, there is no greater tragedy that choosing to remain spiritually ignorant. That's the issue Paul addressed in the opening verses of this chapter. Paul expressed the fact that it was the desire of his heart to see his Jewish brothers and sisters saved through trusting in their Messiah, Jesus Christ. He could see that his people were zealous for God, but their zeal was an uninformed zeal. Their zeal was not coupled with knowledge of God's word and God's plan for the redemption of mankind.
Paul described his people as being ignorant of the righteousness of God. What does this mean? He wasn't saying that they denied that God was righteous. Rather, he was explaining that they didn't understand the nature of God's righteousness nor how they could obtain it. Instead, they were trying to establish their own righteousness through rules, regulations, laws, and lists. What they were failing to see was that true righteousness was fully available to them through belief in Jesus Christ.
This is a good word of caution for us that I hope we'll observe and appreciate. It can be good to be zealous, and also good to be knowledgeable, but it's best when our zeal is informed by our knowledge of God's word. Since our behaviors are the fruit of our beliefs, we need to examine our beliefs, and hold them up to the light of God's word so we won't spend our lives drifting further from the Lord while mistakenly convincing ourselves that we're moving in the right direction.
And when our zeal isn't coupled with faith in Jesus, we'll start relying on our own efforts to impress God. That's what many who lived in Paul's day were doing, and it's still an issue in our day as well.
II. Is it your desire to impress God through your physical exertion?
I was entertained by something my kids reminded me of from when they were little. At one point, we were moving the furniture in our basement and I lifted up one side of the couch. I was holding it in place with one hand when I realized they were staring at me in amazement. They couldn't understand how it was possible for someone to lift up a couch with one hand, so they asked me to explain. I pulled them close and said, "You can't tell anyone because they won't believe you, but I'm actually Superman." I was trying to impress them while also entertaining myself.
God certainly impresses us, but do we have the ability to impress Him? Is there anything you or I could do that would truly impress the one who spoke the universe into existence, and sustains it by His powerful word? Is there anything we could know that would impress our all-knowing Creator? Is there anywhere we could go that would impress our omnipresent Lord?
Yet impressing God through acts of self-denial, list-keeping, and physical exertion were the primary spiritual objectives of those who didn't understand the nature of God's gift of salvation. Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 in this passage when he speaks of those who keep the commandments obtaining life by them. There were those who believed that if they kept the commandments of the Old Testament law perfectly, they would live forever. And technically, if they had the capacity to do that, that would indeed be true. But they were ignorant of the fact that no mere human has the capacity to keep the law perfectly.
Paul also made reference to two impossibly impressive acts of physical exertion when speaking about those who wanted to impress God through the acts of their flesh. He spoke of someone going to heaven to bring Christ down and someone descending into the realm of the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead. But no man could accomplish these tasks. God the Father is the one who sent Jesus to this earth, and it was God who raised Christ from death, so even these acts of exertion couldn't have impressed Him because this is something miraculous that only God could accomplish.
Rather, we're reminded here that righteousness can only be obtained by faith in Jesus Christ, and it's always been faith that pleased God.
So, acts of exertion don't impress God, and keeping the law perfectly is impossible for us. In fact, it was Christ's mission to keep the law for us so that we could be made righteous through faith in Him, not through the impossible task of impressing God through keeping a law that we have broken regularly and repeatedly.
So if we can't impress God enough to save us through what we're doing, is there some other way? How should we desire to experience salvation, a clear conscience, and a right relationship with Him?
III. How do you desire to be saved?
This passage contains a group of verses that would be wise for all Christians to be familiar with. It's not only wise for us to be familiar with the content of these verses, but also their location in Scripture because there are going to be people you cross paths with who will need you to show them this information.
The essence of how we can receive the hope of true life, and rest from trying to earn the love of God, is found in this passage. In Romans 10:9 we're told that, "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." Please notice the words Paul chose to use in this passage. He's echoing what Jesus taught in Matthew 12:34 when He said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The confession of our lips will reveal the faith that's present in our heart. When we confess our belief that Jesus is Lord, we're also demonstrating our belief that He lives, and was raised from death.
If we truly have faith in Jesus, we will be saved. If we truly have faith in Jesus, we will walk away from the false belief of faith in our efforts. If we truly have faith in Jesus, we will find rest for our souls because “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” If we truly have faith in Jesus, we will approach the coming days with genuine hope because we know He lives and we're confident that His redemptive and restorative plan for all creation will be completed.
Paul tells us here that everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. Whether your background is Jewish or Gentile, slave or free, educated or uneducated, true life will be yours through Jesus if you call on Him in with genuine faith.
Throughout the book of Romans, God has been showing us that the desire of His heart is the salvation of those who are lost. As those who have received His salvation, He's inviting us to align the desires of our hearts with His desire. Can you sense that He's fanning the flame of His desire within you? Are you prepared to share this hope when the Lord grants you your next opportunity?
© John Stange, 2019