Through the letter to the Romans – Part 16. One Way

Two wrongs don’t make a right; but three lefts do. Isn’t it human nature to try to find a different way? Especially being an American, I want to be able to do things “my way.” (Ask Frank Sinatra.) But that is not the way this Universe works. Gravity pulls you down, whether you like it or not. It would be foolish to go stand on the edge of the roof of a ten-story building and say, “I think Gravity is unfair.” Until you can make your own Universe, I’d advise against taking a step over that edge.

The discourse so far in this Letter has emphasized the idea that there is only one Promise, for all humanity. That also means there is only one way of salvation. Ultimately, this is what the Gospel is about. This is what Jesus came to tell us. Even to the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar: When she realized Jesus was a Jewish prophet, she tried to divert the conversation into a debate, into matters of opinion: ‘We worship on this mountain over here, you Jews say we have to worship in Jerusalem.’ And Jesus stopped the argument right there:

John 4:21-24 Jesus says to her, Woman, believe me, [the] hour is coming when ye shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we worship what we know, for salvation is of the Jews. But [the] hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers. God [is] a spirit; and they who worship him must worship [him] in spirit and truth.

Jesus just told her, ‘It doesn’t matter what you think. God chose the path He wanted to use to bring this Salvation to humanity. But even that path is not the point! The point is the Father is seeking His worshippers, His children, and there is only one way they can come to Him: Through Spirit and Truth.’

There is only One Way. There is no getting around this.

John 14:5-6 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

A lot of people don’t like this statement. They think it is unfair; they think that there should be some other ways. And they will bring up all sorts of hypothetical arguments to bolster their case. ‘What about a person growing up in some far away wilderness, a person that never heard of the Bible or Jesus?’

The problem with that argument is two-fold. First, you are not that person. Right now, you know what I am talking about. So, whether you choose to accept it or reject it, it has nothing to do with never having heard of Jesus. The second problem with that argument is something Paul already addressed way back in chapter 1: Everybody already knows about right and wrong. So, God will work it out with that hypothetical “wild child”; as the prophet said: Isaiah 59:1 Behold, Jehovah’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear…

Even for the chosen people, there is only one way

Romans 9:25-33 As he says also in Hosea, I will call not-my-people My people; and the-not-beloved Beloved. And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them, *Ye* [are] not my people, there shall they be called Sons of [the] living God.

     But Esaias cries concerning Israel, Should the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant shall be saved: for [he] is bringing the matter to an end, and [cutting [it] short in righteousness; because] a cutting short of the matter will [the] Lord accomplish upon the earth. And according as Esaias said before, Unless [the] Lord of hosts had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and made like even as Gomorrha.

painting of Jesus in the widerness
Christ in the Wilderness – Ivan Kramskoy

     What then shall we say? That [they of the] nations, who did not follow after righteousness, have attained righteousness, but [the] righteousness that is on the principle of faith. But Israel, pursuing after a law of righteousness, has not attained to [that] law. Wherefore? Because [it was] not on the principle of faith, but as of works. They have stumbled at the stumblingstone, according as it is written, Behold, I place in Zion a stone of stumbling and rock of offence: and he that believes on him shall not be ashamed.

Over and over throughout the Old Testament we have God promising that He will bring back His people to Him, but as a remnant. Why? Because they, like the rest of the world, have the same choice between the narrow way that leads to salvation and the broad way that leads to destruction. The bloodline does not change that. And they were warned about it.

In Isaiah chapter 8, after rebuking His people for not accepting the waters he had given them (that is, His blessings) but instead turning their eyes to other kingdoms for help, God says, ‘you will get your waters, in fact, you will get a flood of destruction, the King of Assyria.’ Then Isaiah says:

Isaiah 8:11-15 For Jehovah spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and he instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Ye shall not say, Conspiracy, of everything of which this people saith, Conspiracy; and fear ye not their fear, and be not in dread. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will be for a sanctuary; and for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

This obsession with finding another way, another helper, would eventually lead them to be offended at God’s chosen sanctuary. Jesus reminded them of this after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

Matthew 21: 42 Jesus says to them, Have ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which they that builded rejected, this has become the corner-stone: this is of [the] Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he that falls on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.

Implied in the prophecy of the salvation of the remnant, is that many would still choose to reject:

Romans 10:1-4 Brethren, the delight of my own heart and my supplication which [I address] to God for them is for salvation. For I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is [the] end of law for righteousness to every one that believes.

Notice how Paul brings up the word knowledge from Isaiah 53:11. Instead of knowing, recognizing the Messiah, they have chosen ignorance; looking instead for a different way to righteousness in the Law. But Jesus is the end of the Law, not in the sense of terminating it, but in the sense of its completion, its fulfilment: Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfil. (And, remember, John 5:39, how Jesus told them that they were, in futility, looking for eternal life in the Law.)

photo of a person on the edge of a cliff

They had even been warned by Moses against doing this very thing, against trying to get righteousness from the Law: Romans 10:5-8 For Moses lays down in writing the righteousness which is of the law, The man who has practised those things shall live by them. But the righteousness of faith speaks thus: Do not say in thine heart, Who shall ascend to the heavens? that is, to bring Christ down; or, Who shall descend into the abyss? that is, to bring up Christ from among [the] dead. But what says it? The word is near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach…

To Paul this is all the logical conclusion

As I mentioned before, I think Paul thought long and hard about this problem, and this is how he realized the difference between a righteousness on the principle of Law and a righteousness on the principle of Faith. The righteousness that the Law required, to guarantee life, was a continuous, relentless righteousness: An obedience unbroken. What a burden!

Can you imagine the sigh of relief the nation could breathe upon making it to another Day of Atonement? All the sins of that year finally forgiven, just in time, before God brought his righteous wrath down on their heads. (For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.) Yet, right there in Deuteronomy 30, after Moses told the people that God was willing to circumcise their hearts so that they could Love Him with all their heart, mind, and strength, he goes on to say, ‘this commandment is not so hard…’

Deuteronomy 30:11-15 For this commandment which I command thee this day is not too wonderful for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in the heavens, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to the heavens, and bring it to us, that we should hear it and do it? And it is not beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we should hear it and do it? For the word is very near to thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil…

They knew! Way back then they knew the essence of the Gospel: that it was all of the heart and it was all a (willing) breath away.

Romans 10:9-13 For with [the] heart is believed to righteousness; and with [the] mouth confession made to salvation. For the scripture says, No one believing on him shall be ashamed. For there is no difference of Jew and Greek; for the same Lord of all [is] rich towards all that call upon him. For every one whosoever, who shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.

It is this salvation that leads to righteousness. Once we are within it, by the work of the Spirit, we become doers of the Word.

They knew. And so has all mankind known. For even Job, who was not a Jew – who probably lived in the time of Abraham – when faced with the reality that God could hold him guilty for the sins of his youth, and so, his own righteousness could not save him, he was able to see beyond what his human eyes could see to another reality and cried out:

Write it with a tool of iron on tablets of stone: I know that my redeemer lives. And in the end, as the last One, He will stand upon this earth. And though this earth be my grave, though my body has been destroyed, I will see God, I with my own eyes and not another. Oh, how my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:23-27)

This is the Gospel, that all of us have access to this salvation, if only we call on the Name of the Lord.

How then shall we live?

If salvation is so “easy”, why are we still here and not in Heaven? The answer is: There are a lot of people out there that have not yet called:

sign saying Good News

Romans 10:14-15 How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without one who preaches? and how shall they preach unless they have been sent? according as it is written, How beautiful the feet of them that announce glad tidings of peace, of them that announce glad tidings of good things!

That is our job. To join the chorus… to give them the chance to choose.

Romans 10:16-21 But they have not all obeyed the glad tidings. For Esaias says, Lord, who has believed our report? So faith then [is] by a report, but the report by God’s word.

     But I say, Have they not heard? Yea, surely, Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the extremities of the habitable world. But I say, Has not Israel known? First, Moses says, *I* will provoke you to jealousy through [them that are] not a nation: through a nation without understanding I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and says, I have been found by those not seeking me; I have become manifest to those not inquiring after me. But unto Israel he says, All the day long I have stretched out my hands unto a people disobeying and opposing.

Notice how Paul has quoted the Psalm about all creation declaring God’s glory, a voice that all humanity can hear. And then he says that to that voice was added that of the prophets who told them ahead of time they would resist this voice, to their shame. Yes, we need to call out too. But we also need to realize that many will reject us too. Still, we cannot lose hope. We are still called to add our voice to the “report.”

The bottom line is this: God calls. All hear, but not all listen. Why? It is always their choice. All we can do, as children of God, is add our voice to the chorus and reach out, and perhaps catch a hand that has been stumbling in the dark.

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