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“Why Jesus?” A Sermon on Romans 10:5-13

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In the midst of editing my research paper on Romans 9-11, I had the privilege to preach on Romans 10:5-13. This text is the heart of Romans 9-11, this section’s main point. In his recent Pauline theology, N. T. Wright convincingly argues that Romans 9-11 is a chiasm, the center of which is 10:5-13, most specifically 10:9 (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 1161-1176). (Wright’s book was published subsequent to my initial writing of the paper, and my initial reading of its section on Romans 9-11 allowed me to cite Wright solely for his explicit rebuttal of theologians who try to argue that Jews can be saved by Jesus without believing that he is the Christ. Although I find Wright’s chiastic structure of Romans 9-11 compelling, I do not agree with some of his interpretations concerning Romans 9-11. Once I read this mammoth tome in its entirety I hope to engage its many arguments in more detail.) Because Romans 9-11 is chiastic, the central text is central to the section’s meaning. The basic problem of Romans 9-11 is how God is faithful despite many Jews’ rejection of Christ’s gospel and thus exclusion from the people of God. Romans 10:5-13 solves this problem: “confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9) is the only way for God to be faithful and save people.

In the broader argument of Romans 10:5-13, Paul maintains that no one has ever been saved by keeping the law because no one (except Jesus) keeps the law (Rom. 10:5). In fact, the law itself has always pointed to the need of Jesus to save us from our lawlessness (Rom. 10:6-10). Finally, the law has always called all people to believe in the Messiah, who we know is Jesus of Nazareth, for salvation (Rom. 10:11-13).

So my sermon on Romans 10:5-13, “Why Jesus?” answers the question, “Why trust Jesus for salvation?” Romans 10:5-13 gives us three good reasons:

  1. Put your faith in Jesus because you can’t save yourself (v. 5).
  2. Put your faith in Jesus because the law calls you to trust him for salvation (vv. 6-10).
  3. Put your faith in Jesus because anyone can be saved by faith in him (vv. 11-13).

The audio for this sermon was recorded at Calvary Baptist Church on March 23, 2014. You can listen to the sermon here by clicking play on the on-screen Flash player. May God use this sermon to bring non-Christians to faith in Jesus for salvation by his death and resurrection, and may he use it to encourage us Christians to continue confessing and believing Christ firm to the end.

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Having Hope of Eternal Life

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This past Sunday, it was my privilege to preach Titus 1:1-4 at the church my father-in-law pastors in Aberdeen, Mississippi. Paul wrote this letter in order to tell Titus how to put the Cretan churches into order (1:5). Titus was to appoint elders over the various churches (1:5-9), to silence false teachers that had arisen among the churches (1:10-15), to instruct the believers on how to relate to one another (2:1-15) and how to relate to the rulers and authorities over them (3:1-8), to prevent divisions in the churches (3:9-11), and to model generous giving for the Cretan Christians (3:12-15). Paul begins, however, with a description of the purpose of his own ministry (1:1-4). In Titus 1:1-4, we see that Paul’s ministry has a threefold purpose:

  1. to bring God’s elect to faith (v. 1),
  2. to help God’s elect to grow in godliness with their knowledge of the truth (vv. 1-3), and
  3. to be a means of God’s grace and peace (v. 4).

As we read Titus 1:1-4 two thousand years after Paul originally wrote the letter, the questions we need to ask ourselves pertain to Paul’s purpose as an apostle. As we read this passage, we should ask ourselves, “Do I have faith? Do I have a knowledge of the truth that accords with godliness? Do I have God’s grace to feel peace?” Ultimately, these questions can all be summed up by asking ourselves if we have what Paul in v. 2 calls “hope of eternal life.” These questions all have to do with assurance of our salvation. So the application of Paul’s apostolic purpose today is discerning whether you are truly saved. For us today, Paul is basically telling us the three things we need to have biblically-grounded assurance that we are truly saved:

  1. Faith
  2. Growth in godliness
  3. God’s grace giving you the peace of assurance

Do you have faith?

The first question you must ask yourself if you are to have a biblically-grounded assurance of your salvation is, “Do I have faith?” By telling us that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1, ESV, as are all subsequent biblical quotations), Paul shows us both the importance of faith and the nature of faith.

Being the first reason why Paul says he is an apostle, faith is the primary purpose of Paul’s apostleship. In Acts 26, as Paul makes his defense to King Agrippa, he describes his conversion on the road to Damascus, and in this testimony, Paul shares what Jesus commissioned him to do from the beginning:

“At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'” (Acts 26:13-18)

When Jesus appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, Jesus made Paul a Christian himself. And he commissioned Paul much like he had the other apostles: Paul was to spread the Christian message both to Jews and to Gentiles. This message is a message of salvation, of “forgiveness of sins,” of being “sanctified by faith” (v. 18).

Indeed, faith is important not only as Paul’s primary purpose as an apostle but also as the means by which God “sanctifies” us. (“Sanctified” here designates the aspect of your conversion to Christianity in which God sets you apart to live for him by virtue of your justification, wherein God declares you righteous by faith.) This truth is evident throughout the New Testament, but I will cite only a couple. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God justifies, declares us to be righteous, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, when we trust him to save us from our sin by his life, death, and resurrection. We receive eternal life when we believe in Jesus, when we trust him to save us from our sin by his life, death, and resurrection.

We thus begin to see the nature of faith. Faith is your saving response as an individual to the gospel in which you trust Jesus to save you from your sin by his life, death, and resurrection. However, in Titus 1:1, Paul tells us something else about the nature of faith. Those who come to faith are “God’s elect.” Although faith is the action of a person, it is done not because that person mustered it up within him- or herself but because God elected that person to believe “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). This paradoxical nature of faith is seen also in such passages as John 1:12-13, which says, “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Who receives the right to become a child of God? The person who believes. But of whom is that new child of God born? God. God is sovereign in our salvation, and we are responsible to believe. This paradox is unpopular, but it is biblical. To divorce God’s sovereignty from our responsibility requires either takings texts out of their contexts or, as in the case of Titus 1:1, to rip verses in half. In Titus 1:1, Paul says he is an apostle not for the sake of “faith” nor for the sake of “God’s elect” but “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect.” We are responsible to exercise “faith,” but when we do exercise faith, it is because God has “elected” us before time began.

But when you ask yourself, “Do I have faith?” do not worry yourself over the question, “Am I one of God’s elect?” The Puritans, for all their good theology and good contributions to the church, all too often ran themselves ragged with worry over whether they were among God’s elect. The doctrine of election is not in the Bible to make people fret over whether they are God’s elect. The doctrine of election is in the Bible for two primary reasons: to humble people (we are not the ultimate cause of our own faith) and to comfort people (if you are trusting Jesus to save you, God accepts you ultimately because he elected you before the foundation of the world).

When you ask yourself, “Do I have faith?” also do not mean, “Have I ever professed faith?” To have biblical assurance of salvation, you must not rely on a past religious experience as the foundation of your assurance. Do not rely on whether you have ever prayed a prayer or been baptized (although prayer and baptism are both good things to do in obedience to God’s word). Rather, ask yourself, “Do I have faith now? Am I trusting Jesus now to save me from my sin?” J. D. Greear puts it this way:

The apostle John almost always talks about “believing” in the present tense because it is something we do continually, not something we did once in the past. The posture [of faith] begins in the moment, but it persists for a lifetime. (Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, 43)

Are you growing in godliness?

The second question you must ask yourself is, “Am I growing in godliness?” Faith is a good starting point for gaining assurance of your salvation, but “even the demons believe” (Jas. 2:19). Or as Jesus said,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matt. 7:21-23)

The Bible is clear: we are saved by faith alone but saving faith is never alone (to borrow language from Martin Luther). As William Mounce puts it, “Faith … naturally and necessarily shows itself in godly behavior” (The Pastoral Epistles, 380). Paul’s point in saying that he is “an apostle, for the sake of … their [the elect’s] knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1) is that saving “knowledge of the truth” is not just an intellectual knowledge of the facts of the gospel. “Knowledge of the truth” “accords with godliness.” In other words, a saving knowledge of the truth leads to growth in godliness. Along with faith, the presence of growth in godliness is meant to give you “hope of eternal life” (v. 2), assurance of your salvation.

In vv. 2-3, Paul tells us two things about eternal life that is meant to comfort us believers:

  1. Your eternal life is rooted in God’s promise from eternity past (v. 2).
  2. Your eternal life is revealed by God’s faithfully preached word (v. 3).

In connection with the second point Paul makes about our eternal life, Paul tells us two things about faithful preaching:

  1. God causes eternal life to be offered through preaching.
  2. God commands preaching to offer eternal life to any who would believe on Jesus for salvation.

Again, we see the paradoxical notion of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. If anyone responds in faith to a sermon, it is ultimately because God’s Holy Spirit has entered that person’s heart and given them that faith (see Isaiah 55:10-11, Mark 4:26-28, and John 3:1-8). However, the preacher is responsible for offering the eternal life that his audience is to receive by faith. Paul makes this same point in his letter to the Romans:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:13-15, 17)

God is the One in sovereign control over people’s individual responses to the gospel, but he has commanded preachers to make the gospel of eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ known through faithful preaching of his word.

Is God giving you the peace of assurance by his grace?

However, even if you genuinely believe that you have faith and are growing in godliness, you still may not feel assured of your salvation. Ultimately, if we are to have assurance of our salvation, hope of eternal life, God must give us peace about it by his grace. As Paul says to Titus: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (1:4). Paul the apostle was to be an instrument of God’s grace and peace to Titus and to the Cretans he served. This points to the fact that ultimately grace and peace come from God. Both grace and peace in salvation and grace and peace in assurance of salvation.

If you genuinely believe that you have faith and that you are growing in godliness but still don’t feel assured that you’re saved, cry out to God in prayer that he would help you discern the state of your soul. Ask him that if you’re not saved, to show you your lostness and to give you the grace to trust him for salvation. Ask him that if you are saved, to feel the assurance of your salvation, to feel that “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17), and assurance of salvation (or salvation if you aren’t saved) is certainly a good gift. Ask the Lord for help discerning the true state of your soul.

Of course, we recall that as God is sovereign, we are responsible. Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5). This self-examination is not wholly individualistic. As you wrestle over the state of your soul and pray about it to God, seek out the help of mature Christian friends, a parent, perhaps, your spouse, or your pastor or another church leader with whom you are close and who knows your life well. Just as God used Paul as a means of his grace and peace in the first century, he can use the mature Christians he has put in your life as means of grace and peace.

I remember the first time I seriously doubted my salvation. I was 10 or 11 and had first professed faith in Christ and was baptized a few years before. But one Sunday night, as my pastor was preaching, I felt convicted over the sin that remained in my life. I realized I wasn’t perfect. I acutely felt the sinfulness of my continued lies, disobedience to my parents, and meanness to my younger brother. That night when I got home, my mom could tell that I was torn up inside, and she asked me what was wrong. When I told her that I doubted whether I was truly saved, she was God’s means of grace and peace to me. She asked me if I trusted Jesus to save me from my sin and assured me of the Bible’s recurring promise that those who trust Jesus for salvation will be saved. She told me how she saw, despite my lingering sin, that I had grown in godliness since professing faith in Jesus Christ. Although I still lied, I didn’t lie near as often as before coming to Christ. Although I still disobeyed her and dad, I didn’t disobey near as often as before coming to Christ. She shared with me the glorious news of Romans 7 and 8: that to be a Christian is not to be perfect but to recognize sin in your life and to fight against it by the Holy Spirit. Through my mom’s encouragement, God by his grace gave me peace about my salvation, and as various doubts have occasionally arisen over the years, I have combated those doubts with the questions Paul invites us to ask in Titus 1:1-4 and that my mom asked me so many years ago:

  1. Are you trusting Jesus to save you from sin now?
  2. Are you growing in godliness?
  3. Is God by his grace giving you peace about the reality of your salvation?
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