It’s Hard Doing Things the Wrong Way

Title: It’s Hard Doing Things the Wrong Way

Text: Romans 10:1-13

Time: November 3rd, 2006

I was once out cutting wood with a chain saw when the chain got loose and fell off. I had to put it back on, but I must have got the chain reversed because when I went to cut the wood it only spun and spun without really cutting much of the wood. I couldn’t figure it out because the chain was a fairly new one, and it was cutting ok before it fell off, but now it would hardly cut into the wood at all. I knew something was wrong. Suddenly it hit me: maybe the chain was backwards. I didn’t even know that a chain could be backwards because it looked just like it did before it fell off the chainsaw. But as I looked closer at the chain, I noticed that the teeth were facing the opposite direction from the way the chain was supposed to spin; it was backwards. So I took the chain saw apart and reversed the blade and it worked perfect. I was trying to do the job the wrong way. It makes a big difference; doing something the right way or doing it the wrong way. That’s a lot like the way of salvation with God. If we come at salvation the right way, we get rewarded with forgiveness, blessings, and eternal life; but if we come at salvation the wrong way, we only get unforgiveness, God’s curse, and eternal separation from God. How we come to God for salvation is very important. The Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans has been explaining the right way to come to God for salvation. The right way is through faith in Jesus Christ. He then spends time trying to explain how it could be that God’s chosen people the Jews could miss out on salvation by failing to put their trust in Jesus. His conclusion is that it must be in God’s sovereign plan for the Jews to reject salvation at the present time in order that the Gentiles might receive it now. He explains that God had predestined things to be as they are. But then at the end of his explanation, he comes back to the subject of personal free will and continues with this theme into the tenth chapter. That’s where we are today, in Romans 10:1-13 (read). Paul is explaining the free will aspect of salvation: first, how the Jews are mistakenly pursuing salvation by works; second, how the Gentiles are correctly pursuing salvation by faith; and third, how salvation is available to everyone, Jew and Gentile, through simple faith. Here Paul is emphasizing the free will aspect of faith. In the last chapter, Paul was emphasizing the mysterious aspects of predestination, how behind all human decisions God has already decided, and how even though we think we are in ultimate control, really God is in ultimate control of everything. Now Paul changes gears and emphasizes the importance of everyone taking responsibility and choosing to place faith in Christ or not. He wants to show us that salvation is as simple as trusting in Jesus the Savior.

First, salvation is difficult when we pursue it by works. Romans 10:1-5, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The Jews were pursing righteousness before God through human effort, they were trying to obtain salvation through the hard work of keeping the entire religious law, they were seeking justification before God through individual achievement. I think of my very own efforts to cut wood with the chain of the chain saw on backwards. I pushed and pushed. The saw was turning as hard as it could. There was a lot of noise, smoke coming from the machine and wood, but no cutting. For all my efforts I was not cutting the wood. Why not? Because I was going about it the wrong way. That’s what the Jews were experiencing in respect to salvation before God. They were exerting a lot of energy at trying to perform righteous acts in order to obtain a salvation that they thought was based on personal human achievement. But as the Apostle explains, “their zeal is not based on knowledge.” They were going about salvation all wrong. In fact, they were pursuing salvation backwards. Paul should know because for many years since his childhood he too was a zealous, dedicated Jew, a Pharisee, extremely strict in his observance of the laws of God. But for all his efforts he was never able to justify himself before God because no matter how hard he worked at it he was never able to perfectly fulfill the perfect standards of holiness. His performance before God was always lacking. As he explains elsewhere, the law was never meant to justify anyone before God, it was only meant to clarify what is righteousness. As soon as anyone begins to pursue the law’s righteousness, any honest person will realize that it is humanly impossible to fulfill. Justification before God based on the fulfillment of the law is an impossibility, yet the Jews continued in their pursuit. Paul’s heart went out for his fellow countrymen: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved,” Romans 10:1. Our hearts should go out to friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, and others who don’t understand that salvation can’t come through human effort, even super-human effort. Our hearts should cry out to God in prayer for the people who are lost yet continue in their pursuit of God’s favor through good works. Even church people sometimes pursue salvation the wrong way out of ignorance. May God grant them true salvation not by works, which is Paul’s next point.

Second, salvation is possible when we pursue it by faith. Romans 10:5-8, “Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that is by 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 deep?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.” The irony is that the Jews tried so hard to obtain salvation by strenuous effort in pursuing strict obedience to the law of God, but never obtained it. Yet, the Gentiles, who never pursued righteousness through the law, obtained it through simple faith in Christ. In other words, the Jews made salvation too complicated, made it too difficult for their own good. Like my failed effort with the chain saw, they used the wrong means to pursue the end result. At first, I was like the Apostle Paul in his Judaism; I was trying to pursue my goal through the wrong way. I was spinning my wheels, using up a lot of energy trying to achieve the impossible. But like the Apostle, it suddenly hit me that something was wrong. For Paul, it came on the road to Emmaus where God confronted him, showed him the error of his ways, and soundly converted him to the new way of faith in Jesus. For me, it hit me that there had to be something wrong and that there might be a better way. But for most of the Jews, they persisted in their dedicated pursuit of the wrong way, through human efforts. But the Gentiles who never ever did try to pursue God through human effort, when they heard the gospel message of free grace through faith, they accepted it and were easily saved. Jesus Christ did all the hard work on the cross as he died for our sins and earned our salvation. The effort was made by Christ not ourselves. Salvation for us is now easy. To show how easy it is, Paul quotes some Old Testament passages that show how easy salvation is by faith. He explains that we shouldn’t look for salvation by thinking we have to try to climb all the way up into heaven; that’s impossible. Besides, we’d be tempted to bring the righteous perfection of Christ down to our level if we did. That’s no good. Nor is it any good to try to think we need to climb down to the depths and bring salvation up by our own human efforts. Neither bringing salvation down nor bringing salvation up will do; we can’t obtain it by any of our human efforts in any way. What is the solution? How is salvation obtained? By simply receiving it, because it is right in front of us; no work required. It was delivered to our front door by none other than Jesus Christ. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” says Paul in Romans 10:8. There’s no need to pull it down through one’s own strength, nor is there need to try to pull it up through one’s own strength; only to reach out and take what is before us, as easy as that. Have you embraced the salvation that is before you? It requires no effort; it’s amazingly simple. Here’s more.

Third, salvation is available to everyone by faith. Romans 9-13, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with our mouth that you confess and are saved. As the scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Paul puts salvation in its simplest terms. Sometimes people have confused the simple gospel with a simplistic gospel. What is a simplistic gospel? A simplistic gospel is one where there is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe. Some people confuse heart faith with head faith. They think that because it says to believe in order to be saved that any old belief will do for salvation; that is wrong. Paul is careful to say that in order to be saved we must “believe in the heart” not just in the head. Why is this an issue? Because many people are walking around believing in Jesus with their heads and talking the talk of salvation with their lips but their hearts are not trusting. Paul says, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved,” Romans 10:10. The proper order is heart belief first, then all external expressions of faith. We may hear about the gospel of free grace with our minds and accept it intellectually, but then we must trust in the gospel with our heart, and finally express our faith with our mouths. People today who have grown up in a Christian family or society may be familiar with the language, terminology, and concepts of Christianity, but that doesn’t mean they are saved. It is only when they believe on the Lord with their heart that they are saved. I’m afraid a lot of churches are filled with a lot of people who only have a mental faith but no real heart faith. I’m afraid that many people are confused into thinking that because they believe certain ideas that they are saved. But true faith is not only of the head but also of the heart. Sadly, many people are under the false impression that just because they “believe” mentally and say so with their mouth, that they are saved. But unless true heart faith is present, they still lack true salvation. Do you truly believe in Christ’s salvation from your heart? Do you embrace Christ as your Savior from the depths of your heart, or is it still mostly mental belief for you? Do you yet realize that God’s promise of salvation comes only to those who believe from the heart?

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