The “righteousness” spoken of here is the Hebrew chesed, covenant-faithfulness love. This comes through Jesus Christ. It is by Jesus Christ that this love is revealed, received and passed on to those around us. This cycle of love fulfils the righteous plan of God. Because our sin takes the law, and passes it on to others, as condemnation, it cannot produce the chesed of God in our communities. But the faithfulness and love of Christ can do this in our hearts and in our relationships, producing the righteousness, that is, the shema love that the law speaks of.
Paul now launches into Israel’s return from exile language.
Therefore, to understand Romans 10, we must read it as Israel’s return from exile, and by what that narrative meant in their Prophets. Israel’s restoration isn’t some future end-times event, as speculative end- times scenarios we often hear today claim, but Israel was restored in Paul’s day, through the resurrection of Christ. This is what Paul is explaining in Romans 10 -11. First, we see the reason for the exile. Because of pride, we are not able to keep the law. Instead we use the law to justify ourselves and condemn others. Covetousness then replaces service. This hostility eventually broke down Israel’s whole community and led them into captivity to Babylon.
So, Jesus comes into our exile. In being taken outside the camp (land) and being crucified, Jesus identified with Israel in their exile: he mirrored their sin and exile upon the cross, revealing Israel’s true condition, and there on the cross he forgave them. (Hebrews 13:12-13) So, on the cross Christ gathers us all back to himself, and back to the good land. He reveals our exile and why we are in that condition, by our rejection and violence we visit upon each other in the name of “holiness,” and then he leads us out of that hatred, to genuine brother and sisterhood.
Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30, which is a return from exile passage. There, Moses said that God would circumcise Israel’s hearts, enabling them to fulfil shema. If it wasn’t for our sin, shema would not be a complex thing. We wouldn’t have to “search in heaven or in the deep oceans” to find God’s love and pass it onto others. (Romans 10:6-7) Once our pride is exposed and forgiven by the cross, living out the real purpose of the law becomes natural, by the Spirit of grace that now leads us.
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you.” (Deuteronomy 30:607) These enemies were initially the believing Jews’ own countrymen, the Jews who rejected the gentile conversions, as in Paul’s time. Their curse was their own sin, not something that God did to them. We see that life to us and to our land comes from obedience to the shema, from actual works of faithfulness, which come from the new heart in the gospel.
“If we confess Jesus as Lord and believe in our heart he is raised from the dead, we shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9) This isn’t a legal formula for “salvation,” but it describes a transforming life. To confess Jesus Christ as Lord means to love our neighbour, as he commanded. To believe he is raised means we accept God’s love as our return from exile. The resurrection means our exile has been lifted. We are now brought back to the good land. If we believe this, we then follow Christ into new community.
“For with the heart one believes and is justified…” (Romans 10:10) What Paul meant by saying this, was that this justification has nothing to do with our racial identity, or religious traditions. Again, not that Paul was against Jewish traditions, but only against them limiting shema expressed to others. This is the same thing Jesus rejected about their legalism. Paul himself followed these traditions. There is nothing wrong with religious traditions, just because they may seem strange to us. The same applies to our various traditions today.
And this is how the shema works: “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 10:11-13) Now that the pride of the law has gone, we fulfil the law by joining with all God’s children. Here, Paul quotes Joel, who looked forward to Paul’s day, when Jews and gentiles would become one united family, through the word/ command of faith-fulness: “the word of faith-fulness which we preach.” (Romans 10:8)
“As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15) This is a quote from Isaiah’s return from exile narrative. Such narrative fills much of Isaiah’s prophecy, depicting a good land, overtaken by shema. The new community is described by a wolf and a lamb eating straw together, people beating their swords into ploughs and replacing violence with mercy. That is, the conditions of enmity that led Israel into exile in Babylon, have now been overcome and the land is filled with reconciliation between the tribes, which brings about peace. Because the cross brings us to accept the Lordship of Christ, our inner heart has changed.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7) This is the good news. Not our individualised salvation, but the renewal of our land. Israel’s land is healed: “Peace on earth and good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) God’s good will towards us becomes our goodwill towards others. The
Lordship of Christ banishes our pride, where the rich serve the poor, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:52) Our hearts are taken over by goodwill towards others: parents and children caring for each other, “capitalists and workers” serving each other, people sharing their goods with strangers in need. (Luke 3:10-14, Malachi 4:6) The gospel Paul preached is the same gospel we see in Luke.
This is the gospel. Not our privatised salvation, but the renewal of our hearts, which renews our communities. The good news is, “Your God reigns.” He has returned us from exile, by reigning in our hearts, turning us from our selfinterest to our neighbour. He has healed our land and our nations. This was the good news Isaiah was speaking about and that Paul was showing fulfilled in Christ’s new community. If someone asks if I am taking away personal salvation, then the answer is that I am not. This is how personal salvation is actualised: “by losing our life, we gain it.” There is no difference between Paul’s message of faith and Jesus’ message of faith: service.
“So then, faith-fullness comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) Hearing the word of Christ’s faithfulness on the cross, brings God’s faithfulness to our own heart, a faithfulness which we then pass onto our neighbour. This is again an appeal to the shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) And “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Moses said this would be fulfilled in Israel’s return from exile. (Deuteronomy 30 :6)
This is what shema literary means, “hear and do,” and this brings us back to what Moses said, “The person who does the commandments will live by them.” (Romans 10:5, Leviticus 18:5) Our land lives, experiences life and peace, as the law is fulfilled in us. The shema was central to Hebrew faith. Paul prayed the shema many times a day, and saw its fulfilment, not in forcing circumcision on others, but in receiving the foreigner in faith-fullness. Paul said accepting others as one in Christ, to build one family of care, is our return from exile.
Hearing the good news of Jesus Christ results in the shema being fulfilled in our lives. Hearing the good news that Christ freely justified us all, not based on our race or traditions, enables us to properly hear and obey what shema means. Now in Christ, we truly hear the message and understand its intention of love towards others. Before, we limited that love to those we didn’t condemn by the law, to those within our group. Now, that love extends to strangers and even to our enemies. The Spirit enables us to hear, because the cross brings us into his grace.
Now Paul starts explaining how the restoration of Israel takes place. “But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (Romans 10:19) The fall of Israel led to the ingathering of the gentiles to Christ. The faithfulness of the gentiles, in their love for the Jews, provokes the Jews to repentance and faith-fulness.
Firstly, we see the remarkable nature of God. Instead of rejecting Israel in their hardening and fall, he uses that fall to save the gentiles and to provoke the Jews to faith. God turns the evil of others to good use. Secondly, and Paul speaks of this again in Romans 11, it is through humility that the body of Christ becomes one in faith-fulness. First, the Jew’s humility in their fall and second, the gentile’s humility in their love for the Jews. But this humility is something the gentile believers over the centuries haven’t often achieved. We have often misread our faith, so as not to read it as faith-fulness, but as private fortune.
Paul was removing the boast of all peoples, in his area of concern, regarding both the Jews and the gentiles. The gentiles, “who were not a people,” but now are a people by grace alone, serve the Jews, who brought salvation to the world through their fall. Here is a community of grace, without boasting, reflecting the love of Christ for each other’s restoration. This is the kind of faith Paul was speaking about in Romans 10, rather than outlining a gospel of privatised salvation.