The Word is Near You

Paul discusses in these chapters the phenomenon of Israel’s rejection of that which, by divine revelation and other special gifts, they should have freely embraced. These chapters do not constitute an interruption in Paul’s argument, but serve to give a more precise, incisive, and contextualized exposition of the grand affirmations of the absolute invincibility of God’s eternal covenantal arrangements of Romans 8:18-39. Chapters 9, 10, and 11 begin with statements of the special privileges of the Jews, and how through them God brought to the world the inestimable blessing of the Christ. Each passage serves as introduction to how Israel in general mishandled the blessings. This serves as an extension of his explanatory narrative of chapter 2:12-29. In taking this approach, Paul showed the true sinfulness of all humanity. Each occasion became an opportunity for Paul to explain why salvation must come as a work of pure grace without any incrimination of the mercies of God.


I. Romans 9 – 10:4 If it is true that the bestowment of grace—“If God is for us”—unfailingly culminates in living eternally in the presence of God, how does one explain the unbelief of the Jewish nation as a whole?

A. Paul shows that his discussion of the faithlessness of the Jews in Chapter 2 does not come from any lack of natural affection for them or from any dismissiveness toward the divinely bestowed blessings and advantages that defined their history (9:1-5).

  1. Paul assures his readers, mainly Gentile, that his frank discussion of the Jews and their unbelief does not arise from any animosity toward them or any lack of gratitude for the blessings he received in their zeal for the Old Testament.. He appeals to the standard of the truth in Christ, denies that opposite possibility of lying about his deep-seated concern, and then sets forth the reality his own conscience as sensitized and convicted by the Holy Spirit in this matter of his concern for them.
  2. The certainty of his knowledge about the impartiality of divine wrath (2:9-11) and the susceptibility of the Jews to that just anger of God has branded his affections (“in my heart”) with “great sorrow and unceasing grief.” Did we have some sense of the reality of divine wrath, we would be equally as sorrowful when we consider the truly infinite dimensions of, both of duration and retribution, to be suffered. As Jesus considered it coming nearer and even sensing it in its first fruits, he said, “Now my soul has become troubled” (John 12:27) and “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).
  3. This was particularly aggravated by the fact of natural affection for his “brethren” his “kinsmen according to the flesh.” Due to the depth of his sorrow for them, he contemplates an impossibility. The intensity of the statement is intensified by the contra-factual nature of it.
  • The granting of grace unto salvation is not a matter of temporal human determination, but of an eternal purpose implicit within the divine nature itself (Ephesians 1:3, 4; 2 Timothy 1:9).
  • The saved are the objects of eternal love and must, in light of the immutability of such love be brought finally to glorification. Paul knew that this immutable certainty applied to him (Romans 8: 28-30).
  • He has just finished his lengthy statement that nothing in all creation, “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). If nothing in creation can separate us, all that remains is God’s own being and his purpose is set, cannot be altered, and will certainly come to pass. It is a mark of the great contradictions with which we must live in this life that Paul could count all things as loss counting them refuse for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, manifesting an unquenchable desire to be “found in him” and to “attain to the resurrection of the dead” while wishing that he himself were accursed for the sake of others.
  1. Paul now enumerates the amazing array of graces granted to Israel. The question naturally would follow, “If such favors already had been given, why not the grace of belief?”
  • Israelites, that is, descendants of Jacob whose name had been changed by God himself in a covenantal promise to Jacob “A nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body” (Genesis 35:11).
  • Adoption as Sons. God called Israel “My son, my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). Their national standing as his son became the paradigm for God’s adoption of his elect (Ephesians 1: 4, 5). If the adoption of Ephesians and other elect Gentiles cannot be abolished, then why is the adoption of Israel less permanent and inviolable?
  • The glory – To Israel through Moses the glory of God was revealed (Exodus 33:18, 19: 34:5-9) This revelation of glory included God’s sovereign prerogative of granting grace and compassion along with the statement of his mercy, patience, goodness, forgiveness, and unbending justice. Israel had the written revelation of God’s glory and also had seen his glory in the cloud and the pillar of fire.
  • The covenants – They were recipients of covenant promises through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and the Prophets—e.g Isaiah 65: 22, 23; Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Ezekiel 36:21-32.
  • All the provisions of the moral law and the ceremonial law were theirs and these all held in them promises. No other people had the advantage of a special revelation of God’s moral law, the righteousness of which offered life; none had the sacrificial system by which one could have the hope of forgiveness, a propitiated God, and the expectation of a final and complete atonement. No other nation had the revelation that God would give a new heart and forgive transgressions and remember iniquities no more.
  • The fathers, to whom God personally appeared and through whom the promise of redeemer was given. Even in the line of their human nature this redeemer came. The anointed one, the Christ, the true and final prophet, the true and final priest, and the true and final king came from the flesh of the Jews. Amazingly this Jewish man also was eternal God who is blessed forever.

B. Given such an array of temporal favors that continued also the promise of eternal favors, why have the Jews, in large part, rejected this Christ according to their flesh? Paul explains that the principle of selectivity, promise, and discriminating grace had operated from the time that Abraham first received God’s promise. 9:6-13

  1. He begins with a straightforward denial that the word of God has failed. On the contrary, it has always been a palpable reality that God’s prerogative of selection was operative even from the beginning of these covenant promises. The true Israel is not univocally identified with the total number of the fleshly descendants of Jacob.
  2. We find this principle operative even from Abraham. God did not operate through the flesh in the case of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael but confined Abraham to the effectuality of his promise. God’s grace comes not through the flesh but always through the promise. “The children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” (8) In Genesis 18:10 God showed his control of the entire event of fulfilling the promise to Abraham. Sarah would conceive and have a son, even when both Abraham and Sarah were beyond their time of fertility. As the fulfillment of a promise of God, so it was the manifestation of the decree of God.
  3. The same is true of Isaac and Rebekah. She had two sons in her, and God selected the younger of the twins, born subsequent to Esau. Paul sees this event as a manifestation of God’s purpose of election. He refers not only to the event itself and God’s proclamation at the time, but to the words given through the prophet Malachi, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.

C. Does this kind of selectivity involve injustice? On the contrary it is a clear demonstration of mercy. 9:14-18

  1. Paul goes to the manifestation of the glory of God to Moses and his immediate claim to sovereignty in the granting of mercy: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” Mercy is the disposition that finds a way to avoid the infliction of deserved punishment. The granting of mercy to one does not constitute an act of injustice to another.
  2. This does not come about by any human will or energetic action—neither willing nor running. The human will does not initiate this. If it did and God prohibited the sincere quest for mercy, it would be unjust, but this is not the case. Paul already has established that there is none who seeks God (3:11). In light of this moral reality, the granting of mercy comes as a voluntary act of God, arising only from his will.
  3. Paul now cites the place of the Pharaoh of Egypt during the time of the exodus. In this instance, God pointed to Pharaoh and his repeated resistance to the request of Moses as a decreed opportunity for the manifestation of power (Exodus 9:16). This was done ten times, including the singular manifestation of both justice and mercy on the evening of the initial Passover (Exodus 11:1-7;12:29-32). Were Egyptian first-born more sinful than Hebrew first-born? “In Adam all die.” Wherein lies the difference? “In Christ all are made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22) The elect were given all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-5).
  4. Mercy and hardening both come from the same sovereign will and power. Hardening comes when, based on the prior disposition of rebellion, “God gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts;” (Romans 1:24) On those who do not receive a love for the truth, “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12).

D. But, if this mercy operates solely according to God’s will, can he find fault with any that, according to his own choice, he has excluded? Who can resist his will? Does not the supposed “fault” lie with God and not the creature? (19) Here we have repeated the objection and various questions that arise at every level of Paul’s teaching concerning God’s unfettered grace in the gospel. See Romans 3: 5-7; 6:1; 7:7; 7:13 Paul rebukes the question, answering from three standpoints.

  1. The prerogatives of divine sovereignty – 20-21
  • He looks first at the status of the creature. Does a thing that is made question the purpose of the maker? A thing made only has existence because of the will of the maker and exists precisely in accordance with the intention of the maker. The created order did not bring itself into existence, determine its own characteristics, the potentialities of its ontology. Each witnesses to the glory of God according to its place in the virtually latitude of beings. The sun has one glory and the mollusk has another.
  • Second, he points to the prerogatives of the creator. “The potter has right over the clay.” The maker is sovereign in his design for the object of his making. In the consideration of God as both maker and designer, all things from sand to archangels, inanimate and animate, beast or image-bearer has been made by God and he determines its place in his great scheme of being, each to function according to its nature and at the same time determined by his will.
  1. God’s legitimate purpose to manifest his attributes – 22-24
  • A legitimate purpose of God in creation is to show response of holiness to sin and to do so in a powerful way. Apart from a sphere of being outside of God himself, there would be no point at which the powerful and awe-inspiring action of God’s holy wrath could be displayed. His determination to punish sin in specific “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” would involve not only the manifestation of wrath, but his patience. This shows that, in a way that transcends our logic or comprehension, he has treated these “vessels” with longsuffering, patience, and goodness designed, in the moral order present in this age among rational beings, to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:3-5). The final end of wrath, therefore, not only will manifest power but the perfect moral symmetry of God’s character.
  • Such a design for creation also shows the infinite mercy of God. When one views the dimensions of his wrath, one realizes also how his glory is manifest in the depths of his mercy. One is punished justly and the other is rescued from the experience of eternal wrath.


“Depth of mercy, can there be

mercy still reserved for me?

Can my God His wrath forbear?

Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood his grace,

Long provoked Him to his face,

Would not hearken to his calls,

Griev’d Him by a thousand falls.

. . .

Now incline me to repent;

Let me now my fall lament;

Now my foul revolt deplore;

Weep, believe, and sin no more!


  • Just as God judges both Jew and Gentile according to an immutable moral law (2:12-16), So both Jew and Gentile will be recipients of sovereign, merciful, gracious, saving intervention (24). Note the words “from among” related both to Jews and Gentiles. God’s eternal saving purpose is not for all of either, but for individuals selected “from among” both Jew and Gentile.
  1. The Scripture has set this forth as the divine purpose, so the substance of God’s actions should not be a surprise., The purpose of God, as it unfolds through the prophets involved the inclusion of the Gentiles in his saving grace. – 25-29
  • (Verse 25, 26) The events of Hosea’s life (1:10; 2:23) were designed to be a vehicle for the prophecy of grace to the Gentiles. Nomenclature initially related to the Jewish nation—“My people,” and “Beloved”—now extends its circumference to the Gentiles. Peter also writes of the rejection of the Messiah by the “builders,” the Jews. The identity, “who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy,” is consequent upon electing grace—“a chosen nation” (1 Peter 2:9, 10).
  • Paul shows that the Jewish rejection inhered powerfully within Jewish disobedience and prophetic declaration. Isaiah prophesied that out of the large number of Jews by ethnicity, “It is the remnant that will be saved.”
  • Rather than the Jewish defection being a witness to the unreliability of God’s action, Paul shows that the avoidance of their utter destruction is a testimony to God’s truthfulness and grace. He executes his word, and thus his purpose, thoroughly and quickly. Given their wickedness and general unfaithfulness compared to their advantages of revelation, they should have been eliminated entirely even as Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed entirely. That God has left to them “a posterity” witnesses to his continued electing mercies. These events serve as a witness to the absolute truthfulness of Scripture, and, therefore, of God’s faithfulness to his word. The claims of Paul in Romans 8:35-39 stand.

E. The Jews are not hindered in responding to the divine revelation. According to their own will, they have done so. They did not respond in faith but in a confidence in their own powers of attaining a works righteousness (9:30-33).

  1. The Gentiles did not have the written revelation of the Law. They did not develop a scheme by which they could boast that they had attained all that God required by the revelation of his Law (Philippians 3:6; Romans 2:23, 24). Instead, without feigning any righteousness, they responded in faith to the preached message, and thus were accounted righteous. By faith they “attained righteousness,” that is, all the holy requirements were credited to them for they relied not on themselves but only on the one who did attain righteousness (Romans 4:24,25)
  2. Israel, on the other hand, had a law that clearly delineated righteousness. They were told, in fact by Moses, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:25). They did not discern, however, what the stipulation meant that stated they were to “Fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your God” (Deuteronomy 10:12, 13). Nor did they grasp the implications of the command, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Nor did they understand why Moses warned, “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you” Deuteronomy 31:29).
  3. By their own standard, therefore, they pursued a “law of righteousness” for the Law was a true standard of righteousness. They did not, however, “arrive at that Law,” for they ignored all the accompanying aspects of its thorough cordiality and their corruption of heart.
  4. When the Messiah came as a Redeemer from sin, to make atonement for transgressions, they found him to be a stumbling stone and rock of offense. He condemned them of their hypocrisy, of their faux righteousness, and of their kinship with their murderous forefathers.

F. Zeal without knowledge has condemned the Jews (10:1-4)

  1. Paul reiterates his desire for their salvation. He well knows how their misperceptions have given them a hostility to the truth (Acts 9:1,2; 13:45-47). He was among them as the most zealous and thus the most sinful and apparently irredeemable (1 Timothy 1: 13-16).
  2. None could doubt the zeal of the Jews for what they believed to be true.
  • They crucified Jesus, considering him a blasphemer.
  • They stoned Paul and left him for dead (Acts 14:19, 20)
  • They hounded him all during his ministry, for they reckoned him an apostate from their faith, one who had forsaken the Law of Moses, and who promoted an imposter as the Messiah.
  • Their zeal, however, involved a blatant refusal to consider the scriptural arguments for Jesus as Messiah (Acts 13:50; Acts 18:5, 6) They doted on the ceremonies that set them apart (Acts 21:27-29), and thus missed the weighty matters of the Law.
  1. To receive the crucified Jesus as Messiah, would be to forsake their own righteousness and consent that they are just as much sinners as the Gentiles (Galatians 2:15, 16). They did not “know about God’s righteousness,” for they had not perceived the broadness, true absoluteness, and internal requirements of the Law. Resisting that, they established one-dimensional rules of their own that were observable in an external way if one were to live in the most punctilious manner. They created their own standard of righteousness and ignored God’s.
  2. The word “end” can be either the termination point or the “goal.” These are very similar ideas conceptually. When reaches a termination point, he has reached a specific goal. During Christ’s life, all the tests that came his way brought him to the point of perfected righteousness and he responded in true obedience to every trial (Hebrews 5: 7-9). Union with him in his righteousness is through no works of our own, but only by faith.


II. Romans 10:5-21.

A. Verse 5 -The provision of righteousness before God, and, therefore, life, by a keeping of the Law were set forth clearly in Scripture quoting Deuteronomy 30:12, 13. “The one who practices the righteousness based on the Law”— Paul refers to the supposition that a person who maintained obedience to the Law in all of its meaning and in all of its implications, and did so as his manner of life from birth until death. “Shall live by that righteousness”—that person would have as his own the merit through which eternal life is granted. He shall live before God in the state of eternity enjoying the joy, love, glory and beauty of that eternal state. If there has been no single case of this kind of obedience, then there is no such thing as righteousness anywhere within the human family.

B. Verses 6-8 – Even as the provisions of the Law are clear, and no one kept them, so that same clarity of revelation applies to the gospel.

  1. The righteousness of obedience applied to the first, the righteousness of faith applies to this.
  2. Even as God revealed the Law through Moses, wrote them on tablets of stone, and put them before the people [“Who will ascend into heaven . . . who will descend into the abyss? . . . The word in near you.”], so the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ came in accordance with Scripture and were accomplished in the open with witnesses all around.
  3. “In your mouth and in your heart”—it is a thing to be stated as true and embraced with the whole of one’s being so that all of practice, thought, and affection is conformed to it. The law came with such clarity, force, and pervasive requirements that no doubt should have existed as to its meaning and its legitimate claim on the entire being of every person.
  4. “That is the word of faith which we are preaching.” That Jesus the Messiah has performed a work that completely fulfills the Law should be clear to all who take time to observe with the attention and sincerity that such a question deserves. At the end of a righteous life, he gave himself up as a sacrifice resulting in the conquering of death, fulfilling all the prophecies of the work of Messiah. This should be a fact easily established and easily believed were it not for the resistance of hard, self-righteous hearts.

C. Verses 9-13 – Paul now interprets that word of revelation that was given in Deuteronomy 30:12-14 about the Law in terms of the gospel. [“in your mouth and in your heart.”]

  1. If one will confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord: This is the public identification of a person with the historical Jesus showing that he is persuaded that Jesus is the God that has acted to procure redemption that He might be the covenant God of his people. It does not mean the mere mouthing of the words, but a confession of a convinced and subdued mind.
  2. Believe in his heart that God has raised him from the dead. “Raised him from the dead” is a synecdoche for the entire event of salvation brought to fruition. [A “synecdoche” is a figure of speech where one part is used for the whole. Paul uses this single phrase as a distillation of the constituent elements of the gospel (Romans 1:16) that he has explained to this point.]The heart is the center of judgment and affections of the individual. This “confessor” has heard the gospel of reconciliation, has judged it to be true, and has placed his hope for eternity on the promises intrinsic to the gospel. He sees the resurrection as God’s approval and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for sin. Such a belief reasons: “Christ was a substitute for sinners under the wrath of his Father; had he not endured this none could be forgiven. Christ was buried and showed that he had truly experienced the wages of sin both in body and soul. Had he not done this, none could escape the law of sin and death. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ raised him from the dead showing that all his work for sinners was effectual and has fully satisfied every aspect of the sentence of death on sinners. Had he not done this, none could have eternal life. His resurrection means that he has been lifted also to heaven and now sits at the Father’s right hand, in the presence of God, and intercedes for us on the basis of his perfect righteousness. If this were not so, there would be no single case in human nature of perfect obedience to gain life. But Christ is risen, and though I am justly condemned in myself, God has promised to receive all that come to God by him; in belief of that promise, I come.”
  3. Now Paul enforces [10-13] the scriptural reality that all these advantages that Christ has won by dint of personal obedience and sacrifice become ours when we flee to take refuge in Christ. Whether Jew or Gentile all that seek union with Christ in his saving work will gain the fullness of the reward of Christ—they will not be put to shame. God is indeed “rich” to all that call on him. Through the conviction of the heart and the public identification with Christ one gains possession of all things. These are not things that pass away, but alone are true riches and alone have true and unfading excellence. Again, reinforcing his argument that both Jew and Gentile have the same access to God through Jesus Christ, Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
  4. Verses 14, 15 – In this section of argument, however, Paul is saying, that in spite of their being on an equal plane with Gentiles, they still have the “message clear and plain, Christ receiveth sinful men.” There is nothing intrinsic to the message that makes it a difficult message. He asks a series of rhetorical questions in order to show that the Jews have never been without a witness to the gospel and that from the standpoint of clear opportunity, there is nothing that hinders the Jew from being saved.
  • The first question, which follows the affirmation “Everyone that calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” is one that implies than none will call on the Lord if they do not believe. This shows that calling is more than mouthing words, it is an exclamation that flows out from the heart overwhelmed with the felt-vitality of the gospel.
  • Well, does the lack of belief come from their having never heard? It is certain that if there is no hearing of the truth, there can certainly be no believing. A truth unheard cannot be considered and believed.
  • If not-believing comes from not-hearing, have there not been preachers of this message to proclaim it to them? For it is sure that none will hear unless it is spoken. What is unspoken will be unheard.
  • If they have not heard because there has been no proclaimer, is it because none has been commissioned to proclaim? If this whole cycle of preaching, hearing, believing, and calling out bears within it the eternal riches of God, then we must conclude, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
  1. Verses 16-21 – There has been no lack of opportunity for the Jews, they simply have been disobedient.
  • From the time of Isaiah, at least, they heard the gospel in prophetic form and did not believe it. Based on what Isaiah wrote, “Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?” Paul reminds his readers that faith comes from hearing, and the hearing is specifically the word of Christ, that is the message that God redeems his people through the coming of the Messiah as a sacrifice for sins.
  • Now he reminds his readers that the Jews have had that precise message set before them in many ways and at many times. He quotes the Psalms and Deuteronomy in support of this. The citation from Psalm 19, dealing with the revelation of God through nature (“the things that are made”) is a reminder that even general revelation is sufficient to make men inexcusable (Romans 1:19, 20). The citation from Deuteronomy 32:21 reminds the reader that even before Israel inhabited the Holy Land given by covenant to Abraham for his descendants, God pointed to their defection and the consequent inclusion of the Gentiles.
  • (20) Paul notes the boldness of Isaiah in emphasizing the unilateral sovereignty of God in making himself found by those who did not seek him. Such prophetic boldness emphasizes the effectuality of divine mercy in saving those, the Gentiles, who had not received any special revelation and had, therefore, not sought God. This introduces the next chapter.
  • (21)Israel had God holding out his hands to them in every manifestation of revelation through Scripture, the prophets, the types and offices of the nation, the sacrificial system, and the promise of the Messiah, yet they were disobedient and contrary.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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