Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 6, 2022
Romans 10:8b-13 Commentary
Comments, Observations, and Questions
Some Christians at least imply that grace is what we might call a “Yesbut” phenomenon. “Yes,” they say, “We’re saved by grace alone through faith. But people also need to oppose gay marriage or voting restrictions in order to be truly saved.” Or “Yes, people who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised him from the dead are saved. But they also need to work at the local food pantry and tithe on their gross income to the church.”
Paul thoroughly soaks this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson in grace. He douses its readers with buckets-full of that grace. But that grace is to Christians naturally so scandalous that we feel that we need to attach riders to it. We’re, in other words, tempted toward “Yesbut” grace.
Paul spends much of Romans 9-11 lamenting Israel’s widespread failure to receive God’s grace with her faith in Jesus Christ. Israel, he grieves in 9:31ff. “pursued a law of righteousness … they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” Since Israelites sought to establish their own righteousness, he mourns in 10:3, they did “not submit to God’s righteousness.” Quite simply, Israel tried to please God by obeying God’s laws instead of receiving God’s grace with her faith in Jesus Christ.
While Romans 8-9 especially shows how such rejection of God’s grace breaks the apostle’s heart, Paul goes on in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson to emphasize the role that verbal profession plays in the proper posture towards God’s grace. “If you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ … you will be saved” (9). “It is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (10). “The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (12). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (13).
This is no “Yesbut” grace. There’s no “Confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ — and attend Right to Life rallies — and you will be saved.” There’s no “Confess with your mouth – and wear your mask — and you will be saved.” Paul offers no the “Lord of all richly blesses those who call on him – and teach Sunday School without complaining about it.” He doesn’t insist “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord – and drives a Prius – will be saved.”
That helps make the grace to which Paul alludes in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson such a scandal. Neither Paul nor any of the Scriptures’ other inspired writers adds any caveats to it. In fact, in Romans 10 the apostle seems to boil down the faithful reception of God’s grace to its most elemental: a verbal profession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I’m helping Naomi (not her real name) prepare to become a member of our church. She is a lovely person who has already enriched our church’s life by joining us for worship and volunteering in one of our community ministries.
Her age, history and declining health are currently taking a heavy toll on Naomi. She is now largely physically confined to her home and, often, to her bed. She can’t join our church for worship as often as she once did and still longs to do. What’s more, Naomi doesn’t know the Five Points of Calvinism or the Four Spiritual Laws. And, honestly, I’m not sure she has enough time left on this side of heaven’s curtain to learn them.
Yet Naomi joyfully confesses that Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. She calls on him more often than some people who could offer a more detailed defense of Calvinism or Arminianism. Her testimony to God’s gracious faithfulness in the face of great heartache and hardship is stirring. Naomi is, quite simply, by God’s amazing grace, saved. So she plans to become a member of our church.
Now, of course, Paul links any verbal profession of Jesus as Lord to a heart-felt belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. This implies that Christian profession and faith belong together. What’s more, in verse 11 the apostle at least suggests that such a profession must reflect trust in God. But Romans 10’s apostle’s overwhelming emphasis is on a verbal profession of Jesus as Lord as the definitive sign of a faithful reception of God’s grace.
Of course, God’s grace doesn’t just save God’s beloved sons and daughters. It also, through the work of the Holy Spirit, transforms us. So faith honestly professed has no room for willful indifference toward God and our neighbor. It isn’t, after all, just that faith without works is dead, as James insists. It’s also that a profession of Jesus as Lord without an attending commitment to a life of loving service to God and our neighbors rings hollow.
Yet that’s not the focus of Paul’s presentation of God’s amazing grace in Romans 10. Here he draws his readers’ attention with almost laser-like intensity to the assurance that comes accompanies a verbal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Quite simply, Paul insists, those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord will be saved.
Of course, a full-orbed proclamation of the gospel involves other themes like confession, repentance, forgiveness, and sanctification. If the Lord tarries, the Church will have plenty of Sundays to speak about who the Triune God is and what God is like. Hopefully, gospel proclaimers will take other opportunities to talk about some of Jesus’ hard sayings about loving, forgiving, and praying for unlovable people, including our enemies. We’ll also have and seize opportunities to talk about the centrality of the sacraments and the community of faith.
But on this first Sunday in Lent, the Epistolary Lesson invites us to concentrate on verbally professing that the suffering, but risen and ascended Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. One might even argue that if Romans 10 were the last Scripture passage that gospel proclaimers ever taught or preached, it would be a pretty good final message: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”
This, after all, is such great gospel for so many different kinds of people at so many different levels. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson offers the arguably greatest of all possible news to Christians who wonder if we’re really saved. After all, when even Jesus’ godliest followers rummage around in the dark corners of our lives, we find sin. We uncover sinful things done and good things undone. We’ve sinned against God and our neighbor by what we’ve said and left unsaid. Yet Paul reminds us that by God’s amazing grace, when we profess Jesus as Lord, God saves us.
Romans 10 offers further good news for Christians who love people whose profession of faith is relatively simple. For children who aren’t yet spiritually mature enough to say much more than, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” For adults whose disabilities keep them from what we like to think of a mature understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. For adults whose cognitive decline renders them unable to visibly react when Jesus’ name is mentioned.
Yet perhaps more than anything, this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson offers comfort for people who love people who don’t or can’t yet say Jesus is Lord. The faithful reception of God’s grace doesn’t demand a multi-step process. There may, in fact, be no time for some who call on the name of the Lord to take a 12-week discipleship class or even offer a “Sinner’s Prayer.” There may only be time for a profession of “Jesus is Lord.” But, by God’s amazing grace, that is enough.
This text raises immensely difficult questions about the fate of people who seem to profess that Jesus is Lord but act in ways that contradict that profession.
Russia’s recent escalated attacks on Ukraine have turned the spotlight on its president, Vladimir Putin. Much is being written, partially as a result, about whether he claims a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ. While Mr. Putin is notoriously mum about what he believes, he was baptized as a child in an Orthodox church and has been known to attend church on high Orthodox holidays.
Adolf Eichmann was apparently more forthcoming about his profession of faith. In her by turns fascinating and chilling book, Eichmann Before Jerusalem: An Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer, Bettina Stangneth relates a story about the man who was an architect and executor of Nazism’s “final solution.
“‘I still have a very devout saying from my youth,’ Eichmann explains, ‘and I always do it when I find something horribly unpleasant and I can’t stop thinking about it. And in order to forcibly distract myself, do you know what I say? You’ll laugh! I believe in God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, died under Pontius Pilate, suffered and so on and so on’.”
Father Anton Weber, one of the people who helped [Nazi] fugitives obtain new identities in Rome, said there was a trick he used to check that they had found their way back to the Faith. ‘I made them say the Our Father. Then it quickly emerged who was genuine and who wasn’t’.”
“Eichmann,” Stangneth drolly adds, “would certainly have impressed [Weber] with the pace of his creed, managing it in five seconds.”
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