How Shall People Be Saved? Part 1
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are they to 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? 15 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!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world." 19 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." 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." 21 But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
The relevance of this text is huge for understanding how you came to be saved from God’s wrath and from the guilt and dominion of sin with the hope of eternal joy in God. It is huge for understanding how your children or parents or brothers and sisters or neighbors or colleagues or the unreached peoples of the world will be saved. The process of coming to faith and salvation is laid out here as nowhere else. Today we will focus on part of verses 14-17.
Before I read it, recall what Paul has just said. He has just stressed that Jew and Gentile have no distinction in the enjoyment of the riches of God’s glory. Both, with no distinction, will enjoy the fullness of God’s salvation if they call on the name of the Lord. Romans 10:12-13, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For [quoting Joel 2:32] ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’"
Keep in mind that the problem Paul is dealing with in Romans 9 and 10 is mainly the unbelief of Israel and why it happened and why this does not undermine the faithfulness and reliability of God. So what Paul does in the last verses of Romans 10 is show once more that the reason most of Israel does not have a share in salvation is that they do not believe in the Messiah, Jesus. That is what he will say in verses 16 and 21.
It might be good to read those two verses. Verse 16b: "For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’" In other words, he calls Isaiah to witness from chapter 53 verse 1, that very few are believing what he proclaimed – and what he proclaimed in that chapter, you recall, is the coming of Christ and his sufferings and resurrection and the doctrine of justification. So his point in verse 16b is that very few Jews are believing. Similarly, in verse 21 Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2 where God says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
We will come back to this next week and talk about Israel’s unbelief in view of God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of election that Paul taught in chapter nine. But for now just notice that the main point of Romans 10:14-21 is to underline again the unbelief of Israel as the reason they are not enjoying the blessings of salvation.
But one objection might be that God has not put in place the prerequisites of salvation. Maybe Israel (and Gentiles too by implication) hasn’t believed because they don’t have what they need to have to be held accountable to believe. So Paul removes that objection by spelling out the steps to salvation that apply to the Jews or to anyone else. And he argues that they have indeed been put in place for Israel.
But what we will focus on today is the steps themselves so that we know what we must do to be a part of God’s saving plan for ourselves and our family and friends and the nations without the gospel.
Let’s read again verses 14-17.
But how are they to 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? 15 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!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
When Paul says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news," he is quoting Isaiah 52:7. The point is twofold.
Bringers of Good News Are Precious and Beautiful
First, preachers of the gospel – bringers of God’s good news – are so precious that we see even their soiled and bloody feet as beautiful. Beautiful feet are not soft, manicured, painted, well-tanned feet. Beautiful feet are like the dirty, worn, wrinkled, leathery, scarred feet from many miles of trekking into remote places with good news that could not be heard any other way. So the first point of quoting Isaiah 52:7 is this: bringers of good news are precious people – people of whom the world is not worthy – beautiful for their worn out bodies in the service of king Jesus. Paul Brand, the medical missionary to India, said that his missionary mother took all the mirrors out of her house when he told her at about age 70 she had aged; and for the last 20 years of her missionary life (into her nineties) she never had a mirror in the house in the mountains of India. When she died villages gathered from all through the mountains to bury a beautiful woman.
God Has Sent People with the Good News
The other point of saying, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news," is to show that God has indeed sent people with the good news. The conditions have been met to hold Israel accountable for believing and calling on the Lord for salvation.
So let’s focus on what the conditions are that have been put in place for Israel and that must be put in place whenever anyone is to be saved. There are five steps that Paul mentions. Let’s take them in reverse order from the way he mentions them in verses 14-15 and mention them in the order that they happen:
- a preacher must be sent;
- the sent preacher must preach the good news;
- the preached good news must be heard;
- the heard good news must be believed;
- the belief must be the kind that calls on God for salvation.
Sending, preaching, hearing, believing, calling on God.
All of that is in verses 14 and 15, but verse 17 adds something more specific. After quoting Isaiah 53:1 in verse 16 ("Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?"), Paul repeats three of the five steps to salvation, and makes one of them more explicit. He says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." So we have three steps repeated: believing, hearing, preaching. But here the preaching is defined: it’s the "word of Christ." I take that to mean the word about Christ. It’s the same Gospel that Paul has been preaching all through the book of Romans. It’s the word of Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
So now we have 1) sending to preach, 2) preaching the gospel about Jesus Christ, 3) hearing the gospel of Christ, 4) believing in this Christ, 5) calling on the Lord Christ for salvation. Let’s take them one at a time and apply them to our situation if we can. Let’s go backward in the order Paul does. We’ll only cover two of them today.
Calling on the Lord
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). Why does Paul mention calling on the Lord as something that needs to happen after believing on the Lord? Aren’t we justified by faith alone?
I think the reason Paul mentions "calling on the Lord" in addition to "believing on the Lord" is because he has in mind a salvation larger than simply justification alone. I think he means the whole experience of deliverance not only from the guilt of sin, but from its power and from many temptations and many trials and from hell and the wrath of God in the last day. God has ordained that we be justified by faith but that we express that faith over and over throughout life, calling on the Lord for deliverance and help in a thousand ways.
You see this again and again in the Psalms, and in the gospels. Psalm 18:3, "I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies." Psalm 50:15, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Psalm 91:15, "When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him." Psalm 145:18, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."
And just one example from Jesus’ life. Blind Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is coming and starts calling out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus says to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" And the blind man said to him, "Rabbi, let me recover my sight." Then Jesus says, "Go your way; your faith has made you well" (Mark 10:46-52). So Jesus sees Bartimaeus’ calling as an outgrowth or evidence of his faith and even points to the faith as decisive.
So Paul sees the issue of salvation here as the total blessing that comes from having Jesus as your Lord all through your life and into eternity. It’s the salvation of Romans 8:28 – all things working together for our good – forever. And he says that this blessing comes through calling on the Lord. That is the way we should live our lives. We should call on the Lord continually.
In fact in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul defines a Christian this way. He writes, "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." That’s what a Christian is: "those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Do you call on him? Sometimes people ask if it’s OK to pray to Jesus. Well, Paul defines a Christian as a person who continually prays to Jesus. "Lord Jesus, I am failing, help me." "Lord Jesus, I am weak, strengthen me." "Lord Jesus, I am lost and confused, guide me." "Lord Jesus, I am caught in a web of temptation and sin, deliver me." That is what it means to be a Christian.
That leads to the second of Paul’s five steps toward salvation – moving backward…
Believing on the Lord
Verse 14: "How shall they call upon him whom they have not believed?" You might answer, well a lot of people call on the Lord in emergencies who don’t believe on him. The two most common times for hearing the name of God or of Jesus Christ outside the a religious community is when a person hammers his finger or gets in a serious car accident. These "calls" are not from faith. They are from anger and emergency. There is no true love to Christ. He is just a skilled paramedic who can just as well disappear into the night after he has bandaged me up.
But Paul clears up this ambiguity for us very quickly. In fact, he has already done it. The calling he has in mind is a calling on Jesus Christ as Lord – our Lord, not the stranger who shows up to get us out of a jam and then disappears into the night. Romans 10:9 makes this clear: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." So the calling that saves is a calling on Jesus as your Lord. This is why Paul says, "How can you call on the one you haven’t believed." Until you believe in Jesus as Lord, you can’t call on the him as Lord.
This would be a good place to make four observations about faith – about believing – and then save the rest of the text for next week.
The first observation we have just seen, and it is very relevant for the way many have been taught to describe their conversion and Christian growth erroneously. So the first observation is:
1) Saving faith believes on Jesus as Lord and calls on him as Lord from the beginning.
You can see that mainly in Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." If you don’t confess Jesus as Lord, you are not saved. Romans 10:9 makes plain that the "Lord" that we call upon to be saved in verses 12 and 13 is the Lord Jesus. That is what saving faith does. It calls on Jesus as Lord.
Some have been taught that their experience should be interpreted like this: I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and not much change happened. Then I later surrendered to him as Lord, and more change happened. That is not a biblical description of what has really happened. It would more biblical to say: I trusted Christ but understood little of his great salvation and sovereign rule in my life; I was immature in my faith and in my affections for Christ. Later I had experiences that opened my heart more and more to the richness of Christ as mighty Lord and beautiful Savior and more and more of my life was conformed to him.
For some this happens in a series of crisis events; for others it happens gradually and without crises. But it is wrong to say that there is saving faith where there is no submission to Jesus as Lord. Saving faith is faith in "the Lord Jesus Christ," even if at first we grasp very little.
2) The second observation to make about saving faith is that it believes facts. It is more than believing in facts, but not less.
This is plain from Romans 10:9 as well: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a historical fact. It really happened in space and time history. Saving faith believes that. This is one reason faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior can be so weak in so many. Faith is rooted in facts, and for many the facts are not known. The gospels are there to give us the precious facts with all their personal and powerful significance. But the facts are basic and essential. Saving faith believes facts, and sees them as glory-revealing facts.
3) Saving faith is more than belief in facts; it is also a personal confidence that these facts mean Christ has saved me and will fulfill for me all God’s saving promises, including eternal joy with him.
James 2:19 says, "Even the demons believe – and shudder!" The devils believe that the Son of God was incarnate, and that he lived a perfect life as the spotless Lamb of God, and that he died for sinners, and that he rose again from the dead and that he reigns and will one day cast all of them into the lake of fire. This belief does them no good at all, because they are Jesus’ enemies. They believe and shudder.
Saving faith rests in the facts. Rests! Reposes. Feels at home and secure. Saving faith experiences confidence rise in the soul that these facts have paid my debt and provided my righteousness and opened paradise for me. So saving faith is a confident resting in these facts, that God saves me.
We will talk next week about how that confidence happens. But it is plain here that it happens by the word. Verse 17: "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." So if you are struggling, put yourself in the way of the word, the way of hearing the message of the cross. Hearing the gospel of Christ crucified and risen is the means God uses to give us confidence that we are saved by it.
4) Finally, saving faith includes a spiritual satisfaction for all that God is for us in Jesus.
You can call this an emotional element, or an affectional element, or a spiritual taste that delights your heart with Christ. Or you can call this aspect of faith a cherishing or a treasuring of Christ. Whatever you call it, it is an essential part of faith.
I could take you to several places to see it most plainly. For example, we could go to Philippians 3:7-9 where Paul says that he counts everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus his Lord. This is a treasuring of Christ. A cherishing of his beauty and worth. That is part of what saving faith is. To be sure, we grow in this. But there is always a seed of it in saving faith.
Or we could look at John 6:35 where Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." This means that believing in Jesus is finding him to be the bread of life and the living water that satisfies the deepest longings of my soul.
So saving faith is not just believing in facts and not just confidence that all will work out for my good forever, but also a spiritual sense that this "good" is Christ himself and that having him is better than life.
Turn to the Lord’s Supper
So we will save the rest of this text for next week and turn now to the Lord’s Supper. And here we take on our lips the emblems of Jesus body and blood, the bread and the cup. He has ordained that as we eat and drink physically, we also eat and drink spiritually. He means for us to taste and see through these elements that he is good and that all his saving work is glorious and that he is an all-satisfying treasure. So let’s go to the table and enjoy Christ together.