“If you declare 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 your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Rm 10:9-10)
The Righteousness of God vs Self-Righteousness
“Brothers and sisters, 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 of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Rm 10:1-3)
Just as he did in Romans 9, Paul begins this new chapter by expressing concern for his own people. In these verses, Paul contrasts God’s righteousness with self-righteousness.
According to Paul, the main reason the people of Israel didn’t achieve righteousness wasn’t that they lacked zeal for God but what their zeal led to. Paul once talked about how zealous he was for God even before he met Jesus.
When Paul defended himself before other Jews, he said,
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Ac 22:3-4).
Paul was so zealous and passionate for God that he persecuted, tortured, and even killed Christians because he thought they were heretics of Judaism. So, Paul never doubted the religious zeal of the Jews. He knew how zealous they were for God because he was once one of them.
The real problem was what their enthusiasm meant. They were zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on true knowledge about Him and His righteousness.
They didn’t know about the righteousness of God, which meant they didn’t know that God gives true righteousness to unrighteous people so that they can have a proper relationship with Him. So, they tried to establish their own righteousness through their works. That was the main reason they failed to be saved—they rejected the perfect righteousness, Jesus.
So, the knowledge Paul talks about in verse 2 refers to the proper way God gives us for salvation. We can become righteous only by believing in Jesus, not by our good works. We shouldn’t deviate from this truth. It’s good for us to be zealous for God, and we should be zealous for Him. But, what’s way more important is to know whether or not our enthusiasm is based on true knowledge of God.
If we fail to build up our faith on the basis of true knowledge of the gospel, we will find ourselves seeking our own righteousness. Self-righteousness can’t be regarded as true righteousness to God because no one can be made righteous before Him through their works.
The only way for us to be credited as righteous in God’s eyes is to accept the perfect righteousness Jesus made through His sacrifice and to believe in Him. That’s the true knowledge God revealed to us through Jesus.
Only when we give up seeking self-righteousness will the true righteousness of Jesus start to work in us and make us righteous. We must accept God’s righteousness by faith and not try to achieve our own righteousness by works.
We should know that the Jews’ choice to try and earn their own righteousness is not unique to them. This mistaken way of thinking can be found in Christians as well.
If our confidence in our salvation is based on the good works that we have done, it means we’re seeking our own righteousness. On the other hand, if we are uncertain about our salvation because of the things we have done, it also means that we’re seeking self-righteousness, not righteousness from God.
When it comes to salvation, we must not rely on anything but God. We’re saved not because we’ve done good things to be saved but because we receive God’s righteousness by believing in Jesus.
Even though we might think that we don’t deserve to be saved when we look back on our lives, we can still be certain of our salvation if we turn our focus from ourselves to God, rely on Him, and decide to believe in Him and follow Him again.
Again, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the righteousness of God clearly show us that the only way for us to truly become righteous before God is to believe in Jesus and live by His righteousness, not our own.
Paul says in verse 4, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4).
The fact that Christ is the culmination of the law means that all the laws in the Old Testament actually point to Him. In regard to the righteousness of God, which is the main theme of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3,
“No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law… But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rm 3:20-22)
This is the passage that best describes what God’s righteousness is. Even though it was ‘apart from the law,’ the Law and the Prophets testified to it. And, it was clearly made known in Jesus Christ.
That’s why Paul said that Jesus is the culmination of the law. In Jesus, we find the only way to become righteous—not by observing laws but by believing in Him.
Righteousness by the law vs Righteousness by faith
Paul repeats this same truth in chapter 10 verses 5-8.
“Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person 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 message concerning faith that we proclaim” (Rm 10:5-8)
Now, Paul introduces the ways through which we can achieve righteousness. One is by the law, the other is by faith. The righteousness that is by the law refers to the self-righteousness we build on our own, while the latter refers to God’s righteousness, which we are given by faith.
It seems that Paul is saying that there are two ways for us to achieve righteousness, but that’s not what he really means. What Moses said was true only before Jesus. Before Jesus came, the Israelites tried to earn righteousness by observing God’s law. But, none of them succeeded because of their sinful nature.
But, because God’s righteousness has been revealed in Jesus apart from the law, the only way for us to be righteous is by faith.
What’s good about this righteousness is that we don’t have to do anything or go anywhere to get it. We don’t have to ask “who will ascend into heaven” or “who will descend into the deep” because Jesus Himself came to us and He is with us now. Jesus already came, died, and was raised from the dead. And, what’s more important, He is with us, and we can go to Him whenever we want and wherever we are.
We no longer have to do anything to make ourselves righteous because everything needed for our salvation has already been done in Jesus. As He said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).
So, in regard to righteousness and salvation, Paul concludes with this.
“If you declare 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 your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Rm 10:9-10).
Paul shows us the way to be saved. It’s very simple—just declare, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in Him. Here, we have to take note of the fact that God doesn’t require us to obey His law for us to be saved. What God requires is just to believe in Jesus and declare His sovereignty over our lives.
Even though it’s very important for us to obey God because that’s the proper way for us to live out our faith, we have to be continually reminded of the fact that whether we’re saved or not is based only on our faith in Jesus, not on the things we do.