Romans 10:5-15

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on August 13, 2017.

We’ve all had that feeling: when a costly misstep leads us to question our place in the home, at work, or in society.  For many of us, most days are filled with confidence—we feel we are doing a good job of parenting and being a good spouse; we are living up to the expectations of our employers, and we are serving our society in commendable ways.  But then comes the blunder that leads to sharp self-criticism; the missed goals and targets for the year that causes us to question whether we are up to the task; or the bad news about our children that raises questions about our parenting or our marriage.  We work hard and strive to be a success at everything we do, but any of the above can lead to even the most confident among us asking whether we are good enough.  We can become gripped and overwhelmed by the shame we work so hard to avoid.  When our lives are built on doing and achieving, failure to produce successful works can result in shame.

In Romans 10:5-15 Paul contrasts the type of righteousness that Israel has sought to achieve through the Law with the type that God has provided through faith.  The former type of righteousness Paul labels as being generated from human effort; according to Paul, Israel sought to establish her own righteousness (Romans 10:3).  This type of righteousness is pursued through human effort, and it is achieved through fulfilling the requirements of the Law.  In Paul’s own words, this is a righteousness “that comes from the Law” (Romans 10:5); it comes by a person doing and living by the Law.  But such righteousness can be far from many, especially for those who do not lay claim to the Law by birth.  In this pericope, one of Paul’s biggest issues with this type of righteousness is that it is not “near” to everyone.  And by this Paul reiterates a point he has made earlier in Romans that the Law is the possession of only one group—the Jews.  Thus, if righteousness is based on the Law, then it would leave out non-Jews, and this would, in turn, suggest that God is a God of Jews only: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (Romans 3:29-30).  In other words, God has to have a basis for establishing righteousness that would apply equally to both Jews and Gentiles.  This is what Paul calls in Romans 10 “the righteous that comes from faith” (Romans 10:6).

This righteousness that comes from faith is unlike that which comes through the Law.  If the first type of righteousness discussed is human generated, the righteousness from faith is God’s work from start to finish.  It comes as a gift from God and eliminates human effort.  If the righteousness that comes through the Law is the possession of one group, the righteousness that comes through faith is available to all.  As a matter of fact, it is “near” to all who have faith.  One does not have to ascend into heaven nor descend into the abyss to bring faith.  On the contrary, “The word [of faith] is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8; cf. Deuteronomy 30:12-14).  God has made salvation available to everyone on the basis of faith because God is the God not only of Jews but also of Gentiles.

One of the important consequences Paul outlines for those who try to achieve God’s righteousness through human effort is that it leads to “shame” (Romans 10:11).  Quoting from the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) of Isaiah 28:16, Paul writes: “The Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will never be put to shame’” (Romans 10:11; NIV adapted).  Paul places this sentence in between the claim that professing faith leads to salvation (Romans 10:10) and the almost parallel quotation from Joel 2:32, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  The context and structure, then, suggest that not being put to shame is parallel to being saved.  Because believers will attain salvation on the day of the Lord, they will not be ashamed; they will be vindicated.

The contrast between human striving and God’s gracious gift also forces us to ponder the various ways in which human efforts fall short of producing good works and lead to shame.  We have to recall the first attempt at this in the Garden of Eden.  When God had done all the work (see Genesis 2:21-22, where God is the subject of all the verbs), the man and woman were said to be “both naked” but “felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25).  A few verses later when the humans attempted to work their way to God (cf. Gen. 3:5) and fell short of this goal, they felt shame; they, therefore, sewed fig leaves together to cover up their nakedness (Genesis 3:7).  This story exemplifies in some sense what Paul has been warning against in Romans 10—that attempting to achieve one’s own righteousness through good works will result in failure to attain God’s plan, which would, in turn, lead to shame.  Human effort inevitably results in failure and disappointment that brings shame to us.  The righteousness that is based on faith is a gracious gift from God, given to everyone prior to the performance of any human effort.   To accept this gracious gift is to already acknowledge that we have no good works to bring to the table before God.  God did not welcome us because we are good enough.  If we can accept this, then we are well on our way to confronting and overcoming whatever it is that causes us to feel ashamed.

 

Robert Moses
Assistant Professor of Religion
High Point University, High Point, NC
rmoses@highpoint.edu

 

 

 

Tags: shame, works, righteousness

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