Saul of Tarsus, a first century Jew inflamed with persecuting zeal against the name of Jesus and His followers, made his way from Jerusalem to Damascus full of fury and murderous intent. Driven by religious prejudice, he hastened along the dusty road at noonday carrying with him letters obtained from the Jewish high priest that sanctioned his policy of intolerance against Christians.
Suddenly, as he journeyed, a ray of light shone down from heaven upon him so brilliant that it was even brighter than the noonday sun. Saul, astonished fell to the ground while his travelling companions stood speechless. A voice spoke! "Saul, Saul why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4) It was immediately apparent to Saul that this could only be the Lord speaking from heaven, and so he responded, "Who art Thou, Lord?" (Acts 9:5a KJV). The answer must have been like a thunderbolt to him - "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 9:5b). What a shock for Saul to discover that he was absolutely wrong about Jesus, and what a change was wrought in him as he in answered the one against whose name he had fought so fiercely in words he never thought he would utter - "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6 KJV)
Lord! This confession marked the conversion moment of this self-righteous Pharisee. Finally his fight was over as he acknowledged Jesus as Lord, submitted to His supremacy and believed in his heart that God had raised Him from the dead. The zealous persecutor, Saul of Tarsus was now destined to become the faithful preacher, Paul the apostle. What a difference a day makes!
It doesn't get any closer
Paul went on to write most of the letters of the New Testament, one of which was to the Christians in Rome. This letter contains a masterful exposition of the gospel in which he addresses, among other things, the mistake made by the Jews in their attempt to become righteous by doing the works of law instead of submitting to the righteousness of God which cannot be earned, but is only received by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in the tenth chapter:
'For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” ' (Romans 10:5-11).
Paul knew the truth of the gospel by experience, he had been that self righteous stubborn Jew, but by God's grace he was now able to explain simply to others, the faith he had once laboured to destroy. He asserted that God's way of salvation is based upon the recognition of two realities: what man can't do and what God has done. Regarding the first, Paul explains that 'the righteousness which is of the law' (v5) is all about doing and he has already established earlier in the letter that 'by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His [God's] sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin' (Romans 3:20). It is important to understand that the law was never given as a means by which righteousness could be earned, rather it was given only as a way of life for a believing and obedient people. But the Jews, as have many people since, failed to understand the need for personal faith and that righteousness cannot be earned by keeping the Law of Moses or any other moral code. Why? Because 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23). No one is able to attain to God's standard.
By contrast and based upon the Old Testament scripture of Deuteronomy 30:12-14, Paul introduces the righteousness that comes from faith by quoting and applying two questions, indeed two questions that should not be asked because they do not need to be asked! In the context of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 they refer to God's word through the law that was brought near to Israel, but in Romans they refer to God's word through the gospel that is brought near to all people. The point of connection and the reason for Paul's application is that both are the revelation of the word of God and both require the response of obedience.
Paul then is affirming what God has done through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. No one needs to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above)' for God has sent His Son down from heaven. Jesus said, 'I came down from heaven not to do mine own will but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:34). Neither should anyone ask, 'Who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)' for God has raised His Son from the dead. The gospel declares accomplished facts - 'Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures' (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
God has done all that is necessary to bring salvation near to us, so near in fact that when the gospel is accurately preached and properly understood, the 'word of faith', the very knowledge of salvation 'is near you, in your heart and in your mouth'. But to experience its blessing something more than knowledge is required - we need to respond with confession and faith.
So simple yet so difficult
God's salvation is not complicated. The difficulty is not in what we need to do, but rather in our willingness to do it. People struggle over acknowledging Jesus as Lord and resist believing in their heart for one basic reason - the stubbornness of the human will. Man, because of sin, is essentially a rebel and fiercely independent, fighting against God and refusing to surrender to Him. Many are self-righteous and will not accept that they are sinners. Some think themselves 'intellectual' and above such nonsense, while others just want their sinful way of life instead of God's way of salvation. This is why the gospel calls sinners to repentance, the outcome of which will be the acknowledgement before God that Jesus is Lord.
We need to understand that salvation is not only about escaping God's just judgment it is also about entering into a new relationship with Him. Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, God not only saves sinners from the consequences of their sin, He also declares them righteous before Him. But for this to happen Jesus must be accepted as Saviour and acknowledged as Lord for it is such a confession that demonstrates the reality of our faith. Believing in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is vital for it is the truth of His resurrection that verifies the value of His death and confirms that He is Lord. Paul further explains the truth of verse 9 in verse 10 to emphasize the way in which salvation is experienced: 'For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation'. By reversing the order of confession and faith in verse 9, to faith and confession in verse 10 Paul highlights the fact that they are 'twins'; you can't have one without the other. True faith will result in confession, and true confession is the evidence of faith.
Therefore, by confessing Jesus as Lord we give glory to God who raised Him from the dead, and we give Jesus His rightful place as Lord of our heart and life. The experience of a believing sinner is like the sign that is sometimes seen in a shop window or at a business premises, 'Under new management', the person who is saved willingly comes under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and begins a new way of living.
The gospel then calls for the acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord, but God has also decreed that all people will ultimately confess His Lordship - 'God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, ... and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Philippians 2:9-11). The reality is that we will either agree with God concerning Jesus with a voluntarily confession now or an involuntarily one in the future - we must chose. This is what God demands and this is what the Lord Jesus deserves.
A Refuge of Lies
The Bible speaks about those in danger who made lies their refuge and who duped themselves with a false hope of security (Isaiah 28:15). The people of Israel were under threat of invasion from the mighty Assyrian power of that day, and to deal with this the leaders in Jerusalem instead of trusting God for their preservation made an agreement with Egypt in order to protect themselves. These leaders considered their alliance with Egypt to be very clever politics, but God warned them that their 'covenant with death' and their 'agreement with hell' was nothing more than a false security and a baseless hope that would utterly fail to protect them from the 'overflowing scourge' of the Assyrian invasion.
There is nothing secure in a refuge of lies and a false hope can only lead to shame and disappointment. What Israel needed, and what we need is a sure foundation upon which we can depend and be assured that when the testing time comes, it will not disappoint. God proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah the promise of such a foundation - 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily' (Isaiah 28:16). Paul by quoting the latter part of this verse confirms the identity of this 'stone'. God was not talking about a literal stone of rock rather He is using the language of imagery to identify the one who would come and be the 'sure foundation' that can be trusted. His name? Jesus - God's Son and the Sinner's Saviour. He is the only one upon whom we can depend for salvation in time and for eternity. Paul therefore writes: 'Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame' (Romans 10:11).
Sadly, many people have made lies their refuge, and hold in their heart a false hope. If you are depending upon anything or anyone else other than the Lord Jesus, God's only sure foundation, it is a refuge of lies and you will be, in the end, utterly shamed and eternally lost. God's salvation gives certainty in the present and security for the future, but it can only be received and experienced through faith in the Lord Jesus. Confess Him today and He will never disappoint you.