The Word of faith is the Word that declares us righteous and gives us Christ’s own righteousness as a gift. At the start of the Passion Season, these texts call us to deny ourselves and the pride which comes by our obedience to the Law and to cast all our sins, failures, and weaknesses onto Christ, to trust Him alone for our salvation.
The temptation of Christ makes the point clear, He and no other is righteous. He alone is the cause our salvation. He alone is the One who endures temptation and wins the victory. Suppose, however, Christ’s exchange with Satan was just about boasting rights—a strong-man competition in the desert. Who is stronger? Jesus looked so weak and vulnerable, and yet He wins! So, what? What is that if He just did it for Himself? What is that if I never know it is for me? In your proclamation this week, your people should hear loud and clear how Christ has done all things for us, on our behalf, in our stead, for our sake. This entire Sunday ought to be called “Propter Christum Sunday” (“On Account of Christ Sunday”).
Paul’s message from Romans 10, however, could easily be misunderstood in the context of this Sunday to mean something like: “Christ has done it all for us. Now all you must do is call on Him. Now all you must do is believe in Him,” as if Paul is only preaching to get his people to finally be obedient. Such preaching, however, would immediately appeal to the human will and turn faith into a work. The kind of believing Paul is talking about is the faith which trusts in the Word that is near. Such trust in the Word of faith (the Word that creates and sustains faith) always leads to confession (Matthew 10:32) and calling on the name of the Lord. Faith is not a human work, and neither is confession a human work. Whoever believes and confesses Christ will never be put to shame (see Isaiah 28:16 and its context).
Everything following this pericope explains how no one can call on the name of the Lord (ὁμολογέω) unless they believe, and no one can believe unless they hear, and no one can hear unless they have a preacher, and no one can preach unless they are sent. Here is where you come in, the blessed who bring the good news! We preach faith into their ears and hearts until it flows out of their mouths as a confession, by preaching a righteousness not of the Law. For Christ is, in fact, the end of the Law unto righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4). This righteousness by faith, that must be repeated constantly, is not a righteousness of the Law.
I have had some amazing discussions with fellow pastors and laity about a righteousness not of the Law. I have a sense they are deeply concerned the preaching of justification by faith apart from the Law (Romans 3:28) will lead to a complete disregard for the Law (consider Paul’s problem in Romans 6:1-3). As a result, they insist we must live in obedience to the Law after we are justified. Fair enough. But how do we do this without making obedience a necessary condition for our justification?
What hangs people up the most about the righteousness of faith is the fundamental assumption the Law is the real telos of righteousness. Obedience and fulfilling the Law is our goal! Therefore, after we are righteous by faith, we have got to get back to being righteous according to the Law, to fulfill it just like God says we should. But the Law is not the telos of our righteousness. Instead, Paul argues, Christ is the telos of the Law for all who believe. He is the end, not only of the curse of the Law, but of its very demands. What this means is not that we disregard the Law. Instead, we believe Christ is the end of the Law, even while the Law prods, pries, and hammers us, and Satan accuses us. We say to the Law: “Christ has already fulfilled you for my sake!” So, we uphold the Law, not because we still must fulfill it, but because it is the Spirit’s sword to divest our sinful flesh of any power and to sentence it to the grave. Obedience to the Law, therefore, cannot be the goal, since it is finished. When we preach the Word of faith, the Law is ended. Christ has already done it, fulfilled it, and for those who believe, they have fulfilled it already too.
On this Sunday, with the temptation of Christ as the focal point, Paul’s words from Romans urge us not to preach Christ as example, but as gift. He is not showing you how to defy Satan. He is doing it for you. Neither is He holding fast to the Torah of God to show you how to do it. He is doing it for you. Preaching that Christians ought to believe and to confess Christ and hold fast to the Word of God will not produce the righteousness which the command requires. The Law can only lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24) by causing us to repent of our own righteousness according to the Law.
Martin Chemnitz says it beautifully and simply:
If we compare Paul’s statement with the dictum of Moses in Deuteronomy 30, the matter will be even clearer. In the Law there were three points which Moses required: (1) to teach it; (2) to hear and understand it; and (3) to obey it. The first two points are easy, but the third is impossible for all men. Therefore, Christ came, who is the completion or end of the Law, and He took upon Himself to obey it. This fact is proclaimed and preached to us through “the Word of faith,” Romans 10:8, and this work is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes,” Romans 1:16. For faith, when it lays hold on this “power” and gives this “confession” or profession without wavering, leads us to salvation (Loci Theologici [CPH, 1989] II:592).
For your preaching of the righteousness of faith this week, it is helpful to consider Christ’s passive and active obedience. Lutherans have often drawn on this distinction to make sense of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law. But Christ’s obedience as one under the Law, under Satanic attack, and tempted in every way like us (except without sin) is now imputed to us and received by faith. The justifying Word is not a motivation to fulfill the Law. It is the Law’s end for all who believe. It seems to me that, in our preaching, the way to speak about the Law’s fulfillment is to speak of the Law being fulfilled in us by faith. That is, the one who struggles with sin and the Law’s constant accusation and compulsion—not to mention Satan’s use of the Law against us—will not be helped if they are directed back to their own obedience of the Law (a new effort at a righteousness of their own). Rather, they must learn to hear the promise that Christ, their Champion, has done it!
He alone has won the victory over the Devil and has put an end to the Law’s condemnation. The more we hear this Word which is near us (v. 8), the more, by God’s grace and Spirit, we will believe it is true and win the victory. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness means we fulfill the Law when we live by faith, trusting His obedience is credited to us already and His faithfulness impossibly becomes our faithfulness (despite the evidence to the contrary!). This is what St. Paul means when he says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It means whoever believes has already claimed before God’s throne the righteousness of His beloved Son.
Regardless of the weakness we still have in the flesh, the victory ours remaineth!
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 10:8b-13.