We’ve all been curious to visit a restaurant but haven’t been certain what patrons’ expectations or the restaurant’s expectations of attire are. In other words, will we stick out like a sore thumb if we’re wearing clothing that counters those expectations? Paul is addressing this issue in Romans 10. He’s addressing a type of suit that Israel was supposed to wear in God’s restaurant but didn’t. They stuck out like a sore thumb in the restaurant even though they had a unique relationship with the owner. And, Paul’s also saying that God has now in a new sense brought the proper suit for them but the majority still haven’t put it on. Of course, when describing this suit Israel was to be wearing we’re speaking of a national heart filled with proper faith. Paul is explaining that Israel’s unique relationship with the Lord was intended to set the tone, create the proper expectations, for anyone else curious to visit this restaurant.
Obviously, the illustration has weaknesses but try to imagine Paul explaining to the Christians in Rome that this rebellion by Israel to dress properly wasn’t a surprise to the owner of the restaurant. Now, other nations have put on the proper suit and are enjoying the best dining they’ve ever had, because they’ve been invited to sit and eat at an exclusive table….the Lord’s.
Romans 10, remember, is in between other chapters that Paul constructs carefully for his Roman audience, in regard to God’s Messianic plan. Naturally, Paul has a lot of explaining to do for this plan to make sense and correct serious misperceptions. Chapter 10 is at a much more difficult level for us to understand than chapters we’d find in, say, Exodus. Nevertheless, the difficulties will not even appear to most whose approach to the text is primarily personal. Paul is dealing with a question related directly to us today. Romans 10 deals with Paul’s view of Israel’s role in history and how Jesus was that role’s fulfillment. These things do relate to us today but our reading of the text may seem highly ambiguous.
In Romans 10:1 Paul says that his desire and prayer for Israel is that they might be saved. That is, in Paul’s era, Israel’s majority was refusing to put on the proper suit of salvation. They were putting on a suit of their own choosing and it set a very different tone for curious would-be patrons. Israel’s suit was not made of the proper fabric, stitching, or even design. It was not composed of genuine faith. If Israel wanted to sit at the Lord’s exclusive table they needed to be dressed in the Christ, the perfect attire.
Throughout Romans, Paul distinguishes real Jews. They are circumcised primarily in their heart. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God,” 2:28-29). Paul isn’t explaining something that was formerly unexpected and now is, all of a sudden. Paul is saying that Israel has always been expected to wear this type of suit. Because they hadn’t in the past they were promised exile. However, that wasn’t the end of their story according to Moses. This is what Paul is carefully articulating in Romans.
Deuteronomy 30 offers Israel hope. However, as a nation, they must return from exile in genuine faith, having the proper suit. When Christ arrives God brings Israel the suit. God brings Israel hope. Return from exile is brought to them. They don’t have to ascend into heaven to search for it. They don’t have to travel the seven seas to find it. Deuteronomy 30:14 says “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can do it.” Paul adds in Romans 10:8 “that is, the word of faith that we proclaim.” The word of faith Paul and the apostles were proclaiming was that Jesus came “down” from heaven to deliver the promise of the suit (Israel didn’t have to ascend into heaven to get it) and Jesus was raised from the dead to deliver the suit (Israel didn’t have to plumb the abyss to get it). Israel, the patrons with the unique relationship to the owner of the restaurant, have no need to tailor their own suit. Jesus has tailored it for them. In other words, how will Israel please God? They cannot please Him without the suit Jesus has made for them.
Recall Deuteronomy 30:14, “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can do it.” Paul now says in Romans 10:9-10 “because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Here, Paul is speaking about Israel’s opportunity to be saved through faith in Jesus (the proper suit) rather than their own righteousness (their own suit). Remember, Paul is addressing the issue of how the Lord will save Israel. The failure present in Paul’s mind was Israel’s heart. Their heart was then constructed of nationalistic zeal for God (10:2), a zeal that stitched a national fabric of hatred for the world around it. This is exactly the kind of suit Jesus opposed. So, how could Israel, being uniquely related to God, finally please Him? Israel must have a mouth that admits its rebellion (confess that Jesus is indeed God’s rightful King) and have a national heart that reverses its tragic decision-making process. Israel’s failure in Paul’s mind is once again (10:21) their stubborn decision to reject the proper suit, the suit God is giving them in Jesus.
Now let us note this, that Paul isn’t addressing (pardon the southern pun) the mode of putting on the proper suit. Why? The mode isn’t the issue Paul is addressing in these nearby chapters, nor these verses. Israel must first “call on the Lord” if they want to be saved (10:13). What’s obviously implied by this statement? Israel isn’t calling on the Lord. They currently feel assured of their relationship with God without Christ! If Israel were to have a reversal of heart and seek God through faith in Christ, then the mode would be clear. How so?
Paul has already written his Roman audience by replaying the story of Israel in previous chapters. We can find that God called Abraham to bless the world in order to redeem it in chapter 4. Notice 4:23-25 “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Perhaps this is why in chapter 5 we find the significant need for faith. Abraham is that model whose descendants needed desperately to have faith in God because of sin’s wages. All have sinned, though. Death reigned from Adam to Moses (5:14). Who then is Moses? God’s deliverer of Israel, of course. Chapter 6 then reminisces the story of the Exodus. All can be delivered from sin and death through Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism into Christ. Note that people must come up out of baptismal waters as though they’re being raised with Christ. Christ then acts as God’s new deliverer and new Red Sea crossing (cf. 1 Corinthians 10). Chapter 6 also tells us we are no longer to be slaves to sin. We’ve been freed from its power. Sin should no longer reign. Why? Paul says the faith-filled obedient soul has died to sin with Christ in baptism. We find in chapter 7 that Paul delights in the law “in his inner being” (7:22) and now finds no condemnation because the Christ has freed him from law. Chapter 8 has Paul being led by the Spirit of Christ. Can we see Israel’s story being replayed? Abraham, Moses, Exodus, Law, Israel led by the Spirit? Paul sees Israel as being delivered again through water. But this water has been expanded to fit the entire world. Make sense?
The proper suit, being Christ, is Paul’s fascinating key to God’s plan of redeeming the world, His restaurant. Jesus provides the suit necessary to sit at His exclusive table. We’re stubborn if we think we should make our own.