When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome he was addressing an interesting crowd. The congregation receiving this letter was composed of two very different groups of people; Jewish Christians, and Gentile converts. Both came from very different backgrounds, with very different world views. And to make matters worse, each thought they knew all the stuff of a religious life inside and out. The Jews had this nasty habit of dangerously assuming that God was immanently present with them simply because they were descendants of Israel. The result? Christ could be seen as unnecessary. The Gentiles, on the other hand, tended to think of God much like their old pagan deities: so transcendent, so distant, that He couldn’t possibly be thought of as accessible or gracious. Paul’s wonderful news for both in this letter is that the transcendent God became completely immanent in Christ “the same Lord … richly blesses all who call on Him.
What Jesus did, He did for all people! Maybe that sounds a little over-simplistic. You’ve heard it all before, right? The joy and excitement surrounding Jesus and the mighty acts of salvation He has accomplished, He intends for every single person. Sometimes the simplest truths are also the most important ones. Look at how much effort Paul goes through to make this truth as clear as humanly possible. He is absolutely emphatic in the way he says it: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (13). “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (12).
And it’s not a new idea that Paul has come up with on his own either. In saying this he is merely quoting the OT writers – good Jews one and all: (Joel 2:32) And it shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the LORD shall be delivered; (Isaiah 28:16) therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘He who believes will not be put to shame.’ It is an age old truth that lies at the heart of being a child of God. What God did, he did for all people!
Many of us Christians know these verses inside and out … in theory anyway. But if we stop and examine our day to day habits and practices what do we see? Look around you; do you see all people groups represented here? It is not enough to simply build our church and put the sign out by the highway. We truly do have the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ for one and for all, for Jew and Gentile, for blue collar, white collar, or no collar, for men, women and children. Yet even if this truth is faithfully proclaimed every week in Word and Sacrament it still does none of those very people out there any good if that message never leaves these walls. A treasure as great as the gospel deserves to be treated like a treasure, not a privileged secret.
Being a Christian, Paul would tell us, is not simply about KNOWING the Word inside and out (although that’s not bad). It’s much more than that. It’s about living the Word inside and out. Our number one goal in life is to trust in our Lord with our whole being. Our text proclaims, “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved” (v 9). Every day we need to hear the news again that God declares us righteous in His sight even though we don’t deserve it. Despite our sin, Christ saves people for eternity. That’s why He came and faced the temptations of the devil. That’s why He suffered and died. That’s why He rose again to life. In Christ, God came near – God comes right here: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Is 65:24).
Giving the Word free reign on the inside means not being ashamed to admit we need to hear the Word of God’s forgiveness and love regularly … daily. And so it is that a central part of what we do must revolve around God’s healing Word; weekly worship, frequent communion at the Lord’s Table, daily prayer and reading of the scriptures, being part of a regular Bible Study group. It is only through these things that the true faith is strengthened and internalized. And then, having believed from our heart in the Resurrected One, we “confess with [our] mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord.’
For that is our second goal in life … proclaiming to others that Jesus is near. Once the Word has been made a central part of the inside it cannot help but burst forth to the outside. Just as our mouths and hearts (and the rest of our being) are involved in trusting God, so our whole being participates in sharing the good news of Jesus. You can’t stifle faith’s genuine excitement, which attracts the interest of those who hear it (though not all will believe). Jesus said, ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34).
Our text shows us much the same. (10) For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. Faith and action come as a package deal. The two cannot be separated. The faith of your heart will be the confession of your lips. That which is the most important to you in here, will be the reason and motive for all that you do out there. Each time we speak the love God has for others, our own faith deepens.
Until a person hears the good news of what Jesus did for them, they can’t appreciate how wonderful it is. That’s why we need to take the initiative to share the Gospel with others. Having that hope and joy on the inside means spreading that hope and joy to those around us. And it doesn’t have to be a complicated or scary thing. It doesn’t have to involve a multitude of programs and initiatives. In fact, we can do it best by simply inviting others to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps 34:8).
For in Christ, the very bread of life, God comes near to you and me. God the Creator is everywhere, including the farthest reaches of his universe but In Christ He is closer than your heartbeat. His very life is yours in the waters of Baptism, His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, His words in the Holy Scriptures. Christ is right here, right now to heal and forgive, to respond to even the smallest quiver of faith. The Word inside and out. Call on Him especially since He is so near. And speak the Word to others, so they may call on him also. Today is a good time to do both.