For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.
Paul was quoting from Leviticus 18:1-5 and it is important in understanding why he chose this verse to quote to the believers in Rome. Let’s take a look at it.
Leviticus 18:1–5, “Then Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what you have done in the land of Egypt [practice idolatry], where you lived; nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan [the practice of idolatry], where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes [laws]. You are to perform my judgments and keep my statutes, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep my statutes, and my judgements, which the man who does them, also shall live by them; I am Jehovah.”
In context, this is a reference to a lifestyle in God’s client nation, it does not refer to salvation. Lifestyle is not the basis for salvation. Only the work of Christ on the Cross is the basis for salvation. The Jews set up a system (even though the work of Christ was presented to them in Codex #2) in which they took their own work/morality, based on their arrogance, and set up their self-righteousness versus the righteousness of God. This has always been the major blind spot of Israel. No lifestyle (“being righteous”) can merit Heaven. Arrogance distorts lifestyle into a way of salvation by works.
Israel was to have a lifestyle of morality by keeping the Law (believer and unbeliever), but not for salvation. Morality was designed for the entire human race; it is not the monopoly of the believer. Therefore, morality cannot be the way of salvation or the way of spirituality. Salvation is instant relationship with God; spirituality is the ministry of the filling of the Holy Spirit. This does not imply that Christianity is immoral but simply that anything the unbeliever can do, is not the Christian Way of Life. Christianity includes morality but at the same time exceeds morality, both in the way of salvation and in the dynamics of the filling of the Spirit after salvation. Morality is conformity to the Laws of Divine Establishment but it is not salvation. The Christian Way of Life is not in conflict with morality. Just because the Christian Way of Life is far greater in its scope and in its requirement, it does not imply that it is in conflict with morality.
But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, Do not say in your heart, who will ascend into Heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down).
Paul quoted this from Deuteronomy 30:12-14. The emphasis in the previous verse was on doing the Law, but the emphasis in this verse is on God’s righteousness imputed at the moment of faith in Christ. A contrast between works righteousness and faith righteousness is the subject of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30 and Paul’s remarks in Romans 10.
In the previous verse we had a righteousness resulting from keeping the Law – self-righteousness/works righteousness. But now in contrast in verse 6, we have God’s righteousness imputed at the moment of faith in Christ. There is no contradiction between Moses in Deuteronomy and Paul in Romans.
The thrust of both Moses and Paul was not the inability of the Jews to be righteous, but the inability of the Jews to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews were inclined to be self-righteous by keeping the Law, but they lacked faith. Therefore, they did not fulfil Codex #2 which demanded faith in Christ for salvation rather than self-righteousness.
Christ does not need to be brought back from Heaven; salvation is not in Heaven. Salvation is on earth and attainable. Christ already came once and He died for the sin of the world. Salvation was not hidden from the Jews, i.e. not in Heaven where it would be unattainable. In the context, Paul quoted directly from Deuteronomy 30:12. Moses said nothing about the first coming of Christ, but Paul added, “that is to bring Christ down from Heaven” because the first coming had already occurred.
In the time of Moses the unbelieving Jews rejected Jehovah (Jesus Christ) and this is why Isaiah said, “Who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed” – the arm of the Lord being Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 53:1) Unbelieving Jews not only wanted ritual without understanding its reality, but they wanted the Millennium without salvation. Ritual without reality was animal sacrifice practiced without faith in Christ. To offer animal sacrifices without believing in what they represented was ritual without reality. The Millennium without salvation would be blotting out the first coming of Christ, and therefore the Cross. The Jews wanted the Second coming and the fulfilment of the unconditional covenants apart from faith in Christ or apart from the Cross.
Or,” Who will descend into the abyss? (that is to bring Christ up from the dead).”
Paul does not quote exactly from Deuteronomy 30:13 but gives the principle of the passage, of unavailability. Paul must also change the words of Moses, across the sea, into something which is more in keeping with the conclusions which he draws from the first advent. Paul must change the illustration because now the first advent is historical. In the days of Moses it was prophetic. If the Messiah has not come, as the unbelieving Jews alleged, then obviously this would bring Christ up again from the dead.
To reject the resurrection of Christ is to reject, ignore and blot out the first advent with its doctrinal implications regarding salvation through faith in Christ. Faith must have an object in salvation, and that object is the Lord Jesus Christ Who is, of course, the God of Israel Who has come to the earth as the God-Man and has provided eternal salvation on the Cross. The problem with the Jews was their failure to accept the first advent of Christ. They had blotted out of their minds the first advent, which is tantamount to rejecting Christ as Savior.
Codex #2 of the Law taught clearly the first advent of Christ but the Jews rejected the first advent, therefore they would cling to Codex #1 and #3 (the moral and social aspect of the Mosaic Law) as a system of works righteousness. The Incarnation and Resurrection are facts of history. Between these two points of time Christ provided eternal salvation on the Cross. Jews, who had the greatest spiritual heritage, had distorted their very own spiritual heritage from salvation by grace through faith into a system of salvation by works.
It is blasphemous to imply that Christ must come back to the earth to provide salvation. The Jews are always looking for the coming of Messiah. It is blasphemous to imply that Christ must die and be raised again from the dead. These blasphemies deny the efficacy of the work of Christ on the Cross in bearing our sins and being judged for them. The unbelieving Jews denied the efficacy of the redemption of the Cross. The Jews in the time of Moses ignored the doctrine of the first advent. They ignored it again in the time of Isaiah. (Isaiah 53:1) When Christ actually came they ignored Him during His earthly ministry. They ignored Him in the time of Paul and they continue to ignore Him right at the present moment.
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 are preaching).
Paul quoted Deuteronomy 30:14. The mouth is an expression of faith not the origin of faith. The origin of faith is the “heart.” The Biblical heart is the mentality of the soul and possesses a frame of reference which is designed for thought, a memory center, vocabulary and categorical storage, the conscience, a momentum department, the wisdom department and the subconscious.
The mouth (an idiom for expressing thought, mental or verbal) is the means of expressing words and thoughts but the “heart” is the origin of those words and thoughts. When the individual believes in Christ he expresses in words and sentences to God his faith. Therefore, the mouth is the expression of faith. The object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. With the “heart” mankind believes in Christ and with the mouth he confesses to God the Father his faith in Christ in words and sentences. Salvation, therefore, is as close as faith. Therefore, salvation is not unattainable.
Both Moses and Paul agreed that salvation was by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore always available before or after the first advent of Christ. However, the Jews who had the greatest spiritual heritage in history failed in Old Testament times, with the exception of a remnant in every generation. In the time of Moses the first advent was prophetical; in the time of Paul the first advent was historical.
In the time of Moses the first advent was rejected and blotted out of the Jewish mind through ritual without reality. The unbelieving Jews, then, observed the animal sacrifices and the shedding of sacrificial blood, but rejected the reality of the work of Christ on the Cross.
The unbelieving Jews who rejected the first advent of Christ and its implications rationalized and distorted salvation by grace through faith as something unattainable, i.e. in Heaven, or something unavailable, i.e. across the sea. In every generation of Israel’s history there have been and will continue to be unbelieving Jews. These unbelieving Jews had rejected Christ as the God of Israel. They would blot out of their minds the Incarnation, the Hypostatic Union, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Session of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of the Father.
When Jewish unbelievers reject Christ as Savior they reject the entire principle of faith-righteousness and by default accept in arrogance their own self-righteousness or works righteousness by keeping the Law. Not only does it apply to the Jews with their magnificent spiritual heritage but it applies to us as well. No one can ignore the Lord Jesus Christ without severe consequences.