Romans 10:14-17 MKJV
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without preaching? (15) And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!” (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (17) Then faith is of hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
The starting premise is that “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 9:13). However in order to call on the name of the Lord they must first believe that calling on His name will be effective. And before they can believe in the effectiveness of His name, they must have heard of Him. And in order to hear of Jesus, they must have it announced to them through some form of preaching. And in order to hear the preacher, then the preacher must first be sent out from those who possess the gospel.
Thus everything follows from sending the preacher. If no preacher is sent, then no one is saved. So the feet of the gospel herald is “blessed feet” because they bring the message that gives eternal life to the world! Indeed there is always a greater need for gospel heralds than there is a supply!
Matthew 9:37-38 MKJV
Then He said to His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. (38) Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send out laborers into His harvest.
But sometimes missionaries, prophets, and scribes are sent to no effect. Jesus’ final withering blast at the Pharisees in the gospel of Matthew includes the following:
Matthew 23:34-35 MKJV
Therefore, behold, I send prophets and wise men and scribes to you. And you will kill and crucify some of them. And some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city; (35) so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Berechiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.
Isaiah, who ministering to Israel during a time of rapid spiritual decline cried out: “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Romans 10:16 above)
In general, the Bible attributes unbelief to the hearer, rather than to the messenger being inept. This is clearly evident when even such a brilliant communicator, poet, and prophet as Isaiah could not break through the spiritual lethargy of his day. Unbelief is seen as the outcome of being hardened in sin and having a conscience that is defiled. Satan clearly has a hand in this process. Titus 1:15 MKJV To the pure all things are pure. But to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
2 Corinthians 4:2-4 MKJV
(2) But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor adulterating the Word of God, but by the revelation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (3) But also if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those being lost, (4) in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving ones so that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (who is the image of God) should not dawn on them.
But unbelief is not necessarily final and total, because unbelievers, even of the most difficult kind, can become believers:
1 Timothy 1:12-15 MKJV
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who strengthened me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry– (13) the one who before was a blasphemer and a persecutor and insolent. But I obtained mercy, because being ignorant, I did it in unbelief. (14) And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (15) Faithful is the Word and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
I find it interesting the Bible never blames the preacher for the non-responsiveness of the audience! In fact I cannot find a single example anywhere that says anything like “because Jeremiah was so boring no one believed”. The Scriptures do not place any obligation on the evangelist to be interesting, eloquent, or entertaining. They are simply required to proclaim the cross of Christ and His Kingdom! The obligation is always on the hearer:
Luke 8:18 MKJV
Therefore be careful how you hear. For whoever has, to him shall be given; and whoever has not, from him shall be taken even that which he seems to have.
Matthew 7:24-29 MKJV
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock. (25) And the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on a rock. (26) And everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand. (27) And the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew and beat on that house. And it fell, and great was its fall. (28) And it happened, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His doctrine. (29) He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Paul then concludes with “So faith comes through hearing”. Now you might have expected him to say “faith comes through preaching”. However, Paul does not say that! For to Paul, the Word must be received, it must be implanted in the heart, it must be heard deep in the soul. It must not just vibrate the tympani in the eardrum. It must go deep down into the soul if it is to result in spiritual life. This meaning to “to hear” is like the Old English expression “to harken” or the military term “listen up”. The Shema is a famous Jewish recitation of the words of Moses in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy:
HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE. (5) And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (6) And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; (7) And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
So faith comes by hearing, by listening with the inner man, by harkening with the conscience (which is where we know the truth), and by attending with one’s entire soul to who God is and to what God says – and especially to the gospel.
Paul concludes with “and hearing by the Word of God”. The Greek for “word” here is rhema or utterance and means primarily the preached or spoken word of the prophets or the gospel messenger, the preached word. It is the immediate verbal uttered word of God encountering the person. Our souls are opened up to hear when the preacher’s word comes to us – we are awakened, we listen deeply and we grow in faith. It is the proclaimed word of God that opens the ear, and not the word sitting idle in a book on a shelf.
But ……..Have They Not Heard?
Romans 10:18-21 MKJV
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes indeed, their voice went out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (19) But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses says, “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.” (20) But Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became known to those who did not ask after Me.” (21) But to Israel, He says, “All day long I have stretched forth My hands to a disobeying and gainsaying people.”
The question that started off this whole section since the beginning of Romans chapter 9 is the question of the lack of salvation of the Jews – which leads Paul to discuss the question of the efficacy of the gospel. It looks as if “the Word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). So this is the burning question: Does the unbelief of the Jews indicate that the word of God has been ineffective in producing salvation? In other words, has the word of God “returned void”?
Isaiah 55:10-11 MKJV
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from the heavens, and does not return there, but waters the earth, and makes it brings out and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; (11) so shall My Word be, which goes out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall certainly do what I sent it to do.
So Paul goes through a long series of arguments to show that God’s Word has not been ineffective and useless.
- Not all who are of Israel are “the true Israel” but only a holy remnant called “the children of promise” (Romans 9:1-8) 2. Salvation is not an automatic entitlement of the Jews but is God’s covenant initiative and choice and He has mercy on whom He has mercy and compassion of whom He has compassion. (Romans 9:9-18) 3. God is the Potter and Israel has no right to question His working or impugn the effectiveness of His Word. (Romans 9:19-26) 4. Those called of God are extracted as a remnant out of all nations, some are saved among the Jews and some are saved from among the Gentiles (Romans 9:24-29) 5. Israel did not obtain God’s righteousness of faith because they sought their own righteousness by works (Romans 9:30-10:8) 6. Israel was not saved because it did not believe, and it did not believe because it refused to “hear” the Word of God (Romans 10:9-17) 7. Therefore the problem is not with the word of God but with those who refuse to listen to it and believe it!
The only refuge left by which Israel can defend its unbelief is to say “but we never heard in the first place – so how can we blamed for not believing?” So Paul puts the question as a rhetorical device and then convincingly answers it:
Romans 10:18 MKJV
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes indeed, their voice went out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
The last part of this verse is a quote from Psalm 19 and refers to the revelation of God that is contained in nature – and in particular in the Heavens:
Psalms 19:1-4 MKJV
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims His handiwork. (2) Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (3) There is no speech nor are there words; their voice is not heard. (4) Their line has gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. In them, He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
There is a natural feeling for God we get when we observe the night sky or ponder the works of God in nature. This natural sense of awe is God speaking to us in our inner self and in fact it is so loud and clear that sinful mankind has had to actively repress it:
Romans 1:18-23 MKJV
For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because the thing which may be known of God is clearly revealed within them, for God revealed it to them. (20) For the unseen things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being realized by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, for them to be without excuse. (21) Because, knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing to be wise, they became fools (23) and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things.
Note the emphasis Paul puts on this clarity of natural revelation: “clearly revealed with them” , “for God clearly revealed it to them” , “the unseen things…are clearly seen..even His eternal power and Godhead”, “for them to be without excuse”. There is no excuse for anyone because God testifies to use both in nature and within our souls, about His eternal power and Godhead. Revelation calls this the “eternal gospel” which will be preached in Tribulation times when all other access to the gospel seems to have been prevented:
Revelation 14:6-7 MKJV
And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those dwelling on the earth, even to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, (7) saying with a great voice, Fear God and give glory to Him! For the hour of His judgment has come. And worship Him who made the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
All people everywhere are called to respond to God’s self-revelation in nature and in their conscience and to: “Worship Him who made the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” and to refrain from idolatrous worship of the works of their hands. There is enough light available for a spiritually sensitive person to have faith in God and forsake idols (as Abraham did without a Bible, a church or any other help).
The answer to the question “But what about the people in the jungle who have never heard of Jesus” is that God has revealed Himself through nature and in their conscience. It seems that it is somehow possible that they can follow God in an Abrahamic fashion and worship the one true Creator God with reverence and awe and at least believe the ‘eternal gospel’ proclaimed by the angel.
I am not taking a ‘universalist’ position here and saying that all are saved, nor am I saying that missionary work is not necessary. Jesus clearly tells us that the Harvest requires laborers (Matthew 9:37,38). However, I am saying that enough light is available in nature for an honest seeker to connect to God by faith as Abraham did. Paul makes that very clear in Romans 1 as we saw above. Mankind is “without excuse”, because they have all had the gospel proclaimed to them “by the things that are made” and it is “clearly revealed within them” by God’s inner work in each sensitized human conscience. No one will be able to stand before the throne and say “ I had no idea that there was a Creator God that I was supposed to worship”.
Back to the Jews.. Paul is saying that the Jews had every chance to believe and simply chose not to do so! Paul then turns to the difference in response between the Jews (who did not believe) and the Gentiles (who believed in large numbers). He uses three different Old Testament quotes to show God’s purposes in this:
- God was using the Gentiles to make Israel spiritually jealous (Romans 10:19); and even in their unbelief, God was still trying to reach them by using the faith of the Gentiles to make them jealous so they might repent. (Romans 11:11-14) 2. God was able to save even those who did not seek Him and to make Himself known to those who did not ask after Him – such as the Gentiles. (Romans 10:20) 3. God had given Israel plenty of chances and ‘all day long’ had stretched out His hands to a stubborn and disobedient people (Romans 10:21)
So the Israelites were without excuse. God had done everything to help them understand, and God was still trying to reach them (via the Gentiles) yet they were hardening their hearts and still not believing. The word of God had not failed. The failure was with the sinful human heart that ‘suppressed the truth in unrighteousness’ (Romans 1:18).
Questions about the efficacy of the gospel such as: “Why are not all the folk in so-called Christian nations saved?” Or “Why is the church growing so fast in the global South and dying out in Europe?” Or even “Why isn’t the whole world saved by now?” all boil down to the following basic answer:
The gospel is still powerful to save all who call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) and the gospel has gone out to the ends of the world (Romans 10:18) but it has not often encountered faith, instead, it has often encountered unbelief.
The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:
Hebrews 4:1-2 MKJV
Therefore, a promise being left to enter into His rest, let us fear lest any of you should seem to come short of it. (2) For also we have had the gospel preached, as well as them. But the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.