Romans 10:16-21: Culpable Religious Unbelief
Unbelief is a cockroach! Cockroaches can survive without food for prolonged periods of time; they are 8-15 times more resistant to radiation than vertebrates; some can go without air for 45 minutes; some have revived after being submerged underwater for 30 minutes; they can survive sub-zero temperatures and continue to have bodily functions even after they have been decapitated. Cockroaches are hard to kill and so is unbelief. The atomic bomb of Christ’s death and resurrection has hit the nation of Israel but unbelief like the cockroach continues to thrive. Paul in chapters 9-11 of Romans is dealing with this problem of Jewish unbelief and is drawing the present section in chapter 10 to a conclusion. He has been telling us that Israel have failed to believe because they chose to trust in their works instead of have faith in Christ. Paul mapped out for us the simple process of salvation by faith, giving us the causal chain of being sent to preach, preaching, hearing and finally believing and being saved. Despite the atomic effect of Christ’s ministry and simple way of salvation by faith unbelief continues to thrive in Israel.
In the closing verses of chapter 10 we are reading a tragedy not a comedy or thriller. We are reading about the saddest case in the history of unbelief since Adam and Eve. There had never been a people so privileged and blessed, so informed and close to the truth. Yet for all of this a large part of the Jews in the first century did not believe. Paul has spoken about his deep anguish 9:1-3, 10:1. In this section he magnifies the guilt of Jewish unbelief. In doing so he draws our attention to the real danger of unbelief. But Paul is not speaking about unbelief in general but in particular the sin of religious unbelief. Because the sin of unbelief is in every heart and thrives very well in the sewer of religious self-righteousness we must pay careful attention to Paul’s descriptions and test ourselves for infestation. We want to observe the unlikely conditions where the recalcitrant cockroach of unbelief has survived. We want to mark the defensive tactics of unbelief enabling it to survive and then finally we want to remark on the notes struck by Paul on the sovereignty of God in this section and their relationship to unbelief.