Steps to Salvation

Romans 10:14-21

October 12, 2008 | Brian Bill

Would anyone mind taking off their shoes and showing us their feet?   Makes you hesitate, doesn’t it?  Maybe it’s because you’ve worn your socks two days in a row or perhaps you’re just not very fond of your feet.  Or maybe you suffer from stinky soles.  Actually, I’m glad most of you kept your shoes on.

What comes to your mind when you think of “feet”?  Go ahead and shout out the words and I’ll put them up on the whiteboard. 

Our focus today is on how to have “beautiful feet” from Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  While you’re turning to Romans 10, didn’t Pastor Jeff preach a super sermon last week?  He reminded us that “being good is never good enough because religion is spelled ‘Do’ and Christianity is spelled ‘DONE.’  It is simply trusting in what God has done through Jesus on our behalf.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

I will use my feet to meet

While this passage is primarily an explanation of why the Jewish people rejected the gospel, we can apply it in a broader sense to our missionary mandate.  Let’s look at how we can use our feet to meet people where they are, so we can help them come to Christ.  I see six strong statements about salvation in this section of Scripture.  In an effort to help us remember the main point of the sermon, let’s say this phrase together: I will use my feet to meet.

1. Salvation is available to everyone (10:13).

Let’s pick up in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  This is a direct quote from Joel 2:32.  There are no limitations and no exceptions in this verse.  If you live in Livingston County and you want to be saved, call on the name of the Lord.  If you live anywhere in the United States, call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.  If you reside on planet earth, the offer of salvation is open to you.

2. The only way to be saved is through the preaching of the gospel (10:14). 

Look with me at verse 14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  If getting someone saved is the product, let’s look at the process, keeping in mind that Romans 10 highlights human responsibility while Romans 9 emphasizes divine election.  Paul is saying that this process took place among the Jewish people so that they are without excuse in their rejection of Christ.  This same process takes place among the Gentiles which will make Israel jealous in the hopes of moving them toward Christ (more about that in Romans 11).

Each of these words – preaching, hearing, believing and calling describes a connected chain of events.  Let’s take these logical steps in reverse order:

  • Preaching.  This word does not just refer to what pastors do on a Sunday morning; it actually means to communicate the gospel in a way that someone can understand, which I hope is what we’re doing on Sundays.  It’s what you do when you explain how you became a believer to a co-worker.  It’s what happens when you communicate Christ to a relative or neighbor.  Here’s a startling statement that runs counter-cultural in our pluralistic society: God has ordained that no one can be saved without the preaching of the gospel.  To say it another way: The gospel is the divinely-chosen means through which God will bring people to faith in Christ.  I love what we read in Acts 8:35 when Philip was asked by a man if he could explain something he had read in the Bible: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

When I was on staff at a church in Oak Park I had the privilege of leading a team of ten individuals to Europe.  Our task was simple – to encourage four of our missionaries.  We started in London, then on to Barcelona and then to Switzerland and finally to Germany.  I’ll never forget meeting a single missionary man that our church had supported for decades.  His name was Fred Stettler.  He was sent out by Calvary Memorial Church and was so committed to preaching the gospel that he never took a furlough or a vacation.  It’s almost hard to believe but when he died in 1993 at the age of 91, he had spent 67 years on the mission field – and was supported by Calvary that entire time.  I felt so honored and humbled when instead of allowing me to pray for him, he put his hands on my shoulders and prayed for me.  Why did Fred go to the field and never come home?  Because he understood that God has ordained that nobody can be saved without the preaching of the gospel, and he was going to preach it until God took him to his heavenly home.

  • Hearing.  If we want someone to get saved, they must hear the message of Christ crucified and raised from the dead.  While it’s important to build relationships and live an authentic Christian life in front of people, we must also make sure that they actually hear the message.  Acts 4:4: “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”  While there are Christians present in every nation today, many ethnic groups still remain outside the influence of the gospel.  Two thousand years after the Great Commission, they are still unable to hear unless someone goes and tells them.  Did you know that there are still 6,700 ethnic groups without a viable gospel witness?  According to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, approximately 1.8 billion people have still not heard the gospel.  And many more need to rehear it, particularly in secularized places such as Europe.
  • Believing.  The gospel is preached and when someone hears it with their heart, then they can believe.  I love the words of Jesus in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
  • Calling.  The only way to be saved is to call on the Lord Jesus Christ.

I want to share with you something that has revolutionized the way I think about evangelism.  In his book called, “What’s Gone Wrong with the Harvest,” James Engel designed a scale to help us see that people are at different places when it comes to responding to the gospel.  Someone who is quite far away may have some awareness that there is something more but doesn’t understand anything about the gospel.  This person might be considered a minus-8 on the scale and our job is to look for ways to pray and to be present in their life.  Someone at a minus-5 may grasp some implications of the gospel and we should be involved in proclamation.  When an individual gets closer to making a decision we should do what we can to persuade them to believe in Christ and call out to Him for salvation.  

Here’s the encouraging part.  If God can use me to move someone who is far away from Christ a little bit closer, than I’ve been successful in evangelism.  My job is to sow the seed and its God’s job to make it grow.  The key is to make sure that I’m willing to be involved.  Let me give an example.  One of the guys I see when I exercise is into classic rock music.  Recently we had a conversation and I told him that I really like the group called Kansas.  He liked the group as well and we started naming off songs from the late 70’s.  I then told him about Kerry Livgren, who used to be with Kansas, and has now become a born again Christian.  I believe that God used that conversation to move my friend a step closer to Christ and now I’m looking for more opportunities to proclaim Christ to Him.

Let’s say it together again: I will use my feet to meet.

3. Those who bring salvation must be sent (10:15). 

This whole process is jumpstarted by those who are sent: “And how can they preach unless they are sent?”  The word “sent” is the verb form translated “apostle” and is what is behind our English word “missionary.”  A missionary is a sent one and the church is the divinely-appointed body which commissions and sends missionary messengers to proclaim the good news that salvation is available to everyone.  We see an example of this in Acts 13:2-3: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’   So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.’” 

Notice what comes next in verse 15: “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  I love that Paul says that the Scripture is written – it was written in the past and it stands written today.  He is quoting from both the prophet Nahum and Isaiah.  In Nahum, the message of good news is that their wicked enemies the Assyrians, were about to be destroyed so they could be free.  Isaiah speaks of the time when exiles would be set free from captivity.  Good news brings freedom and it comes when faithful messengers use their feet to bring it to those in bondage.  

The word beautiful means “timely” or “full bloom” and was used to communicate vigor or swiftness.  The idea is that the messenger was brimming with excitement and running fast in order to give out the good news he was carrying.  I’m reminded of the words in 2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored…”

Check out what’s behind the phrase “good news.”   In the Greco-Roman culture it was a technical term for “news of victory.”  The messenger would appear, raise his right hand in greeting and call out in a loud voice: “Rejoice…we are victorious.”  By his appearance it is known already that he brings good news.  His face shines, his spear is decked with laurel, his head is crowned, he swings a branch of palms, joy fills the city, the temples are garlanded, a race is held, and the messenger is honored with a wreath (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).  This is convicting, isn’t it?  If a pagan messenger is this radiant with news of an earthly victory, how much more should we shine as bearers of the best news ever!

4. Not all who hear will heed the message (10:16-17). 

We see this in verse 16: “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’”  Have you noticed that more people reject the good news than receive it?  Some people, no matter how much evidence they’re presented with, will still choose to disbelieve.  This is stated quite clearly in John 12:37: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”  Right after making this statement, John quotes this identical verse in Isaiah to show that even when face-to-face with miracles, many won’t believe the message.  Jesus lamented when he looked out on Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

The means by which someone is saved is only by the message of Christ.  If someone refuses to listen to the Lord, they will not grow in faith.  If you find yourself having little faith it might be because you are not hearing and heeding the Savior as He is preached through sermons, and through your time reading the Word.  Look at verse 17: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Saving faith comes through the word of Christ.  

Even if people don’t accept it, we must keep on giving it because faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes from the word of Christ.  This answers the question: “What about the people who have never heard about Jesus?”  They are lost because saving faith comes only by hearing the word of Christ. Someone has to go and preach to them. If there were some other way, then we shouldn’t bother to send our missionaries. 

Some people don’t want to listen to the Lord because it is actually quite dangerous to do so.  If you don’t want your life to change, then don’t read the Bible.  If you’re not in need of any freedom from bondage, then don’t listen to any sermons.  If you don’t want to be saved, then stay away from Scripture. This past Monday, Beth and I took our package of Bibles that we send to other countries each month to the post office.  When we handed the clerk the package she asked us if there was anything hazardous in the package.  I first told her no and then I changed my mind and said, “Actually, there is something hazardous in there because it’s filled with Bibles.”  

Let’s say it again so it sinks in: I will use my feet to meet.

5. We must go global with the gospel (10:18-20). 

In verses 18-20, Paul asks and answers two questions.  The first Q&A appears in verse 18: “But I ask: Did they not hear?  Of course they did. ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’” The Jewish readers could not use the excuse that they never heard the message.  Quoting from Psalm 19, God’s glorious message is evident by just observing His creation.  This psalm concludes with the reminder that God has revealed Himself not only through general revelation but also through special revelation in the Scriptures.  The word “voice” was used of a vibration on a musical string.  God’s message has gone out like music to the ends of the world.  God is a global God and therefore we must sing His salvation song into all the earth and to the ends of the world.

The second Q&A is found in verses 19-20: “Again I ask: Did Israel not understand?  Israel cannot plead innocence or ignorance.  Quoting from Moses and then Isaiah he gives the answer: “First, Moses says, ‘I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.’  And Isaiah boldly says, ‘I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.’”  When the gospel went to the Gentiles, this should have provoked the Jews to jealousy so that they would put their faith in Jesus as well.  I’m getting ahead a bit but turn over to Romans 11:11: “…salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”  

Over 200 years ago, William Carey never thought God would have a plan for him.  He was converted as a teenager and shortly afterwards became actively involved in Bible studies and ministry.  Carey slowly developed a biblical perspective on the subject of missions, and he became convinced that foreign missions were the responsibility of the church.  His ideas were revolutionary.  Most of his peers believed that the great commission was given only to the apostles, and therefore preaching to the ‘heathen’ was no concern of theirs. When Carey presented his ideas to a group of ministers, one of them retorted, “Young man, sit down.  When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.”

Carey sat down, but the idea he had proposed (considered by even his close friends as a “wild, impractical scheme”) continued to occupy his mind and heart as a burden from the Lord.  No one in the ministerial association could have guessed that seven years later, this unpretentious young man would embark with his wife and children for India never to return, and initiate one of the most illustrious missionary careers in the history of the Church.

I remember when Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and president of Samaritan’s Purse, was able to share the gospel with some high-level government officials in North Korea.  Here’s what he said when he arrived in this communist country: “I do not come to you today as a politician or diplomat…I come to you instead as a minister of Jesus Christ with a message of peace – peace with God, peace in our hearts and peace with each other.” I watched a video on their website in which he gave a cross to a high-ranking official and then said these words: “God gave His Son to die on the cross for our sins.”

6. God continues to be gracious and patient (10:21). 

Israel cannot claim that they are innocent or ignorant because the fact of the matter is that they were disobedient.  We see this in the final verse of the chapter, which is another quote from Isaiah: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”  The word “disobedient” means “to willfully disbelieve and to be unpersuadable,” while the word “obstinate” means to “talk back” and to “openly oppose.”  I’m reminded of a scene from Beauty and the Beast (I know, but we have four daughters) when the Beast yells at Belle with these words: “You deliberately disobeyed me!”

We see God’s gracious offer, which still stands today.  He is holding out His hands to people who don’t want to be persuaded.  To “hold out” is very descriptive – it means “to stretch out, to fly out; to extend.”  Denney comments: “The arms outstretched all day long are the symbol of that incessant, pleading love, which Israel through all its history has consistently despised.” Even when people turn away time and time again, God is graciously extending an invitation to them.  John Stott, when writing about this verse, speaks of “God’s patient grief” as He offers eternal life to people who willfully disbelieve and talk back to Him.

One pastor hits it on the head when he writes: “We give and we pray and we send missionaries to the ends of the earth, and we keep on believing and we never give up even when people seem far from God because we know that in spite of the sin and disobedience we see all around us, God still loves the world.”

Action Steps

1. Thank the beautiful feet that brought good news to you. 

I emailed my college roommate Bruce last week and thanked him for being bold enough to give me the good news 29 years ago.  I thanked him for his beautiful feet and then asked him if he would send me a picture of his feet so I could show them to you.

2. Live missionally right here. 

Adopt a missionary mindset and look for ways to point people to the only way.  Is God calling you to go?  Is He prompting you to do something different?  William Carey is also known for a phrase that he repeated throughout one of his sermons: Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God. With all the emphasis on what kind of “carbon footprint” we each generate, I wonder what kind of “faith footprint” I’m leaving.

3. Meet someone new every day.

Use your feet to meet.  You may need to go out of your way or you may just need to get the focus off of yourself because there are people all around you every day who you do not know.  When Jesus sought to save, He went where people were.  Make it a goal to meet at least one new person every single day.  If you’re serious about this, it will revolutionize your life.

4. When you put on your shoes, pray and ask God for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone.

In his book called, “How to Give Away Your Faith,” Paul Little defines witnessing this way: “That deep-seated conviction that the greatest favor I can do for others is to introduce them to Jesus Christ.”   We need to tell everyone about Someone who can save anyone.  I can’t wear your shoes and you can’t wear mine (and you wouldn’t want to).  You can go places I can’t and I can go places you can’t.  Related to that, we wear different shoes for different occasions.  When I put my black dress shoes on, I know I will be able to preach or speak words of comfort at a funeral.  When I put on my workout shoes, I know I’m going to be with some guys at Champion or at the Rec Center.  When I put on my “lawn-mowing” shoes, I may have an opportunity to speak with a neighbor.  When I put my Packer slippers on, I know I will irritate some Bear fans.

Brother John was a timid man who dreaded speaking in public.  When it was his turn to give a devotional, he was terrified.  With his knees trembling, he faced his listeners and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say this morning?”  “No,” answered the audience.  He then said, “Neither do I,” and he ran from the room.

The next day he was told to try again and so he got up and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say?”  This time they replied, “Yes.”  So he responded, “Then you don’t need me to tell you.”  Again he fled. 

On the third day he was forced back up front and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say?”  Half his hearers shouted, “Yes!” and half shouted, “No!”  “Ah,” said Brother John, “then let those who know tell those who don’t know,” and again he fled.

At first, his hearers sat in silence. Then the words hit home: “Let those who know tell those who don’t know.”   That’s our challenge.  Those of us who know must tell those who don’t know.  If we want people to know, we must be willing to go.  Do you want beautiful feet?  If so, use your feet to meet people where they are.  Be a gospel-giver and go.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?