A SHORT NOTE ON ROMANS 10
In my notes on prayer, I said that Paul did not pray for unbelievers to be saved, nor did he encourage his readers to pray for unbelievers, not even their own family members.
However, he did pray for his own unbelieving people.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved.” Romans 10:1 NLT
Why did Paul pray for his own people but not for unbelieving Gentiles to be saved? What made the difference?
While I was pondering this question, the Holy Spirit began to teach me what the Word says.
In John 16, Jesus explained the Holy Spirit’s ministry to three different categories.
“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.” John 16:7-11 NLT
The first category is unbelievers. The other two categories, believers and Satan and his demons, are not our concern for now. The only ministry the Holy Spirit has to unbelievers is to convict them of sin. Why is this?
Let me explain.
The Holy Spirit ministers through the Word which is His tool to reach the minds of people. Since unbelievers do not have the Word in them, how can the Spirit lead them to faith in Jesus? He does not impose anything on them from without. He works from within.
Firstly, creation itself is a witness to the reality of God.
“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”Romans 1:19-20 NLT
Secondly, the Holy Spirit works in unbelievers through conscience. Everyone is born with a basic awareness of what is right and wrong.
“Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” Romans 2:14-15 NLT
Since there is a witness in every unbeliever to the reality of God and His moral law through creation and conscience, the Holy Spirit is able to use these” tools” in unbelievers to awaken the conviction of sin.
The next step in the process of salvation is found in Rom. 10 :17
“So, faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” Romans 10:17 NLT
I said that prayer for unbelievers will not save them. Why? Faith in the message comes about through hearing, not prayer. Again, only when an unbeliever has heard the gospel can the Holy Spirit awaken faith because the gospel message is planted in the mind through preaching.
This is the reason that Paul wrote…
“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT
How is it, then, that Paul could pray for the salvation of Jewish unbelievers but not for Gentile unbelievers?
Paul explains this in Romans 10.
“For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:… ” Romans 10:5-8 NLT
Paul was quoting Moses’ words in Deut. 30…
“This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NLT
What was Moses saying?
God’s Word was already in the minds of the Jewish people because they had been taught it from birth. Parents were instructed to teach their children the words of God’s Covenant at every possible time and opportunity.
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NLT
The Jewish nation, then, as a whole, is God’s chosen people. They have God’s Word in the Old Covenant, even if they don’t believe or practise it. Potentially, the Word is in them and the Holy Spirit, therefore, has the tools to awaken both conscience and faith.
In Romans 9, Paul explains the reason for unbelief in some Jews, if not most. They stumble over the message of the cross. It is an offense to them. However, there is another reason for unbelief… election, a mystery only God can fully explain which we can’t go into here.
What about Paul’s numerous prayers for believers? I think the explanation is simple. The Holy Spirit lives in them and the Word is written on their hearts.
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord . “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord .’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord . “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT
In response to the conviction of sin and faith in Jesus through hearing the message, the Holy Spirit transformed our hearts and came to live inside us, bringing with Him, potentially, all the truth and power of the Word as we read and respond to His work through the Word. Now, as we pray for one another, the Holy Spirit has the “tools”, the Word in us, to activate spiritual growth and maturity.
However, there is a condition which we must consider carefully. We set the level of our own spiritual growth and maturity by our responsiveness to the Word.
Jesus warned His hearers…
… “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” Mark 4:24-25 NLT
Why is it so important that believers grow in grace and spiritual maturity?
- The level of our understanding of everything that Jesus did through His death and resurrection will determine our response to the powers of the kingdom at work in us.
“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT
- As representatives of God’s kingdom on earth, we are here to point the way for unbelievers, by our lives and the message about Jesus that we speak. We must therefore be walking in the light, not perfectly but purposefully, before we can point others to Jesus,
- We are serving an apprenticeship for the life to come. Our rewards in heaven depend on our faithfulness and obedience to God’s calling to be restored to the image of His Son.
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” Hebrews 2:10-11 NIV
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:28-29 NIV
So, then, based on what we have learned, how do we pray for Gentile unbelievers, Jewish unbelievers and all our believing brothers and sisters?
- UNBELIEVING GENTILES
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
1a. We can ask the Father to activate their conscience in response to the moral law in them through the Holy Spirit.
“And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.” John 16:8-9 NLT
1b. We can pray that they will get the opportunity to hear the message about Jesus.
“So, faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” Romans 10:17 NLT
1c. We can ask God to give them faith to receive the message and to turn to the Lord.
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 2 Corinthians 3:16 NIV
- UNBELIEVING JEWS
“We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:13-14 NLT
2a. Pray that the Holy Spirit will activate the law in their hearts.
“When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” Romans 2:12-13 NLT
Why the law?
“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” Romans 3:20 NLT
- From here, we pray in the same way as we pray for Gentiles.
“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 NLT
There is a smorgasbord of prayers we can pray for believers because everything that Jesus has done is for us.
When we pray for Christian brothers and sisters, firstly, the Spirit can only apply the Word that is in us. Therefore:
3a. Ask the Lord to activate a hunger for the Word so that the Holy Spirit can remind us, through the Word in us, of the appropriate word according to our need.
3b. Pray that the Lord will write His word on our hearts, according to His promise in Jer. 31:33…
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord . “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33 NLT
3c. Pray the pattern, not the problem. God does not respond to problems. He responds to faith in His promises.
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvellous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises.
These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3-8 NLT
It all depends on the Word and the Spirit that are in us.
All Scripture quotations in this series
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.