The purpose of these verses is to show us that what God asks of a man or his people is not too heavy. No personal effort is required: it is “not too difficult … nor … out of reach”. God’s commandment is also given in audible – “in your mouth” -, and comprehensible – “in your heart” – language. God, from His side, has made everything so that man can fulfil His commandments without any effort and thereby enjoy the blessing. Why? Because every human effort is doomed to fail. Why? Because man is naturally corrupt.
This is what Romans 10 is talking about, where these verses from Deuteronomy are quoted and explained: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”” (Rom 10:5-8a5For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.6But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down),7or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”8But 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 speaks here of people who have pursued a law of righteousness, but without achieving that goal. Only when a person sees the uselessness of his efforts does he see Christ as the end of the law. Then he has finished his efforts and believes for righteousness (Rom 10:3-43For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.). The end of the law is not achieved if one keeps it, but if one acknowledges that it is impossible to keep the law. Then the heart is focused on Christ.
Then the purpose of the law is quoted: ‘Do this and you shall live’ (Rom 10:55For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.; Lev 18:55So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.). God thus indicates that one can earn one’s own righteousness by keeping the law. But no one has kept the law. There is another way to get righteousness and that is by faith. Only then there is no longer any question of one’s own righteousness.
When it comes to faith, all personal effort to come to heaven is excluded. That is what Paul means when he quotes from this section in Deuteronomy and says, ““Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” In the word ‘ascend’ lies the thought of reaching heaven by one’s own strength. As long as that is thought, the work of Christ falls short and He is brought down again.
Paul adds not to say in the heart: “Who will descend into the abyss?” With this he indicates that one does not have to descend into the abyss to erase one’s own guilt in a kind of penance. That is also impossible. Who can ever descend into the depths of misery in which Christ descended? Whoever tries to do so, brings Christ up from the dead, as it were. Own attempts to penance are proof that it is considered superfluous that He died, for he who does this thinks he can pay his own debt.
Moses still talks about crossing to the other side of the sea. As if somewhere on earth, in a faraway place, the commandment is available. If any man could pick it up from there, we could accomplish it. But it is not necessary to travel around town and country or make pilgrimages and then believe that we have fulfilled God’s commandments. For example, many people have travelled to the east to find their salvation in Eastern religions.
Moses speaks to the remnant that has come to conversion in the foreign world and has learned that it is totally dependent on the grace of God. They have not been able to accomplish the law, so what should they do? How can they be restored? Should they go and get that grace in heaven or on the other side of the sea? These questions cannot be understood without the key of Romans 10 and therefore certainly cannot be solved.
Once the people have accepted their Messiah, Christ, God will give His laws into their minds and write them in their hearts (Heb 8:1010“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people.). Then all the promises made by God will be fulfilled to a people who know Him. He is gracious to their iniquities, and will not remember their sins (Jer 31:31-3431“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.33“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.34They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
How can God bestow grace on a people who have spoiled all completely? This is only possible through Christ. For those who are connected with Christ by faith, the commandments of God are neither unattainable nor impracticable. For them God works in the mouth and in the heart, so close. The heart believes, the mouth confesses. It is about Christ. He that has Him has salvation, has restoration.
For us, the path of recovery begins when we confess Jesus again as Lord. This means that every member of the people will know the rights of the Lord Jesus to his life. For such believers the commandments of God are not a burden (1Jn 5:33For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.). Those commandments are not those of the law of Moses; for those commandments are given to sinful man, and he is not able to keep them. The commandments John writes about, are commandments that fit completely with the new life, the eternal life.
Whoever believes in the righteous actions of God knows that God has come very close in Christ. He has come so close that He has put His word “in your mouth and in your heart”. We have been saved because the word of faith has been preached to us. The content of the preaching is: confess Jesus as Lord with the mouth and believe with the heart that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:99that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;).
The order is remarkable: first the mouth and then the heart. The mouth is mentioned first because our faith can only be perceived by others through what they hear and see from us. You can’t say that someone is saved if you don’t notice anything of it in his speaking and behavior.