The Missing Ingredient (Exposition of Romans 10:14-21)

Have you ever tried to prepare a meal and discover in the midst of cooking that you are missing one of the key ingredients? I’m not a great chef, but I know that you can’t have a sandwich without bread. I’ve decided before to fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’ve taken the grape jelly out of the refrigerator. I’ve found the crunchy peanut butter in the cabinet. I’ve taken out a paper towel to make the sandwich on. I’ve opened the silverware drawer and found a spoon for the jelly and a knife for the peanut butter. My mouth was already salivating at the thought of this great PB & J sandwich when I reached up and opened the cabinet where I knew (at least I thought I knew) the bread was stored. No bread! No sandwich! Bread is an essential ingredient in the making of a sandwich.

In this morning’s text of Scripture the apostle Paul lists five essential ingredients that must be present to produce the feast of salvation. In the immediate context of this passage, the apostle Paul has argued for the universality of the gospel message. It is for both the Jew and the Gentile. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!” In the larger context of chapters 9-11, the apostle Paul is showing how God is still faithful even though most physical Jews have not recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. This problem is compounded by the large number of Gentiles who are acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. Paul is explaining both of these phenomena in these chapters. In chapter 9, Paul’s explanation was grounded in the sovereignty of God. In chapter 10, Paul’s explanation is grounded in the responsibility of man. The fact that these two truths are taught side by side should be instructive for us. Paul believed both in God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in salvation. We should do the same. In Romans 10:14-21, Paul shows how the Israelites had all the ingredients for salvation, but one. The problem is that this missing ingredient is an essential one that allows for no substitutes. It is the ingredient of faith! Let’s read now from Romans 10:14-21.

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 a preacher? (15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? (17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (18) But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (19) But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. (20) But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. (21) But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.

This text highlights the missing ingredient of faith in the Jews who have rejected Christ. We’re going to look at how this theme is developed in this passage in an unusual way. We’re going to look first at the four rhetorical questions that begin this section, then the six biblical quotations which follow. Next we will see two hypothetical objections raised by the apostle Paul to his teaching. Finally, we will conclude by proposing four practical applications of the truths of this text.

I. Four Rhetorical Questions, vv. 14-15.
In these four consecutive rhetorical questions, the apostle Paul asserts the necessary elements of salvation. Verse 13, quoting Joel 2:32, states that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But one cannot call upon one in whom one does not believe. And one cannot believe in one of whom one has not heard. And one cannot hear of one without him being proclaimed. And one cannot proclaim the message unless one is sent. By the way, the word here translated “preach” refers to the action of a herald. A herald is “someone who was given a message and told to proclaim it” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 390). In other words, “the preaching of the Christian message is impossible without the divine commission” (Ibid.). To understand the progression here, it is best to turn these questions into statements and put them in reverse order. One is sent to proclaim a message. The message is proclaimed. The message is heard. The message is believed. The one receiving the message calls on the one in whom they are believing. This is the recipe of salvation with five essential ingredients: Sending, Preaching, Hearing, Believing and Calling.

II. Six Biblical Quotations, vv. 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21.
Next in this text, Paul shows that Israel possessed the first three of the above necessary ingredients but did not respond by believing and calling on Christ. This is shown by use of six quotations from the Old Testament found in verses 15-21. In these verses, all but verse 17 contains a quote from the Old Testament.

The first quote is found in verse 15 and is from Isaiah 52:7. This verse highlights the fact that the Jews had the message of the good news proclaimed to them. This verse in context refers to the messengers who brought news of the deliverance of the nation of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. But this passage (along with all of Isaiah 40-66) has always been understood to be Messianic. The deliverance from Babylon, like the exodus from Egypt, is a type of the greater deliverance to be led by the Messiah Himself.

The next verse (16) contains a quotation from the very next chapter of Isaiah, chapter 53. In fact, only eight verses separate these two quotations from each other in Isaiah. This verse exposes the fact that the nation of Israel did not believe the report brought to them. The message of good news and glad tidings was not what they expected for the message of Isaiah 53 is of a Suffering Servant (read Isaiah 53). By the way, notice that Paul says that Israel’s failure to believe was disobedience. It is rebellion against the God who has commanded us to believe on His Son (see 1 John 3:23). Notice the same idea also in 10:3.

After the first two of the six quotations from the Old Testament, Paul takes a break in verse 17 to provide a summary of his argument up to this point. It is the familiar formula: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” This is the foundational principle upon which expository preaching, evangelism and missions are all built. I will say more about these in the application of the text to follow.

I will also say more about the next four Old Testament quotes in a few minutes, but first let me briefly summarize their use. Verse 18’s quotation shows that Israel has heard the message. Verses 19-21’s quotations shows that Israel has understood the implications of a message of salvation that would offered to Jew and Gentile alike. But in these three verses, Paul is responding to . . .

III. Two Hypothetical Objections, vv. 18-21.
These are common objections that the apostle Paul anticipates being raised against his indictment of the nation of Israel for failing to believe on Christ. How common are they? Well, my mom and dad are visiting this morning from Florida. My mom raises these same two objections whenever we are about to discipline one of her grandchildren (Perhaps the rest of the grandparents can identify.). She says, “They didn’t hear you.” and/or “They didn’t understand you.” Those are exactly the two objections which the apostle Paul responds to in regard to the nation of Israel’s unbelief. First, did they hear? Paul responds in verse 18 using the words of Psalm 19:4. Psalm 19:4 in its context is about how creation’s declaration of God’s glory is known all over the world. This is God’s general revelation. But here in Romans 10, the apostle Paul takes those same words and applies them to God’s special revelation. He says that the message of the gospel has been proclaimed all over the world. The implication is then that Israel should have known it. If the Gentiles are hearing it in the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, then surely the Jews among whom the message was first preached have heard it. Yes mom, they did hear it!

The second possible objection anticipated by the apostle Paul is: “they didn’t understand.” Paul’s response is in verses 19-21. Here Paul quotes from both the Law and the Prophets to establish that the Jews knew the implications of this message being proclaimed to Gentiles. First, in verse 19, Paul quotes Moses from Deuteronomy 32:21 which says in its entirety:

They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

Then in verse 20 and 21, Paul quotes from Isaiah 65:1 and 2 respectively. The message couldn’t be clearer! The contrast could not be stronger between the two responses of the Jews and the Gentiles.

In these verses, Paul makes it very clear that Israel’s problem was not that they didn’t hear or that they didn’t understand. They can plead neither deafness or ignorance in the courtroom of God. They are guilty for rejecting God’s clear message of salvation.

IV. Four Practical Applications
The key principle in this text is the one found in verse 17 and spelled out logically in verses 14 and 15. The principle is that “faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of God.” This principle has at least four applications to us today! The first three to believers and a final one to unbelievers.

A. The Centrality of the Word of God
This is important both from the perspective of the pulpit and from the perspective of the pew.
i. From the Pulpit. This is why we are so committed to preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible. If faith comes by hearing the Word of God then we must preach the word, not ourselves, not emotional stories, not great illustrations, but the Word! As J. Ligon Duncan, III (pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS) said:
“The reason we are so doggedly committed to Bible exposition is because faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is the hearing of the word of Christ, not the latest ways to have a more satisfactory life, but about God and about His mercy, and His grace, and about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
ii. From the Pew. As Christians we must be committed to the regular reading and studying of the Word of God since we all want to grow in faith and faith is what the Word of God produces. Famous 19th Century evangelist D. L. Moody once said,

“I prayed for Faith, and thought that some day Faith would come down and strike me like lightening. But Faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, “Now Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” I had closed my Bible, and prayed for Faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and Faith has been growing ever since.”

B. The Urgency of Evangelism
We must tell our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers about Christ! There is no other way of salvation for them than to hear the message of the gospel. If you don’t tell them, who will?

C. The Necessity of Missions
When William Carey, the “father of modern missions,” first tried to convince fellow Baptists that the Great Commission required them (not just the early disciples) to go out into all the world and make disciples, he was met with fierce resistance. At one meeting, an older pastor interrupted Carey’s impassioned pleas, saying, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.” The problem with this statement is that it just isn’t true. It is true that God has an elect people who He has purposed to save out of all nations. But it is also true that God has purposed to save the elect through faith in the message proclaimed by His representatives in this world, “US!”

D. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!
This final point of application is for those who have not yet trusted in Christ. Some of you have all the essential ingredients but one. But you will be doomed unless you believe on Jesus Christ. Like Israel, you’ve heard and understood the message, but also like Israel in your pride you’ve refused to trust in Christ alone for your salvation. There’s a missing ingredient and that missing ingredient is faith. Obey the gospel command of 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.”


  1. Amen and I agree with a little caveat. The message must hit the conscience and not the intellect.

    This is why parents are told to discipline your children and you will deliver them from hell. Unless through some kind of reason other than intellect comes, then the message has gone out in vain.

    Unless the soul is made to rend as Josiah rent his garmets at the hearing of the law, then the soul will not respond in true faith outside of the intellect and inside the realm that penetrates all reason, emotion or senses.

    Unless one nearly smells the fires of hell and sees his soul dangling over the flames, then I don’t believe he will call upon the Lord in true faith with a desire to flee the wrath to come, but I think you know that.

    I know there is a human response; yet I am still monergistic as I feel constrained to give this faith I have received back to the glory of God who made me smell the fires of hell and then revealed to me his Son.

    When Newton wrote Amazing Grace he fully understood this as he was raised with the Christian message; yet it did not sink in until in a storm he fell overboard and they harpooned him to real him back in.
    In the pain of that near death, he called out to God in faith fleeing the lusts of his slave trade.

    When Israel was led back from hardship and captivity and returned, we read in the book of Nehemiah that they wept at the reading of the Law, as there hearts were prepared to receive and understand through hardship, and then they were told to immediately rejoice in the fat of the land and in sweetness and to not continue in sorrow but to rejoice in the strength of the Lord. Chapter 8

    Hallelujah what a Saviour who gives such abundant mercy.

  2. Brian,
    Do you disagree that faith comes by the hearing of the Gospel? I don’t think you do, so you must also agree that without a preacher, the Gospel will not be heard, as it says in this text. We must trust God to provide the resultant faith, but that does not mean that the means of preaching is useless. In fact, if this Scripture is true then it is actually the required means that God has ordained to create faith in men.
    This is a mystery, the Spirit going forth in the preached Gospel and creating faith in soem while passing over others, but it must be believed if we are to be biblical in our understanding of the ‘dispensation’ of faith.

  3. I agree, but I just don’t believe the intellect can grasp. I believe the spirit and conscience can hear.

    Why do you think Jesus said,”To Him who has ears let him hear!”

    The intellect was the reason many Scribes could not grasp what the simple and weak could.

  4. Let me try and summarize my thoughts on this issue.

    Saving faith includes the intellectual content, assent to its truthfulness and wholehearted trust.

    The fall has damaged our ability to do any and all of the above.

    Mankind is still held responsible for their lack of faith (which is Paul’s point in Romans 10 and my point in the sermon above).

    We cannot believe unless we are first regenerated. Faith is a gift of God. But those who are regenerated our given the gift of faith and they own it. It is now their faith. They put their newfound faith in Christ and are saved. God does not believe for them. He grants faith that they might believe for themselves.

    Brian, I essentially agree with what you have stated above (concerning the necessity of heartfelt brokeness over sin) with one little caveat. :) Although we recognize that these things always accompany true saving faith, we do not preach them as a condition for faith. Instead as Scripture does, we call all men to believe and repent. This is the apostolic model. It is our responsibility to proclaim these demands and it is mankinds responsibility to obey these demands (see 1 John 3:23 and Acts 17:30).

    We don’t tell people to wait until they feel convicted and broken over sin (that causes the focus to be inward), instead we preach the gospel commands and look for the evidence of the work of the Spirit in peoples lives later.

  5. Brian,

    By the way, please read Spurgeon’s sermon titled “The Warrant of Faith” on this topic. It has been posted online by the good Pyromaniac here.

  6. Pastor, why callest thou him good? There is none good but God.

    That just popped into my feeble brain.

    Your message was good, though.

  7. I believe repentance and faith are the fruit of regeneration.WE agree there. The call must go out for men to repent and believe. Jesus always confronted sin and dealt with it when revealing himself. This was the way with the woman at the well as well as the woman caught in Adultery. The offense must first be dealt with as The Law breaks us and shows us our need for Christ. For kids it is differant though as they have not come to full knowledge but are already broken and humble to some degree, at least receptive to the word with soft hearts. An adult needs to first be broken in order to see Him. We turn to Him in faith. As the prodigal son walked away from his life of sin he walked toward the Father.

    What are your thoughts on what Antonio has been teaching?

    I agree that faith is now ours and that our intellect will fall in line with it and we both agree that it is a gift of God.

  8. Enjoyed your blog tonight and the sermons while in Tn. The Lord’s Supper service was wonderful. Heard alot of good comments about it. Check my comment on Jeremy’s blog . Love you, Mom and Dad
    Miss all of you

  9. Pastor Steve,
    Thank you for this post. Faith does come by hearing. The gospel message preached is the vehical that God has chosen to bring in His elect. Thanks again.


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