Read verses 6-8
Q: What is the meaning of “Who will ascend into heaven”?
A: A very loose translation might be, “Obtaining God’s righteousness by faith is not out of reach — it’s an attainable goal.” Some might post an excuse that goes something like, “It’s too lofty a goal, completely unattainable. Who can possibly visit heaven itself in order to bring it down here to within my reach?”
Q: What is the meaning of “Who will descend into the abyss?”
A: It’s the opposite excuse. Both of these excuses are rooted in the wrong belief that heavenly things are unattainable because they reside in heavenly places that can’t be reached by this earthly location. But this is a good example of how David’s Psalms are “journals” or “commentaries” on the correct meaning and application of the Pentateuch (Law):
"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me."
Q: What is the common denominator of these 2 excuses? What do they have in common?
A: The person is insisting that it has to come to them, exactly where they’re at; they are refusing to make any kind of effort to seek God on His terms but insist it comes on their own.
Q: What is the significance of stating that “the word is near you”? How does this relate to the line of reasoning laid out by Paul here and throughout Romans leading to here?
A: Those that base righteousness on the Law believe the “word” is way out there — “...who will ascend...who will descend...” — in hard if not impossible places to reach. Paul is stating that in reality the “word” is very close to them, actually residing in the mouth and heart.
And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Q: OK...how is that possible? How could the Law already be in their mouth and heart?
A: It’s the deeper teaching of circumcision. The outward, physical sign of circumcision is SUPPOSED to be a visible testimony that their unseen, inward HEARTS and MINDS are circumcised to God. Physical circumcision is worthless without spiritual circumcision. And so the Law is worthless to man if his heart and mind are not faithful to God in the first place. It’s the same with baptism. The act of baptism doesn’t bring about something new — it’s meant to visibly testify as to the new things that have ALREADY happened INSIDE.
Application: Is there any area of our life wherein what others observe about us — attending church, worship, etc. — does not perfectly fit with what we know to be our true intentions and motivations? Do we realize God clearly sees whether we’re FIRST devoted to Him before the world sees it in how we live? This is actually the biblical definition of “hypocrisy”.