You’ve probably been in church services, or listened to sermons where the preacher would quote a verse and build his whole sermon around that verse; just to realize that what the preacher is preaching is not what the verse actually says. That really happens a lot!
I was sitting in a meeting not so long ago where we were all listening to a teaching (on MP3) in which the preacher mentioned several verses and preached the usual about them. He used verses like Rom 10:17 and Mt 18:19, and gave them the usual spin. It is just that, his spin wasn’t what these verses meant!
He used Rom 10:17 to teach us that we could use the Word of God to grow our faith, while others believe that we must hear God’s voice to grow our faith, since the Greek word for “word” is ρημα (RHEMA)!
After just a little reading in the context within which this verse finds itself, we soon realize that it has nothing to do with the ideas raised above! The fact is, that a verse without a context is merely a pretext for our own human imaginations.
When we read the whole surrounding passage, we find that the context of this verse goes back to Rom 9:30ff. We first find that Israel did not attain righteousness because they they did not pursue it by faith, but by law (9:30-10:4). Second, we find that salvation rests in the gospel that Paul and other Christians were preaching. It is a gospel of faith and confession (10:5-10).
“(9) that 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;
(10) for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)”
Third, it clearly announces that “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” and “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” (10:11-13)
And, finally, Paul asks how anyone will hear and believe.
“(14) How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?
(15) How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’” (Rom 10:14-15)
They cannot call on someone in whom they have not believed. They cannot believe in someone they have not heard about. They will not hear unless someone preaches the gospel to them. And, no-one will preach unless he is sent.
So, now that we have the context of this verse, it becomes clear that the faith spoken of in verse 17 is not a faith to acquire things by or anything similar. It is saving faith. A faith that comes at the preaching of the gospel, “the word of Christ,” and hearing that gospel preached. “Hearing” in verse 17 points all the way back to “heard” and “hear” in verse 14.