The words of Romans 10.9 have always puzzled me to a degree. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” seem simple enough, though I have always wondered why the verbal confession of Jesus as Lord was important. But verse 9 is a good example of why the context of any Scripture is so important to understand its meaning.
Paul was writing from a broken heart. His heart’s desire was for his Jewish friends and family to be saved (see Romans 10.1). This desire caused him unceasing anguish and great sorrow (see Romans 9.2). He knew that his kinsmen according to the flesh had a zeal for God, but they had rejected the righteousness by faith by rejecting Jesus as the promised Messiah. Instead, they had continued to strive to be made right with God by works through the Law. In trying to point them to justification by faith, he drew upon the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 30. While Moses was speaking about the law in Deuteronomy 30, Paul applied his words to the righteousness based on faith in Romans 10. When we compare what Moses said in Deuteronomy 30 to what Paul wrote in Romans 10, we can see more clearly what Paul was trying to do. Moses wrote,
11“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30.11-14 ESV)
While Paul wrote,
6But the righteousness based on faith says, “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 that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10.6-10 ESV)
Moses was saying that the children of Israel should not be confused about what God wanted from them. His commands were not hidden away in some safe up in heaven beyond their reach. No, God had revealed them to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai with the giving of the law. The commands of God were not hidden is some distant land waiting to be found by some scholarly research team. No, God’s commands were close to them, in fact, so close as to be on their lips and in their hearts. They knew what God wanted because God had revealed it to them. All that was left to do was to do it.
Applying these words to the righteousness by faith, Paul wrote that the way to be made right with God is not hidden away up in heaven. God has revealed Himself to mankind finally and clearly through the incarnation (see Hebrews 1.1-2). Further, the way to be made right with God was not hidden in some distant land, nor was it sunk to the bottom of the sea. In fact, God has made it known to all mankind through the resurrection of Christ from the dead (see Acts 17.31). (In this verse, Paul makes it clear that he is adapting the words of Moses to apply them to Jesus by changing “beyond the sea” to “descend into the abyss”.) Even for the Jews, the word of salvation by grace through faith was very near them, almost on their tongues and on their hearts.
And if that word bore fruit, it would become the confession of faith in Jesus as Lord on their tongues and a belief in the resurrection with their hearts. This is why Paul wrote, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10.10). I don’t think Paul’s point was that a verbal confession of faith is required for salvation a much as drawing a connection between Deuteronomy 30 and the righteousness by faith. The word of faith was near to them, and if they would believe and confess, they would be saved.
Though Paul is speaking about his concern for the Jewish people, he is really writing about all types of unbelievers. Even today, the Jews refuse to believe in the resurrection, they reject Jesus as the promised Messiah, and they ardently reject Jesus as Lord. In the same way, Muslims deny the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus. Of course, atheists would deny all the above. But even the average American who practices a civil religion (defined loosely as a belief in a divinely given moral foundation but lacking any clear devotion to a particular deity) is addressed here. Many American have a “zeal for God” and want to be spiritual and religious, but they have defined for themselves what it means to be “right with God” and hope to be made right with Him based upon their “goodness” and works.
How shall any of these people ever believe in the atoning death of Christ and in the resurrection, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus? What is the pathway to salvation for the Jews, the Muslims, the atheists, and the spiritualist?
12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10.12-17 ESV)
Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and atheists, Hindus and New Agers, all receive the riches of God’s grace the same way: by calling on Him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
But how can those who seem so far away from salvation call upon His name? How can Jews believe upon Jesus as the Messiah? How can Muslims believe upon Jesus as the Son of God? How can atheists believe that there is a Creator, Sustainer, King of Kings? How can the average person who is convinced of their own moral goodness see that no one is made right with God by their works? How can any lost person ever come to the point of faith? The pathway is simple and clear:
Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved
Those who call upon the name of the Lord must believe first
Before one can believe, they must hear the word of Christ
They will only hear the word of Christ if someone tells them
Someone will only tell them because they are sent by God
And how lovely it is to be used by God to tell the word of Christ to another
And even though not all have obeyed the gospel who have heard, the only way to faith is to hear and believe. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
A few significant points to be made. First, the way that any unbeliever becomes a believer is by hearing the word of Christ, believing in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, calling upon the Lord for salvation, and submitting to Jesus as the Lord of their life. So, we really do a disservice when we try to “soft shoe” or “market” the word of Christ to an unbeliever in more “user friendly” ways. When we focus on “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” or “Look what God can do for you,” we really are guilty of pulling a “bait and switch” on the lost. We bait the hook with “God will help you” and then set the hook by telling them “Jesus is Lord.”
Instead, we should proclaim the word of Christ from the beginning. Jesus is Lord, always has been and always will be. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (see Philippians 2.10-11). The eternal divine plan of God is that everything will be brought under the Lordships of Christ (see Ephesians 1.9-10). The good news is that we can be made right with God by faith. The good news is that God is a God of love and justice, so living under His Lordship is pleasing and abundant.
Let us not try to preach the word of Christ without proclaiming the sinfulness of mankind. Let us not try to preach the word of Christ without proclaiming the wrath of God. Let us not try to preach the word of Christ without proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Let us not try to preach the word of Christ without proclaiming the mercy and grace and kindness of God. Let us give to them the full word of Christ so that they might believe and call upon the Lord and be saved.
In addition, the pathway to salvation for all of mankind is by faith, which comes by hearing the word of Christ. As the Lord calls us to be used by Him as He seeks and saves the lost, we will have the honor and privilege of having beautiful feet. God calls us to be ambassadors for Christ, bearing witness to the word of Christ to our unbelieving friends. We must begin to hear this call for what it is: not a guilt trip from some preacher, but the calling of a righteous God who is seeking to save the lost. The only way any lost person we know will ever call upon the name of the Lord is if they hear the word of Christ and believe. If they never hear, they will never believe.
The question posed by the Lord to the prophet Isaiah still rings through the halls of the church today. “Who will go for me? Whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6.8). The One who is calling is waiting for someone to answer, “Here am I Lord, send me.”
This week, the holy week of Easter, is perhaps the greatest week of the year to share the word of Christ with our unbelieving friends. Whom are you praying for to be saved? Whom are you seeking God to draw to salvation? Whom are you seeking the Lord to convict of sin and open their eyes to see the gospel? Upon whom is your heart’s desire and prayer to God for their salvation? Please know that that person will never call upon the name of the Lord and be saved until they hear the word of Christ. And they will never hear the word of Christ until you and I tell them. “Who will go for me? Here I am Lord, send me.”