It’s been said by some biblical scholars that the three most important rules for a proper and thorough understanding of the text of Scripture are Context, Context, & Context. By that we mean:
- The immediate context in a section or chapter of Scripture
- The larger context of a particular book in the Bible
- The broad context of the entire Bible and God’s plan for his children
I freely admit that some passages of Scripture can be valuable in and of themselves as precious promises, words of comfort, or even admonition or warning. They can also be used to ‘prove’ one’s personal opinion or preferred interpretation. Examining context can therefore be not only profitable, but at times harmful.
With that said, let’s examine Romans 10:9 -10.
What a wonderful promise of salvation! There are sincere and well-meaning Christians who use these passages to lead others to faith in Christ. Some will tell you that it describes two separate acts, both of which are necessary for salvation; a heartfelt belief in Jesus Christ as savior and a public confession of faith. But is that what these two verses are actually teaching us?
1. What is the context of Romans 10:9 – 10?
In Romans Chapter 10, specifically verses 5 – 13, the Apostle Paul, speaking to Christians in Rome, contrasts two types of righteousness; righteousness based on obedience to the Law (the old covenant) as practiced by the Israelites, and righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ (the new covenant). In fact, Paul refers to the OT law to make his case, quoting from a passage in Deuteronomy (Deut 30:14) in Romans 10 verse 8, immediately preceding vv. 9-10. If we add verse 8 to our passage, we can see Paul’s comparison of the Old and New covenants:
“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.” (vv. 8-10)
As we can see, verses 9 –10 complete Paul’s interpretation of the Deuteronomy passage quoted in verse 8. Verse 9 explains the relevance of “heart” and “mouth” in verse 8, while verse 10 explains verse 9. Allegiance to Christ, rather than adherence to the law, is both covenant faithfulness and salvation. Christ is the fulfillment of the law.
2. If the Romans 10:9-10 passage isn’t talking about two separate acts leading to salvation, what IS it teaching us?
This was a great time for consulting commentaries!
After consulting several good commentaries, I did find one (John Wesley) that spoke of two separate acts leading to salvation:
Rom 10:10 For with the heart—Not the understanding only, man believeth to righteousness—So as to obtain justification: and with the mouth confession is made, so as to obtain final salvation. Confession here implies the whole of outward, as believing does the root of all inward religion.
Other commentaries I consulted all agreed that the confessing that “Jesus is Lord “describes an outward expression of inward trust, an indication of true salvation, for at least two reasons:
1. When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, for a person to accept Christ and confess Him as Lord typically resulted in persecution and, ultimately, death. To embrace Christ and confess Him as Lord, knowing that persecution was sure to come, was an indication of true salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Greek verb for “confess” (homologeō – verb ), is derived from a root a root word (homologos – adverb) meaning “the same/together”, reinforcing the idea that confessing Jesus as Lord is merely “confirming” with the mouth what has taken place in the heart.
Finally, we can read passages of Scripture that state very clearly what is required and/or not required for salvation. Here are but a few:
- John 5:24, [Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
- Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
- Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
- Acts 16:30-31, [Someone asked the apostle Paul] “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
In the above passages we are told that all those who simply believe in the Lord Jesus will be saved, without any mention of making a public confession of faith. We are also told that human works (i.e., public confessions of faith) do not contribute to our salvation.
3. So what? How do we apply what we have just learned when we share the gracious message of salvation in Christ to others?
First let me say that it’s not necessary to explain the finer points of our selected passages if you are engaged in personal evangelism with a lost friend or loved one. If that’s your situation, stick to what is necessary in sharing the message of the gospel – the problem of sin, the solution to that problem in Christ, and the need to respond to the message. If our Romans passage enters the conversation you will be ready to discuss it.
On the other hand, if you are involved in a discussion about what one must do to be saved, and more specifically, someone suggests that making a public confession of faith is absolutely required to be saved, you will be ready to offer a sound biblical explanation!
So regardless of what anyone says about Romans 10:9 – 10, now you have. . .
. . .the REST of the verse!