“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10
Romans 10:9-10 is used by many sincere Christian workers to justify the use of this invitation in evangelism. By using these verses, believers are telling non-Christians they must believe in Christ plus confess He is Lord to go to heaven. Is this what these verses teach?
It is important to understand the argument of Romans before interpreting these verses. The key to understanding Romans is to look at the first use of the word “salvation” in 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” The words “saved” (sōzō) or “salvation” (sōtēria) refer to some type of “deliverance.” The context determines what one is delivered from. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed [present tense] from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in righteousness.” The book of Romans is the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ which provides the power for deliverance (salvation) from the present-day wrath (displeasure) of God which is expressed in sinners being given over to the downward spiral of their own sinfulness (1:18b-32). This salvation from God’s present-day wrath is two-fold (“faith to faith,” 1:17):
1. Justification-salvation before God through faith alone in Christ alone who died for our sins and rose from the dead (Romans 1:20 – 5:9a). This is what delivers us from the penalty of sin and gets us to Heaven. God wants to bring those back who have been given over to their own sinfulness. God sees all people as unrighteous and in bondage to sin (1:20-3:20). God comes to people and gives them His righteousness on the basis of faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (3:21-5:9a). Twenty-six times Paul uses the words “believe” and “faith” as the only condition for justification (being declared righteous) before God in this section of Romans. Nowhere in this section does he mention the word “confession.”
2. Sanctification-salvation from God’s present-day wrath (degradation of sin) through Christ living in us by faith (Romans 5:9b-8:39). The next time the word “saved” is used in Romans is in 5:9-10: “Much more then, having now been justified [past tense] by His blood, we shall be saved [future tense] from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled [past tense] to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled [past tense], we shall be saved [future tense] by His life.” The salvation being spoken of here is in the future tense and takes place after we are justified and reconciled to God. We were reconciled to God through faith in Christ’s death (3:21-5:9a). We can be saved from God’s present-wrath or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (5:9b – 8:39).
In Romans 9-11, Paul is addressing the need of Jews to be delivered from God’s present-day wrath through justification and sanctification. Paul talks about God’s sovereign use of Israel in the past and His temporary setting aside of Israel in the present due to her rejection of His righteousness through faith in the Messiah (Romans 9:1-10:4). After being redeemed from Egypt by faith, the nation of Israel sought to obtain a sanctifying-righteousness by keeping the Law (Romans 10: 5). In verses 6-7, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 30:12-13 when Moses was challenging the redeemed nation of Israel to believe and obey God’s revelation (the Law) as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. There was no excuse for disbelieving and disobeying God’s Law. The people of Israel did not need to ascend to Heaven nor descend to the abyss to obtain the Law because God had already revealed it to them through Moses. Paul applies this truth to God’s final revelation found in the Person of Christ who had descended to earth (Romans 10:6) and rose from the dead (10:7). There was no excuse for disbelieving and disobeying the Person of Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:8, Paul prepares the way for Romans 10:9-10 by quoting Deuteronomy 30:14. Just as God’s Old Testament revelation was “near” to the Israelites in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:14), so God’s message of faith through Jesus Christ was “near” to deliver Paul’s readers from God’s present wrath when they believed in Christ (which takes place in the “heart”) and obey (which takes place in the “mouth”) His commands.
Paul explains the content of this “word of faith” (10:8) in Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Verse 9 refers to being “saved” from God’s present-day wrath (Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10). This type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (v.10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (v. 10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:98:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. One does not have the power to acquire sanctifying-righteousness through public confession of Christ without first obtaining justification-righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone.
Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16, which took place during the Assyrian invasion, to assure his readers that they can openly confess Christ without being ashamed (Romans 10:11). One commentator suggests Paul may have quoted this verse to express “God’s desire to deliver the Jews from the wrath to come at the hand of Rome in A.D. 70.” Deliverance from this expression of God’s wrath begins with believing in Christ (10:11) and culminates in calling upon Him for divine assistance (10:12). The phrase “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13) is a quotation from Joel 2:32. In that verse, the prophet Joel asks God to deliver Israel from His coming temporal wrath (cf. Joel 2:30-31). To be delivered from God’s present-day wrath requires both faith in Christ resulting in justification, followed by calling upon the name of the Lord for divine assistance.
This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Cor. 1:2).
In Romans 11, Paul praises God’s wise plans in extending mercy to the Gentiles now and to Israel in the future. In view of God’s great mercy which Paul has declared in Romans 1-11, Paul urges his readers to live a life of surrender to the Lord (12:1-2), which includes serving God by serving others (12:3-16:27).
Conclusion: Going to heaven is based on believing in Christ alone for His gift of righteousness and eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 3:22 -5:10a), not believing in Christ plus confession. It is believing in Christ plus nothing. However, if we want to experience a victorious Christian life and deliverance from God’s wrath on present-day sin, we must openly confess Christ and call upon His name for divine assistance to overcome the power of sin in our lives.