Welcome to part three of our “Re-Examined Series,” in which we are taking a closer look at some familiar passages, discovering why they may not mean what you thought they meant. Today we will examine Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” This passage is often used as a prooftext for salvation being guaranteed to those who simply say a prayer of confession. Is that what Paul meant? Let’s take a closer look.
How the Passage is Often Read
If this passage is read in isolation from its context, it seems to reinforce the validity of things like the “Sinners Prayer.” Romans 10:9-10 says,
because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
But notice how verse 9 begins with “because.” Understanding Paul’s argument here is so important.
The Book of Romans
The church in Rome, like most churches in the first-century, was made up of Jews and Gentiles. It seems Paul’s primary purpose in writing this letter was to encourage the Christians in Rome to accept and welcome one another, regardless of their racial and cultural differences.
- Chapters 1-11 describe how Jesus is saving both Jew and Gentile and bringing them together to be God’s covenant people.
- Chapters 12-16 implore the Jews and Gentiles in Rome to live together in harmony, as God’s covenant people.
Another important key to the book of Romans is found in both the opening and closing chapters. Paul says his mission and the purpose of the Gospel is to, “to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). Faith, in Paul’s mind, is an obedient thing; it is lived-out faithfulness to Jesus. Paul’s goal was to bring about lived-out faithfulness to Jesus among both Jews and Gentiles.
The Immediate Context
First-century Jews had a very hard time accepting Gentiles as full-fledged citizens of God’s kingdom. They believed Gentiles needed to become Jewish in their bodies (circumcision) and in their lifestyles (keeping the Law of Moses). They believed observance of the Law was the primary way a person could be in relationship with God.
Paul, on the other hand, argued that the Law of Moses had served its purpose by bringing people to faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Romans 10:4). He argued that it was not the Law that put people in right relationship with God, but trust in – and commitment to – Jesus.
In chapter 10, Paul is contrasting “righteousness that is based on the law” versus “righteousness based on faith” (vs. 5-6). He is saying that Jews who insist on a righteousness based on the law are denying their Messiah, but anyone (Jew or Gentile) who puts their trust in Jesus, will be saved. The saving message has come to them, but they have to decide whether or not they will trust this saving word.
Paul says you must, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (vs. 9). What do you suppose that means? What would it mean in another context? What would it mean if a first-century citizen of the Roman empire confessed with his mouth that Caesar was Lord? It would mean that man was swearing allegiance to Caesar, wouldn’t it?
That’s what Paul is saying here. He is telling these Christians in Rome that everyone – both Jew and Gentile – who swears allegiance to King Jesus is part of God’s kingdom.
- It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve been circumcised.
- It doesn’t matter whether or not they keep the Sabbath.
- It doesn’t matter whether or not they eat kosher foods.
- It doesn’t matter whether or not they observe the Passover.
What matters – the only thing that matters – is whether or not Jesus is their King. If Jesus is truly their King, they are saved and they are your brothers and sisters.
We do this passage a grave injustice when we use it to dismiss the significance of baptism. If you want to know what Paul said about how baptism unites a person with Jesus, then read chapter 6 of the same book. That isn’t Paul’s concern here. He is contrasting righteousness based on law and righteousness based on faith.
We also do this passage an injustice by reassuring disobedient people that they are saved simply because at one point they “confessed with their mouth.” It is the worst kind of hypocrisy to confess, declare, or swear allegiance to a King and then live in open rebellion to Him. Paul’s entire purpose was to “bring about the obedience of faith” among Jews and Gentiles; this passage highlights – not undermines – that effort.
Consider how Romans 10:9-10 is translated in the Complete Jewish Bible (emphasis mine):
…if you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be delivered. For with the heart one goes on trusting and thus continues toward righteousness, while with the mouth one keeps on making public acknowledgement and thus continues toward deliverance.
This passage isn’t just about saying a prayer one time so you’ll be guaranteed salvation. It’s about the fact that you can’t be saved through keeping the Old Testament Law, but you can be saved by declaring your allegiance to Jesus.
That’s the big question here. Are you allied with Jesus? Are you confessing – and living out – that you believe He is the risen Lord? Because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
I love you and God loves you,