“…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 is found in most gospel tracts. It is widely used as an evangelistic verse. However, taken out of context, the verse is quite confusing and leads to a false gospel.
What follows is a very condensed version of an upcoming Grace in Focus magazine article on Rom 10:9-10.
The Common Understanding of Romans 10:9-10—
Everlasting Life Is by Faith Plus Works
Most people think Paul is saying that justification and salvation in v 10 are talking about the same thing (e.g., Cranfield, Romans, Vol. 2, p. 531).
C. E. B. Cranfield in his highly regarded commentary on Romans said this about what it means in Rom 10:9 to confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus:
There is expressed in addition the sense of His ownership of those who acknowledge Him and of their consciousness of being His property, the sense of personal commitment and allegiance, of trust and confidence (Romans, Vol. 2, p. 529, emphasis added).
The level of confusion there is enormous. Faith alone is not enough. To be regenerated or justified one also needs to be committed to Christ and presumably must persevere in a life of commitment to Christ.
The message of John 3:16 gets lost in such preaching. Such an understanding of Rom 10:9-10 puts Paul in opposition to the Lord Jesus.
But that cannot be. The Lord Jesus and His apostles preached the same evangelistic message: everlasting life by faith alone, apart from works.
John Murray is on the right track when he makes this comment about verse 10: “The righteousness contemplated must be that which is unto justification and it is consonant with the teaching of the epistle throughout that faith should be represented as the instrument” (p. 56). However, since Murray, like most commentators, has a wrong understanding of salvation in Romans, he too ends up veering off track.
Romans 10:9-10 is clear if we just read those verses in context with the rest of chap. 10 and with the entire book.
How the Entire Book of Romans Helps Us Understand Romans 10:9-10
Salvation in Romans Is Deliverance from Temporal Wrath,
Not Eschatological Salvation from Eternal Condemnation
The word save occurs nine times in Romans, and three times in Romans 10 (vv 1, 9, 13). The word salvation occurs four times in Romans, and once in Romans 10 (v 10). Thus four of the thirteen uses of the words save and salvation occur in Romans 10.
Murray’s comment should be enough for anyone to see that whatever type of salvation Paul has in mind in Romans 10, it is not eschatological salvation.
All of the uses of the words save and salvation in Romans refer to deliverance from temporal wrath. Compare Rom 1:16 and Rom 1:18-32. See also Rom 5:9 in which Paul says, “we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
Unlike Eph 2:5, 8, salvation in Romans does not refer to regeneration.
When Paul Wishes to Speak of Eschatological Salvation in Romans, He Speaks of Justification or Righteousness (Rom 3:21-4:25)
The justification section in Romans is Rom 3:21–4:25. Not once in that section does Paul use the words save or salvation. But he uses the words justify (six times) and righteousness (eleven times) for a total of seventeen times in that section. In Romans, Paul never equates justification with salvation. They are distinct.
Romans 4:4-5 is a good example. We are justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works or even faith that works.
How Romans 10:1-8 Helps Us Understand Romans 10:9-10
Justification Is by Faith Alone
Misguided Zeal for God Is Works Salvation (Rom 10:1-3)
Paul longs for Israel to be delivered from God’s wrath. That is, he wants the nation to believe in Christ and follow Him so that the kingdom might come. When that happens, Israel will be under God’s blessings, not His wrath.
Misguided zeal for God was a problem in Paul’s day. And it is a problem we face a lot today. So many people are “seeking to establish their own righteousness.” They are not accepting the righteousness of God by faith.
God Promises Righteousness by Faith, Not by Works (Rom 10:4-8)
The point in vv 4-8 is that God has always promised the righteousness of faith, not righteousness of the Law. This too contradicts the way most understand Rom 10:9-10. Compare John 5:39-40.
How Romans 10:11-21 Helps Us Understand Romans 10:9-10
Salvation from Wrath Is by Walking in Fellowship with God
Believers Who Regularly Call on the Name of the Lord Will Be Saved from Temporal Judgment (Rom 10:11-13)
Verse 13 is a quotation from Joel 2:32. Joel 2 is discussing the end of the Tribulation. Believing Jews who are calling on the Lord will be delivered from physical death at the end of the Tribulation. The same applies to believers escaping temporal wrath in our day.
Hodges says, “Thus believers who gather in Christian assemblies acknowledge the Lord Jesus with their mouths and publicly appeal to His name for all that they need” (Romans, p. 304). He adds, “It is evident that, as a description for Christians, to appeal to the name of the Lord does not describe a one-time event. It becomes a basic description of them (see again, 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Tim 2:22) precisely because it was done habitually, especially in gatherings for Christian worship and prayer” (Romans, p. 304).
God Has Been Drawing Israel to Himself for All of Israel’s History (Rom 10:14-21)
Notice how v 14 makes it clear that the ones calling on the name of the Lord in v 13 must be believers.
Here is the order of events from vv 14-15: a preacher is sent (v 15), people hear the preacher (v 14c), people believe what the preacher says (v 14b), the new believers call on the name of the Lord (v 14a).
The salvation in Rom 10:13 is the salvation of a believer, not of an unbeliever. One must believe in Jesus before he can call upon Him.
Verses 16-21 deal with the fact that God has been drawing Israel to faith in Messiah since its founding. Note v 21: “All day long I have stretched out My hands” to Israel. The words all day long mean incessantly.
Romans 10:9-10 Says That 1) Justification Is by Faith Alone
And 2) Salvation from God’s Wrath Is by Faith Plus Works
Commentators are partially right when they speak about confessing the Lord Jesus. Yes, it involves commitment to Him, allegiance to Him, and surrender to His Lordship. No, confessing Christ is not a condition of everlasting life. It is a condition for escaping temporal wrath.
Those who get this wrong then go to John 3:16 and read their faulty thinking into it. So then they speak of true faith as faith which is committed, obedient, surrendered, and so forth.
You and I are justified before God by faith. That is a done deal.
We may or may not experience salvation from God’s wrath in this life. To do that, we need to walk in newness of life, walking with Christ and His people.
Verse 9 is talking about salvation from temporal judgment, which requires believing and confessing.
Hodges makes this excellent comment,
But as is obvious, this direct appeal to Jesus, with the accompanying title ‘Lord,’ necessitates that the one who makes the appeal should believe that Jesus is alive to hear it. Thus the attitude of the heart is crucial. When one calls on Jesus with his mouth in order to be delivered, he must therefore have faith in his heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans, p. 299, emphasis his).
So in verse 9, Paul is not saying that everyone who confesses “Lord Jesus” and who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead is born again. Verse 9 is not about the new birth. Instead Paul is saying that if a believer continues to believe in the living Lord and continues to call upon Him, then he will be delivered from wrath in this life.
However, verse 10 is not talking only about salvation from temporal judgment. It is also talking about justification by faith that makes salvation from temporal judgment possible. “With the heart one believes unto righteousness.” That is justification by faith alone. How can anyone miss that?
The key to understanding Rom 10:9-10 is simple. Recognize that two different issues are in view: justification by faith alone and deliverance from temporal wrath by faith plus works.