By Bob Wilkin
…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.
Let’s begin with the way most people understand it.
The Common Understanding of Romans 10:9-10—Everlasting Life Is by Faith Plus Works
Most people think Paul is speaking of one thing with two conditions: regeneration (or justification) by faith plus works. For example, C. E. B. Cranfield says,
It is clear that no substantial distinction is intended between dikaiosunē (righteousness) and sōtēria (salvation), both referring to eschatological salvation (Romans, p. 2:531).
In his commentary on Romans, Pastor John MacArthur says concerning Rom 10:9-10:
Many people acknowledge that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Lord of the universe. But Paul is speaking here of the deep, personal, abiding conviction that, without any reservation or qualification [italics his], will confess Jesus as Lord, that is, will confess that Jesus is the believers own sovereign, ruling Lord, in whom alone he trusts for salvation and to whom he submits” (Romans, Vol. 2, p. 7, emphasis added).
Similarly, Cranfield says this about the meaning of confessing 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, p. 2:529, emphasis added).
The level of confusion there is enormous. Why? It would mean that faith alone is not enough to be justified. Note what other conditions must be added in addition to faith:
- No reservation to the Lordship of Christ in my life.
- Jesus rules my life. I am committed to Him. I give Him my allegiance.
- My submission and following of Christ will continue till death.
The simple message of John 3:16 gets lost in such preaching. And 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 not much better in his comments. He says that “confession without faith would be vain” and that “likewise faith without confession would be shown to be spurious” (p. 56). He also says that “Confession verifies and confirms the faith of the heart” (p. 57). But that makes the condition of everlasting life faith plus works (i.e., confession).
Interestingly, Murray is on the right track when he makes this comment about v 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 MacArthur and Cranfield, has a wrong understanding of salvation in Romans, he 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.
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 13 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.
A careful study of other uses of those words in Romans makes that clear as well:
Romans 1:16: “The gospel…is the power of God to salvation” = deliverance from wrath (1:18-32).
Romans 5:9: “We shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
This is a future salvation (“shall be saved”). And it is salvation from temporal wrath.
Romans 5:10: “We shall be saved by His life.”
As we live out the resurrection power of Jesus (i.e., progressive sanctification, cf. Romans 5-8), we are saved from temporal wrath by His life. The issue is not salvation from the lake of fire.
Romans 13:11: “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
This refers to the Rapture, not to being born again.
There is really only one verse in Romans in which the word save might refer to the new birth, namely, Rom 8:24, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what one sees.” Notice this is a past tense salvation.
However, Zane Hodges, in his book Romans: Deliverance from Wrath, suggests that as everywhere else in Romans, this salvation is not regeneration. It is the deliverance from sin’s bondage that we experience when the indwelling Spirit applies the resurrection power of Jesus to our lives.
Hodges thinks that the words we were delivered look back to Rom 8:1-13. Those who walk “in newness of life” “experience the Spirit’s
quickening of their ‘mortal bodies’ (8:10-11) and thus ‘by the Spirit’ they ‘put to death the deeds of the body’ (8:13)” (Romans, p. 231).
When Paul Wishes to Speak of Eschatological Salvation in Romans, He Speaks of Justification or Righteousness (Romans 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 (6 times) and righteousness (11 times) a total of 17 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.
By the way, calling on the Lord is not found in that section, nor is confessing Jesus as Lord.
Misguided Zeal for God Is Works Salvation (Romans 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 also face today.
Much of our evangelism is to people within Christianity who are “seeking to establish their own righteousness.” They are not accepting the righteousness of God by faith.
Romans 10:1-3 contradicts the normal way in which people understand Rom 10:9-10 as teaching regeneration by faith plus works.
God Promises Righteousness by Faith, Not by Works (Romans 10:4-8)
Christ is the end of the law for the believer. That is, the believer is not under the Law of Moses.
Paul then cites from Lev 18:5 in which Moses wrote, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” That is not what Paul calls “the righteousness of faith.” That is what Paul calls “the righteousness which is of the law.”
In v 6 Paul speaks of the justification of faith as though it were a man crying out its message. The righteousness of faith does not demand for Christ to come back to earth.
Paul does not say what the righteousness of faith says until vv 9-10. Verse 8 introduces the issue of what it says, but does not complete it.
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.
John 5:39-40 is similar to Rom 10:3-8.
Salvation from Wrath Is by Walking in Fellowship with God
Calling upon Him (v 12) and calling on the name of the Lord (v 13) are not simply a one-time crying out. This refers to a person who is part of the worshipping community. He calls upon Him and calls on His name every time he is at church with other believers.
Calling on Him or calling on His name is the same as confessing Him as Lord in Rom 10:9-10. This is not something different.
Verse 13 is a quotation from Joel 2:32. Joel 2 is discussing the end of the Tribulation where Jews who are calling on the Lord will be delivered from physical death.
What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Zane 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 (Romans 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 preach (v 14c).
- People believe what the preacher preaches (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. Since Israel’s birth until Paul’s day, and even today, God has continued to stretch out His hands.
Verses 14-21 show that it is faith in Christ which results in justification and that if a believer then calls on the name of the Lord, the believer will be saved from temporal judgment.
So now let’s go over what Rom 10:9-10 actually means.
The key is to see that there are two separate issues in view.
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 and 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.
Notice that in vv 9-10 Paul reverses the order of confessing with one’s mouth and believing in one’s heart. In v 8 the order is mouth then heart. But in vv 9-10 the order is heart then mouth.
Verse 9 is talking about salvation from temporal judgment, which requires believing and confessing.
Hodges thinks the best translation is not confessing the Lord Jesus, or Jesus as Lord, or Jesus is Lord, but instead he suggests Lord Jesus.
But what would it mean to confess “Lord, Jesus”? It would mean crying out to Him. The believer who is regularly crying out “Lord Jesus”
as part of a local assembly is one who will be delivered from temporal wrath. Of course, these are not magic words. It is not merely saying,
“Lord Jesus” that leads us to be delivered. It is saying those things with a corresponding attitude of submission, allegiance, and desire to please. 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 v 9 Paul is not saying that everyone who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead is born again. Verse 9 is not about the new birth at all. 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, v 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 a reference to justification by faith alone. How can anyone miss that?
Notice that in v 10 Paul does not explain what it is that one believes unto righteousness. He already laid that out in Rom 3:21–4:25. It is
believing in Jesus as the justifier of all who have faith in Him.
Hodges says concerning v 10: “Thus in the matter of obtaining righteousness, Jesus is the object of faith. But in the same way, He is also
the object of our confession: but with the mouth He is confessed for deliverance” (Romans,p. 300, emphasis his).
René López lists six different understandings of Rom 10:9-10. He calls Hodges’ interpretation the “Christian Deliverance View” (Romans
Unlocked, p. 212). López says that “abundant life is available only to those who believe and confess” (Romans Unlocked, p. 212, emphasis his).
The key to understanding Rom 10:9-10 is to recognize that two different issues are in view: justification by faith alone and deliverance from temporal wrath by faith plus works.
First, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for your justification.
Second, remain assured of your justification by continuing to believe the promise.
Third, call upon the Lord every week in a solid Bible-teaching church so that you and your family will be saved from sin’s bondage and from the temporal wrath which it brings.
Fourth, help those who are seeking to establish their own righteousness to see that doing so is impossible and that the only way to be justified before God is by faith in Christ, plus nothing.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 42 years, Sharon. His latest book is Is Calvinism Biblical? Let the Scriptures Decide.