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. Romans 10:9-10
If you read this verse as rigidly as possible, Paul seems to say that 2 things are necessary for salvation: Believing in the Resurrection and confessing verbally that Jesus is Lord. I’ve heard some unfortunate application based on that: that if you don’t say out loud that you believe in Jesus, you can’t be saved.
This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, you can easily think of situations where someone wouldn’t be able to “confess with their mouth.” Say you’re in a bad car wreck, and you wake up in a hospital bed, tubes running all over the place to feed you and help you breathe. A friend comes and shares the Gospel with you. You believe, but you can’t speak. Are you out of luck?
Secondly, and more seriously, that view would turn verbal confession into a work that you must perform in order to be saved. That would contradict the many times Paul and other Scripture authors emphasize that we’re justified by faith, over against any idea of conditions we must meet, works we must perform.
Nonetheless, Paul is emphasizing the importance of confession. So what’s he saying?
I think he’s looking at belief and confession as two distinct aspects of one response to God. What happens in our hearts and what happens with our mouths are related.
Believing in the heart is an inward action; confessing with the mouth is outward. Heart-level belief is the necessary ground of outward confession; outward confession is the vital fruit of heart-level belief. If we’re not willing to confess, it calls our belief into question. If we don’t really believe, it calls our confession into question. Genuine faith, genuine salvation, will involve both.
Preaching on this passage last week, I made two applications from this point.
First, we shouldn’t confess without believing. Especially if you grew up in the church, as I did, you might feel pressure to act like a Christian whether or not you really are. And even if you are a Christian, you might feel pressure to act more certain, more faithful than you really feel. We shouldn’t be shy about talking about our struggles and doubts– in fact, talking through these questions with others is often a way God strengthens our faith.
Secondly, we shouldn’t believe without confessing. It’s not a way to earn our salvation, but God is still very keen on our confessing that Jesus is Lord. We shouldn’t be ashamed to be Christians, or feel the need to apologize for Jesus. Certainly we shouldn’t be obnoxious, rude, or condescending, but we should feel eager to talk about who Jesus is and what he means to us. That will look different for each of us, and different from day to day, but we should have a base-level desire to talk about Jesus, to confess him as our Lord.
I don’t feel this like I want to. Maybe you don’t either. May God strengthen our trust in him and our love for him, so that we’re eager to speak his name and tell what he’s done for us.