Missing the Point

Methodist Monday is on Tuesday this week because of the holiday weekend.

I desire to bring into question the standard teaching on Romans 10:9-10.  “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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

For a good example of how this text is typically used visit here.  The question we must raise is whether or not using this passage as a tutorial on ‘how to be saved’ is biblically justifiable.  In other words, is the Spirit’s intention in this passage to give the early Roman Church instruction on how to be saved or is the intent something altogether different?  If it can be proven that this is not an instructional text with regards to salvation then we must revisit all the gospel tracts, preaching, and methodology that uses this text in that manner.  In one sense it is dangerous to even question the standard usage of this text because of the sheer volume of material that is based on that usage, at the same time it is tragic to blindly accept this text’s normal usage if there is a possibility that we have gotten it wrong all along.

The first thing we must do is look in the broad context of where this passage falls, especially all the arguments that lead up to this text.  Who is the audience? What is the argument? Why is Paul writing these words?  So we start with the audience:

Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

At the outset of the book of Romans we see that the audience intended is the faithful in Rome, converted believers.

The next thing we must look at is the argument, or teaching, which Romans 10:9-10 fits in.  It should be obvious to any reader that those two verses fall in the middle of a broader teaching by the Apostle, and that those verses cannot stand alone.  If you read the argument leading up to Romans 10 you will find this:

 Romans 9:30-31 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.

The whole flow of Paul’s argument, going back to the beginning of chapter 9 is that real salvation comes to both the Jew and to the Gentile in the same manner, by faith in Christ.  I contend that the context of Romans 10:9-10 is that of breaking down the notion of separation of Jews and Gentiles.  My contention is confirmed in the verses that immediately follow after Romans 10:10:

Romans 10:11–12 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

So put everything above together.  First, the letter that contains Romans 10:9-10 was written to believers, the context of the argument surrounding 10:9-10 is that salvation both to Jew and Gentile comes from the same means, faith in Christ.  So what is the force of Romans 10:9-10?  It is simply that salvation comes through Christ, that the Jew who does not confess and believe in the Christ is indeed lost, and that the Gentile who does confess Christ is saved.  If we look at this text for a methodology for getting saved, we miss the point that this text is actually an argument against early Dispensationalism.  There is nothing instructional about this text, it is not a Law text commanding confession and belief, it is a Gospel text indicating that those who call upon the name of Christ whether Jew or Gentile are redeemed.  Paul wanted to make sure that the Gentile church in Rome had assurance of faith in the face of Jews who asserted that they were saved by keeping the Law of Moses.  In that light look at the whole text of Romans 10:1-12 (an please actually read it):

Romans 10:1–12 (ESV)

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [the Jews] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

My hope is that you can see clearly that the force of Romans 10:9-10 is to give assurance to the Gentile believers (Romans 1:8) who Paul wrote to that their salvation is secure apart from the Law of Moses.  I would even contend that the beginning of Romans 9, which speaks of the sovereignty of God is not so much intending to make the case for election and predestination, but instead Paul is making the case that God has the right to incorporate Gentiles into the plan of redemption because He is sovereign and can choose as he pleases.

Because this post has gotten long I will begin to bring it to a close, but there are other texts that are misunderstood in the exact same way as this one.  One of the primary texts that comes to mind is John 3:3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be ‘born-again’.  If you look at the flow of Jesus’ dialog with Nicodemus, all the way into John 3:18 you will see that Jesus is making the point that Jewish birth was not the means of salvation, but that instead ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.  If we take Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3 in their proper contexts we will find possibly the two strongest cases against dispensationalism in the entire scripture, yet if we look at both of those texts as law texts giving instruction on how to be saved we will miss the intention of them altogether.

I hope next week to address some of our mistakes we make in dealing with the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 7:21-23, but also the second half of Matthew 5.

Blessings,

Jay

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One thought on “Missing the Point

  1. Thought I’d add just a little note here regarding Romans 9. I am not opposing predestination, but saying that Paul presents predestination as a given in order to make the case that Gentiles are also recipients of salvation. Paul is not using the beginning of Romans 9 to further establish predestination presented Romans 8, but instead Romans 9 flows out of Romans 8 in order to establish the argument he makes through the end of 9 all the way into 11.

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