“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Romans 10:9-10
This passage, a favorite of many, I propose is one terribly misunderstood and misapplied for the sake of an easy believe-istic approach to salvation. Just believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, say it out loud and boom, heaven’s your new home! It’s a classic case of tearing the passage out of its historical and theological context like a page out of a magazine.
Paul’s first readers were Roman citizens who were law bound to assert tyrannical Caesar as “Lord” and obey his every dictate or die. Their confession of the Lordship of Christ would then have sounded more like:
“I no longer accept or follow any lord, but the Lord Jesus. He is the only Lord––my only Lord. I live for him and not for any person or ideology, whether philosophical, political, or religious. If that makes me guilty of treason to the dominant culture, I admit it. I’m culpable. Do what you will, but I will not bow to anyone or anything but Christ.”
Unfortunately I don’t hear many sinners’ prayers, baptismal confessions, or even testimonies of so-called mature Christians that sound much like that.
Paul wrote to Romans at a time when their emperors claimed divinity and demanded that all citizens in the empire to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord!” Membership in the Caesar-cult, which interwove religion and politics was mandatory for all, and was the means by which he controlled and governed so many regions and cultures. So when they openly confessed their allegiance to Jesus as the supreme authority they did so at their own peril.
Their confession of Jesus’ Lordship clearly subverted Rome’s tyranny. They knew it and Rome knew it!
This bold declaration of Jesus’ Lordship anywhere within the empire would be like attending a MAGA rally and holding a sign that says, “Donald Trump––Not My President!” or standing in front of The Sacred Mosque in Mecca shouting, “Mohamed was a faker!” (OK, I admit the latter would be a tad more gutsy than the former, but still…) In Paul’s day, as in many countries in the world today, you’d have to be willing to be jailed or martyred for your confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Grace might be free but, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to say, it isn’t cheap!
The original readers of Romans 10 would have understood that a confession like this was a challenge to Caesar’s lordship. The emperor insisted that he was the Lord of the world, the only one worthy of unmitigated loyalty from his subjects. If Jesus is the true Lord of the world then Caesar is not. Their confession was more than just words and nothing short of subversion to the emperor’s sovereign authority and therefore treasonous!
Confessing Christ is more about loyalty than theology. It’s not just believing the right thing and you’re automatically “saved.” It’s giving singular devotion to him not just as Savior but as Lord. Salvation has to do with allegiance to him rather than some precisely worded profession or prayer.
Notice the way Jesus talked about the confession:
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 10:32).
It’s obvious, isn’t it, that he wasn’t talking about mere belief or recitation? “Confess me before men” he said, which is more than a private raising your hand and repeating a prayer.
(I’m not opposed to hand-raising or prayer-reciting at a point of decision to follow Jesus in a church service. But saving faith includes repentant allegiance to Christ, without which a person hasn’t yet turned himself in to God. If those who raised their hand and recited a prayer were turning from Caesar (or whoever their current lords were at the time) to the Lordship of Jesus, then they’re “saved.” Otherwise, they might be taking their first step toward Christ, which is fantastic, but it shouldn’t necessarily be an indicator of their conversion.)
When the Jewish leaders realized Jesus was a threat to their tyranny, they decreed that anyone who “confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22 and 12:42) Even they understood that their confession was more than mere profession. They were threatened by it because it represented a transference of allegiance from their authority to his.
Paul told Timothy to “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.” (1 Timothy 6:12)
Notice how he uses Jesus’ confession before Pilate as a model of Timothy’s. Obviously Jesus wasn’t just reciting a doctrinal statement. His “good confession” was his unwavering adherence to the purpose of the Father even though it would cost him his life.
When Paul shared his faith with Felix he said, “I admit (confess) that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect.” (Acts 24:14) This reminds me of Martin Luther’s confession before the emperor 1500 years later:
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
Now that’s a confession!
These passages in addition to the historical/political context in which Paul wrote Romans 10:9-10 indicate that confessing “Jesus as Lord” is much much more substantive than mere intellectual assent of what Christ did and a corresponding verbal assertion.
When the early Christians confessed Christ kingdoms clashed! It was said of them: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world… They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)
- Is your confession substantive, brave, and reckless enough to elicit such outcry from our empire?
- Are you actually following Jesus, your prototypical Subversive and foot-washing troublemaker or just making professions of faith?
- What kind of “trouble” do you make and whose decrees do you “defy”?
- Do you add Jesus to a short list of kings or is he to you the “King of all other kings”?