For many of us, we are familiar with the steps of “asking Jesus into our heart,” the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and/or the public confession of baptism. We know the steps we supposedly must take to be saved.
But are these steps fundamental to our eternal salvation?
Romans 10:9-10 seems to say that if we don’t tell people about our faith, we are not saved. This brings up concerning hypotheticals. What if someone accepts Christ, but dies before being able to tell anyone? Is everyone who proclaims belief saved? What exactly does confession look like?
However, these concerns are assuaged if we look at the verses more carefully and in the context of the Bible as a whole.
Context of Romans 10:9-10
In Romans 10, Paul is discussing the Israelites, or Jews, and his desire that they might be saved. He mourns the fact that they still seek righteousness under the Law.
Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:3-4).
Instead of by works or striving to follow the Law, Paul says the following in Romans 10:9-10:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Paul goes on to state that any who call on the name of the Lord, whether Jew or Gentile, will be saved. He then discusses preaching the gospel to the Israelites, and how not all have believed, concluding with, “But concerning Israel he [God] says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people’” (Romans 10:21).
The main point of the passage is about the faith of the Jews. The passage really begins in Romans 9:30-32: “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.”
The largest takeaway in the passage as a whole is that salvation comes through faith, not through works or the Law.
Historical and New Testament Context
Admitting to being a Christian was not for the faint of heart in Rome. Jews who did so would be cast out from the synagogue, and any Christian might face persecution and even death from Roman leadership.
Because of this, someone publicly confessing to being a Christian demonstrated great faith. It was a powerful outward indicator of an inward reality and not something someone would do lightly.
Christians are frequently called to proclaim the gospel in the New Testament, but it doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for salvation. Rather, Ephesians 2:8-9 is emphatic that salvation does not come through anything we do. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
In Acts 16:30, the jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The response, in Acts 16:31, is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.” They don’t say anything about public confession.
In John 5:24, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Again, belief is the only requirement.
Other Explanations for Romans 10:9-10
As was highlighted in the previous section, a person confessing Christ was an indicator of a serious inner commitment. Some, then, point to this verse as stating that a person’s faith will be evidenced by their outward confession, not that the confession itself will save them.
Furthermore, the Greek word used for “profess” or “confess” (depending on the translation) carries the idea of “confirming,” or stating that which is already true.
Perhaps even more compelling is the study of the words “salvation” and “justification” in Romans, as explored deeply by Dr. John F. Hart of Moody Bible Institute, and more accessible by Pastor Jeremy Myers of Redeeming God.
When Paul uses the word that we translate to “justification” in Romans, he is talking about our eternal salvation, or our freedom from condemnation, that comes from God’s imputed righteousness.
Thus, in Romans 10:10, when he says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,” he is echoing what we explored in other passages, namely, that our eternal salvation and status as righteous before God is based upon inward belief.
However, the word translated as “salvation” in this passage is not typically used by Paul to mean our eternal destiny. This salvation, rather, is the breaking of the power of sin over us in this life — what we might better recognize as “sanctification.”
Hart says, “The salvation under discussion is a broad concept, embracing God’s generous provisions and aid for the believer in any and every circumstance of daily life. The Lord is defender, provider, sustainer, and savior in all the problems and difficulties of life.”
Thus, when Paul says, “It is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” in Romans 10:10, this may in fact be referring to the process of sanctification.
Professing one’s faith instead is about declaring Jesus’ power over our lives and finding freedom from the power of sin. It is difficult to fully live as a Christian, dying to sin and following Christ while keeping one’s faith a complete secret.
It is then a compelling interpretation that perhaps Paul is differentiating here between our eternal salvation, which is not dependent on public confession, and our growth as Christians, which is.
Must One Confess Publicly to Be Saved?
The vast majority of verses seem to indicate that salvation is based on faith, or belief, alone, and not the result of any work or deed, including public confession.
However, a public declaration is still important for several reasons.
First, it is an outward demonstration of an inward reality.
Second, it serves to help us grow in Christ as we acknowledge Him before others, thus allowing fellow believers to come alongside us.
Third, it is important so that we may fulfill our calling to share the love of God with others. As Paul says in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Though one may be saved without public confession, it is still an important part of living a life of faith.
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Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.