for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.Romans 10:10(NASB)
Paul points out that it is with the heart that a person believes unto righteousness. Salvation is not merely based on a whim, an intellectual exercise, or the acquisition of some factual head-knowledge. Salvation must rest on a genuine, bona fide heart-faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ Who was sent by the Father be the sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved," Paul told the Philippian jailer - for God gave His only begotten Son into the world "that whosoever believes on Him shall be saved."
However, because of this passage in Romans, there are many who demand that there are two, distinct steps to salvation. Indeed, their interpretation of this particular verse can cause considerable concern and much confusion. They teach that to be saved one must take two specific steps 1st) believe the gospel of grace in the heart and 2nd) confess Jesus as Lord, with their mouth, before other people: "Otherwise," they argue, "you are not properly saved."
However, this passage should be studied in its correct geographic, historic, and linguistic context. And it should also be studied alongside all other passages that teach about salvation if we are to understand precisely what Paul meant at the time that the passage was written. Reading the Bible in context is vitally important if we are to learn the truth, rather than imposing our own - or someone else's personal perspective or extra-biblical interpretation onto the text.
Although this passage is used to teach that publicly confessing that 'Jesus is Lord' is necessary for salvation... a systematic study of every passage on salvation (soteriology), clearly shows that public confession is not a requirement for salvation. Scripture must be studied in context and harmonistically if we are to establish the correct meaning of a passage... and religious zeal, religious ignorance, religious intolerance, or religious arrogance is no excuse for an incorrect interpretation of God's Word.
The Gospel of John describes various people who believed in their hearts for salvation... but they did not confess Jesus as Lord before men with their mouths 'for fear of the Jews' or 'for fear of being put out of the synagogue'. Joseph of Arimathea and certain other secret disciples were saved by believing in Christ for salvation... but they did not openly confess Jesus as Lord before others - and their reticence was out of fear.
So why the confusion? Well, much of the Bible is written in what is called 'Hebrew parallelism' and when correctly studied, this verse is simply following this frequently used literary style. Paul wrote this passage in Romans using this writing technique - Confession with the mouth leading to righteousness is synonymous with believing in the heart leading to salvation. i.e. Believing in the heart leading to salvation equates to confession with the mouth leading to righteousness.
But this can cause additional confusion! Instead of this passage teaching two STEPS to salvation, it could now be argued that this verse teaches there are two WAYS to be saved! i.e. salvation is either through believing or through confessing. But this is NOT biblical, and again, a systematic study of salvation (soteriology), clearly shows that believing on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins is sufficient for salvation.
The answer to this problem is twofold:
1. TO WHOM do we confess with our mouth and
2. IN WHOM do we place our faith!
If confession with the mouth leading to righteousness is synonymous with believing in the heart leading to salvation, we must clarify to whom we confess and in whom we believe. Our faith must be IN the person and work of Jesus Christ Whom God has sent and our confession must be TO the Lord our God and not before other men - as so many like to teach!
It is God ALONE Who looks on the thoughts and intents of the heart. God alone knows if our faith is genuine. God alone knows if we truly believe in our heart that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day, according to the Scripture. And when a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ in their heart for the forgiveness of their sins - God knows and He saves.
And it is God ALONE to Whom we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. Confessing with my mouth to another person can never cause me to be saved - even if I use the right words, for no man can save another person - only God can save. Only God can forgive sins. And when a sinner confesses with their mouth to God that he believes in the Person and Work of Christ and that 'Jesus is Lord', God is faithful and just to hear our confession and forgive us our sins - for God hears and He saves.
It is only as one studies this passage of Scripture systematically, harmonistically, and in context that we come to an understanding that it is with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness - for God Himself can read our heart and transfer us into the kingdom of His dear Son. And it is with the mouth that we confess to our Heavenly Father that Jesus is Lord - which results in salvation - and all is done to the glory of God the Father.
Heavenly Father, there is much that I do not understand about the Word of God and much that I need to be taught, but I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide me into all truth. Keep me from being swayed away from the truth of the glorious gospel of grace into a distorted gospel by those that show religious zeal, religious ignorance, religious intolerance, or religious arrogance. Help me to study to show myself approved unto God and give me the wisdom and the humility to seek You when I do not understand. Open my eyes, I pray, so that I may see wonderful things in Your written Word. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.