Romans 10:9-10 says that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Since we can add nothing to Jesus’ saving work, a gracEmail subscriber asks whether this is a formula for gaining access to heaven.
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This gospel promise concludes a discussion concerning the uselessness of seeking right standing with God through our own efforts rather than by trusting in what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ. The first approach pursues God’s approval (righteousness) “by works”; the second pursues it “by faith.” Those who follow the first way find Jesus to be a stumbling-stone; those who follow the second path find him to be a cornerstone that does not disappoint (Rom. 9:30-32).
Paul explains this contrast by another contrast between the way of works and the way of the gospel. Moses himself had said that righteousness based on law required doing all that the law required (Rom. 10:5, quoting Lev. 18:5). In Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Moses also told the Jews of his day that God had made his law totally accessible to them. They did not have to go up to heaven to get God’s commands, or cross some ocean to find them. His law was in their mouth and in their heart — we would say “right in front of them!” All they had to do was keep those commandments.
Paul quotes these words from Moses, but he changes them to explain the way of “righteousness by faith.” We do not have to go up to heaven (to get a Savior), or descend into the deep (to bring him back from death), for God already has sent his Son Jesus Christ to earth to live and die for sinners and God already has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:6-8). Just as God placed his commands in Israel’s mouths and hearts, he has now placed this gospel word “near” to us — in our mouths and our hearts. Because Jesus has done the saving work, we cannot add anything to what he has accomplished already. All we can do is confess that reality with our mouths and believe it in our hearts. And because Jesus’ work fully set his people right with God, whoever trusts in that and says so enjoys the benefits of all that Jesus accomplished (Rom. 10:9-10).