On this Good Friday, as we approach closer to Resurrection Day (aka Easter), let’s examine this important question of how a person is saved.
First, we begin with an important, yet difficult, set of verses. Romans 10:9-10 says, “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” This is important because in just these two verses, it contains much of what we need to know about salvation. It’s difficult, because if it’s not read rightly, it seems like we have multiple requirements for salvation.
At first glance, it’s as if we need to do two things: (1) confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and (2) believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. It seems that, not only do we need to believe (John 3:16), but we also must do the additional work of professing our faith. Then, it seems, that salvation is conditional on our confession. This puts those who are mute in a difficult position. They might believe, but they are unable to confess with their mouths.
One literary tool that we don’t really appreciate today is hebrew parallelism. This is something that both Jesus and Paul employed regularly. Sometimes, parallelism is used to show stark contrast, and sometimes, it’s used to emphasize the same point. That’s what Paul uses here twice in Romans 10:9-10. The first parallelism is made up of two parts: (1) confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and (2) believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Paul is not compounding requirements, but talking about the same thing in two parallel phrases. Someone who is given faith both believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and confesses that Jesus is Lord. No one confesses Jesus as Lord without believing that God raised Him from the dead. And no one believes that God raised Him from the dead and decides not to confess Him as Lord. In this parallelism, Paul is simply speaking about a true, saving faith in Jesus.
The second parallelism expounds on this even more. Paul says that (1) with the heart, one believes and is justified, and (2) with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Again, someone who has a saving faith in Jesus believes with his heart and confesses Him with his mouth. Paul is not saying that someone could be justified, but not saved. For example, a dying woman on her death bed who has a tube down her throat who believes the gospel as it’s preached to her is not compromised by not being able to confess with her mouth. However, it is incongruous for someone who truly believes to not confess Jesus as Lord, if they are able.
Now, these two verses are helpful, but they’re not comprehensive. The gospel culminates in Jesus’s lordship and resurrection, but there’s more to it. Good Friday is a day of remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross. But before the cross, we have to understand why the cross was necessary. We can stay in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome to help us understand how someone is saved:
Everyone needs salvation, because we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:10-12, 23). The consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ died for the sins of His people. He paid the price for their punishment (Romans 5:8). We receive salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus (Romans 10:9-10, 13). Salvation through Jesus Christ brings us into a right relationship with God (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1, 38-39).
This is why we celebrate Good Friday as Christians. It’s the work that Jesus did on the cross that bought our salvation. And we’ll celebrate the Resurrection on Sunday (and every Sunday of the year), because it’s Jesus’s victory over sin and death for us.