Among the great statements, the precious statements of all the Bible and of all of history are the words that are found in verses 9 and 10 of what Russ read earlier. The passage 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." That statement thrills us with the promise that it makes of what is possible for us, it welcomes us with an invitation for us to enjoy it ourselves, and it encourages us to stay with the commitment we have made to that Lord so that its promises may always be ours. And yet the statement has raised some questions and it has been used at times to make some statements or to promote some ideas that make us stop and think. As with any precious statement, this one needs to be thought over and then applied in our own lives. So we invite you to look into it with us this morning.
May we start by noticing that in this passage, the apostle is certainly dealing with those things that really matter in our lives. Out of all of the things that will ever be said or could ever be said about an individual or about a person, there are two things that Paul talks about here which if they are not true, then all else that could be said just really won't matter that much. Here is what really matters. First, whether I will be justified before my Father in heaven. You will notice that Paul is talking is verses 9 and 10 about whether I will be justified. Most of us can maybe understand that word justified as a word of the law court. It means that here is the judgment that will be reached. It is interesting that in its original setting it more likely was a word used by a king. If a king had subjects before him and if he said this person is acceptable or this person is approved or this person is allowed in my presence, then this would have been the word that he might have used - this person is justified.
In the New Testament it comes to have to do with our legal standing before God. To be justified would not mean "Here is a person who is completely innocent and has never done anything amiss." I know it can't mean that because Paul has already gone to some length in this letter to show that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This has to mean, then, that somehow God would be willing to justify me as an individual, though I have not always done what I should have, based on something other than mere legal individual grounds; that God would be willing to pronounce me acceptable in his presence because of what someone else has done for me legally. Now we are going to see, of course, that that someone else is Jesus. What really matters of all of my experience in life is whether I will be justified before God.
Secondly, notice that Paul is dealing her with how I am to be saved. If justified is a word with a legal background, then saved is a word with a natural background. We use it in religious terms, it seems, but it is not a religious word. This is a word that has to do with whether someone could be rescued from danger, whether he could be delivered from a situation in which there wouldn't seem to be any escape. I noticed just in the last two weeks the story in one of the western states of someone's old hound dog, a bluetick hound (I saw his picture in the paper and I know he is a bluetick), who in chasing a coon had followed it into a small cave that the animal used for a den and he got down a little ways and got completely stuck in the tunnel in that little cave. They had a backhoe out there and other kinds of equipment trying to save that poor hound dog from his predicament. That is the meaning of this word. This past week I saw a news report of a lady in Little Rock, Arkansas whose car was swept off by a flood and she was just clinging to the roof of it. The rescue workers went down and got a line out to her and were able to save her, to rescue her, from the situation she was in.
And so if I am saved, then that means that I am delivered from some situation or another. Of course, in the book of Romans and in the New Testament, we are talking especially about the guilt of my sin and the condemnation under which that might have placed me. What really matters in my life if whether I will be justified before God and whether I will be saved from the wrong turns that I have taken in this world.
Paul brings both of these ideas together at the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8. In Romans 7 at verse 19, he describes the experience of all human beings. He said, "For I do not do the good that I want but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." Haven't you found that to be the human situation? A little bit later he says in verse 22, "For I delight in the law of my God in my inner being but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?" And then he proclaims, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." And he says in verse 1 of the next chapter, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." They are saved and justified. He is dealing here with what really matters.
And then notice, in trying to communicate his thinking the point about the gospel that he is stressing, he appeals to the message of the whole of scripture in these few short verses. In fact, he appeals in the reading that Russ brought to Deut. 30, to Isaiah 28, to Joel chapter 2, from the Old Testament scriptures to say, "This is what God always has planned and wanted and intended to make available for us." We are dealing here with a thrilling story of the eternal purpose of God. And boiling down verses 11-13 and the statements that are made there to two points - what he says is "Jesus is the one who can do this for us. He is the one who can save and the one who can justify." If you notice the ways in which these phrases from scripture emphasize this point, it makes the point that "whoever believes or trust in him will not be put to shame." Have any of you ever been embarrassed before? You thought you knew something. You thought you understood something. You would just stake anything on it. It turned out you were embarrassed by it. That will not happen to you taking your stand on Jesus because he can justify our confidence in him. In verse 12, the one who is the same Lord of all "bestows his riches on all who call on him." Every spiritual blessing he can grant, our Lord can. And then verse 13, "In his name we can be saved."
So he is the one who can do it, and then the other point that scripture has used here to illustrate is that he is willing to do it for anybody. I have seen people before who could do things if they had wanted to. You have run across people who could have, who had the ability to have been a blessing to you, if they had been willing. But Paul is saying here that he not only can but he will. He emphasizes this again in each one of these verses. In verse 11, "everyone who believes in him," he says. In verse 12, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek." If you get tired of the hyphenated world in which we live in which there are Anglo-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, etc., Paul is saying there is one place where there are none of those distinctions and that is in the Lord's willingness to justify and save us.
So we go from what really matters to the message of the whole of scripture and then right at the heart of all of that, there is this wonderful, conditional promise that Paul lays down. This promise is at the heart of the gospel. And what he is saying in verse 8 and following is that this word of faith that we proclaim is not beyond any of us, it is near us. It is not so difficult. You don't have to go to heaven and pull it back down. You don't have to descend to hades and pull it back up because it is the word that the Lord has already brought before us. That wonderful conditional promise is that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. A couple of terms are important. The word "Lord" means that he is the owner, the master, the ruler. If I say that Jesus is my Lord, for that to be true I have got to belong to him, I have got to submit to his rule, I have got to listen to his teaching. I am his. And the word "confess" means, literally, "to say the same thing as." Confess means to say the same thing as he has said, to state what is real, to state reality. And the way I make this confession is with my mouth - to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord in my case. Being justified is possible for those who will genuinely make that confession.
The second condition is that that confession must be absolutely sincere and true and genuine. Because for me to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, I must believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. If that genuinely is there, then he says it is unto salvation, to that goal. Now think about that. Why is it that I am saying Jesus is Lord? It is because I truly am convinced that God raised him from the dead. If God raised him from the dead, Romans 1:4 says, "then he is declared powerfully to be the Son of God." Romans 14:9 said, "That because God raised him from the dead, he died and he is raised again so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." He is the ruler over life and death. The Christian says not merely, "I believe Jesus lived," but also "I believe that he is alive now." And because of that, I am convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord in this world. And based on that, Paul says, "there is a promise for you." Everyone can be justified and saved.
Now there are a couple of implications of that wonderful, conditional promise that need to be thought about just for a moment. The first is an implication from what is said. Based on what is said, then is it so that all I have to do to be saved is to believe? There is a large segment of our world and Christendom that holds to that idea. Much of the time it will be pretty much based on this passage. But isn't it interesting that even in this passage, there apparently is no contradiction between saying "You believe in your heart that Jesus raised him from the dead," and "if you confess with your mouth that he is Lord." And as far as I can tell, it is because these things naturally go together, don't they? If a person truly believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, then Paul's point is "he is going to have to say it" and "he is going to have to confess it" if he has any personal integrity in his life at all. It is just a matter of reality. These are not separate things. They go together. The idea that believing in the Lord is nothing more than just mental ascent - yes I agree with the facts - is a misunderstanding of faith. The passage that Russell read from the version he read used the word "trust" in verse 11 to try to emphasize that point - that it is more than just believing - it is actually taking your stand on, relying on. Sometimes those who have the idea that all you have to do to believe, have to stand back and take a look at the fact that the very passage says, "If you confess with your mouth."
On the other hand, there is an implication from what isn't said. And from what isn't said, sometimes the question has been raised, "Well, must I then be baptized or not?" This passage doesn't mention baptism, does it? Just like it doesn't mention repentance. And yet believing and confessing take in those things. One of the things about reading the Bible is that when you have passages like Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins," it mentions repentance and baptism. Here in Romans 10 it mentions believing and confessing. One of the things about Bible study that I urge us all to remember is that when you have two passages like that, you don't just look at them, say which one you prefer, and cast the other one aside. You ask "how do they fit together? How are both of these passages actually saying the same thing?" The idea is that a person who truly believes that Jesus is Lord is going to want to change his mind. A person who confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord will have no problem in confessing with his obedience to the gospel that God raised him up, also which is what takes place in baptism.
And so with those ideas in mind, I am ready to say, as I know a lot of you are, "I confess. I believe that Jesus is Lord." One of the most moving things that ever can happen in Christian experience is to hear somebody stand up and say "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God." We want to say the "amen" to that because that is what we all believe and that is how we came to be Christians to start with.
There are three ways in which confessing Jesus is so crucial. The first is in baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I have read a bunch of commentaries in working on this study and many of them are from different kinds of groups, and one thing that has impressed me is how much it is kind of a general agreement that the confession that Paul talks about here is the one that Christians knew would be made in connection with a person's baptism. I Peter 3:21 said that baptism saves us only because it is an appeal to God for a good conscience. It is calling on the Lord. I Timothy 6:12, Paul points out that Timothy had once made the good confession before many witnesses. And if you ask yourself when, it is at his becoming a Christian. There is a good bit of debate that goes on over Acts 8 and verse 37. That verse will be put in brackets sometimes or in footnotes because there is a question about the textual authority for it. It is the one, you remember, where the Ethiopian man said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Based on that, they went down into the water and Phillip baptized him. Did you know that the very worst that could be said about that statement is that it represents a practice of the early church. That is the one thing that is not debatable. In baptism I submit to something that could have no possible meaning in the world if I were not calling on the name of the Lord in whom I believe.
Secondly, we confess Jesus through service to his name or in his name. Things that are done that are unselfish, things like these young people have been involved in doing, those are confessions of what Jesus does to the lives or in the lives and through the lives of people who are committed to him. In Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus was talking to his disciples as he sent them out about some of the opposition that they were going to encounter and some of the things that might have made lesser people afraid. And it is in that context where the Lord says to them in verses 32 and 33, "Everyone who confesses" (some versions use the word acknowledge because it means to say the same as), "everyone who acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge before my father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men I will deny before my Father in heaven." And in this context, it is talking about service to God. Those sacrifices of ourselves which we make because we believe Jesus is Lord and we love him, things that are done for other people that we don't get something out of ourselves, are confessions of what our Lord can do in the lives of his people.
And then we confess Jesus by being faithful to him in our lives. That confession made at the beginning of our Christian walk continues all the way along as we try to live for our Lord and to serve him. In II Timothy 2 beginning at verse 11 Paul said, (by the way, some think this is an early Christian hymn) "The saying is trustworthy for if we have died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he can't deny himself." And that means that for him to acknowledge me in the end, then I have got to acknowledge him by faithful, Christian living in the days of my life here.
It is interesting in this great passage that it is actually written to say to people who were from Israel that if they missed out on what the gospel made possible, it was their own responsibility.
I want to tell you something I noticed a while back. We were going somewhere, a little trip that involved a drive down the interstate. Where we had been parked before, I had left the windows on the car down just a little bit. We headed down the interstate about 70 miles an hour (and yes it was a place where that was within the speed limit), and I looked around and noticed a fly who had gotten in the window while I had it down. Here is a fly traveling very securely 70 miles an hour down the interstate, not having to worry about windshields and headlights and grills and all that kind of thing. He is making that journey because he is in that vehicle. This is only a rough illustration but that is somewhat similar to my place in the Lord. I am going to Paradise Valley, which we have sung about this morning, some day. In the Lord. I am making a journey in the Lord, not because of my great ability but because through the gospel, he has invited me into him. And in obedience to the gospel, he has transferred me, translated me, into him.
That is the place all of us as Christians enjoy. I encourage us to thank God for it, to continue to confess him in our lives, and if we haven't confessed him with our mouths yet, to make this the day that happens. If you are here today and you are ready to become a Christian, if we can help you, we would be thrilled to. And if you are a Christian and you have not honored that confession that you made and you need now not to confess Jesus but to confess sin and your need for cleansing again and the prayers of your brothers and sisters, if we can help you, won't you come this morning while we stand and sing?