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Should Romans 10:9-10 Be Used for Witnessing?

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Many evangelical churches have a cookie cutter approach when witnessing for the Lord Jesus Christ. One familiar text from the Bible that is often used is Romans 10:9-10. It appears to be the perfect passage for presenting the Gospel of Christ. To challenge this assumption almost seems heretical. Yet, that is precisely what we must do if we are to understand Romans with the meaning intended by the Apostle Paul. It raises the questions, “Should these verses from Romans be used this way? Is this how Paul intended these words to be understood? What precisely was Paul referring to?”

Setting the Context

In order to understand chapter 10 of Romans we need to examine the surrounding chapters. Within the larger context of chapters 9-11, the Apostle Paul was clearly writing about the nation of Israel. Consider the words from chapter 9, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Rom. 9:3-4).[1] Again, we read in chapter 11, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1). There was a particular reason the words of Romans 9-11 needed to be written. Specifically, we are told, “The apostle opened his discussion of God’s relations with Israel very personally by sharing his heart for his own people. Some might have thought that Paul hated the Jews since he had departed from Judaism and now preached a Law-free gospel.”[2]

What was Paul’s concern regarding Israel? In Romans 10:14-17, Paul confirmed that eternal life can only come by faith in Christ. But what had Israel done? Paul taught in Romans 9:30-33 that Israel had rejected the righteousness of faith. This is why he recorded in verse 33, “As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” Paul was quoting from both Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16, to contrast the two different reactions to Christ. Israel’s rejection of Christ did not take God by surprise. God still has a plan for Israel. This is also something Paul tried to explain to the church in Romans 11:25-27.

Defining the Terms

Before we can look closer at Romans 10 we need to examine some of the wording used by the Apostle Paul. An important passage to turn to is Romans 5:9-10. It is here that we learn that Paul considered the Christians at Rome, “justified by His blood” and, “reconciled to God.” Based on these words, there can be no doubt that Paul considered them to be genuine believers in Christ. Yet, we also read that these Christians were not yet saved. Paul wrote, “we shall be saved from wrath through Him” and, “we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:9-10). At first glance this seems incongruous with the fact that they were already reconciled to God. What is the wrath that these Christians would be saved from? The answer is found in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” This is God giving men and women over to, “total control by the sin nature.”[3] The evidence provided in Romans supports this interpretation:

Many take these verses to refer to final salvation from the presence of sin. But in this context, Paul goes on to discuss being saved from the power of sin (ch. 6). Thus, wrath here is God’s present wrath (1:18), and His life is the life of Christ in believers (v. 18). The point is that since God’s love and the death of Christ have brought us justification, then as a result of that love, we can also expect salvation from God’s wrath. To experience this truth, the believer must fully cooperate with the process that is explained in 6:1–14 (John 8:32). The believer must die to sin and present himself or herself to God as an “instrument of righteousness” (6:14).[4]

In the New Testament, the English word for salvation is always some form of the Greek word sōtēria. The expression to save is always a form of the word sōzō.[5] Both terms carry the general meaning of deliverance.[6] When Paul refers to salvation in Romans 10, he is speaking of being delivered from the power of the sin nature. This is a reference to sanctification.

Another word that we see in Romans 10 is righteousness, which means justification.[7] Paul used the word righteousness in Romans to refer to eternal salvation.

A Closer Look at Romans 10

With these definitions in hand we look more closely at chapter 10 and, once again, we see that Israel is the context. Paul testified, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). Paul desired for Israel to be delivered from the future judgment of God. In verses 2-4 we learn that the people of Israel had failed to submit to the righteousness of God. They needed to place their faith in Jesus Christ.

As we turn to verses 6-8, we see that Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 30:11-14. The larger context of Deuteronomy 30 is fascinating. Israel would disobey God and be sent to live among the nations (Deut. 30:1). The day would come when God would gather His people and they would obey Him (Deut. 30:2-4). “The prophets made it clear that this great restoration to the land would not take place until the Second Advent of the Messiah just before the beginning of His millennial reign on the earth.”[8] How will this be possible? Verse 6 is the answer, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). With new life in Christ, and with the Spirit of God living in them, the Jews will obey the Lord like they had never done before. The context of the passage that Paul was quoting from relates directly to the future nation of Israel responding to the grace of God by faith, and receiving life. The New Covenant will be fulfilled after the Second Coming of Christ. The message was clear and not that difficult to understand (Deut. 30:11-14). By quoting from this passage in Romans 10, Paul was teaching that, “Moses taught that justification came by faith.”[9]

As we approach Romans 10:9-10, we find ourselves once again looking to identify the meaning of key phrases. What does it mean to, “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus?” (Rom. 10:9). The second half of verse 10 declares, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  Romans 10:13 teaches, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’” By comparing verses 10 and 13 we can safely say that confession is the same as calling upon the name of the Lord. Remember, when Paul refers to salvation in Romans 10, he is speaking of being delivered from the power of the sin nature. Further, we are reminded, “And we discover from its usage in Acts 7:59; 9:14, 21; 1 Cor 1:2, and 2 Tim 2:22, that to ‘call upon the name of the Lord’ is to openly, publicly identify with or to worship Him.”[10] Public worship of the Lord Jesus Christ is an important part of being delivered from the power of the sin nature.

Understanding Paul’s terminology leads us to a clear understanding of verses 9-10 in Romans 10. “Here, Paul uses the terms mouth and heart to parallel the Old Testament passage he has just quoted in verse 8.”[11] Paul’s point in verse 9 is that for the nation of Israel to be delivered from the wrath of God the people first need to be justified. This is what Paul meant in the second part of the verse, “and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead.”  Secondly, if the nation is to be delivered from the wrath of God they need to, “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus.” Verse 10 is simply restating the same teaching in the proper order, “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” These verses are not teaching that individuals must make Jesus the Lord of their life by committing to Him, in order to receive eternal life. This is about future deliverance for the nation of Israel!

Romans 10:13 supports this interpretation. There we see that Paul quotes Joel 2:32 by teaching, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’” Israel will confess or call on the name of the Lord and be delivered into the Kingdom. Jesus Himself predicted this same event when He testified, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Matt. 23:37, 39). The people of Israel will call on the name of the Lord and be delivered into the Messianic Kingdom. This will only come about after they have, as individuals, placed their faith in Christ for eternal life.

It should not be missed in this discussion, that Joel 2:32 must be kept in its proper context. Take note of the wording of the entire verse, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls.” Looking at the broader context, it should be self-evident that the subject matter is the Day of the Lord. Specifically, we are told, “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31). In verse 32, Joel was referring to physical deliverance from the divine judgment of God that will be displayed during the Tribulation. This will take place at the Second Coming of Christ. It is, therefore, difficult to see how Paul is said to be using Joel 2:32 to refer to individual salvation in Romans 10:13.

Further Thoughts on Romans 10:9-10

There is further evidence from the Word of God that indicates the proposed interpretation of Romans 10:9-10 is correct. Allow me to make four additional points:

  • Romans 10:14 demonstrates that believing and calling on Christ are two different actions. If they are not, then we should also be prepared to say that hearing is the same as believing.
  • An important question that should be asked in regard to this discussion is, “When will the nation of Israel place their faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah?” Scripture teaches that this is the purpose of the Tribulation, especially the second half. Evidence that supports this includes: Jeremiah 30:6-7; 11; 22; 24; Ezekiel 20:33-38a; 22:17-22; Daniel 9; 12:1; 9-10; Zechariah 13:8-9; Revelation 7:1-8 (the witness of the 144,000); and Revelation 11:3 (the two witnesses). Zechariah 14 instructs us about the physical return of Christ at the end of the seven years of tribulation. We read of the Lord doing battle with His enemies and splitting the Mount of Olives in two. There will not be time for the people of Israel to place their faith in Jesus at His return. This will be a time of judgment upon those who do not believe. Those who have already believed (by coming to faith during the Tribulation) will call on the name of the Lord (worship Him) at His physical return (Matt. 23:37-39). To teach otherwise deeply impacts our theology. If the men and women of Israel were to come to faith when the Lord returns at His second coming, then people could simply wait until they meet Christ to place their faith in Him. Are we now teaching that Jesus Christ gives men and women a second chance to believe in the Lord for eternal salvation when they stand face to face with Him? Of course not. This is why it is important to remember that Israel will be placing their faith in Him during the Tribulation, not at the return of Christ to this world.
  • A significant part of the context of Romans 10 reveals that Paul had been discussing the future remnant of the nation of Israel. This is why Paul quoted Isaiah 10:22 from the Septuagint and said, “Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved’” (Rom. 9:27). A remnant of Israel will be delivered from God’s eschatological wrath to enter into the Messianic Kingdom.
  • In Romans 10:9-10, if confession and believing are both one reference to obtaining eternal salvation, then we need to teach people that they must audibly confess Christ in order to receive eternal life. Paul teaches that confession is with your mouth, which is something he mentions two times in these verses. Therefore, if this passage was only about salvation for eternal life, an inner expression (or prayer) of the heart conveying faith in Christ would not save you.  It would need to be confession with the mouth because Paul explicitly stated in verse 10, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” If this part of the verse is referring to eternal salvation, then confession with the mouth must be made for eternal life. This improper understanding of this verse is exactly why many are teaching this today. However, this would be the only place in the entire Bible that would put forth this concept, and it would stand in total opposition to the 160 verses in the New Testament that tell us that eternal salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ.


Can God use Romans 10:9-10 as believers witness to the lost? Certainly He has used it numerous times to bring about redemption in men. Perhaps a better question to ask is, “Should we use these verses when sharing the Gospel of Christ?” I would contend that it is not the ideal text to use because it has the potential to lead people to believe that they must confess Christ publicly in order to receive eternal life. It also leaves the door open for those who teach Lordship Salvation to greatly confuse the new believer in Christ. There are many powerful evangelistic verses that are found in the Word of God to use for sharing our faith in Christ. There is simply no need to limit ourselves to using this one specific passage, which is so often taken out of context.

With all the confusion in the Church today regarding Lordship Salvation we should make every effort to keep the Gospel of Christ clear. It is worth noting that many of the Reformed teachers who fail to see a future for the nation of Israel are often the same individuals who fail to recognize that Romans 10:9-10 is a Kingdom passage about Israel, and is not teaching Lordship Salvation. A proper understanding of Romans 9-11 would help them to correct both issues. Praise God for the clarity of His redeeming Word!

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[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

[2] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Rom. 9:1.

[3] David Anderson, Free Grace Soteriology. (LaVergne, TN: Xulon Press, 2010), 19.

[4] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), Rom. 5:9–10.

[5] David Anderson, Free Grace Soteriology. (LaVergne, TN: Xulon Press, 2010), 14.

[6] James Strong, vol. 1, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 70.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Deut. 30:3–5.

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Rom. 10:6.

[10] David Anderson, Free Grace Soteriology. (LaVergne, TN: Xulon Press, 2010), 21.

[11] J.B. Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong: The Evangelical Crisis No One Is Talking About. (LaVergne, TN: Xulon Press, 2008), 220.

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