“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
The verse above is probably one of the most well-known verses in American Christianity. It forms an integral part of the “Romans Road,” a particular evangelistic approach designed to elicit a prayer from lost sinners in the hopes that they will be convicted and genuinely pray to the Lord for forgiveness of their sins. However, I believe that in the process of using it for this purpose, much of the deeper importance of the verse is lost. This, in turn, is because I believe our society has lost an understanding of the deeper sense of what “confession” is, and what it signifies.
We tend to think of “confession” as “admitting our sins” to God, as if He didn’t know about them and we had to inform Him of them so that He’s now enlightened as to what to do with us. I realise that most folks wouldn’t actually believe that way, but it nevertheless does seem to be what would follow naturally from the way “confession” of our sins to God is approached. However, confession is much more than just “admitting to God that I’ve sinned.” The term as it is used in the Bible, carries with it a definitive overtone of submission to the authority and lordship of God.
That so many in modern Christianity do not recognise this is much of the reason why we see so much confusion about what even constitutes “salvation” in modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We’re told that salvation comes from “praying this prayer” and that we merely admit that we’re sinners (in a general sense), rather than having to be broken over our specific sins and rebellion against God and His Law and desiring to turn from them and to Him. Repentance is naysayed, called “works based salvation,” even though the Scripture repeatedly and emphatically declares that without repentance there is no salvation (Acts 3:19), that faith and repentance are two aspects of the same thing (Acts 20:21), and that repentance is a gift of God like faith (II Timothy 2:25). This modern easy-believism makes man the arbiter of salvation, not God. By it, man “prays the prayer” and makes God give him eternal life, even if the man praying has no conviction or brokenness over sin and no desire to repent and turn from it. In essence, through easy believism, man is “saved” even though he doesn’t go about coming to God on God’s terms or in God’s way. Man becomes the authority, not God.
This is a complete, total, and wicked inversion.
When the Bible talks about “confession” in the context that it is meant in Romans 10:9, what it is talking about is not merely “telling God about our sins.” In fact, it even goes further than merely “agreeing with God about our sin,” because we all know that you can agree with someone about something, and yet do nothing about it. Rather, “confession” is the willingness to accept the authority and lordship of God, to yield your life over to Him and to release any claims to sovereignty over your own life.
Hence, when a lost sinner confesses the Lord Jesus Christ, they are expressing the willingness to give themselves over to Him and to the Father completely. Let us remember what sin really is – it is rebellion against God. Not just in a general sense that we’ve inherited a sin nature from Adam, but also in the very specific sense that we have ALL sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23, when it makes that statement, is saying that because we have all sinned, we have all put ourselves outside of the presence of God – His glory, the place where we can approach until Him in all His honour and majesty – and are separated from Him and condemned by Him for our sin. Our sins (plural) have done this, and since all have sinned since we were little children once we were able to understand right from wrong. Whenever we sin, we are rebelling against God, we are essentially claiming a sovereignty at that particular point where WE, rather than God and His Word, get to decide that something is right and acceptable.
So when a lost sinner trusts on Christ, calls upon Him for forgiveness and confesses the Lord Jesus, they are essentially agreeing that God is right and they are wrong, AND they are yielding to Him in a willingness to give up their own claims to independence and self-sovereignty and to accept Him as their sovereign instead. Whereas before they lived in sin because they rejected the claims of God’s Word and Law, now they accept those claims and voluntarily give themselves over to a willingness to be obedient to God’s claims upon them.
We see this in Proverbs 28:13,
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
Confession doesn’t merely involve agreeing – contextually, it also involves turning from those sins, and yielding to God in obedience.
A similar situation takes place when a Christian who has sinned returns to God,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
This situation involves a Christian who has sought to reclaim sovereignty over some area of his or her life from God – they’ve fallen into some sin and chosen to do what their flesh wanted to do instead of what God wanted them to do. In such cases, we must be willing, again, not just to “tell God about it,” but to resubmit to Him, agreeing that our sin and rebellion was wrong, and desiring to repent of it and turn away from it and back to God. We must be willing to yield once again that area or areas of life to Him.
Ultimately, what this means is that God is the final authority. We come to Him on His terms – we do not make Him come to us on ours. Now, He gives us the free choice – either accept His authority and His Word and yield to Him in obedience to be saved HIS way, or reject all of this and remain in rebellion – and we will be judged on the basis of what decision. One day, the lost who have rejected Him will still yield to His authority as they confess Him to the glory of the Father,
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
But then, it will be too late for them to change their minds about His claims to sovereignty over their lives.
This is why it is so important that when we deal with a lost soul about salvation, we present them with a clear picture of their lost condition, of their being under judgment for their sin, and of their need to repent of that sin and turn to Him, along with the message of love and grace. It ALL has to be there, or else it will be of no genuine effect. Simply telling them, “God loves you and something good is gonna happen to you today!” is not the Gospel. It is not God’s way. It is not what they need to hear to be able to respond to God as He says they should, for the salvation He promises to give. Our evangelism needs to reflect a right understanding of God’s authority if it is to be effectively used of Him.