Paul’s Letter to the Romans is focused on the good news (gospel) of God’s righteousness and how it is applied to people who need it. Romans 1-3:20 shows the universal need for God’s righteousness. There aren’t any who do good, not even one.[1] Romans 3:21-4:25 describes God’s grace and how He provides righteousness to all who believe. Righteousness is a gift that is credited to anyone who believes in Him.[2] Romans 5-8 explains what God has provided to those who believe in Jesus – many mercies He provides that accompany His gift of righteousness. We have justification and peace,[3] salvation from His wrath,[4] reconciliation with Him,[5] eternal life,[6] baptism into life,[7] freedom from sin,[8] a future in which we will be free from death in our fleshly body,[9] freedom from condemnation,[10] a new position of being in the spirit rather than in the flesh,[11] a new relationship with God as His children,[12] God working on our behalf and for our good,[13] and a love from God that cannot be lost.[14] These are some of the mercies of God that He provides at the moment of our belief in Christ. Paul alludes these things in Ephesians 1:3 when he remarks that we now have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.”

Romans 9-11 represents a context change. While the first eight chapters focus on the individuals’ need for God’s righteousness and an explanation of how God provides it, Romans 9-11 illustrates God’s trustworthiness by explaining how God will keep His promises to Israel. As Paul concludes his description of the blessings of salvation that are guaranteed by God’s promises, a person might wonder whether God will truly fulfill these promises, since the covenant promises God made to Israel were not yet fulfilled. Perhaps to assuage these potential concerns, Paul explains in this section that God will keep His promises to Israel, and that God is completely trustworthy. It is notable – and very important, in fact – that Romans 9-11 is focused on the nation of Israel and the salvation of the nation, rather than focusing on salvation of individuals. Paul references his “kinsmen according to the flesh,”[15] identifying them as Israel and expressing his desire for their salvation. Paul explains that God is faithful and just, and His promises to Israel have not failed.[16] The nation had not yet looked to her Messiah, and had not received Him as the fulfillment of the Law.[17] To that point, they were still seeking righteousness through their own efforts. This is why Jesus came proclaiming that the nation needed to repent (change their mind) about how they could enter the kingdom of God.[18] They needed to change their mind about relying on their own efforts (which could not save them) and believe in their Messiah – the only One who could save them.

Paul explains in Romans 10:9-10 – a passage often quoted as referring to individual salvation in general – how the nation of Israel could become righteous. Righteousness was not based on practicing the Law; rather it was based on faith.[19] This was the message that was being proclaimed: the word of faith.[20] Paul references Deuteronomy 30:14, which was an exhortation for Israel as Moses set out for the nation the promised blessing and cursing for Israel.

In that context, Paul adds that if you (singular, not plural) confess or agree with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you (singular, not plural) will be saved or delivered. If Paul is talking about personal or individual salvation, then he would be saying that one has to agree with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. Presumably, if a person could not speak they could never be saved. Also, advocates of lordship salvation (who invoke this passage to say that one must be completely submitted to the lordship of Christ in order to be saved) would find their core teaching contradicted, as Paul only says that one must agree verbally that Jesus is Lord, not that one must be submitted to His lordship. It is evident that Paul is talking about something other than personal salvation, and not adding new conditions to what he had already explained.

Paul had already made it clear that salvation (and all the accompanying blessings) comes by faith – and it has always been that way, even since Abraham’s example in Genesis 15:6. After establishing justification by faith alone so forcefully,[21] why would Paul now add other conditions? Paul understood that one day the nation of Israel, with weeping, would look upon their pierced Messiah,[22] they would acknowledge that “the Lord is my God,”[23] and all those who call upon the name of the Lord would be delivered from the cataclysms[24] described by Joel – “on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape…”[25] Paul is referencing passages and concepts known through the Hebrew prophets as referring to Israel’s national salvation in the end times. Paul adds that “it”[26] says that if Israel (you, singular) also “believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.”[27] Israel would one day recognize that the Messiah whom they pierced had been raised from the dead, and that would prove that He was indeed the Son of God, who was the rightful King of Israel.[28]

Paul clarifies that with the heart one believes. He uses the third person singular, and doesn’t actually say “a person.” If he was talking about people of the nation in the previous verse, he continues that thought in 10:10. The result of that belief is righteousness. That is the singular condition offered for righteousness in personal contexts. But Paul adds “with the mouth one confesses resulting in salvation.”[29] Again Paul is alluding to the calling out by individual Jewish people who would come to believe in their Messiah at the end of the tribulation (or the time called Jacob’s distress).[30] They would call upon His name and be delivered.[31] Never in any other context related to individual salvation is verbal confession a condition. That is because Paul is not presenting conditions for individual justification, but rather he is reminding his readers that it was promised that one day the remnant – individuals of the nation of Israel – would believe in and call out for their Messiah. This is part of Paul’s larger argument that God had not broken His promises to Israel and that God would fulfill them in the literal, normative sense. God is trustworthy and faithful.

Notice that Paul adds that (with respect to justification) there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, because the same Lord is Lord of all.[32] Any who call upon Him will receive His riches. All who believe in Jesus receive every spiritual blessing.[33] There are additional blessings and national and physical promise fulfillments in store for Israel. Still, when Paul mentions the equality and sameness of Jew and Gentile, he affirms that faith comes by hearing[34] and mentions nothing more about confessing Jesus as Lord. This is not because the verbal confession of Jesus as Lord is unimportant, but only because that act was a condition for a very specific context for the physical deliverance of the Jews during a prophesied time, and having nothing to do with their justification. Of course, Jesus is Lord, and all should acknowledge that and live accordingly. Peter makes that most evident in his exhortation that believers set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts.[35] But that is a very different proposition than demanding this acknowledgement as a condition for justification.

When Jesus says that the believing one has (present tense) eternal life,[36] we can trust that He doesn’t add fine print and technical conditions after the fact. Paul is not at all suggesting that verbal confession is necessary for justification – he makes it clear that justification is the result of faith and faith alone. Paul’s explanation of God’s faithfulness to Israel is yet another evidence of His mercies and a clear demonstration of God’s trustworthiness. Justification (being declared righteous by God) has always been by faith and faith alone, as evidenced by the very first record of how anyone was made righteous (Abraham in Genesis 15:6). Paul’s direct reference to Abraham in his advocacy of justification by faith[37] is not contradicted by Paul’s later appeal to Hebrew prophecy to remind the Romans of how God will demonstrate His faithfulness to Israel. Just as is the case when we read the Gospels, we must be careful not to confuse how God works in bringing justification to individuals and how God works within national contexts – many theological errors have originated from conflating these two.

[1] Romans 3:12.

[2] 4:3-5.

[3] 5:1-2.

[4] 5:9.

[5] 5:10-12.

[6] 5:21.

[7] 6:3-4 – Paul also explains in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that believers in Jesus have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.

[8] 6:6-10.

[9] 7:24-25.

[10] 8:1-2.

[11] 8:8-9.

[12] 8:14-17.

[13] 8:26-37.

[14] 8:38-39.

[15] 9:1-5.

[16] 9:6-33.

[17] 10:1-4.

[18] Matthew 4:17, and explained in detail in 5-7.

[19] Romans 10:6.

[20] 10:8.

[21] 3:28, 5:1.

[22] Zechariah 12:10.

[23] 13:9.

[24] Joel 2:30-31.

[25] 2:32.

[26] Romans 10:9.

[27] Ibid.

[28] 1:4.

[29] 10:10.

[30] Jeremiah 30:7.

[31] Joel 2:32.

[32] Romans 10:12.

[33] Ephesians 1:3.

[34] Romans 10:17.

[35] 1 Peter 3:15.

[36] John 6:47.

[37] Romans 4:1-5.