NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TEN (Lesson XIV)
The Apostle Peter reached the conclusion after Jesus told them that the Father in heaven is unreachable, that unless they go through Christ they cannot have fellowship with Him. So Peter says: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life, and we believe them and know you are the holy Son of God.”1 And Paul adds that we must have complete confidence and faith in Christ’s resurrection. He told the Corinthians: “If He is still dead, then all our preaching is useless and your trust in God is empty, worthless, hopeless; and we apostles are all liars because we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, and of course that isn’t true if the dead do not come back to life again. If they don’t, then Christ is still dead, and you are very foolish to keep on trusting God to save you, and you are still under condemnation for your sins.”2
So when the Apostle Peter sent his letter to the scattered Jewish believers around the Roman empire, he wrote: “God chose Him [Christ] for this purpose long before the world began, but only recently was He brought into public view, in these last days, as a blessing to you. Because of this, your trust can be in God who raised Christ from the dead and gave Him great glory. Now your faith and hope can rest in Him alone.”3 Have you ever heard a minister lead people in a sinner’s prayer by saying: “And I believe with all my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead to be my Lord and Savior?”
When examining what early church scholars have to say on this confession of faith, we look at what Augustine and Pelagius had in mind. Augustine recommends that when asked about your salvation, memorize what Paul says here as a Creed that you then repeat as your answer.4 Pelagius seems to oppose the very idea, that later on in the Roman Catholic church, became known as “indulgences.” For him, what you confess with your mouth is the testimony of what’s in your heart. When you follow what Paul said, you will be saved from past transgressions, but not sins in advance.5 In other words, no matter what one says in confessing their faith in God and in Christ, what comes out of the mouth must be coming from a pure and honest heart at that moment.
Mike Aquilina, a writer for Our Sunday Visitor, in his work on the writings of the early church fathers, makes a point about how salvation was determined at the beginning of the church era. He discovered that there were many sects claiming the name “Christian,” who practiced doctrines contradictory to one another. So it had to be made clear very early in the Church exactly what a person meant when they claimed to be a follower of the “Christian faith.” So Church leaders and scholars had to come up with concise statements of belief that mirrored the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.6 He points out what Paul wrote to the Corinthians,7 here to the Romans, and in the Acts of the Apostles were major points in their consideration.8
Aquilina then shares the explanation of creeds by St. Cyril of Jerusalem: That the reasoning behind describing faith was not made to agree with human opinions. Rather, what was found to be of the greatest importance when gathered from all the Scriptures. This was necessary to present the one teaching of faith in its entirety. And just as the mustard seed contains a great number of branches in a tiny grain, so too this summary of faith, made up of a few words, contained the whole knowledge of true faith contained in the both Covenants.9
Reformer Martin Luther sees another factor in this confession, and that is the recognition that Jesus was crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification.10 Without that, there would have been no reason for Him to die or be resurrected. Luther then points back to verses 6-7 where Paul explains that our righteousness does not come through the Law but from the death and resurrection of Christ. So when put together, whoever believes both of these facts will be saved, according to what Paul says in verse 10. So the actual act of salvation is not based on what we say, but that we believe what we say.
John Calvin takes issue with Paul for putting confession before faith. Calvin feels that the order would have been more convincing if faith of the heart had preceded confession of the mouth. That’s because confession comes after faith, as long as the person rightly confesses the Lord Jesus. And this confession is an acknowledgment that He is the one given by the Father, and described in the Gospel. Another thing Calvin emphasizes is that the mention of Christ’s resurrection should not be taken as something that diminished the momentous importance of His death on the cross. The work of salvation did not start until Christ hung on the cross, and His rising again completed the whole work of our salvation.
There was nothing before, such as the Law, and nothing has been added since, such as the sacraments of the church that change this principle of faith. Our redemption, calling, and justification were put into effect by Christ’s death, through which we are reconciled to God. He then won the victory over sin, death, the grave, hell, and Satan by His resurrection. That then put us on the path of righteousness, newness of life, and the blessed hope of immortality. So Paul had no intention of drawing attention away from Christ’s death by only mentioning His resurrection here. Paul was standing by what he told the Corinthians: “If Christ did not rise from the grave, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”11.12
John Bengel sees the thought expressed here by Paul as copying the Hebrew parallel form. It reads as follows: “Confession by the mouth must be added to faith of the heart, in order to secure salvation.”13 Albert Barnes takes the Greek word homologeō rendered “confess,” as meaning the same when it is rendered “profess.”14 So while it means “declare” in one instance it means “profess” in another. In fact, Thayer states that in this case, it means, “to declare openly, to speak out freely.” But there is more when that declaration is a confession, then what is said agrees with something else. It is exemplified by what the person is saying: They not only talk the talk but walk the walk. Furthermore, what a believer says for themselves must be in agreement, or accord, with what God says about them.
I like the way Jonathan Edwards speaks about how a sinner must make an open confession of their faith in Christ. It may be referred to as the “sinner’s prayer,” or “public testimony” of their acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior. For him, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the necessity of a profession of one’s faith in Christ as they seek salvation, he is actually speaking of a saving faith. And this “saving faith” is a combination of what one says with their mouth and what one believes in their heart.15
Barnes suggests that it could be formed as a creed that would imply the following: A profession of faith that stands as a public declaration of our agreement with what God has declared, and includes in all His extends to all His proclamations about our lost condition, our sin, and our need of a Savior. Also to His teachings about His own nature, holiness, and the Law; about the Savior and the Holy Spirit; about the necessity of a change of heart and holiness of life; about the grave and the judgment; and about heaven and hell.
When it comes to any doctrine of salvation, the role of the Redeemer must be front and center. It is put here by Paul as a way of making a distinction between all other facts. This is publicly expressed by the believer as their assent to that fact. So it is a declaration of agreement with everything else said in Scripture on this subject.16
Robert Haldane focuses in on why and how confessing Jesus Christ as Lord results in salvation. First, any confession made must imply that the truth confessed must be known and agreed to in the heart. That way, the belief of the heart is in sync with the confession of the lips. Neither one is genuine without the other. Unless that is the case, then neither the belief in the heart and the confession with the mouth result in salvation. If a person says, “I believe in Christ,” yet denies Him when challenged, or if a person does believe in Christ as Savior yet refuses to confess such belief openly, such conflict between heart and mouth causes one to cancel out the other. It is not enough to believe what we say without believing what God says. Christ did not die to be our Savior only at the beginning of lifting us up from being dead in trespasses and sin, but to be our Savior at the end when He raises us up from the grave to everlasting life. Anything less than this can neither save nor sanctify.17
Charles Hodge disagrees with John Calvin on putting faith before confession. For him, the two requisites for salvation mentioned in this verse – confession and faith, are stated in their natural order. First, our outer “confession” is the evidence of our inner “faith.” The Apostle Peter puts them in the same order by telling his readers to “confirm their calling and election.”18 Since calling is placed before election, then “calling” is the evidence of “election.” To make this clearer, let’s look at the thing to be confessed or confirmed. It is that Jesus Christ is Lord.19
That openly recognizes His authority to the full extent in which He is Lord. It also acknowledges that He is exalted above all principalities and powers.20 Even angels are subject to His authority.21 Furthermore, all power in heaven and earth are committed to Him because He is Lord.22 This confession, therefore, includes in it an acknowledgment of Christ’s universal sovereignty, and a sincere recognition of His authority over us. So to confess Christ as Lord is to acknowledge faith in Him as the Messiah. This is how God sees Him and as a result made Him our Mediator. So it is clear that faith is necessary in such a confession.23
1 John 6:68-69
2 1 Corinthians 15:14-18
3 1 Peter 1:20-21
4 Augustine: Sermons for the Recent Converts, Homily 214.1
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 The Fathers of the Church: by Mike Aquilina, 1999, p. 46
7 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
8 Acts of the Apostles 8:37
9 The Fathers of the Church: ibid. p. 47, Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 186): St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. Illum. 5, 12: pp. 33, 521-524
10 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.147
11 1 Corinthians 15:17
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.325
14 See Matthew 7:23; Titus 1:16; 3:14; Romans 1:22; 1 Timothy 2:10; 6:12-13, 21; Hebrews 3:1, etc.
15 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 235).
16 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Robert Haldane; On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 506-507
18 2 Peter 1:10
19 Philippians 2:11
20 Ephesians 1:21
21 1 Peter 3:22
22 Matthew 28:18
23 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 529