Sunday, January 6, 2008

In the Imperative or in the Indicative?

A common misunderstanding about a person’s involvement in being saved is that he or she had to take a step of faith. This is believed, taught and confessed by Christians who otherwise would be considered Sovereign Grace Believers. Sovereign Grace states that God is solely and completely to be glorified in the salvation of sinners. This indeed is to be appreciated by Lutherans and others who hold the same glorious and comforting view.

So how does one come up with this misunderstanding? In conversations with some who hold this view of a sinner’s activity in being saved this verse is one that is commonly used:

Romans 10:9 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. ESV

At first reading one could conclude that yes a person is involved in accepting the gift of salvation. Confessing with the mouth is indeed a physical conscious act. Speech muscles are used to form the words and air molecules are moved about so the words are heard. So is it true one is saved because of an activity according to this verse? It can appear that it is imperative that one confess with the mouth and believe in the heart to be saved. A larger reading of Romans 10 shows the rest of the story.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or "'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." ESV

We see that the verse in the larger context is actually a verse of great comfort to a believer. The word of faith which is preached is near us, in our mouth coming from our heart which has banged into our ears and God used it to create faith in the heart. What one thinks in the heart is indeed out of his or her control. Romans 10:17 Therefore, we see that by the time the response of confession by mouth happens one is already saved by the work of God alone. A person speaking of these truths having received them by faith can know he or she has the righteousness of Jesus given them. Romans 10:9 is not an imperative command for a person to obey but rather an indicative that one is already in the faith.