This post will summarize Romans 10:9-10 and provide basic application. Readers interested in a detailed defense of these statements are encouraged to consult “An Exegesis of Romans 10:9-10.”
[I]f you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Rom. 10:9-10, NIV)
Though this verse is commonly quoted when people want to “close the deal” when sharing their faith, there are several reasons to believe that it is not talking about “going to heaven” at all. Its basic message is actually that believers who are under the discipline of God or suffering in the bondage of sin may call out to God through Jesus Christ for their deliverance.
First, this passage is found in Romans 9-11, a unit that is largely focused on Israel and her restoration. The immediate context bears this out, as does the following chapter. Historically, Israel was under the imminent threat of destruction by the Roman Empire (predicted by Jesus in Matt. 24:1-2). Paul’s point was that if they would call upon Jesus Christ whom they had rejected, they would have been delivered from that danger. They did not and Jerusalem fell in AD 70.
Second, the word “salvation” in Romans does not refer to salvation from Hell, but deliverance from a temporal danger, such as God’s wrath. Therefore, it is inappropriate to use this verse in attempt to lead someone to Christ. As it happens, the word for salvation from Hell in Romans is “justification.”
Paul’s point is that if the Jews would have believed that God raised Jesus from the dead (which would have resulted in their justification, that is, the salvation of their souls), then, being children of God, they could have turned to Him for deliverance from the coming danger they faced. Someday, Israel will make that confession (at the end of the Tribulation), and all of Israel will be delivered from the persecution they have faced for millennia.
These verses are not relevant only for the Jews, though. If any believer calls upon the name of the Lord (Jesus Christ), then they can be saved—not saved from Hell, for that is already guaranteed—but saved from the discipline that God lays upon His disobedient children. The effects of sin in the Christian life are devastating. Many believers are trapped in bondage. This verse offers more than salvation from Hell. It offers freedom in the here and now! Jesus came to give us not only life, but a free, abundant life. This verse is Paul’s explanation of how we access that freedom.