Can we obtain salvation by the “confess and believe” doctrine?
Understanding this often misquoted scripture may very well save your soul. Herein lies the truth about the ” confess-and-believe”-for-your-salvation doctrine.
You may have heard it taught that all you need to do to obtain salvation is to:
- confess Jesus as Lord and,
- believe in the testimonies of Christ as laid out in the gospels
“Confess and believe” are two lofty ideas that need clarity. For demons also believe in Christ …and shudder (Jam 2:19). They too will be confessing Him as Lord, but it won’t do them any good.
If your Christian walk bears little true fruit of righteousness and resulting peace, then you need to consider the pitfalls of the “confess and believe” doctrine. For we live according to our beliefs. And if we believe right, we will live right.
As a consideration:
How do some regard the gift of salvation? Have they not understood the great price God paid through Christ to atone for their sins? And do they dare to think that the Bible teaches that all we need to do is to confess Him as Lord, and believe in the testimonies of Christ to obtain eternal life? The glory of God, for who He is and what He has done on our part, deserves more than what these advocates teach.
Taking scripture out of context to justify our lives is like feeding on cardboard. We might satisfy a hunger initially, but it will do us more harm than good. So is it with God’s Word. We ought not think that we can use parts of God’s Word that suit us and discard the rest.
The same Paul, who wrote Romans 10:9, also said: For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God (Act 20:27 KJV). He means here that he has not kept back any part of God’s Word from his hearers. It is for your soul’s security and your assurance that you are of Him, if you will only receive the full counsel of God’s Word.
The context of Paul’s “Confess and believe” Romans 10:9
The context begins in Rom. 10:5 and reads through to the end of the chapter.
The foundation to Rom. 10:9
Look at this carefully:
But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), (Rom 10:6)
or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Rom 10:7)
But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, (Rom 10:8)
The portion above was inspired by Moses’ words in Deut. 30; particularly Deut. 30: 11-14. Here Moses was speaking to Israel, telling them that the Word they need to believe and adhere to is not out of reach. It isn’t in heaven, or across the seas; but it is with us. All we need to do is to believe and act upon that belief.
However, Israel never benefitted as a people from the Word because they did not unite it with faith, i.e. adhere to it. And as a result did not enter into the promises of God. (See Heb. 3:19- Compare this scripture with Heb. 4:6 and you will notice that their disbelief (lack of saving faith) caused their disobedience).
And here lies the problem
How many try to claim the promise of eternal life by a simple “confess and believe” (which they call “faith”)? And how many do you know of that have been claiming these promises for years and yet their lives are no better than those in the world? And many of them are worse. I have seen this problem over and over for over 40 years now. The results are usually conclusive: This type of “faith” does not work! But why not?
True, working faith is not a cliché; nor is it a belief system. If you bear with me and understand the workings of exercising true faith it will change your heart, then your whole life!
The process of receiving the blessings of God
Moses told the people how to receive the blessings. The aim was in walking by the moral law of God. The method was to believe in God with sufficient faith to love Him for who He is with our whole heart. (Deut. 30: 10)
Now, immediately people will defend their non-working belief by saying: “we are not to keep the law because we are not under it, but under Christ”. But their misunderstanding in this is also hypocritical. I will show you why. But first:
Israel was given not only the written moral law of God on mount Sinai, but also the ceremonial law, which came later through the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. The ceremonial law of God was for the foreshadowing of things to come.(Heb. 10:1) But the moral law of God will always remain.
Peter said to the council that no one was able to bear the law. But this was the ceremonial law (Acts 15:10); in particular, circumcision (See Acts 15:5). Paul said that he was not under the law (this was the ceremonial law of the Jews), but he was certainly under the law of God in Christ. (This is the moral law) (1Cor. 9:21).
Here is their hypocritical part:
How many choose to believe that they are not under the whole law including the eternal moral law? Answer: Many! (If not most). Now, how many of them would like other Christians sinning against them through murder, stealing, adultery, slander, hate, etc. Are they not hypocrites? In reality, they don’t want to walk in righteousness because it means forgoing their selfishness; but they most definitely do want others to keep the moral law when it comes to dealing with them!
The moral law of God is the matrix of God’s kingdom. It never changes. It produces the peace and safety of perfect benevolence. The method of living in that benevolence is to love God and His righteousness through faith. And, unless we walk in the Spirit of holiness i.e. being sanctified, we will not see heaven or eternal life. (Heb. 12:14) The way to salvation is learning how to walk in loving obedience through saving faith.
The difference between the old and new covenant
The difference between the old covenant of the Jews and the new covenant of Christians is vast.
The Old Covenant
In the old covenant, Moses said that the law he was counselling them in was “not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach”. That is; it was possible to walk in all the counsel of God. If it wasn’t then God would not have commanded it (Deut. 30:11). After all, Moses and Joshua did, bar Moses’ hitting the Rock twice. So why did the people not walk in it? Because it was not done in true, saving faith (Heb. 4:2).
Moses tried to explain to the Jews how to obtain the method of walking in faith to receive God’s blessings. He said:
“It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ (Deut 30:12)
“Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ (Deut 30:13)
“But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. (Deut 30:14)
This means that the word of faith was already within them. God has given every free-moral agent the gift of faith and the Word of righteousness (our consciences) to believe and walk in Him. (Rom.12:3) But for them it was more difficult to exercise faith in an unseen person of God.
The New Covenant
But in the new covenant, we have better promises (Heb. 8:6) based on the tangible presence of God having appeared in Person, through Christ. Jesus came to us to show the way to God. He is the Word of God made flesh (John 1: 1 &14).
We can now identify with God through Christ, making following after Him more simple. Further, He has given us the powerful presence of His Holy Spirit to live in us, and to keep us in the will and blessing of God. Therefore, it is by knowing God through Christ that we can exercise faith in the Person of God living in us by the Holy Spirit.
This presence of Christ within is what makes our covenant so much better than believing in the God who never manifested Himself in person before. Through this living way we are more than able to walk pleasing to God for salvation. His commandments now are not burdensome (1John 5:3) because our relationship with Him is real. No one can walk in the conscious presence of God and sin (1John 3:6). Therefore, it is this consciousness of Him that keeps us in Him. Those who do not have this consciousness have no part in Him, nor He in them (Acts 8:21; Rom. 8:9).
Paul’s meaning of Rom. 10:9
Paul was saying that this Word of faith is not far from us, and he paraphrased Moses words by saying that we don’t have to send up to heaven to bring this Word of faith down to us; nor go to the depths of the earth (Abyss – Moses says “across the sea”) to bring it up. But what is this Word of faith? It is Christ in the heart, the manifest Word of God within us, which is acquired by true faith. Not by a cheap “confess and believe” doctrine.
The secret to walking in true saving faith
This faith in God’s Word is now manifest not just as God’s spoken commandments, but as the real Person of God. Therefore, we do not have to bring Christ down from heaven again, or raise Him from the dead (Rom. 10:6-7). All we need to do is exercise the faith, which we all have been born with, in the Person of Christ, through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. (Rom. 10:8)
- We are to believe the testimonies of Christ in the gospel as to what has been done for us. Receiving the Spirit of Christ, like faith, is a choice.
- Then we walk in that choice of having received Him through faith.
- We choose to believe that He resides within us because we trust His word that says He will. By doing this we walk in His revealed will, which is a life of sanctification, which is a life lived in righteousness – the revealed will of God. (See Heb. 12:14)
- Then, and only then, we will be given the assurance by the Spirit of God that we are in Him and have eternal life (See Rom. 8:16). Any other belief is mere speculation and empty assumption.
The revelation of true faith in Rom. 10:9
The assurance that we are in Christ, or have the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8: 9) is if we are found walking in His righteousness. This will be the result of true saving faith.
Rom. 10:10 explains verse 9
“…for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Rom 10:10)
Faith is not a mental consent to, or belief in the testimonies of Christ. Rather, it is a quickening of the spirit – a consciousness of the reality of Christ received within. This consciousness in the heart, (or saving faith) produces a natural tendency to live pleasing to God, producing righteousness as a way of life. Then with our hearts, being filled with Christ, we will love what He loves and hate what He hates. As a result we will acknowledge / confess Jesus as Lord. For what the heart is filled with the mouth will confess (Matt. 12:24). And the final result of this is our salvation.
When we truly believe in Christ, it is because we have received Him to abide within. Hence, Christ lives His life through us. This faith is sincere and from the heart (1Pet. 1:22) and naturally purifies the soul. Therefore, when we walk in the conscious reality of Christ within us, the result will always be righteousness, which is the holy conduct of life (or as Hebrews puts it – our sanctification (Heb. 12:14)). And if anyone lives otherwise and calls himself a Christian that one is a liar (1John 2:4).
The promises of God
God promised a good life on earth and an eternal life in the world to come if we walk in Him and according to the laws of righteousness that governs His holy kingdom (Deut. 30: 8-9). However, those to whom the promises were initially given did not hear the Word united with faith (Heb. 4:2).
Let us then, while the promises of God remain, turn to Him in real saving faith, and walk in that conscious presence of Christ (See Heb. 4:1). Our assurance of salvation will not be based on assumption, but God will quicken our spirits with that knowing that we are indeed children of God.
Peter said that we are to make sure of our calling to salvation (2Pet. 1:10). For many are called, but few are chosen. This is because they refuse to exercise a living faith in the present Person of Christ. Those who call on Him in all sincerity of heart, exercising faith will not be disappointed (Rom. 10: 11 -13).
Do not harden your heart
Today, if you hear His call on your life to repent and walk in the presence of Christ, do not harden your heart against the truth. He will walk with you to accomplish that which He has begun in you if you will exercise the kind of faith that is conscious of His abiding presence to produce righteousness of heart.
To learn more about this subject see How do I know if I am saved?