- Our text is today’s Epistle (Romans 10:9–16): 9 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; 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.”
14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (ESV)
What if you had to do something to discover the true way of salvation? What if you had to journey to some far-off shrine to be enlightened by a revered master? What if you had to spend a fortune searching for years for some lost ancient manuscript that was rumoured to contain all the answers? Well, I have good news for you. There is nothing you need to do to discover the true way of salvation, for it has already been given to you.
In the verse preceding today’s text in Romans, St. Paul writes: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) (10:8). Do you see? Salvation is not a discovery that requires great labour and expense on your part and that requires you to journey to far-off lands in search of enlightenment. Rather, salvation is found in God’s Word. This Word is near you—in fact, this Word dwells within you and is in your mouth and in your heart. And it is a Word of the faith proclaimed by the apostles concerning Christ Jesus, and thus it is a Word of salvation and eternal life.
Now, you did not have to travel in search for this Word; this Word came to you. Most of us heard the Word for the first time in our mothers’ wombs as our parents faithfully brought us to church. Yes, the Word was touching you even when you were an unborn child. And then, the day came when you were baptized, and the Word cast out the devil from your heart and filled you with the Holy Spirit. And the Word of God continues to come to you each Lord’s Day as the Word is proclaimed in the sermon and enfleshed in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, where we feast on our Lord’s true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Of course, the Word is near you not only on the Lord’s Day but also every moment of your life as you confess and believe in Christ Jesus your Saviour with your mouth and your heart. Now, what would happen if you only confessed Christ with your mouth, but in your heart you really did not believe? I think you know what would happen. The Word of salvation would leave you. And sadly, there are people who, out of habit, attend church and say all the right words, but in their hearts they do not believe. But the Word of salvation is near in its life-giving power only to those who confess with their lips and who believe with their hearts.
And what’s more, if we are to receive the salvation promised in the Word, then we must confess and believe something very specific, that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth and that He died in the place of sinners and that God the Father raised Him from the dead. And for our confession to be true and complete, we must not only acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but also the Father and the Holy Spirit as true God, for the Father raised the Son from the dead and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus criticized the people for their unbelief, quoting these words from the prophet Isaiah: this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me (29:13). May God never speak such words of us; rather, may the outer confession of our lips match the inner faith of the heart, a true faith centered in Christ Jesus our Lord. When we confess the Creed, may we actually believe each and every word of it. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, may we actually believe that God hears our prayers and will answer us according to His gracious will. When we chant O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, may we actually believe that He is good and that His mercy endures forever.
When the confession of our lips and the faith of our hearts are true, centered in Christ our Saviour, then we are actually speaking back to God the words He first spoke to us. Think of your true confession and faith as a echo. If you stand on the edge of a canyon and shout out “hello”, you will hear a “hello” echoing back to you. So too, your calling as a Christian is to echo back to God the same Word He first spoke to you.
God has spoken a Word throughout the universe, a Word that proclaims that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. Now, with a physical canyon, you will always hear an echo of what you said. The echo has no other choice; it cannot say “goodbye” to your “hello”. But when God proclaims His Word, this sinful world often refuses to echo back that Word to God. God proclaims “Jesus Christ is Lord!” and the world responds “no, He’s not!”
But that is unbelief, and that is not your calling in Christ. Rather, in Christ, you are to echo back to God the same Word He speaks to you. You echo back to God that Jesus is indeed Lord of heaven and earth. You echo back to God His promise that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Your entire life is an echoing back to God the same Word He first spoke to you. And so, by God’s grace, you do not fall away into unbelief and you are not overcome by your troubles and sorrows. And rather than following after what the world says about such things as marriage and sex and the value of human life, you listen to God speaking on these matters in His Word and you speak the same Word back to God and even to the world.
To you and to all who echo back to God the same Word of truth and salvation in Jesus, God gives this promise: 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. Now, please understand. It is not your decision to confess Christ that saves you. Rather, God saves you by giving you His Word of salvation and by giving you the grace to confess and believe and to echo back that Word to God your whole life long. It is not your doing but rather God’s gift of true faith that saves you.
And notice that St. Paul says you will be saved. Now, of course, you are already saved, for in Holy Baptism God has already made you His own dear child, holy in His sight. But it is only after having confessed and believed Jesus to be Lord even unto death that you will experience the fullness of your salvation. Your sinful human nature will be destroyed, never more to trouble you with temptations and sin. And all sorrows and even death will be no more. And most wonderful of all, you shall see your Saviour Jesus with your very eyes and dwell with Him in the glory of heaven. Yes, making a true confession with your lips and with your heart, and being faithful to that confession unto death, you will be saved. That’s a promise from God you can count on.
And then St. Paul gives us another of God’s great promises: Everyone who believes in him [in Christ] will not be put to shame. For you who believe that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, there are two ways in which you will not be put to shame.
First, you will not be ashamed of your sins and fearful of damnation when you stand before God. For you know that your guilt and shame and sins are covered by the blood of the Lamb of God and you are clothed in a righteousness which is not your own, the righteousness of Christ your Saviour. Your sins, as great as they are, will not put you to shame when God judges the world on the Last Day. And you will not suffer eternal damnation, for there is… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
And the second way in which you will not be put to shame is just as marvelous. Everyone who believes in Jesus will not suffer the shame and disappointment that comes to someone whose faith is shown to be in vain. Imagine an atheist at death discovering that God actually does exist. What a shock! And all other religions, philosophies, and worldviews that deny Christ Jesus as Lord are in the same boat; their practitioners will experience the shock and the shame of having their beliefs shown to be false and in vain. As St. Paul says in Philippians: the day is coming when at the name of Jesus every knee [shall] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:10). Those who deny Christ in this life will end up bowing before and confessing Christ for all eternity, however with great and eternal shame. But thanks be to God, you and I, by God’s grace, have received a true faith, by which with great joy we confess now and in heaven that Jesus is indeed Lord of heaven and earth.
And again, this is not our doing, as if we could take credit for our salvation. Rather, having a true faith which will never put us to shame—this is God’s gift to us. There is nothing in us that makes us more worthy of salvation. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Here is a word of warning: do not ever think that you are better than others or more deserving of salvation! And here also is a great word of promise: Jesus is the Lord of all, and He bestows His riches of salvation on all who call on Him. An atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu who turns from their false beliefs and who calls upon the Name of Jesus in true faith will be saved just as fully as we Lutherans who were saved as infants in the waters of Holy Baptism.
This brings us to one final question: how can people call on Jesus and believe in Him if they have never heard? And to this question, God gives a wonderful answer: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Of course, God is talking here of pastors who preach the Word and missionaries who proclaim the Word in distant lands. But God is also talking about you. For you too are involved in the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. You see, you contribute to the work of the Gospel here at Trinity and you support our seminary and its task of training future pastors and you also support our district and synod and our missionaries. And of course, you pray for your pastor and the seminary and the mission of the Church. Yes, your feet are beautiful as well. How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news so that others may call upon Jesus in true faith.
What a gracious God we have. The Father sent His Son to die in our place and to rise again for our salvation. And He has given us a true faith which we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts. And He gives us the grace through His Holy Word and Supper to echo back to Him the same Word of salvation in Christ which He first spoke to us. And He gives us the holy courage and love to proclaim the Good News of salvation, that others too may be saved. Yes, in these wonderful ways, our gracious God helps us to live steadfastly according to His promises in Christ, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, and finally attaining to the glory of heaven. All this is a gift to us from the God who does all things well and who desires our salvation. Amen.