Question: "Is public confession necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9-10)?"
Answer: Romans 10:9-10 is a passage which is often used by many a well-meaning Christian in his/her endeavor to bring someone to a profession of faith in Christ. “If 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.”
This passage is not to be understood to mean that one is brought to salvation by means of an audible profession. We know that salvation is by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), not by confession. Therefore, as with all Scripture, context is of critical importance if we are to understand this passage.
At the time of the writing of the book of Romans, as a nation, the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. For an individual to accept Christ and confess that He was the Messiah would typically result in persecution and ultimately death. At this time, for a Jew to embrace Christ and subsequently confess Him as Lord, knowing that persecution was sure to come, was an indication of true salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit. Outward professions of faith are rare when one’s life is at stake, and no more so than in the early church. The phrase “you will be saved,” is not intended to reveal a condition for salvation by public confession, but rather a definite fact that no one facing death would confess Christ as Messiah, unless indeed he/she was saved.
This is further backed by verse 10, wherein we read, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” The Greek can be rendered in view of an acknowledgment by confession in the attitude of thanksgiving. But why would an individual give thanks for something which he/she has not yet received? When we get to verse 13, we read that “…whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Verse 14, however, indicates that calling upon the Lord is the privilege given to those who are already redeemed: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Further, in verse 12, we read, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek – for the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” Clearly, the phrase “richly blesses all who call on him” cannot be speaking of salvation, as those that were called were already saved by faith. Thus, it refers to the provisions enjoyed following salvation.
To conclude, Romans 10:9-10 is not establishing public confession as a prerequisite for salvation. Rather, it is asserting that when a Jew embraced Christ and subsequently confessed Him as Lord, knowing that persecution was sure to come, one could rest assured that individual was indeed saved. For us today, the passage is equally true. Those who are saved will confess Christ as Lord because He has already instilled faith in their hearts. As with baptism and all good works, public confession is not the means of salvation; it is the evidence of salvation.