“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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ 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. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV)
Mouth NOT Heart: Confession without Belief
This has been a plague on the church since Judas appeared to be a disciple and wasn’t. How easy it is to confess Jesus as Savior but not have Jesus as Savior. There are many, many people who have said the Apostles’ Creed, sung gospel songs, prayed prayers, perhaps even been baptized. Their mouth is saved but their heart isn’t. Why? They have confession without genuine belief.
How has this happened? Unfortunately, well intentioned pastors and leaders have wanted people to be saved and have urged them to say the right words in the hopes that it was true in their hearts.
Let me give you a few examples. If you grew up in any kind of Christianity like the one I did, then you no doubt have heard of the sinner’s prayer. It goes something like this, Dear God, I am a sinner. I confess my sins to you God. I believe Jesus died for me. Please save me and give me eternal life. Amen.
What is wrong with the prayer? Nothing IF it is connected to a heart that believes Jesus is Savior and Lord. But it’s a huge problem if people think saying the prayer is a magic incantation that makes you right with God. How many times have I heard evangelists and speakers urge everyone in the room, Say this prayer with me! Dear God, I’m a sinner. I need Jesus. I believe Jesus is my Savior…. If you prayed that prayer, my friend, today you are saved. When you die you will go to heaven. Everyone thinks, Great! That was so easy. I prayed the incantation and now I’m forever good with God.
Is that right? Is that salvation? Is that what Romans 10 is saying?
Perhaps you come from an ancient church background where there was an age where all the kids confessed Jesus. You made confession or you took classes and were confirmed or some other version where all the kids your age were “saved” miraculously at the same graduation ceremony. You passed the written exams. You got through the oral interview. You must be saved because you got a C or better on your confirmation tests. That’s what Romans 10 is saying, right? If we get 70% on the test and Deacon Brown says we are saved, well then, we are saved. Never another worry.
Here’s another example. Somewhere in the last century people began to talk about asking Jesus into their hearts. I grew up with this. To become a Christian is to ask Jesus into your heart. Parents and Sunday School teachers urged children to ask Jesus into their hearts.
What’s the gospel paradigm? The heart believes in Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, the mouth confesses Jesus as Lord. I know of no verse in the Bible that urges us to ask Jesus into our hearts. Not one example of apostolic teaching in Acts says anything like that. Frankly, it’s bad theology. Not only does it get the gospel wrong, it gets doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit wrong. When I become a Christian, Jesus doesn’t indwell my heart, the Holy Spirit does. And he indwells us whether we ask him or not.
I have no doubt that many people who asked Jesus into their hearts were saved. It was not because they asked Jesus into their hearts but because that phrase was a misguided expression of genuine trust in Jesus. They were saved not because they asked Jesus into their hearts but because they trusted in Jesus in their hearts. I think I may be one of them.
I really wish we could purge that language from all the ministries and homes of our church. It’s the not the gospel. It alone doesn’t save you. It’s one of these churchy clichés that is not rooted in true doctrine of Scripture.
How do we explain hundreds of thousands, who have prayed some kind of gospelish prayer but presently have no apparent heart for Jesus? One poll of Americans by Barna says 50% of Americans have prayed a similar type prayer. I heard of one poll that 85% of Americans are confident they are going to heaven. How? Mouth not heart.
Over the years I have asked many people how they became a Christian and have been dismayed at how often I hear, I walked an aisle, I asked Jesus into my heart, or some other explanation other than the right one, which is, in my heart I believed in Jesus and I confessed with my mouth that he is my Savior and Lord.
What would you say if I asked you, tell me how you became a Christian? That may feel like I’m putting you on the spot, but I guarantee it’s nothing like answering Almighty God with the stakes of eternity in hell or heaven hanging in the balance. My friend, you want to get this one right.
Mind NOT Heart: Mental Assent without Faith
Here is another almost gospel. I merely need to assent to the gospel. Nod my head. Intellectually affirm the claims of Christianity and that is enough. This is Christianity minus transformation. Christianity without commitment or sacrifice or discipleship.
You have probably heard it said, many people will miss heaven by 12 inches, the space between the head and the heart. These are Christmas and Easter types who find the incarnation and resurrection sufficiently exciting to make a holiday, but not enough to give their lives to. This is like another almost gospel.
Savior NOT Lord: Confession without Repentance
Few people would say this, but millions live this way. Have you ever been shocked by someone at work or school whose life is anything but spiritual, only to have them say to you, Yeah, I’m a Christian? Dude, I grew up with it. I got saved at camp. I’m good with God. The whole direction of their life could be anti-gospel, but they are convinced all is well with God. Why? They confessed Jesus as their Savior.
Jesus’ commands like, take up your cross and follow me sound like craziness to people like this. That’s taking this whole thing a little too far, isn’t it? Can we keep Jesus’ Lordship in this little box of my life leaving me to live jolly well how I want? Mind not heart. Liturgy not life. Hell, not heaven.
Mouth NOT heart. Mind NOT heart. Savior NOT Lord. Do you see how these are all distortions of the simple true gospel?
Heart AND Mouth
“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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
So, here’s the invitation. Ready? In your heart, is all your hope in Jesus? One reason I struggled with assurance is that I was trusting in my prayer instead of trusting in Jesus. Don’t trust in that moment you were saved, or saying the right words, or even the level of your sincerity. Trust in Jesus. Trust in him today. Forget the debate of when it was in the past. Are his cross and his promises the true ground of your faith and hope? When Jesus is Lord of our hearts, he quickly becomes Lord of our tongue, which confesses and praises God for saving us from our guilt and giving us life eternal. And all the Christian mouths said, Amen!
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 J.D. Greear, Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart, p. 6.
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