God’s Simple Plan of Salvation
May 26, 2006
This is a very familiar passage of Scripture. Most of us know certain parts of it by heart. I have asked the Lord to do me a favor and not let me say anything new. I don’t want to say anything you haven’t already heard. All I want to do is reinforce a truth that you already know to be true so that you will know that it is still true and so that you believe it more than you already do.
Many years ago I learned a simple presentation of the gospel called the Romans Road of Salvation. It is one of the most popular means ever devised for sharing the gospel because it consists entirely of verses taken from the book of Romans. There are four stops on the Romans Road.
Stop # 1: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Stop # 2: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Stop # 3: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Stop # 4 is part of our passage for today–Romans 10:9-10.
Before we jump into the passage, let’s begin with a simple theological quiz. Here’s a multiple-choice question: How good do you have to be to go to heaven?
A) Pretty good
B) Really Good
C) Better than Uncle Joe
The answer is D. If you want to go to heaven, you have to be perfect. And I don’t mean “sort of” perfect, “mostly” perfect, or 80% perfect. Being 80% perfect is like being 80% pregnant. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not. Either you’re perfect or you’re not. The kicker in all this is that 99.9% of the world believes the answer is either A or B or C. Most people would say it’s A. If I’m pretty good on the relative scale of goodness, surely I’ll go to heaven. And most people are quick to compare themselves to Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane or those punk kids down the street. That’s always an easy comparison because we usually only compare ourselves to someone who isn’t as good as we are. But that’s not what God does. When God makes a comparison, he compares us to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We all fall short of his divine glory (Romans 3:23).
God demands perfection. That’s a shocking thought. Because we live in an imperfect world, the very idea of perfection is hard to grasp. If you ask people, “Do you have to be perfect to go to heaven?” most will answer no. But the answer is yes. God is perfect and he will not allow imperfect people to join him in heaven. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve got to be perfect from the moment of birth till the moment of death with no failure at all in between. God’s standard is absolute perfection in thought, word and deed 100% of the time. That means we are left with only two options if we want to go to heaven:
1) We’ve got to be perfect ourselves.
2) We’ve got to find someone who can be perfect in our place.
Since we’ve all blown #1 years ago, the only thing left for us is #2. But someone might say, “I can’t change the past but I can be perfect from here on out. Won’t that be enough?” First of all, you couldn’t do it even if you tried, but if you could it wouldn’t work. Future obedience cannot overcome past disobedience. You can never do enough in the future to cover what you did in the past. The result of living by the law is guaranteed frustration. The harder we try, the more we fail. That’s what Paul means in verse 5 when he talks about the righteousness that is by the law. If you could truly be perfect in thought, word or deed from the moment of your birth till the moment of your death, you would go to heaven. But most of us can’t even get out of bed without committing a sin. We’re sunk before we ever get to the office. And that’s just one day.
Is it possible to be saved by keeping the law of God? Yes, but there is only one catch, and it is an all-important catch. In order to be saved by keeping the law, you must keep it perfectly in thought, word and deed from the moment you are born until the moment you die. If at any one point in your 70-80 years of living, even for one microsecond, you should in any way fall short of God’s standard of perfection, then you have blown it completely. You can be saved by keeping the law, but it demands something that excludes all of us. The only person who is not excluded is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Either you keep all the law all the time or you’ll never get to heaven by keeping the law. God doesn’t grade on the curve. It’s a simple Pass/Fail. Keep the law perfectly 100% of the time and you go to heaven. Mess up just once and you go to hell. That doesn’t leave a big margin for error.
Swimming to Hawaii
Perhaps an illustration will make things clear. Suppose an eccentric rich man offers $1 million to any person who can swim from San Diego, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. The rules are simple. You have get in the water in San Diego and you can’t get out until you reach the beach in Honolulu. And you can’t stop or rest or have anyone assist you in any way. You can’t use any mechanical or electronic devices to help you. You have to swim straight through without stopping. If you do, you win $1 million. If you don’t make it or if you don’t follow the rules, you get nothing. On the appointed day, no one shows up because the challenge is impossible to meet. So the rich man raises the prize to $10 million. Still no takers. Finally, he raises the total to $100 million. On the appointed day 10,000 people show up because that’s a lot of money, and even if you can’t do it, you never know what might happen. The gun sounds and everyone hits the water at once. A few people turn back after 200 yards because they can’t swim and just wanted the money. A few others drop out after five miles because they’ve been bitten by sharks. Still others get tangled in seaweed and have to stop. By the 20-mile mark only 150 swimmers are left. By the 50-mile mark only ten are left. Five others drop out in the next 30 miles. At the 100-mile mark two swimmers are in still in the water. Then only one is left—a woman who won two Olympic medals for distance swimming. Finally she gives out after swimming an amazing 215 miles. When she is pulled into the boat, she tells the rich man that she deserves the money because she lasted longer than anyone else. When he refuses, she says he should give her a portion of the money representing the distance she swam. He refuses again, citing the rules of the contest. It was all or nothing. It doesn’t matter to him if she dropped out 100 yards from the Honolulu beach. In this case, missing by a little is the same as missing by a lot. The only way to win $100 million is to swim all the way from San Diego to Honolulu. There is no partial payment.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. While it’s true that some sinners are relatively better than other sinners, that doesn’t make any difference. Suppose a person could somehow be good enough to end up six inches from heaven when he dies. Where does he go? He goes to hell because if you’re outside the gates, you’re not inside and being inside is all that matters. Close counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It doesn’t count at all when it comes to going to heaven.
I. The Proximity of Salvation
Verses 6-8 explain what God has done to provide salvation for us:
But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ’Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ’Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.
This passage contains a quote from Deuteronomy 30 where Moses gives his final message to the people of Israel. Knowing that he would never speak to them again, he reminds them that God had already revealed himself to them on Mount Sinai. They could never say they didn’t know what God wanted. Not only that, but Moses had proclaimed God’s Word to them for forty years. No one had any excuses. No one could say, “I wish God had done more to make himself clear.” God had spoken, and he did not stutter. If you have any doubts about what God wants, just read the Ten Commandments. That’s clear enough. So Moses is telling his people, “The Word is near to you, not far away, it is in your mouth and in your heart.” Paul takes these words of Moses and applies them to the gospel message. If God had spoken through the law, how much more has he now spoken to us through Jesus Christ.
No one needs to say, “I want to bring Christ down from heaven,” because he’s already been here.
No one needs to say, “I want to bring Christ up from the dead,” because he rose from the dead 2000 years ago.
When it comes to providing salvation, God has already done the hard part. He sent his Son from heaven to earth, allowed him to live among us and be crucified by wicked men and then buried in the ground. On the third day God raised his Son from the dead. Forty days later he ascended into heaven. You don’t have to go to heaven to try to bring Jesus down; he has already come down. You don’t have to go digging around in the ground as if you have to raise Christ from the dead. God has already done that. What is the result of what God has done for us? The word is “near you.” What word? The word of the gospel. The Good News of salvation has drawn near. Jesus is now near to you. He’s not far away, as if you had to take a trip or climb a mountain or fly into outer space in order to find him. He’s not hiding from you, but you may be hiding from him. Lots of very religious people trip up on this very point. They work hard, do good works, pay their bills, go to church, and in general play by all the rules. They think that Jesus is far off so they have to work all their lives to make sure they can find him in the end. But that’s not what the Bible says.
God has come near to us. He is as near as your heart and your mouth. How near is Jesus to the sinner? Just open the door and let him in. It’s like going to the refrigerator and getting a drink of living water. It’s like having a slice of living bread. Like drinking, like eating, like hearing the knock and answering the door. Do you know what that means? You can be saved in just 30 seconds. Jesus is so near that you can be saved in one minute or two or three or five. God has done the hard part, and therefore Jesus is very, very near.
How near is Jesus to the sinner? He is as near as these words spoken from your heart: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner, for Jesus’ sake.” It does not matter what sin you have committed, Jesus is not far away. It does not matter where you have been sleeping this week, Jesus is not far away. It doesn’t matter what the record of your past is, no matter how bad it is, it doesn’t matter, Jesus is not far away. That is what our text is saying. Not only has God done the hard part by sending his Son to die for our sins and then raising him from the dead, but God has brought his Son very near to everybody on earth and all you have to do if you want Jesus is reach out the empty hands of faith, and in the act of reaching, he will come to you. That is what verse 8 means. It is an overlooked verse, but it is the heart of the gospel message. God has come near to us through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not far away. Therefore, anyone can be saved, any time, anywhere, under any conditions. It doesn’t matter what their sins have been or what they have done in the past.
II. The Simplicity of Salvation
Now we come to the last stop on the Roman’s Road.
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 (vv. 9-10).
Think about that phrase, “Jesus is Lord.” It means he is God incarnate, the Son of God dwelling in human flesh, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May I encourage you to stop reading this sermon and say these words out loud:
Jesus is Lord.
We forget how revolutionary those words were in the first century. In the Roman Empire if a man stood up in a crowd and shouted, “Jesus is God,” no one would pay any attention. But if he shouted, “Jesus is Lord,” he could be stoned to death. In those days declaring anyone but Caesar as Lord was considered treason.
These words could not be simpler or plainer or clearer. If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. You may say, “Pastor Ray, you are making it too simple.” I am not the one who made it simple. God made it simple.” Then in case we miss it, Paul repeats it in verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Verse 9 says confess first and then believe. Verse 10 says believe, then confess. Why is that? Because it is possible to say “Jesus is Lord,” and not mean it in your heart. But no one is saved simply by repeating a few words. It’s the heart that matters to God because out of the heart flow all the issues of life. First you believe in your heart, then you confess with your mouth. Confession means nothing unless it is backed up by deep heart belief in Jesus Christ.
Recently someone asked me how I reconcile verse 4 which says that salvation comes to all who believe with verses 9-10 that mention belief plus confession with verse 13 that talks about calling on the name of the Lord. Here is my answer: The one thing that must be true is that Paul does not contradict himself in the space of just a few verses. Whatever he means in verse 4 must be consistent with what he means in verses 9-10 and also in verse 13. Paul’s theology is Romans is entirely consistent in that salvation always comes by faith wholly apart from human works or any form of merit. Righteousness is always a gift. It’s always by grace, not by works. Paul hammers that point home in so many different ways that no one can miss it. When he gets to Chapter 10, he’s dealing with Israel’s failure to believe the message that was preached to them. Their problem was not knowledge. They had plenty of knowledge, but they either ignored it or used it to establish their own righteousness apart from the gospel. So Paul’s general point is that salvation now comes to everyone who believes–Jew or Gentile. It is a gift we receive by believing from the heart in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That belief expresses itself in calling upon the name of the Lord (v. 13). To call on the Lord in Paul’s mind is the same as believing in him. For Paul belief is never mere mental assent to facts. You believe on Jesus when you see your desperate condition and cry out to him for mercy based on his death and resurrection. You reach out and take God’s free gift. As you believe in your heart, you openly affirm that Jesus is Lord, which was a revolutionary statement in the Roman Empire. So it all goes together–believing and calling and confessing. The one leads to the other leads to the other. Confession is the end result of calling which comes from a heart that truly believes.
John Piper has a helpful word on this point:
Now be careful here: the mouth is not at odds with the heart. And the heart is not left behind when the mouth speaks. Paul doesn’t mean: Just believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but you don’t have to confess he’s Lord with the mouth; and he does not mean you must confess Jesus is Lord but you don’t have to believe it in the heart. No. The point is: The mouth confesses what the heart believes, and what the heart believes when it believes that God raised Jesus from the dead, is that Jesus is Lord!
God has already done the hard part when he brought Jesus near to us so that any sinner can be saved, anytime, anywhere. Our part is simply to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths. When we do, we will be saved.
III. The Availability of Salvation
Look at God’s promise in verse 11. “As the Scripture says, anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Eugene Peterson (The Message) offers this excellent paraphrase: “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” You will be disappointed in your friends and loved ones. Husbands and wives are disappointed with each other from time to time. Children are disappointed in parents, and parents are sometimes disappointed with their children. Friends leave us, family members forget us, and business partners double cross us. But no one who trusts in Jesus will ever be disappointed. Let me say it to you very clearly. If you put your trust in Jesus, you will never regret that decision. Ten thousand years from now, you will still be glad you trusted in him.
Paul draws out a further implication in verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew or gentile.” God doesn’t play favorites. No group or race or culture has a special claim on God’s grace. We might say today that there is no difference between black and white, between Hispanic and Asian, North American and South American, no difference between Australian, Malaysian, Japanese, Chinese, Cambodian, tall or short, young or old, rich or poor, educated, non-educated, literate, illiterate, male or female, there is no difference. “The same Lord is Lord over all and richly blesses all who call upon him” (v. 12). If you meet a person whose skin is not the same color as yours, it doesn’t matter. If he’s not of your ethnic background, go ahead and share the gospel. Show him Jesus. He doesn’t have to look like you, sound like you, walk like you or talk like you. He doesn’t have to be from your culture, because God’s salvation isn’t limited to people just like you. He saves anybody who comes to him through Jesus Christ. He is so rich in mercy that he can show mercy to the whole world and still have plenty of mercy left over. Suppose you happen upon a crash and find a man who is obviously near death. What will you say to him? Do you have any good news for a dying man? You can’t say, “Come to church,” because he doesn’t have time. You can’t say, “Read Pastor Ray’s sermons,” because he’ll be dead soon. You can’t say, “Let’s get you baptized,” because he will be gone a few seconds.
He doesn’t have time to give any money.
He won’t live long enough to be baptized.
He can’t walk the aisle.
He is like the thief on the cross. He is going down fast. Jesus said to that dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is the same principle. The same Lord is Lord over all who call on him. Do we have any good news for the dying? Yes we do, for God does not play favorites. He is rich in mercy to all who call upon him, and he will do it in 30 seconds, too.
Finally, verse 13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I like the King James Version, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Whosoever. It doesn’t matter who you are. God opens the doors of heaven and invites the whole world to come in. Anyone who wants to can be saved.
Here is the whole sermon in just one paragraph. Salvation is of the Lord. God has done everything necessary for you to go to heaven. He sent his Son who died on the cross and rose from the dead. You have to believe that, trust in it, stake your life on it, rest everything you have on it, and confess that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, and you will be saved.
I have a friend who said, “I don’t know why you ask people to pray a prayer at the end of your sermon, that feels uncomfortable.” This sermon is my answer. I pray the prayer because God has made it so simple, so easy, that anyone can be saved.
God made it simple; I want to make it available. Maybe you are religious, you probably are, you have probably gone to church before, but the question is, “Do you know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?” Here is a prayer that can help you express your faith: “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I have sinned in thought and word and deed. Heavenly Father, I have not loved you as I ought. I have not loved your Son Jesus Christ as I ought. Thank you for loving me in spite of my sin. Thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for my sins. Thank you for raising Jesus from the dead for my salvation. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Thank you for coming in. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.”
That’s a simple prayer, isn’t it? Remember, there is no magic in saying certain words. It’s believing in the heart that matters with the Lord. God has made salvation simple so that people who are lost can be saved. He made it simple so that people who are guilty can know they are forgiven. He made it simple so that those with many doubts can have full assurance. He made it simple so that folks like you and me can know we’re going to heaven. That’s God’s simple plan of salvation. It’s good for anyone, anywhere, anytime. Amen.