Saturday, June 18, 2005

Does Romans 10 Contradict Justification Through Faith Alone?

Justification through works is a popular doctrine. The popular opinion of fallen man is that if there is a God and a Heaven, then we must get to that Heaven because we behave well.

Many professing Christians believe in some form of justification through works, and even some people who truly have been born again will adopt the same mindset. How often, when listening to a Christian radio program, for example, do you hear callers saying that they're doubting that they're truly saved, because a co-worker who is a Jehovah's Witness, for example, has told them that there's some particular work they still must do in order to be justified? I know that I've heard that sort of comment many times.

Some people will cite the account of the rich young ruler in Luke 18 as evidence of justification through works. Or they'll cite Acts 2:38. Or James 2:24. Much has been written about the disputes over passages like these, and I won't be repeating those arguments here. Eric Svendsen's recent series on baptismal justification, for example, demonstrates that none of the Biblical passages cited in support of that doctrine compel us to accept it, while there are many other passages that are inconsistent with it.

What I want to do in this post is address an objection to justification through faith alone that isn't raised or discussed as often as some of these others. What about the reference to confession of the mouth in Romans 10:9-10? Does it prove that faith is insufficient?

It should be noted, first, that confession with the lips is not baptism. Anybody arguing for baptismal justification by citing a passage like Romans 10:9-10, as if the addition of anything to faith makes it acceptable to add baptism to faith as well, is making a poor argument. Given baptism's absence in Romans 10, as well as the awkwardness of reading unspoken references to baptism into the text, it would be advisable that advocates of baptismal justification avoid the passage rather than emphasizing it.

But, baptism aside, does Romans 10 refute sola fide? One common answer is to say that the faith and confession in Romans 10 are referring to a single event, not two separate events. But what's meant by "event"? Faith would have to come before speaking under normal circumstances. The inner man moves his outer body to speak, so the faith would occur first. While it's theoretically possible that God could bring a person to come to faith and speak at the same time, that doesn't seem to be normative. I know that I didn't speak at the same time that I first had faith. And the evidence suggests to me that the same is true of at least the large majority of other believers. Besides, if the faith is what justifies, then why mention that the person spoke at the same time as well? If the spoken confession is being mentioned for some purpose other than justification, then we should respond to this passage by making that point, not by saying that the faith and speaking are one event.

I think the best way to understand this passage is to first look at the immediate context. In Romans 10:8, Paul had cited Deuteronomy 30:14. That passage mentions both the mouth and the heart. Paul wants to relate that passage to the Christian gospel, so he wants to have something to correspond to both elements in Deuteronomy 30, both the mouth and the heart. It's worth noting that Paul doesn't do this when discussing justification elsewhere. He does it here because he's cited Deuteronomy 30 to make a point about the Jewish people and their Old Testament scriptures. To take this one response to Deuteronomy 30 as some sort of proof that confession with the lips is necessary for attaining justification is implausible. Such confession isn't mentioned or implied in Genesis 15:6, Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, Acts 10:44-48, Galatians 3:2, etc. And it would add something to faith, which would create all sorts of problems for all sorts of passages of scripture.

Notice that Romans 10:10 has righteousness being attained through faith. Are we to believe that a person attains righteousness through faith, but isn't justified yet, then attains justification upon confessing Christ with his lips? That would be a possible way to read the passage, but not the best way. I believe that the best way to explain the passage is to see the salvation associated with confession as a reference to what's commonly called sanctification, including eschatological vindication. Philippians 2:12 tells us to work out our salvation, even though we're already justified. The term "salvation" can be used to refer to a collection of categories that involve deliverance from sin, including both justification and sanctification. I'm not saying that confession with our mouth completes our sanctification. But it is part of the process.

As Peter explains in Acts 15:7-9, justification occurs by means of faith that God sees in the heart. Confession with the lips, like baptism and other works, is something outward, not something in the heart. To say that a person's heart can be in right relationship with God through faith, yet he must do some outward work in order to attain justification, is legalism that's contradicted far and wide by scripture.

In closing, I want to emphasize a point that I don't think is appreciated enough. There's only one view of justification that can be reconciled with the whole of scripture, and that's justification through faith alone. It explains Genesis 15:6. It explains Mark 2:5. And Luke 7:50. And Luke 18:10-14. It explains the thief on the cross and Cornelius. It explains Paul's question in Acts 19:2. It explains Galatians 3:2 and Ephesians 1:13-14. Why dismiss any of these passages as exceptions to a rule, let alone dismiss all of them? Are we to believe that the entire Galatian community of Christians, who were justified "by hearing with faith" (Galatians 3:2), which is not a reference to being baptized, was an exception to the rule? What about the Ephesians and the other Christian communities addressed in the book of Ephesians (it seems that Ephesians was intended as a circular letter, not just a letter to the Ephesian church)? When Paul refers to these people being justified upon believing response to the preached word (Ephesians 1:13-14), are we to conclude that all of these people were exceptions to a rule? Justification through faith alone is the best explanation of all of the data, even Romans 10:9-10. We "believe with the heart unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10).