For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from 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 abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. Romans 10:4-17 (NRSV)
In the beginnings of my pathology residency, as I was beginning to turn pink and purple blobs under the microscope into recognizable diagnostic cues, I never forgot something one of my mentors told me:
“The eye cannot see what the mind does not know.”
It was his urging to simply “spend time in the slide box,” looking at the most obscure and rare cases, as well as the “bread and butter” cases, and reading about the obscure stuff–that taught me to be a better surgical pathologist with the day to day stuff. Exposure to the obscure creates an awareness for the mundane, and allows us to not become too focused on the tiny details. Knowing the obscure made the mundane jump out and be seen for what it was. Becoming comfortable with the mundane made the “Aha!” moment possible. Each feeds on the other, and cultivates the “whole.”
“Salvation” might be described in the same vein. “The mouth cannot speak what the heart does not feel.”
Salvation might be the most written about New Testament topic in all of Christiandom. Like art, people tend to claim they “know it when they see it,” but any attempts to define “it” tend to lead to very obscure, arcane, and circular statements.
This passage is the linchpin of those who interpret “being saved” as the definitive entry point into Christianity. But, if the heart is asleep to the salvation that already resides in us through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, the words, “I confess that Jesus is the Christ,” are simply words. Compare that to Peter, when the disciples were asked, “Who do you say that I am,” his modern day response would be something like, “Well, DUH! You’re the Christ! EVERYBODY oughta know THAT!” What must have been looked upon by Peter’s contemporaries as boorish and impulsive, was, in reality the purest form of confession–a confession straight from the heart–raw, effusive, and under a power of its own.
Yet, a quick Google search (“How to be saved”) reveals that the contemporary expressions of Christianity that ascribe to “being saved” as the definition of “Heaven-worthy,” focus on the lips, not the heart–right down to having the reader pray a suggested “sinner’s prayer.” (Aren’t all prayers by all humans “sinner’s prayers,” when we get right down to it?) If we are looking for a formulaic punch card for a ticket to Heaven, look no further than Google, eHow, or ask.com.
However, this passage also points out the obscurities that remind us, “It’s just not that simple.” It also admonishes us not to spend a whole lot of time figuring out “who is, and who isn’t.” (“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”) It tells us salvation is a “factory installed” part and parcel of the human condition as much as our genes and our mitochondria (“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”) It also states salvation freely crosses boundaries of ethnicity and religion (“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”)
In short, this passage appears to be more about already being saved than it does about “getting” saved.
Finally, the instruction to “…confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” is not an exclusionary statement. This statement is not followed by, “or else.” To believe in one’s heart that Jesus is Lord, and to have it come rolling out much like how it did for the apostle Peter is certainly one manifestation of it. The passage actually leaves the door open for many, many more manifestations–manifestations that include the works of our hands and feet in service to the hungry, lonely, ill, or incarcerated, study and discussion of the Bible, or living lives of quiet faith rooted in the hearing of the Word and receiving the Sacraments.
Perhaps the question is not, “Am I saved?” but “How did my life today reflect the salvation that already lives within me?”
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepsicatoid