Reconciling Matthew 7:21 with Romans 10:9
A friend recently asked me this question after reading through The Roman Road: A Well-Engineered Path to Salvation. It’s a fantastic question and gave me reason to write down my understanding of how they work out.
Let us begin by looking at the text at hand.
First, Romans 10:9 – "because, 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."
Second, Matthew 7:21 – "“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
The apparent argument for conflict here would run something like this. First, I’m told by Paul (in Romans) that if I say out loud "Jesus is Lord", I’ll be saved. However, Jesus Himself clearly says that not everyone who calls Him LORD will be saved, but that many will (on the Day of Judgment) approach Him, calling Him LORD, and (many) will not be saved! There certainly appears to be a disconnect, and I would agree that taking the two verses, as they are presented here, doesn’t provide much in the way of unity and compatibility – how then will we understand this?
I would submit that the key to understanding how these verses work together in such a way as to provide a true and full bodied understanding of God’s Salvific work will lie in the phrase believe in your heart, and that it will be helpful to further articulate what scripture means when it says "confess with your mouth".
Finding the Context
As I’ve stated in the article How Do You Study the Bible, context is king – A text without context is a pretext for a proof-text! So then, we must return to each of these verses and determine their context, with as few pre-conceived notions as possible. Let’s begin with Matthew and then look to Romans.
What does it say?
Matthew 5 thru 7 is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount. In this Sermon are found the Lord’s Prayer, the appropriate response to oppression or aggression (Turn the Other Cheek), the commands to be salt of the Earth and the light of the world; it ultimately closes in Chapter 7 where we find the most famous Judge not, that you be not judged as well as The Golden Rule – Treat others like you want to be treated. We can rightly see then, that Chapter 7 is a closing of the sermon, and that our particular verse (21) falls towards the end of chapter seven, and it is then part of the concluding statements in this particular discourse.
As appropriate to a good sermon, this one ends by demonstrating the difference between those who belong to the Kingdom of God and those who do not. As Jonathan Edwards stated in his sermon Pressing into the Kingdom of God – Men in general – who are not atheists – desire to belong to the Kingdom of God; that is, they desire to go to Heaven rather than to Hell. Which can be seen to demonstrate that most all of mankind fancies themselves members of the kingdom although the majority of mankind will enter the gate that leads to destruction (v.13) while few will in actuality find the gate that leads to the Kingdom of God (v.14).
So, in verse 13, Christ compares the way to heaven against the way to hell, and then – in verse 15, He begins to address those who will enter the gates to destruction, particularly those who most diligently appear (to the point of putting on sheep’s clothing) to be pursuing the narrow gate that leads to life. These false prophets are rightly considered anyone who "claims" to be a Christian but isn’t. How do we know them? By their "fruits" – or, to use a more common vernacular – their actions, their works.
This is a teaching complicated by the fact that many of these "wolves in sheep’s clothing" appear to be bearing Godly fruit! If you look down to verse 22 you will see that they:
Prophesied in Christ’s Name
Cast out demons in Christ’s Name
Performed "many mighty works" in Christ’s Name
Christ moves from verse 15 into verses 16-20 by demonstrating how to recognize the false ones. We look at their works and discern (which means to judge rightly) from there.
We then come to our key verses – 21 thru 23. This is a demonstration of how many of these false ones will have deceived themselves into believing they are of the Kingdom of God – but the true judgment of their fruit will be such as to demonstrate that while God, in His Sovereign pleasure may have worked through events in their lives – to the degree that they experience many mighty works – this was of no profit to their salvation as the state of their heart was not correctly aligned.
Finally, we move into verses 24 – 27 wherein the wise man is compared to the foolish man in the building of a house. The rock provided a firm foundation for a house, while the sand shifted and caused it to be unstable and it fell – nay, *mighty was the fall of it*.
What does it mean?
It means that we need to be cognizant of the fact that the way of the Christian is narrow (I envision the need to turn sideways and suck in my gut!) as well as the fact that the way of the Christian is hard (I envision the need to turn sideways, suck in my gut to modify my center of gravity, bear the weight of my cross, while carefully moving my feet because my toes are hanging off the edge of an abyss whose bottom has no end and all the while the hot dry wind whips down into it .. as though it were attempting to suck me in.)
Many will take a look at that path and decide they can get to the same destination via another route saying, "Oh looky, there are thousands, nay millions, walking through that wide and easy highway! Those millions tell me they are most decidedly headed to heaven and see no reason to take such a painful path as this narrow and difficult way – I like the highway. I like the company. It seems much more comfortable. After all, we are all headed the same place."
Lies! Either Christ, the prophets, and all of Scripture is tragically wrong – or it is a fact that many think they are headed to heaven along a prosperous and comfortable highway while in essence they rush headlong into the belly of the beast.
It means that we need to be ever on our guard against the false ones! I would go so far as to say it gives raise to the question of whether we ourselves are false ones! Thankfully, the Lord saw fit to provide us with the fantastic book of the bible “I John”, a thorough manual and ready handbook for any Christian to quickly and competently measure his life and discern the state of his soul. But how can we be expected to inspect the fruit such that when we see demons cast out and mighty works performed in the name of Christ we know whether the instrument through which the work was done is a child of mercy or a child of wrath?
Difficult indeed! And no wonder we are habitually admonished by the apostles to beware of false teachers, constantly on guard, and to try everything by the standard of Scripture. First, there is no question but that we must know our scripture, we must study it and apply it. It must constantly be the plum and level of our lives and the instrument by which we go about being "fruit inspectors". Some more readily means of noticing the rot in the fruit:
We should pay attention to the manner of living a teacher shows. Do they show righteousness, humility and faithfulness in the way they live?
We should pay attention to the content of their teaching. Is it true fruit from God’s Word, or is it man-centered, appealing to ears that want to be tickled?
We should pay attention to the effect of their teaching. Are people growing in Jesus or merely being entertained, and eventually falling away?
I would submit to you that all men stumble, and theirs is certainly some need for grace, love, and compassion in our fruit inspection – however, if I do not measure up to these questions – you should stop reading right now and if you find those who teach and they do not measure up – distance yourself from them. To paraphrase John Piper, what a sad day that will be! Those teachers, preachers, and ministers who come to discover that they had it all wrong – and not only that they had it wrong, but that they had let droves follow after them in their mistakenness! How their congregations will curse them on that day!? Even as they are condemned for their own lack of a right pursuit of God.
It means, quite literally that not everyone who lays claim to the Kingdom of God has a rightful claim. There are today many who do not know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – but they claim to know Him. They have convinced themselves that they know Him. They are attempting to convince the rest of the world that they know Him. But on that final day, is it really a matter of whether we know Him or believe we know Him? I propose that the answer is yes, it is important that we know Him. However, there is another side to that pancake.
Notice the emphasis Christ uses in verse 23. He does not say, "You never knew me, depart from me, …." – Sovereign God states "I never knew you!" Oh how desirable it is to be known by God! Oh how horrible it must be when God does not know us!
It means that two houses can be built side by side, with the same floor plan! Yea, even the same materials were delivered on the same truck. Nails, fasteners, and hardware for each house came out of the same box. To all appearances, both houses are magnificent, alike in every detail, with nothing to mar their desirability.
How long may each of these houses stand with no differences? How many years – or decades might they provide shelter for families? How many children may grow up and go off to college? How long, oh Lord?
It is not a question of if – rather a matter of when. At some point, the house that was built on sand will begin to suffer. Rains will fall on both homes, but the on founded on rock will stand, while the sandy bottom home will begin to show signs of stress.
Perhaps it will be a long, slow, torturous process of watching this sandy foundation shift – and the man of the house is continually shoring the home back up. Cracks appear in the walls, and plaster is applied to hide it.
Or, perhaps on day The Storm arrives, and it unleashes all of its fury upon the two homes. Both homes experience the rain and hail pelting down, both homes strive to stand strong in the face of gale force winds, the joints will creak and the children will be in awe. But only one of those homes will stand, the other will not only fall – it will be a great fall. The kind that you want to catch on camera, and watch it again, because you just can’t believe it.
It means that although two men lead lives that are to general appearances ordered by the word of God, desirable, and exemplary – the question of their foundation can be found upon closer inspection. The harder the storm – the easier to discern.
What does it say?
Romans 10 comes immediately after Paul’s massive discourse on the sovereignty of God in salvation from Romans 9. His reason for demonstrating God’s sovereignty was due to the fact that in Romans 8 he had just finished telling us that as Christians, if God be for us – who can be against us!? Awesome stuff!
Yet, man has a problem with it. Namely, man would say, "slow down there Paul! God made a covenant with Abraham such that all his descendants would be saved, and that obviously hasn’t worked out as expected. How can you say (in Chapter 8) that God is so Sovereign that "all things will work to the good of them who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose".
To which, Paul states "But it is not as though the word of God has failed." and then he goes on to demonstrate the importance of God’s sovereignty in salvation through election. He uses Abraham’s offspring and then uses Isaac’s sons as examples. Knowing that man’s pride will rise up, he goes on to raise the question all men ask regarding election and answers it in verse 14 – What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
Knowing that isn’t enough, we intend to continue to question a sovereign God’s justice, he asks our follow up questions for us "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" and then answers it in through to verse 29.
Notice Romans 9: 30-32 – "What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness  did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,"
So this brings us back full circle, Romans 9 begins with the great sorrow Paul has for his lost kinsmen. Romans 10 picks up right where he left off (to demonstrate and defend God’s Sovereignty in Chapter 9) with Paul’s heartfelt desire that his people may be saved. Verse 4 brings us back to righteousness by faith: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
At this point, Paul (in verse 5) begins to demonstrate that the Message of Salvation is for all mankind, not just the Jew. Let’s look specifically at verse 8 thru 13:
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, 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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 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. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
What does it mean?
Verse 14 begins to demonstrate the foundational aspect of faith or belief. You simply cannot properly call on the name of the Lord if you do not believe in Him and His work. It goes further to demonstrate that you can’t believe what you haven’t been taught. Such that someone has to teach the gospel to you in order that you might believe the gospel, in order that you might properly call on the name of the Lord.
That’s all fine and good, intellectually. Mere intellectual agreement with the facts of the cross and the resurrection is not enough. You must believe in your heart; and even that belief is not enough without the accompanying action: confess with your mouth.
"We believe everything which the Lord Jesus has taught, but we must go a step further, and trust him. It is not even enough to believe in him, as being the Son of God, and the anointed of the Lord; but we must believe on him . . . The faith that saves is not believing certain truths, nor even believing that Jesus is a Savior; but it is resting on him, depending on him, lying with all your weight on Christ as the foundation of your hope. Believe that he can save you; believe that he will save you; at any rate leave the whole matter of your salvation with him in unquestioning confidence. Depend upon him without fear as to your present and eternal salvation. This is the faith which saves the soul." (Spurgeon)
Here, we rightly see that the foundational aspect of Romans 10:9 is faith. A faith such as Spurgeon details, a faith articulated throughout the Bible and particularly found in the book of James. What a man believes (in his heart) is the true basis of understanding his salvation. The confession comes afterwards, and lets face it – you can fake that in way that might fool me.
If you believe in your heart the Works and Person of Jesus Christ, you will rightly proclaim that He is Lord of your life, and you will so order your life and apply yourself to the work that God has prepared beforehand such that your life will bear fruit of such quality that none can question the hope that is within you. You will come to teach others by example, if not by word, what it means to be a member of the Kingdom of God, and finding yourself on the more difficult path, you will not be swayed. When the storm comes, though all those around you crash in upon themselves, you will be found, drenched, buffeted, beaten, and thoroughly abused – but yet standing. Such that, when that dread and joyous day arrives, you will not hear those ominous words "I never knew you." – Rather, you will be blessed with the wonderful accolade – "Well done, My good and faithful servant." Even here, your faith will be recognized.
However, should you fail to attain such faith. If your belief, in your heart is not such. Then you will have a problem. Remember that it is not enough to simply believe the facts, as James 2:19 says – "Even the demons believe—and shudder!" You might choose knowledge apart from faith as your foundation, you might choose the Law as your foundation, you might choose good works, you might choose anything other than a belief in your heart on the Works and Person of Jesus Christ. Oh, you can very easily manipulate your mouth and tongue such that you say "Jesus is Lord!" – and perhaps your work will be such that many come to the conclusion that your faith must be properly founded. Eventually, the storms will come and the stress will crack you. Your teaching will move off center, your convictions will become "squishy", you will compromise where you shouldn’t, and ultimately you will arrive in heaven to hear the Just Judge tell you "I never knew you."
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