Nothing is more important in Bible study and Bible preaching than proper interpretation. If we do not arrive at God’s intended message – what He was actually communicating – then we cannot arrive at proper application. This would prove disastrous in any biblical doctrine but especially in the doctrine of salvation. The dangers associated with an improper interpretation of the Gospel are either legalism or libertinism.
Legalism can be either an attempt to merit God’s favor through works of the Law or a more subtle but just as deadly adding to the finished work of Christ. In the case of adding to the finished work of Christ one would profess faith in Christ plus some other stipulation. One might say that you have to believe in Christ but you also must do this or that.
The Judaizers that hounded the apostle Paul taught that you had to believe in Christ plus be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved. There are those in our day who say that you must believe in Christ plus a myriad of other do’s and don’ts in order to be saved. This is legalism and it is an attempt to make Jesus Lord.
Libertinism is just the opposite of legalism and instead of attempting to merit God’s favor through works of the Law or adding to the finished work of Christ it actually is against the Law and would even dare remove Christ’s obedience to the Law as necessary for our salvation. Libertinism actually takes away from the work of Christ and in essence says that a person can be saved by believing in Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. Libertinism subtracts from the Person and work of Christ. There are many in our day that say you must believe in Jesus as Savior minus His Lordship and His perpetual obedience to the Law from the cradle to the cross. They emphasize His death and resurrection to the exclusion of His Law-keeping obedience. Libertines want to have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord – or at least His Lordship to them is optional and not necessary for salvation.
However, both legalism and libertinism are deadly counterfeits of the true Gospel. Lordship salvation is the true Gospel and it isn’t making Jesus Lord or rejecting His Lordship but receiving Him as Lord. Since both legalism and libertinism tamper with the finished and sufficient work of Christ, neither one believes the testimony God has given concerning His Son. Therefore neither one can confess or “say the same thing” about Jesus that God says about Him. Why? Their belief in His resurrection is deficient – it isn’t from understanding with the heart.
The resurrection of Christ from the dead implies His Lordship! Follow the reasoning carefully. If a man lived a perfect life in perpetual obedience to God’s Law from his birth and then died then of necessity it means that His death was substitutionary and not a result of sin or violation of God’s Law. If His death was substitutionary then He was dying on behalf of others who had sinned and violated God’s Law. Since this was the case then the Law had absolutely no reason to hold this sinless Man in the grips of death because He had never violated the Law but was only upholding it. Therefore, it was impossible that He could be held by death (Acts 2:24) and God raised Him from the dead making Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) declaring Him the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4).
Now how is a sinner who is saved by the works of this sinless Man going to respond to Him? Is he not going to love Him? Is he not going to adore Him? Is he not going to worship Him? Is he not going to obey Him? Didn’t Jesus say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”? Didn’t Jesus say, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say”? Isn’t our obedience to Christ as Lord the result of His work on our behalf (Romans 1:5)? Isn’t the goal of the Gospel loving, loyal obedience to Christ because He saved us?
Notice in our text that salvation is a Lordship issue – “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). And then Paul gave us the divine and logical order in which this happens – “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10). First the heart understands the necessity and the actuality of the resurrection of Christ. Then the mouth confesses Jesus as Lord. So first there is the understanding of the work Jesus did to save us and immediately afterwards – because of His work on our behalf – we confess His Lordship submitting to Him as such. What we believe brings about our obedience and the Bible calls it, “The obedience of the faith” (Romans 1:5).
The Bible gives us a wonderful illustration of the truth of Lordship salvation years before Romans was ever written. In Luke 23:32-43 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion between two criminals. One of those criminals received salvation and the other did not. It’s very interesting to see how this played out. The criminal that did not receive salvation actually spoke to Jesus and wanted Him to be his Savior – “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:39)! The other criminal owned his crimes and confessed Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:40-41). He had been brought to the place of understanding that Jesus wasn’t dying for any crimes He had committed because He hadn’t committed any and that Jesus’ death was of necessity, substitutionary.
Notice what this criminal says to the Lord after realizing this: “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom’” (Luke 23:42). He believed in his heart that God would raise Jesus from the dead – “When you come!” The apostle Paul said, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Notice also that this criminal confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord – “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom’” (Luke 23:42). That is a confession of the Lordship of Christ – only Kings have kingdoms.
Lastly notice that this criminal called upon the name of the Lord – “Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Romans 10:13 – “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”