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Speech and salvation 4: Saved by the mouth

From The Briefing:

This is the fourth post in a series about gospel speech. Read parts 1, 2, and 3.


“I’m not really a ‘speaking’ Christian.”

Maybe you think that you’re not the kind of person to speak the gospel to others because you’re not really the kind of Christian who talks about the gospel. You prefer to keep it in your heart.

But salvation isn’t just a matter of the heart. It’s also, fundamentally, a matter of the mouth:

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); 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:8-10)

In a previous post, we looked at human speech from the perspective of Romans 1-3. Every time human speech is mentioned in Romans 1-3, it’s a disaster. In fact, the biggest disaster happens when people try to preach God’s law: preaching the law creates hypocritical preachers and blaspheming hearers. It’s not that God’s law is bad. God’s law is very good, because it reveals God’s will and tells people what they should do to please God. But God’s law isn’t supposed to be preached. Instead, God’s law is supposed to shut our mouths and condemn us. Ultimately, then, God’s law is designed to testify to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Romans 1-3 renders humans speechless.

All the way up to the end of Romans chapter 9, humans remain almost entirely speechless.1 The most significant thing humans do in Romans 1-9 is not to talk, but to ‘believe’ in the message about Jesus Christ. But then something remarkable happens. In chapter 10, people start talking again! Romans 10 mentions testimony (v. 2), preaching (vv. 8, 14, 15), confession (vv. 9, 10), ‘calling upon’ God (vv. 12, 13, 14), and ‘evangelism’ (vv. 15, 16). There is a ‘message’ (vv. 8, 17, 18), spoken by believers and preachers; God’s gospel-revelation becomes a ‘report’ (vv. 16, 17) which is ‘heard’ (vv. 14, 18). Paul also thinks that the ‘mouth’ is very important; he puts it parallel with the ‘heart’ as an instrument of salvation (Rom 10:8, 9, 10; Rom 10:18). Clearly, speech is very important in Romans 10. Why?

Paul wants to make a contrast in Romans 10, and he wants to spell out this contrast in the starkest possible terms. This contrast is between two ways of salvation (Rom 10:3-13). The first way of salvation involves the law. According to this first way, people become righteous by ‘doing’ and ‘working’; i.e. keeping the law. The second way of salvation, by contrast, involves a message; a verbal proclamation, which is opposite to with the law (even though the law testifies to it). Since this second way of salvation involves a verbal message, people are righteous by ’believing’ and ‘speaking’ the message, not by ‘doing’ the law. According to Paul, it’s this second way of salvation that is the true and right way. That’s why speech is so important.

The gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t a law that helps us to be righteous before God by doing good works. The gospel is a message; a specific message about a specific person. It’s a message that Jesus is Lord, that God has raised him from the dead. It’s a message that God’s righteousness comes through this specific person, Jesus the risen Lord. If the gospel of Jesus Christ were a law, the appropriate response to it would be to act, to work, to do good things. But since the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message, we should respond to it first and foremost as a message: by having it in our heart and on our lips.

Gospel-speech, therefore, is not an optional extra for Christians. Salvation comes through a spoken message about a specific person. In God’s grace, we are saved through having this message in our hearts and in our mouths. In fact, in a very real sense, we become Christian by speaking the gospel. We hear the message that Jesus is Lord, and all it entails. And we accept that this message is true. We acknowledge it before God himself; we admit through prayer that Jesus is indeed Lord. We also communicate that Jesus is Lord to other people; e.g. at church, in baptism, in conversations. A Christian who prefers not to speak the gospel is a contradiction in terms. Gospel speech is at the very core of what it means to be a Christian.


This is the fourth post in a series about gospel speech. In the next post, we’ll think about another objection: “I can promote the gospel better by my good works.”


 


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