Salvation is for All…But What Does That Mean

Today’s lectionary reading comes from Romans 10:5-10. This is a portion of what has been called the “Romans Road” in some circles. This title is based on the notion that Romans presents Paul’s strongest argument or message of the Gospel of Christ. While I question whether or not this is actually the case, I do agree that Romans is a great book. This portion is not exception. That being said, it does add fuel to the fire that rages in my own mind as I struggle with the idea of the universality of Christ’s sacrifice. More on that in a bit.

Within this portion of Romans, Paul is making a comparison between the law and faith in Christ. Moses comes into the argument, though briefly. In short, it is very apparent in these 5 verses (and particularly in about 2 of them) that Paul places all his eggs in the Jesus basket. As I go back and reread this section of scripture again, I notice that Paul seems to strike down the act of questioning within the realm of final judgement.Interestingly enough that relates to my question of universality, so maybe this is a beneficial road for me to go down as well. Let’s see where it takes us.

First Paul lays out the questions that all too often come to mind for us…”Who will go to heaven” and “who will go to hell” (verses 6-7). Speaking as a confirmation teacher to junior high students, I know that this is a common question. I think many people face this same question at many different times in their lives. Obviously I’m still dealing with it as well. In a nutshell, I think this question of “which direction will that person go?” falls into the category of judgement. The danger of asking ourselves this question (and worse yet trying to answer it) places us in the judgement seat…and that is a seat that none of us have any business sitting in. Christ himself will sit there at the proper time…for reference, remember the Apostles Creed, second article…He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So that being said, I begin to see what Paul is saying when he tells us “righteousness that comes from faith says ‘Do not say in your heard who will ascend into heaven…or who will descend into the abyss…” Namely, he’s saying that if our faith is sincere, we don’t even need to consider these questions. We realize that our own salvation is found in faith and we are in no place to pass judgement on others. Now at this point, Paul goes on to explain faith a little closer. “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” (verse 9). He goes on as well…hitting the point a little harder in verse 10. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

Now, hiding here in these two verses, and specifically in verse 9 lies the key to why we cannot be the judge. First he says that we must confess Jesus as Lord…well yes, I agree, this is crucial…but anyone can say the words. In my opinion the “confession” is not the key because we have the ability to say anything….simply saying it doesn’t make it true.  But now the next part is a little harder…believe in your heart. Here’s the real key. Do you actually believe it? Only you know for sure…well you and the one that can actually look into your heart…God himself. Only God has the ability to judge what is truly in our hearts. We, as humans, do not have the ability to make that call for someone else…period…end of story.

Now Paul does go on with further explanation of this concept in the following verses, and so I invite you to read on for further clarification if this is still unclear.

I on the other hand am going to circle back around to the notion of universality. Now, you should note that I do this carefully. The idea earned Rob Bell a lot of criticism when he released his book Love Wins a year or so ago. But it is a question that I struggle with. If Christ came to save the world (John 1), but Romans tells us that we must believe in our heart and confess it, then is there a condition? I’ll clarify…by condition I don’t mean to indicate that we have anything to do with our salvation…I’m way too Lutheran in my thinking to go there. Rather, I go back to the idea that faith comes from the Holy Spirit. Specifically that it is the word of God within us that allows us to understand and thus have faith in Christ.

There’s the tricky part for me…or more so the question…If faith comes from God, then why do some have it and some don’t? If God wants all to be saved (John 1 again)…then why does the Spirit only “place” faith in certain people? Do we have the ability to resist? The whole notion of free will certainly plays into this personal mental argument that I find myself in.

In short, I don’t have the answer and that’s why I’m still wrestling with this topic.  Today, as I read Romans 10, I take a little bit of solace in the notion that I know the truth that’s in my own heart and is confessed on my lips. Jesus is Lord and he died for the salvation of my sins.  I can rest in that…and I can pray that when I confess it, the Holy Spirit will use it to stir the heart of someone else. I can’t make it happen, but I can hope for it. Today that’s enough.

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