Closet Christians

Romans 10:9-10

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


What are your views on closet Christians? Do you know what a closet Christian is? It is somebody who has believed in Jesus for eternal life, but has never told anybody they have become a Christian. They maybe are a little ashamed or scared to tell others, and so they don’t. They keep their Christianity secret. And oftentimes, not very much changes about their life. Sometimes, their language doesn't change much. Sometimes, their life doesn't change either. They might attend church, but only infrequently, and only when it doesn't interfere with other recreational activities.

Are such people Christians or not? There are many who would say no. And the primary Scripture they would use to defend their answer is Romans 10:9-10, which says 9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

One teacher, in an article ironically called "By Grace You Are Saved" writes this:

According to [Romans 10:9-10], there can be no "closet" Christians. The very act of becoming a Christian requires us to confess publicly that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and have placed our faith in His shed blood to atone for our sins.

Another from Church of God writes,

Believing in your heart that a sin is wrong or that Yah'shua (Jesus) is your Saviour is indeed vitally important, but until you have confessed it with your mouth your…salvation is not complete. That act of speaking - of confession - is essential.

To be sure, the heart has a vitally important part to play, and arguably the most important part, but without that verbal confession, you are not a Christian.

There are no secret believers. So long as the verbal confession has not been made, that person is not saved… There are no closet Christians, only those who know they ought to be saved but refuse to be because of fear.

One very prominent pastor, author and teacher who is considered by many to be the best Bible teacher in America today says something similar.

…A characteristic of every genuine believer is that he or she will profess faith in Christ unreservedly. If the heart truly believes, the mouth will be eager to confess…What is the mark of true Christians? They confess Jesus as the Son of God.

Now to be fair, this last author does say that confession is not a condition for becoming a Christian, but is rather an inevitable result of it. He says that those who fail to confess Christ, even if they have believed in Jesus for eternal life, will be sent to eternal punishment. But really, what is the difference whether we say confession is a co-condition with faith or a necessary result of faith? Either way, those who don't confess Christ will not spent eternity with God. If public confession of Christ is necessary either alongside faith or subsequent to faith, then we are saying that justification is not by faith alone, but is by faith plus confession.

So is this really what Romans 10:9-10 is teaching? We have seen in passage after passage that the only condition for eternal life is believing in Jesus for it. Must we now add public confession to this? So far, we have seen that the Bible teaches that all who simply believe in Jesus for eternal life receive it. But according to these teachers and their understanding of Romans 10:9-10, it is more than just faith alone. Now it is faith in Christ, plus confess Christ with your mouth. Are they right? Is this what Romans 10:9-10 is teaching? Let's look at the text and find out.

9that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

There are obviously two things that are being done in Romans 10:9-10. There is believing and there is confession. Verse 9 says that if you confess and believe you will be saved. Verse 10 clarifies this statement by saying that believing results in righteousness whereas confession results in salvation.

Let's look at these two ideas very carefully in the overall context of Romans. Let us first consider the condition of believing unto righteousness.

1. Believing Unto Righteousness

The word righteousness is the Greek word dikaiosune and comes from the exact same word family as the word justified (dikaiao). The word justified simply means to be declared righteous. So when Paul talks over and over in the book of Romans about how to be justified, about how to be declared righteous, he is using this dikaiao word family over and over. And Paul has talked at some length in Romans about how to be declared righteous, about how to be justified. In fact, he spent almost two whole chapters, from 3:21-5:11 telling us that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. If you want to be declared righteous, you must simply believe in Jesus.

Remember, Romans 1-3 is all about the righteousness of God, and our complete sinfulness. We looked at this last week. Chapters 4-5 then are about how we, as sinful human beings, can gain the righteousness of God. Paul makes it very clear that it is not gained by works in any way whatsoever, but God declares righteous anyone who places faith in Jesus Christ. And it is vitally important to realize that nowhere in Romans 4-5 do we read of confessing Christ before men. Nowhere do we read of the necessity of making a public declaration that one has believed in Jesus Christ in order to really and truly be justified. The one and only condition for justification in Romans 4-5 (and the entire Bible) is to believe in Jesus Christ.

And this is exactly what Paul says here in Romans 10:10. He says that it is with the heart one believes and is justified. It is with the heart one believes and is declared righteous. It is with the heart one believes resulting in righteousness. This is in complete agreement with everything Paul has said up to this point, and everything the Bible says about how to receive eternal life.

But what about the second statement there? What about that confession with the mouth for salvation? What is that? Well, to understand this, we must once again look in the context of Romans and the context of this passage. Remember, context is key. And one of the things we are going to look for is what Paul means by the word salvation.

2. Confession Unto Salvation

Do you remember what you have been taught about the word salvation? Whenever you see the word salvation, or saved in Scripture, you must understand that most of the times it is used in the Bible, it DOES NOT refer to deliverance from hell and receiving eternal life. For some reason, we Christians are very careless with the word salvation and the word saved. We think it always refers to eternal deliverance from the punishment of sin in hell. But it almost never refers to that in Scripture. It most often refers to some sort of physical deliverance from sickness or death or our enemies.

And so if you were to ask me, "When were you saved?" I could Biblically say, "I have been saved several times every day for my entire life. Sometimes, I haven't been saved. Hopefully, I am getting saved right now. And I pray that God will save me tomorrow. When I drive into Whitefish to shop, God saves me. When I sleep at night, God saves me."  Do you understand this? I could get sick any time of any day. There are constantly germs and viruses floating around in the air. We probably breath them in with every breath. But God often keeps us from getting sick, and so He is saving us from sickness. When we walk down a road, or drive our car, a tree could fall on us, or another car could crash into us, a lighting bolt could strike us. But when these things don't happen, God is saving us from dying.

This is the way the word "saved" is most often used in the Bible. This is the way the word "salvation" is most often used in the Bible. So whenever you see the word "saved" or "salvation" you must stop and ask yourself, "Saved from what? What is this salvation from?" Then look in context to see. Romans tells us very clearly how Paul is using the term here in Romans 10:9-10. We can see it in the immediate context of chapter 10, and the wider context of the entire letter. Let's look at the wider context first.

        A. The Wider Context of Romans

The first time the word salvation is used is Romans 1:16 where Paul presents the theme of his letter. This is probably the most difficult reference to salvation in Romans to discern what kind of deliverance Paul is talking about.

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

At first, it seems that Paul is talking about justification in verse 16, because he says that this salvation is for those who believe. But by carefully understanding the sentence structure and looking at the context of Romans 1, we discover that the salvation Paul has in mind in Romans 1:16 is a salvation that comes to those who are already believers. The salvation of Romans 1:16 is a salvation that follows justification.

What kind of salvation is this? According to Romans 1:18, it is a salvation or deliverance from the wrath of God. And once again, almost everyone who reads of the "wrath of God" immediately thinks of hell. But the wrath of God in Romans and in the Bible nearly always refers to God's temporal judgment being poured out upon the earth. The wrath of God is not eternal damnation or hell, but is a wrath being inflicted upon the world at the present time.  And since the wrath of God is being poured out upon the world at this present time, and will culminate during the tribulation period, Christians who are alive can experience the wrath of God to one degree or another while on this earth. I know this a challenging thought and a new idea to many of you, but there is no way I can begin to develop it more fully for you in this lesson. I encourage you to just do a study on your own and see what you come up with.

It seems that the Bible in general, and Romans especially, presents the wrath of God as a type of judgment that God pours out upon sinners here and now on this earth. And according to Romans 1:16-17, Paul is going to tell us in Romans how to escape, how to be delivered from, how to be saved from this wrath of God. This is the kind of salvation Paul is referring to in Romans 1:16.  Part of the reason we know this is because Paul does not refer to salvation again until Romans 5:9-10. In all of chapter 3, 4 and 5, when Paul is talking about how to receive eternal life, he doesn't mention salvation. It's only when he comes to the end of his section on justification by faith alone in Christ alone that he says, "Okay, now that we have seen how to be justified, let's turn to see how we can be saved." 

Look at Romans 5:9-10.

9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Paul clearly says here that the salvation he is talking about comes after our reconciliation. It comes after our justification. The salvation in Romans is not justification or reconciliation, but something that comes after we are reconciled and justified.  He says that if God reconciled us while we were enemies of God, now that we have been justified (past tense), we shall be saved (future tense). Now that we have been reconciled (past tense), we shall be saved (future tense). The salvation of Romans 5:9-10 is definitely not the same thing as receiving eternal life or being declared righteous in the sight of God. It is something that comes after we have eternal life.

And what is it in context? Once again, we see in 5:9, that this salvation which comes after our justification is a salvation from the wrath of God. And notice that while justification and reconciliation are by the blood and death of Jesus Christ, the salvation is by His life, by the resurrected life of Jesus Christ. What sort of salvation do we have through the resurrected life of Jesus?

Well, Paul does not waste any time to tell us. He goes right on to tell us in the rest of chapter 5 and on into chapters 6, 7 and 8. The salvation that Paul explains to us in Romans 6, 7 and 8, the salvation that follows our justification, the salvation that is dependant not upon the death of Christ but upon the resurrection of Christ is our ongoing victory over sin in our life. Look, for example at 6:11. In chapter 6, Paul has been explaining how we have died in Christ and have been raised to new life in Christ, and the benefits that come with each. In 6:11-12 he says,

11Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.

Do you see it? Paul has told us in chapters 4 and 5 that the death of Christ gave us deliverance from the penalty of sin, which is death. But now, in chapter 6, we learn the resurrection of Christ gives us deliverance from the power of sin in our lives.  When we died with Christ, we were buried with Him, and we died to sin. When we were raised with Christ, we were raised to new life in Him which means that we no longer have to obey sin. We no longer are enslaved to sin. We no longer have to sin reign in our bodies. The salvation that follows justification is a deliverance from the power of sin in our lives. 

The challenge Paul lays out for us in Romans 6, 7 and 8 is that we would walk in this newness of life. We would walk in victory rather than in defeat. That we would live out our resurrected life here and now.  We all struggle with this, right? We have believed in Jesus for eternal life. We know we have been justified and reconciled. We know that we have new life and new identities in Christ. We know that we are no longer slaves to sin, but instead, we are children of God.  But so few of us live like it. We constantly battle sin and struggle with temptation. Well, one of the keys to victorious living is not to wonder whether you are really saved or not. That road just leads to constant fear and defeat. The road to the victorious Christian life, the road to experiencing the day by day deliverance from the power of sin in our lives, the road to living in the salvation from the wrath of God, begins with considering ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ.

That is a hefty theological concept, so Paul tries to explain it in Romans 6-8. If we can ever get a hold of the truths in these three chapters, it will go a long way in helping us live the victorious Christian life and giving us salvation, or deliverance, from the power of sin in our lives. Do you want to get victory over sin? Learn what Paul teaches in Romans 6-8, and it will change the way you live.  Paul concludes this section with a glorious statement in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which we will be looking at in a few weeks.

Then in chapters 9-11, Paul takes up the issue of the Israelite people. It is a controversial passage which I am not going to attempt to explain tonight. These three chapters contain several uses of the word salvation, but most of them have the final and ultimate deliverance of Israel in view (9:27; 10:1; 11:14, 26). Paul is talking here about the deliverance of Israel from her enemies and God making sure that they remain a nation so that He can fulfill His promises to them.

But when we come to Romans 10:9-10, Paul stops talking briefly about the Israelites, and returns again to speaking to his readers (notice the change from third person plural in 10:1 to second person plural in 10:9).  And he tells them two things. He tells them that it is with the heart that they believe and are justified, but it is with the mouth that they confess and are saved. And what does this salvation mean? Well, we have already seen that throughout Romans 1-8, salvation has been deliverance from the power of sin in the life of a Christian. Salvation in Romans is when a Christian gains day by day victory over sin.

So with all of this in mind, the confessing Christ in Romans 10:9-10 is not a condition to receive eternal life and justification, but is a condition for gaining power over sin in our lives.

This makes sense, doesn't it? When we publicly identify ourselves with Christ, it causes us to live more for Christ. When we have told our friends and neighbors and coworkers that we are a Christian, this spurs us on to live for Christ because we know that they are watching. If we fail to live for Christ in their presence, we know that eventually, one of them will say something like, "I thought you said you were a Christian."  But there is not this incentive when we fail to confess Christ. When we don’t tell people that we are a Christian, we leave that door open to continue living the way we used to. So you see, you can be a secret Christian. But you cannot be a successful secret Christian. There is such thing as a closet Christian, but there is not such thing as a victorious closet Christian.

Paul confirms this from the Old Testament in Romans 10:13. There, he quotes Joel 2:32 which says that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. If you were to do a study of the Old Testament idea of calling on the name of the Lord, you would see that it basically is the same idea as confessing Christ.  Calling on the name of the Lord in the Old Testament was something that only Old Testament believers could do. Nobody who was an unbeliever would call on the name of the Lord. Calling on the name of the Lord was a public form of worship where the Old Testament saint identified himself with the one true God in heaven.

It is kind of like when you get baptized. Baptism would be one way to confess Christ or to call on the name of the Lord, because baptism is a public identification with Christ. It is a way to tell the world that you belong to Christ. Baptism is the first step in following Christ on the path of discipleship. Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward reality. 

Do you want to gain victory over the power of sin in your life? Confess Christ. Call on the name of the Lord. Publicly identify yourself with the cause of Christ. These are things God wants you to do. If you fail to do this, you will still be a Christian, but you will come under the discipline of God in this life.  Have you believed in Jesus for justification? Great. That has given you eternal life. But now, if you want victory over sin, you need to confess the name of Jesus.

Just as further proof that this calling on the name of the Lord and this confessing Christ is something that happens subsequent to believing in Christ for eternal life, look at Romans 10:14-15.

14How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

Having just told us how to be saved from the discipline of God, Paul presents a series of steps in these two verses which clearly show the progression of gaining victory over sin.  This is a famous missionary passage, and it can be used for that, but Paul goal was not so much to encourage missionaries to go where the Gospel has not been heard, but to encourage those who have already believed to make a public declaration that they belong to God. 

What Paul does is present these five steps in reverse order. He begins in verse 14 with the end - calling on the name of the Lord. If we were to rearrange them to the order in which they happened, we would begin with the sending.  Right? It's there in verse 15. The first step in getting people to gain victory over sin is to send missionaries, to send preachers to them. Sending is the first step. The second step, also in verse 15, is that the sent one must preach. What good is it to send someone if they don't do any preaching?

So, step number 1: People must be sent. Step number 2, the sent ones must preach. Step number 3, at the end of verse 14, is that the audience must hear what is preached. Step number 4, those who hear must believe. And we know that if they do believe, it is at this point that they are justified. And then finally, step number 5, those who have believed must call on the name of the Lord.  To put it another way, preaching can only occur after a preacher is sent. Hearing can only happen after someone preaches. Believing can only happen after people hear. And calling on the name of the Lord can only happen after people believe.

Calling on the name of the Lord, this public declaration, this public confession of Jesus Christ is something that only believers can do, and is something that gives them a jump start on gaining victory over the power of sin in their lives.

Here is the message of Romans. We are all sinners, and sin has far reaching consequences. In order to be justified, to be given eternal life, to be freed from the penalty of sin, all we have to do is place faith in Jesus Christ.  But being freed from the penalty of sin is not the same thing as being freed from the power of sin in your life. Justification is not the same thing as sanctification. So if you really want to live the victorious Christian life, if you really want to gain victory over the power of sin in your life, you need to first of all be a believer, and then secondly, submit yourself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Confess publicly that you are a Christian and that you are going to serve Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Stand up for Christ. Live for Christ. With your mouth and your deeds, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life. It is only when you do this that you will begin to see God work in a whole new and powerful way in your life. The struggles with sin that you have face will not disappear, but you will get more and more divine aid and greater victory as your progress in the faith.  Are you a closet Christian? Have you been afraid and ashamed of letting people know you belong to Christ. There were some Christians in the Bible just like that. Some in Jesus' day were secret disciples for fear of the Jews (John 7:13). Nicodemus was one of these at first, which is why he came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2; 19:39).

Peter was a closet Christian for a while when he refused to confess Christ, but instead denied Him. Joseph of Arimathea also, was called a "secret disciple" (John 19:38) but when he saw the sacrifice Christ had made for him, Joseph decided to come out of the closet, so to speak, and ask Pilate for the body of Christ. Because of this, Joseph had the incredible privilege of having his tomb be the one that Jesus Christ was laid in and subsequently was resurrected from.  God wants to use us for His kingdom and His glory if we will only "come out of the closet" so to speak and take a stand for Christ (Rom. 1:16; Mark 8:38; Php. 1:17; Jude 3).

But did you know that although God does not want us to be closet Christians, he does want us to practice closet Christianity? You see, although God does want us to stand up for Christ publicly, He doesn't want us to do it arrogantly or proudly.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:5-6 that when we pray, we shouldn't pray like hypocrites who pray loudly on the street corners to be seen and heard by men. Instead, we should go privately into our closets, or some place where your actions will remain unknown so that you can pray to God who is in heaven. Don't pray to impress others. Pray secretly to develop your fellowship with God.

This kind of closet Christianity also gives privately and does good works privately. Hypocrites only give in such a way to receive praise and recognition from other people (Matt. 6:1-2). Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of this (Acts 5:1-10).  But Jesus says that when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3). God sees what we do in secret, and He will reward us.

Those who practice closet Christianity also study the Word of God in private. When most Christian seem to think that attendance at church is all the Bible study they need, motivated Christians recognize that they need daily and active and personal study of the Word of God in order to grow and mature (2 Tim. 2:15). As one reads and studies the Word of God, he draws closer to the Author.

We have seen from Romans 10 that we shouldn’t be a closet Christian. To gain victory over sin in our life, we need to stand up for Jesus. But at the same time, don't stand up in such a way that brings glory and honor to yourself. While we don't want to be a closet Christian, we do need to practice closet Christianity. Stand up for Christ publicly, but pray, give and study the Word in secret. Together, these things will accomplish much toward Christian vitality and victory.