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Romans 10:8b-13

Romans is hard. Preaching from Romans is harder. N.T. Wright calls Romans Paul’s “masterpiece”[1]—which isn’t intimidating AT ALL. So, rather than pretend to fully understand the beautiful quagmire of Romans, let us just start from a place of recognition that undertaking this passage is challenging, and extend grace and self-compassion as we wrestle.

Challenges come both from the text itself and from the cultural place this text (and others like it) has in the popular, Protestant, evangelical mindset—a cultural interpretation that does not necessarily take into account the nuance of these verses and instead turns it into a formulaic stop on the “Roman Road”. It is tempting to read these verses in this manner: an easy package that tells people exactly how to be Christian—not only what to say, but what to think and feel. Confess with your lips, believe in your heart, call on the name of the Lord and you’ll be saved. Easy peasy.

But Romans is not easy peasy; it’s not a letter meant to make life, let alone the Christian life, easy. It’s a letter written to a population in a tenuous relationship: both within the church between Jews and Gentiles, and with the culture. It’s written to a community trying to figure itself out, trying to figure out what the universe-altering Christ-event means in Rome in the mid-first century. I would make the bold claim to say that this passage is not about an individual salvation plan. This is not to take away or dismiss any one person’s journey, or the impact that these verses may have had for an individual. Rather, it is an invitation to wonder what more these verses can be telling us.

These verses in Romans do not merely tell us what to do. They tell us who to be. In fact, I would argue that the “do” of these verses pales in comparison to the “be”. Verse 9 tells us to “confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord” and “believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead”—it very much seems like instructions on what to do to be saved. But what does it mean to do these things? It means being totally counter to both the wider Roman and Jewish culture of the time. It means trusting your community to not only share beliefs but to share the danger of those beliefs. It means being part of a sacrificial community that is focused upon the Christ-event rather than the ways of the world.

The community at Rome was trying to distill who they were—they had the gospel, the message, but they had not yet determined what that gospel meant for their being. They were conflicted about race and ethnicity, politics, the future… It’s significant that Romans is addressed to a community rather than the individual.

This passage is an opportunity to explore what it means to “be” in our community. Our churches are not the churches of Rome in the first-century, yet so often we pretend that what was meaningful for the Romans will be the same for us. It won’t be. Many of us are trying to figure out our identity in Christ as communities of faith within our larger communities. And it’s easy to rest on the formulaic—the easy-peasy-do-this-and-you’ll-be-saved reading of this passage. But, again, what creates a faithful, transformational, loving community in one place and time will not create the same kind of community in another.

At the beginning of this, I asked for grace and self-compassion as we wrestle. The same goes for figuring out the identity and “be-ing” of our communities. It’s hard work. It’s confusing. We will mess up and make mistakes. Outsiders will look in and feel quite comfortable telling us we’re doing it all wrong. But it’s the journey. And it isn’t something that rests on a leader or pastor—it has to be community driven. Paul offers a vision of what it means to be in Christ, but he leaves it up to the community to decide what the specifics look like for them.

As we discern what Christ-communities look like, it is vital to consider how these passages have been used in the past—anti-Semitic Christians were (and are) happy to use faith and confession = salvation to dismiss the Jewish faith and the importance of Torah and the Law, and give reason for why Christians are right and Jews were wrong. Protestants took up the banner of justification by faith alone, to condemn those works-driven Catholics. And today, Christians of all-stripes are happy to have a check-list to figure out if someone is *really saved.

The Apostle’s words are not weapons to cut and divide, and leave some in and some out of the saved community. They are words to gather and nurture. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Everyone.

[1] Leander E. Keck and others, eds., The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) 395