Confession with the mouth and belief in the heart are both necessary for salvation (Romans 10:8-13). John Wesley was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest. He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible. Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it. On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German Pietists, that is, men and women who deliberately had a heart behind their practice of Christianity. The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized that there was something very important missing from his own religion. The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life, but the German believers seemed unfazed, having a faith of the heart that John could not explain. He wanted what they had. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. John Wesley confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. “Preach faith till you have it,” one of the Germans advised. “And then because you have it, you will preach faith. Act as if you have faith and it will be granted to you.”
Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. The prisoner was immediately converted. Wesley was astonished. He had been struggling for years, and here was a man transformed instantly. He found himself crying out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he felt dull inside and had little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. Back in England, in the year 1738, Wesley was in a church service and someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. Wesley recorded: “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not constitute deliverance and salvation for people. The heart must also be involved. Yet, having said this we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart without having the mouth involved is an insufficient faith. There must be a ground of solid objective evidence for our faith – a real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves. The mouth needs to confess that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his blood shed on the cross (Romans 10:9).
If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us. We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, over and over and over and over again until we believe them. We are not just to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked and they will keep deceiving us. The heart must be informed by God’s Word. We are to take the words of Holy Scripture by faith and trust what those words say. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We need to have a right confession with our mouths; and, we need to really believe in our hearts. Both must be present for saving faith. When mouth and heart work in concert with each other something happens: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune, or whether it is a jumbled off-key joyful noise; both will be saved. Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us. Only having a sincere heart does not save us. One cannot achieve salvation through self-effort, or making oneself worthy to be loved. No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer, or having some nice feeling that everything is okay. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell does not result from getting cleaned up so that we are attractive to God and others. Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, saves us.
Church ministry, then, is to aim at both head and heart. It is to provide robust biblical teaching coupled with heartfelt belief and practice. People are neither only brains on a stick, nor walking headless hearts. They need intellectual rigor targeted straight toward the heart because we are holistic creatures who must have a salvation that believes in the heart and confesses boldly with the mouth.