"For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 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. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
First and foremost, this tells me that all good theology begins with God, his eternal nature and diety, his power, his love, his plan, his foreknowledge. The first two verse remind me that there is nothing at all that I can do to affect salvation. I can't go up to heaven and bring Christ down. And if I had been there after the Crucifixion I couldn't go into Hell and bring Christ up. As Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above." This is a follow-up to his statement earlier in the Gospel, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Christ alone is the agent of our salvation. Christ alone accomplished all things so that at the last he might say, "It is finished."
Some will go on to say that faith then depends on the believer's action in coming to Christ. But the unregenerate heart stands opposed to God. How can it come to the Lord? You can say that if you put enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters eventually one of them will type out a Shakespeare sonnet quite by chance. And if that is the way that people come to Christ, I want nothing of it. Though it may be possible for someone to be saved that way, I have never seen a blind man groping about in a room with many doors find the one door that leads out into freedom on the first try. Even given many tries, without a reference point he is doomed to fail. Just so with salvation.
The word is near you. What does Matthew mean when he calls Jesus, "God with us" other than this? The word is in your mouth and in your heart. Even the preaching of the Gospel cannot do this work. And Paul is aware of it. Yes, it is the word of faith we proclaim. But Paul doesn't put that first in the sentence. He isn't saying, A then B then C then D -- proclamation, implanting, faith, confession. No, he is really saying B then A then D then C. The first mover is always God. He implants the Word in our hearts, and yes he uses human agents to do it. But the human agent who is there when someone comes to Christ is rarely the first person who brought the Word. God has been bringing it and bringing it and bringing it. Then one day a proclaimer is there and the accumulation of what the heart has seen and heard is brought alive by the Holy Spirit, and a soul is reborn!
Finally comes the verse we built our youth ministry on for twenty-five years. We had these tee shirts and sweat shirts that said, "Glory to God" on them. If you looked really carefully at the shirts, down under the tail of the script "D" in "God" it said, "Rom. 10:9" Amazingly, from the perspective of the believer himself, the sequence works completely in reverse! The confession of Christ leads to faith. Faith put into action causes the Word to be implanted in our hearts. The overflow of the implanted Word causes proclamation!
And so as I sit here trying to figure out what I will do with the rest of my life there is a great comfort in the thought that life with God isn't about a one-time event. It is a long process that I am in the middle of. My life is not over. God has a plan. Just as my sin never prevented my salvation in the first place, so the resistance of my heart and my stubbornness in trying to control the outcome prevent in the slightest God accomplishing his will for me.