In Romans 10:9-10, Paul is not saying that intellectual acceptance or open confession is the totality of faith and anything else would be deeds subsequent to faith. Nor is he concerned with the exact moment of justification. If he were, he would have said something like “when you agree that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess Jesus as Lord, you are justified and saved.” In that case, the sacraments would be acts subsequent to justification. But is Paul referring to the time of justification? Notice that the sentence consists of two parts, namely belief unto justification, and confession unto salvation. As we know, confession doesn’t usually occur at the same moment in time as belief (in the sense of conceptual agreement). So does it mean that salvation is a separate event in time from justification? Where would repentance come in, then? Is repentance an act subsequent to justification?
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul’s message to the church may seem to suggest that a person is already in Christ the moment he intellectually agrees with the gospel. “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13). It would be a mistake to interpret “heard” or “believed” as only intellectual agreement that occurred at a specific point in time. The hearing and believing must include accepting Christ, confessing sin, repentance, receiving the sacraments, and entrusting one’s whole life to the gospel, all of which make up “the word of truth.” If Paul’s words referred to a moment in time, then he would be saying literally that a believer is included in Christ the second he hears a Christian message for the first time in his life (in this case, even before intellectual agreement). According to this interpretation, his confession of sin and repentance have no effect: they are only symbolic of the salvation he has received. Such interpretation is not only out of context, but also without biblical support.
Sacraments are not just symbols. God works through them to bring us salvation when we receive them with faith. The saving effects of the sacraments are clearly stated by the Lord himself. We cannot reduce them to mere symbols or even deny their necessity just because we do not understand how God’s saving effect can take place through some outward actions. If a person believes that God raised Christ from the dead but does not believe that he can receive a new life through baptism, can he qualify as a true believer? If a person confesses that Jesus is Lord but rejects footwashing, wouldn’t he be like those who call “Lord, Lord” but do not do what He says (see Lk 6:46)? True belief in the heart would encompass acceptance of the sacraments, and that is the belief that justifies. True confession would encompass receiving the sacraments in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that is the confession that saves.