For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
What is the unbeliever’s responsibility in salvation? In Romans 9:30 through chapter 10, Paul said that the unbeliever’s responsibility in salvation is to believe. He said in Romans 10:1, referring to Israel, “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Paul poured out his heart for Israel’s conversion. Note that any understanding you think you have about predestination that leaves you apathetic about those who do not know Christ reveals that you do not understand predestination. The Apostle Paul understood and taught predestination, but he also prayed for and worked for the conversion of his brethren who were not saved.
How many people are you praying for right now to be saved? Do you pray for them regularly? Don’t just shrug and say, “Well, God is going to save whomever He wants to save.” God does elect people to salvation, but He elects us to pray for the lost as well.
While we can pray for unbelievers, Paul said it is the responsibility of the unbeliever to believe the gospel. That is the focus of 10:1-13. To describe exactly how an unbeliever exercises faith, Paul used three words that describe what an unbeliever has to do to be saved. You say, “I thought salvation is a gift.” Yes, it is a gift. But there is something you have to do to receive a gift, isn’t there? You have to open your hands. It is the same way with an unbeliever. There are some things an unbeliever has to do to receive the gift, and Paul talked about that beginning in 10:1.
One thing an unbeliever has to do to be saved is to repent. What does it mean to repent? Many people think it means to turn away from your sin. In other words, if you are unsaved and you want to become a Christian, then you have to turn away from your sin; you have to clean up your life in order to make God accept you. That is a lie. You cannot clean up your life enough to merit God’s salvation. An unbeliever cannot turn away from his sin before he has the power of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible. Now, once you become a Christian, you better turn away from your sin. In fact, if you do not turn away from sin after you are a Christian, then there is no reason to think you are saved at all, the Bible says. But before you are saved, you cannot turn away from sin. So what does it mean to repent? The Greek word for “repent” means “to change the mind.” Repentance has nothing to do with the heart; it has everything to do with the mind. It means to change your mind. It means to believe something differently than what you had believed.
In Romans 10:2, Paul said about his fellow Israelites, “I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” Have you ever heard people say, “It does not matter what you believe just as long as you are sincere about your beliefs”? No. It makes a great deal of difference what you believe. Salvation does not begin in the heart; it begins in the head. It begins with a change of mind.