What Does It Mean to Confess Our Faith in Jesus?

Acts 8:35-39 (NASB)
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said*, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

One of the reasons we in the Lord’s church teach that one must confess their faith in Christ before baptism is because of the example set by the Ethiopian in the above passage.  After having been taught about Jesus and how to be saved, he wanted to be baptized at the first opportunity and asked if there was anything that would prevent it.  He was told that he could be baptized if he believed with all his heart, which prompted his response, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Thus, it is common in churches of Christ to see that whenever someone, either publicly in a worship setting or privately, expresses a desire to obey the gospel and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, they are first asked if they believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  By saying “Yes,” they confess their faith in Christ and are then baptized.  It is commonly said that they “made the good confession” and that such is required for salvation.

There are biblical reasons why this is true.  Notice what Paul said to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:12-14 (ESV)
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that Paul said that Timothy had “made the good confession,” and he correlated that “good confession” with “eternal life,” i.e., salvation.  Notice also that Paul also pointed out that Christ had “made the good confession” while on trial before Pilate (cf. Lk. 23:3; 22:70-71), and Paul correlated that “good confession” with “keep(ing) the commandment unstained and free from reproach,” i.e., obeying God, something which is directly connected to our salvation (Matt. 7:21-27; Heb. 5:9).

Consider this well-known passage about confessing Christ:

Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)
9 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.
10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

This passage is usually quoted by itself in connection with salvation.  Many in the denominational world take it completely out of the overall context of Scripture by using it as proof that all one needs to do in order to be saved is to confess that Jesus is their Lord.  Such a position is false because the rest of Scripture (cf. Ps. 119:160a) brings out that God requires other things besides confessing our faith in Christ for salvation (cf. Acts 3:19; 2:38; Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21-27).

Within the Lord’s church, we also tend to quote this passage by itself in connection with salvation, primarily by saying that someone outside of Christ, like the Ethiopian in the Acts 8 passage above, must — in addition to hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), having faith in Christ (John 3:16), and repenting of sins (Acts 3:19) — confess their faith in Christ before being baptized into Christ (Acts 8:35-39; 2:338-39) in order to be saved.  In my observation, the majority of teaching and discussion about confessing one’s faith in Christ is applied primarily to those who are lost and are in the process of doing what God wants of them to be saved.

However, an examination of the immediate context of Romans 10:9-10 would show us that there is far more to confessing Christ than a one-time confession right before one’s baptism.  For one thing, the book of Romans was not written to those who are lost.  It was written to Christians (Rom. 1:6-7).  Thus, Romans 10:9-10 is telling Christians that they must confess Jesus as Lord to be saved.  Historically, Romans was written in a time when Christians were being severely persecuted by first the Jewish government and, not long afterwards, the Roman government as well.  Thus, confessing “with your mouth” (i.e., openly, publicly) your faith that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was in fact the Messiah and Lord was dangerous to the health and well-being of you and your loved ones.  You were putting your life on the line by confessing Jesus as Lord.  We’ll speak more of this in a second.

First, let’s examine the immediate context of Romans 10:9-10 by going to the beginning of chapter 10, where Paul was speaking about the nation of Israel:

Romans 10:1-4 (ESV)
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Israel was passionate about serving God and being righteous in His eyes…but they did not know that “God’s righteousness” now required them to submit to Christ as their Lord rather than “the law” (the law of Moses), which pointed to Christ (v. 4).  They were still focused on keeping the law of Moses, and thus were “seeking to establish their own” righteousness instead of “submit(ting) to God’s righteousness” which comes through obeying Christ.

Paul then elaborated that “the righteousness that is based on the law” (the law of Moses) required “that the person who does the commandments shall live by them” (v. 5), meaning that one had to keep the commands of the law of Moses perfectly to be saved, something no one but Jesus could do.  He then speaks of that which Israel was ignorant of and had rejected, “the righteousness based on faith” (v. 6), faith in Christ.  He then says that this “righteousness based on faith” speaks of “the word (which) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” before clarifying that this “word” is “the word of faith that we proclaim” (v. 8).

It is immediately after this that he writes Romans 10:9-10 and speaks of confessing Jesus as Lord and believing in one’s heart that God raised him from the dead, and connects that directly with being saved.  In other words, the immediate context of Romans 10:9-10 shows that “confess(ing) with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (v. 9) is directly correlated with “the word of faith that we proclaim” (v. 8), i.e., proclaiming the gospel of Christ to others (cf. Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 28:19-20).

Basically, to “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord” means more than just a one-time confession of faith right before you’re baptized.  It means even more that, as a Christian, you must share your faith in Christ with others who are ignorant of God’s plan to save them by sharing the gospel with them, just as Paul and his fellow apostles shared the gospel of Jesus with Israel who was ignorant of the righteousness God wanted them to have.

This is made even more clear when we examine another well-known passage about confessing Christ:

Matthew 10:32-33 (NASB)
32 Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
33 “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Within the Lord’s church, we tend to cite this passage by itself primarily when we are teaching the gospel to someone who is lost and telling them, correctly, that they must confess their faith in Christ before baptism in order to be saved like the Ethiopian did in Acts 8.  However, as with the Romans 10 passage, an examination of the immediate context of this passage shows that there is far more to confessing Jesus before men than confessing our faith in Him right before we are baptized.

The beginning of chapter 10 of Matthew records Jesus sending His twelve apostles out to “preach” that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vs. 1-7ff).  While giving them instructions about their mission, Jesus gives them this warning:

Matthew 10:16-18 (NASB)
16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
17 But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues;
18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

He is warning them that they will be severely persecuted because they were preaching the gospel, a prophecy we see fulfilled several times over in Acts.  But the persecution will not just come from governments and rulers.  Jesus went on to say:

Matthew 10:21-22 (NASB)
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.
22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

He was letting His disciples know that families would turn on each other, even to the point of handing over Christian family members to the governing authorities so they would be put to death for their Christianity.  He was warning them ahead of time that everyone would hate them because of their allegiance to Jesus.

“…but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”  Keep that in mind.  We’ll come back to that in a second.

He then told them:

Matthew 10:24-25 (ESV)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

In other words, Jesus is saying, “The world hates me and calls me the devil.  So don’t be surprised that they do the same with you.  After all, you are My disciples, my servants, my followers, my students.  The whole goal of being a disciple is to become like his teacher.  The whole point of being a Christian is to be like Christ.  So if the world hates me, and you are truly following me, then they will hate you too.  Count on it.”

But Jesus didn’t expect all of this hatred, opposition, and persecution to cause His followers to abandon sharing the gospel with others.  Take note of what He said next:

Matthew 10:26-28 (ESV)
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

“Don’t be afraid of them.  Instead, what I’m teaching you now in private, share it publicly.  Let everyone know my teachings.  Will that make it more likely that they’ll kill you?  Sure, but don’t be afraid of them.  They can’t kill your soul, after all.  God can.  Fear Him, and let that fear motivate you to share the good news of salvation with everyone no matter what they do to you.”

Paul would put it this way:

2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (ESV)
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others…

In other words, Paul is saying, “God is going to judge us all.  God is going to judge every single lost person you know, and He will judge you too.  Those who are lost — those who do not know God and d not obey the gospel — will spend eternity in hell (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  That’s terrifying.  And because we know this, that’s why we are so evangelistic.”

Jesus was saying the same thing.  He was telling His disciples to evangelize everyone in spite of the fact that it would cost them their lives.  And it is in this context that He then says that well-known passage about confessing Him and denying Him.  Indeed, that passage is not the end of Him discussing evangelizing in the face of stark persecution.  He went on to give even more warnings along the same vein:

Matthew 10:32-39 (NASB)
32 Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
33 But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law ;
36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household .
37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

What kind of confessing was He talking about in this passage?  It was far more than a one-time confession of faith in Christ that one would make right before their baptism in the front row of a church auditorium on a Sunday morning.  No, what Jesus and Paul were talking about when they were talking about confessing Christ in Matthew and Romans is evangelistic in nature.  It has to do with sharing your faith in Christ with others, regardless of whether it offends them, regardless of whether it brings hardship and persecution into your life, regardless of whether it means that your family will disinherit you and your spouse will leave you, regardless of even if it means that your life will end.  It has to do with enduring to the end, which Jesus said is what will bring salvation just like He said elsewhere that faith, repentance, and baptism would bring salvation.

What was He talking about when He spoke of denying Him?  Consider what He said elsewhere:

Mark 8:38 (ESV)
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Compare that with Paul’s well-known statement to the Romans:

Romans 1:16 (ESV)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Denying Him means we’re ashamed of Him and His teachings.  Why would we be ashamed?  Here’s a big reason:

John 12:42-43 (ESV)
42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;
43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

We deny Christ when we keep the gospel to ourselves, and we keep the gospel to ourselves because we are so afraid of offending people.  We want their approval more than God’s.  Jesus would tell us we need to fear God more.

Why do you think false teaching happens?  The Bible correlates that with denying Christ, you know…

2 Peter 2:1 (ESV)
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

Why does false teaching happen?  Here’s why:

Galatians 1:6-10 (ESV)
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

It all comes back to having man’s approval as a higher priority than pleasing God.  That’s why we would change the message to something false which pleases man more, and that’s why we would not confess our faith and obedience to Christ to others by sharing the gospel with them in the first place.

And if that describes us, then we’re not confessing Christ at all.  We’re denying Him.  Which means that the salvation we received at our baptism is in great danger of being lost (Heb. 10:26-31).  After all…

Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)
9 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.
10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Christians, are you confessing Christ?  Are you sharing the gospel?  Or are you keeping the message to yourselves?  Are you denying Him?

One thought on “What Does It Mean to Confess Our Faith in Jesus?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s