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When they think about “confession,” most people think about admitting guilt, which is unpleasant. But we can also confess good things. For example, we may confess that we love our husband or wife, our children, our country, etc. Occasionally one sees an announcement in a paper or a billboard where a man says: “Joan, I love you. Bill.” That is a confession.
One confesses when he openly declares that he is convinced a thing is true. Confession is the opposite of denial or silence. Three elements are needed for a proper confession:
(1) A belief in the heart that a certain thing is true.
(2) A decision that one is willing to make an open commitment and let others know.
(3) A statement acknowledging, professing, or declaring the conviction.
We will consider what it means to confess Christ and learn what role confession has in becoming a Christian or being saved from sin.
The Bible mentions many things that can be confessed, including confessing sins. But this study discusses primarily confession of Christ. Confession of Christ should continue after conversion, but we will emphasize confessing Christ as part of conversion.
One group asks people before baptism: “…have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and do you believe that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven your sins, and given you a new heart?” (Seventh Day Adventist “Baptismal Vow,” via Handbook of Religious Quotations).
Other groups require a person to tell an experience from his life that proves he has been saved or born again before they will baptize him.
The reason is simple: sins are not forgiven before baptism.
Acts 22:16 – Be baptized and wash away your sins.
Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized for remission of sins.
Mark 16:16 – He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism also now saves us.
For one to confess that he was saved or forgiven or born again before he was baptized, would be an unscriptural and invalid confession, because it simply is not true.
When a person has committed sin, confessing this is good. In fact, children of God who sin are required to confess sin to be forgiven (1 John 1:9; Matthew 6:12).
But no passage teaches that confession of sins is a required step to conversion. And if people did make such a confession, it would not be sufficient for them to be saved. There is a confession that is required to be forgiven, but it is not a confession of sins.
The same could be said for other confessions people might make regarding salvation, the church, or the Bible. Nothing in the gospel requires one to confess such things to become a child of God, nor would such confessions be sufficient to meet the gospel requirements in order to be saved.
But there is something that must be confessed so one can be saved. What is it?
Matthew 10:32 – Everyone who confesses Jesus before men, Jesus will confess him before the Father. Note that this is a confession about Jesus: It is a statement about who Jesus is.
Let us consider at this point what it means to confess Christ. Then later we will show that we must confess Christ as part of conversion in order to be forgiven of sins and become a child of God.
Matthew 16:15-18 – Jesus asked the disciples who they believed He was (note that prompting others to make a confession is proper to do). Peter said He was the Christ, the Son of God. “Christ” means one who is “anointed” to be king, ruler of God’s people. Jesus blessed Peter and said that this truth was revealed from the Father.
1 Timothy 6:13; Matthew 27:11 – Jesus witnessed “the good confession” before Pilate. When Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews,” Jesus answered, “It is as you say” (NKJV). (Other translations say “Thou sayest” meaning “it is just as thou sayest, to be sure, certainly” – Grimm-Wilke-Thayer.) (Compare Matthew 26:25,64 with Mark 14:62; John 18:33,36,37; Luke 23:3; Mark 14:2.)
“King of the Jews” was an expression for Christ, who descended from David and would be anointed King over Israel. Yet Jesus clearly told Pilate He would not be an earthly king (John 18:36). He confessed Himself to be a spiritual King: the Christ. (Compare John 1:49.)
So when people today confess Christ, they must mean that He is the Christ, the anointed King or Ruler over all mankind and especially over God’s people.
(Other examples: John 4:25,26;9:22; 11:27; 12:42; Matthew 26:63,64; Acts 8:37; Philippians 2:11)
Matthew 16:16 – Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
John 1:49 – Nathanael confessed, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
John 11:27 – Martha confessed, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
John 20:28 – Thomas confessed Him to be Lord and God. Jesus was God in the flesh, the only-begotten Son having all characteristics of Deity, unique in His relation to God. (John 1:1-3,14)
So when people confess Jesus today, they should mean that He is the Son of God, who partakes of the nature of Deity.
(Compare 1 John 4:2,5; John 11:27; 1:34; Matthew 3:17; 17:5; 14:33; 26:63,64; Acts 8:37; 2 John 7.)
John 4:42 – After the Samaritans met Jesus, they said they believed that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Jesus is the One who died on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. As a result, all men can have hope of salvation from sin. Without Him, there would be no hope.
(Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11)
Romans 10:9,10 – To be saved we must confess the Lord Jesus (“Jesus as Lord” – ASV). “Lord” means master or ruler – one whom everyone ought to obey. Faith is a conviction in the heart, but confession is here listed separately from faith. This confession should be made with the mouth. Every Bible example of confession involves something a person says. (Compare Philippians 2:11.)
Luke 6:46 – Why call (confess) Jesus “Lord” if you don’t do what He says? It does no good to call Jesus “Lord” and not obey. Nor is it enough to change our way of living while refusing to confess Him. Both are required.
To confess Jesus as Lord is to make a pledge of allegiance to His authority. You are calling upon Jesus as your Lord – the one you must obey. A person cannot make a Scriptural confession if he does not believe in Jesus or if he has not truly repented and determined to obey Jesus.
(Hebrews 4:14; 10:23; Matthew 7:21; John 20:28)
Confession of Christ is a statement made with the mouth about Jesus.
Since there is some variation in the way confession is worded, we conclude the Scripture does not bind one set formula of words. Scriptural confession does not consist of reciting a word-for-word quotation. It requires understanding concepts about who Jesus is and then conveying by mouth that we accept those concepts as true.
Essentially, one confesses Jesus to be all that the Bible claims Him to be. He professes that He believes Jesus to be God’s Divine Son, the anointed ruler of God’s people, the Savior of the world, and the Master whom we all must obey. In saying this, one admits that he must live his life in total obedience to Jesus’ will. This is what we must understand and intend to convey to others by our confession.
Have you confessed Jesus to be what the Bible teaches that He is?
(Note that confession can be done in answer to questions – Matthew 27:11; John 9:35-38.)
In a sense, we should confess Christ repeatedly throughout our lives as Christians. But we are discussing the confession required as part of conversion, becoming a Christian. Surely this confession must come after one believes and repents, for otherwise it would not be a true confession.
But must one confess Christ as a necessary step in order to be forgiven of sins and become Jesus’ disciple? Does one confess that God has forgiven his sins, or must one confess before his sins are forgiven? Consider the following evidence:
During Jesus’ lifetime a pattern was established that a person must confess Him in order to be His disciple. Since this occurred before Jesus’ death, the terms of the New Testament were not yet in effect, nor did people enter Jesus’ church at that time. Nevertheless, confession was a test of who was or was not a disciple.
John 1:49 – Nathanael, when he first believed, confessed Jesus to be the Son of God, King of Israel.
John 4:42 – The Samaritans, when they first believed, confessed Jesus to be the Savior of the world.
John 9:35-38 – Jesus healed a blind man. Later, when Jesus affirmed that He was the Son of God, the blind man confessed, “I believe.” (Note that confession occurred in response to Jesus’ prompting.)
Matthew 10:32,33 – Whoever confesses Jesus before men, Jesus will confess him before the Father. Confession of Jesus is a condition of fellowship. Confession must continue after one is a disciple, but fellowship cannot begin for those who will not confess.
John 12:42,43 – An example of non-confession. Certain Jews believed in Jesus but would not confess Him. Surely no one would affirm that they were disciples. So, confession was a test of discipleship during Jesus’ lifetime. It stood between discipleship and non-discipleship. The Jews recognized this, for they cast out of the synagogue those who confessed (compare 9:22).
So, people confessed Christ when they wanted to become disciples. And if people would not confess, they were not disciples even though they believed. So, confession was a condition to discipleship.
Disciples were later called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). So we would expect the pattern to continue: in order to become a Christian, one first had to confess Christ.
With the mouth confession is “unto salvation” (“to salvation” – NKJV). So, confession is a necessary condition to salvation from sin. Confession comes first, then comes salvation.
But sins are actually forgiven when people are baptized, not before (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27). Since confession must come before salvation, and since people are forgiven at the point of baptism, it follows that confession must come before baptism.*
NKJV – “…lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
NASB – “…take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession…”
NIV – “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession…”
Timothy made the “good confession” when he was called to eternal life. Paul is writing to Timothy to urge him to continue fighting the good fight, so he will eventually receive that eternal life.
Verse 13 says this was the same confession Jesus made before Pilate. As already mentioned, before Pilate Jesus acknowledged He was King, anointed Ruler of God’s people: the Christ. So, when Timothy was called to eternal life, he confessed like Jesus confessed Himself before Pilate.
2 Thessalonians 2:14 – We are called for salvation by the gospel. Timothy was called by the gospel so he could have the hope of eternal life. When Timothy received that call, he responded by confessing the good confession. The time to confess, then, is when we are called by the gospel to eternal life and accept it to be true.
Just as confession was a test of discipleship while Jesus lived on earth, so confession was a requirement to salvation after Jesus’ death. (Compare Hebrews 10:22,23.)
When Philip taught the treasurer about Jesus, he wanted to be baptized. But Philip said he first had to believe. So Philip would know the treasurer believed, the treasurer confessed that he believed in Jesus.
We have studied many passages showing that confession is essential in order for one to be forgiven of sins. This means that confession must come after belief and repentance but before baptism. This example shows that these conclusions are correct, for this is exactly what happened in this case.
* Almost without exception, translations include verse 37 either in the text or in the footnotes.
* All reliable textual critics agree that the doctrine of Scripture is not changed by questions about what belongs in the text. It follows that, whether or not one thinks verse 37 belongs in the text, he must acknowledge that what the verse teaches is true.
* God has promised to preserve His truth in the Scriptures for all ages (Psalm 119:152,160; Isaiah 40:8; 30:8; John 12:48; 2 John 2; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). Until the late 1800’s all English Bibles included Acts 8:37. Would God have fulfilled His promise to preserve the truth if He allowed a verse to be included that taught error for all these years? Again, whether or not we agree that the verse is authentic, we must all admit that what it teaches is true.
For further discussion of the preservation of Scripture, see our article on that subject on our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/.
Whoever confesses Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God. As we have repeatedly seen, confession of Jesus is a condition of fellowship with God. Some such verses teach that we must continue to confess Jesus after conversion. But since confession is essential to fellowship, it necessarily follows that fellowship cannot begin until we have confessed. (Hebrews 10:22,23)
Like Bible study, faith, and repentance, confession is a requirement that must continue after we are converted. But since all of them are essential to salvation, it follows that all must begin before baptism.
What about you? Have you confessed Christ as a condition of your salvation?
Let us summarize the evidence that confession is a condition essential to receive salvation and become a child of God.
Matthew 10:32,33 – Jesus will confess before the Father those who confess Him before men. It follows that those who want to be confessed before the Father must confess Jesus, and those have not confessed Jesus have not been confessed before the Father.
Romans 10:9,10 – In order to be saved, we must believe and confess. Just as Mark 16:16 teaches that belief and baptism are essential to salvation, and Acts 2:38 teaches that repentance and baptism are for (unto) remission of sins, so Romans 10:9,10 teaches that faith and confession are necessary to salvation.
1 Timothy 6:12,13 – Like Timothy, people who want eternal life must confess Christ when they are called by the gospel.
Acts 8:37 – Before one can be baptized he must confess Jesus. But remember that baptism is necessary to salvation. So one must confess before he can be baptized for remission of sins.
John 12:42 – People who do not confess are not disciples, therefore confession is essential in order for one to become a disciple. (Compare John 9:35-38.)
1 John 4:15 – Whoever confesses Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God. It follows that God does not begin to dwell in a sinner until he has confessed Christ.
Have you properly and scripturally confessed Christ?
Confession must be based on a proper understanding and belief about Jesus. Do you believe Jesus is all that the gospel claims Him to be?
Confession must be based on repentance and commitment to obey Jesus as the absolute Lord and Master of your life.
After you confess Christ, you should be baptized so your sins can be forgiven. Then you must follow through on the commitment you have confessed and live a life of faithful service, continuing to confess Christ throughout your life.
Have you confessed Christ and received salvation by His blood? Are you continuing to live faithfully confessing Christ to others as you have opportunity?
* The context of Romans 10 refers to unbelievers who need to be saved (9:30-33; 10:1,4,6,8,11,14,16,17). Specifically, verses 13,14 describe people who have not heard or believed, but then they hear, believe, call on the Lord, and are saved. Verses 9,10 show that confession, like faith, is essential to receive salvation. (Also, compare verse 13 to Acts 2:21,36-38, where the context teaches unbelieving Jews how to be saved.)
Why does Paul say “you” in Romans 10:9,10 when addressing saved Romans? He is continuing a line of thought from the preceding verses that quote Old Testament verses that refer to “you.” Paul speaks to saved people but discusses passages that speak about unsaved people who need to receive salvation.
Copyright 2009, 2019, David E. Pratte
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Things that Are Essential to Salvation
Is Obedience Essential to Salvation?
The Purpose of Baptism
Importance of Repentance
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Salvation by "Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.