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When most people think of "confession," they usually think about admitting guilt, which is unpleasant to do. But we can also confess good things, which is much more pleasant to do.
We may confess that we love our husband or wife, our children, our country, etc. Occasionally one sees an ad in the paper or on a billboard where a man says: "Joan, I love you. Bill." That is a confession. Confession is important to all of us.
One confesses when he openly declares that he is convinced a thing is true. Confession is the opposite of denial and of silence. [Grimm-Wilke-Thayer, Random House College Dictionary]
Three elements are needed for a proper confession:
(1) Belief in the heart that a certain thing is true.
(2) A decision that one is willing to stand up for what he believes, to make an open commitment about it, and let others know.
(3) A statement acknowledging, professing, 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, one of the most common being sins. But this study discusses primarily confession of Christ. Furthermore, confession of Christ should continue after conversion, but we will emphasize confession of Christ as part of conversion.
Some religious groups expect people to make a confession like this before they will baptize them.
For example, one group in its baptismal vow, requires that people must answer this question before they can be baptized:
"Renouncing the world and its sinful ways, 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 in his life that proves that he has been saved, born again, etc., before they will baptize him.
Yet no Bible passage or example anywhere teaches anyone to make such a confession or tell such an experience in order to be baptized.
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.
All people are guilty of sin, and to confess this is good. In fact, children of God who sin are required to confess sin to be forgiven (1 John 1:9; Matt. 6:12; etc.).
And people who are not children of God must recognize their guilt and repent of it (Acts 2:38; 17:30). But no passage teaches that confession of sins is a required step to conversion. More important, 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, the Bible. If what is said is true, it might be good to say it, but there is nothing in the gospel that requires one to say such things to become a child of God. And saying such things would not be sufficient to the gospel requirements of confession in order to be saved.
There is something else 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.
The confession described in this passage (and in some others we will study) is a confession that Christians must continue to make after baptism, not just before baptism as a part of conversion. But 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 prompted the disciples to state 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 "anointed" to be king, ruler of God's people.
Jesus blessed Peter and said that this truth was revealed from the Father and would become the foundation of the church. Surely that makes this confession vitally important.
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," but the meaning is "it is just as thou sayest, to be sure, certainly" - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer.) [Cf. Matt 26:25 & 26:64 with Mark 14:62; John 18:33,36,37; Luke 23:3; Mark 14:2.]
"King of the Jews" was an expression for the Messiah or 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 as a spiritual King - the Christ. [Cf. 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; Matt. 26:63,64; Acts 8:37; Phil. 2:11]
Matthew 16:16 - Peter had confessed Jesus as 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!"
What is the significance of this expression?
John 1:1-3,14 - Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, was with God before the world began and was God.
John 20:28 - Thomas confessed Him to be Lord and God. He was God in the flesh, the only-begotten Son having all characteristics of Deity, unique in His relation to God.
So when people confess Jesus today, they should mean that He is the Son of God, who partakes of the nature of Deity.
[Cf. 1 John 4:15; John 11:27; Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Matt. 14:33; 26:63,64; John 1:34; Acts 8:37; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7.]
John 4:42 - The Samaritans met and talked with Jesus. They said they believed and knew 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; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11]
Romans 10:9,10 - To be saved we must confess the Lord Jesus (Jesus as Lord - ASV). Note that this confession is to be made with the mouth. Every Bible example of confession involves something said. [Cf. Phil. 2:11.] This is not just a conviction in the heart - that would be faith, which is here listed separately from confession.
"Lord" means master or ruler - one whom all ought to obey.
Luke 6:46 - Why call (confess) Jesus Lord if you don't do what He says? It is not enough 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. It is a confession of both faith and repentance - you are calling upon Jesus as your Lord - the one you must obey, not just the one others must obey. As long as a person has not truly repented and determined to obey Jesus, He cannot make a scriptural confession, any more than one can who does not believe.
[Heb. 4:14; 10:23; Matt. 7:21; John 20:28]
Confession of Christ is a statement made with the mouth about Jesus.
Since there is some variation in the confessions, we conclude there Scripture does not bind one set formula. Scriptural confession does not consist of repeating 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 the form of answers to questions - Matt. 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 a true confession. A person cannot validly confess until he himself understands and believes who Christ is.
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 my sins, or does one confess first, then his sins are forgiven? Consider the following evidence:
These confessions occurred before Jesus' death, so the people did not become members of Jesus' church at that time. But they demonstrate that a pattern was established, even during Jesus lifetime, that people must confess Him in order to become His disciples.
John 1:49 - Nathanael, when he was first introduced to Jesus and first believed, confessed Jesus to be Son of God, King of Israel.
John 4:42 - Samaritans, when they first heard Jesus and believed, they confessed Him to be the Savior of the world.
John 9:35-38 - Jesus had healed a blind man, but the man had never seen Jesus. Jesus later met him again and asked if he believed in the Son of God. 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.]
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 only those who confessed [cf. 9:22].
In the first examples above, people confessed at the point of becoming disciples - when they had not been disciples, but wanted to become disciples. On the other hand, people who would not confess were not disciples, even though they believed. Therefore, confession was an essential condition to discipleship.
Disciples were later called "Christians" (Acts 11:26). So we would surely expect the pattern to continue - in order to become a Christian, one first had to confess Christ.
Confession is "unto salvation" ("to salvation" - NKJV). So, confession is a necessary condition to salvation. It comes first, then comes salvation from sin.
But sins are actually forgiven when people are baptized, not before (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16; etc.). At the point of baptism, people come "into Christ" (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:27). Since confession must come before salvation, and since people are forgiven and come into Christ when they are baptized, it follows that confession must come before baptism.
[How do we know that "salvation" refers to forgiveness of sins one must receive in order to become a child of God? The answer is context. Each of the terms "believe" and "salvation" has a consistent meaning throughout verses 4-15 . Specifically vv 9,10 are tied by vv 11,12 to vv13,14. ]
[Vv 13,14 describe people who have not heard or believed, but then they hear, believe, call on the Lord, and are saved. These verses could not possibly refer to something done by one who is a child of God; they must refer to one who is not a child of God and seeks to become one. But the connection of the context shows that "believe" and "salvation" in vv 9,10 must mean the same thing as in vv 13,14.]
[Cf. v13 to Acts 2:21,38. The context refers specifically to unbelieving Jews who need to be saved - 9:30-33; 10:1,4,6,8,11,14,16,17.]
[Why does Paul say "you" in vv 9,10 when addressing saved Romans? Because he is continuing a line of thought from the preceding verses that quote Old Testament verses that refer to "you." The question is not to whom Rom. 10 is written, but about whom it is speaking. Often we speak to certain people about other people. So Paul speaks to saved people but discusses passages that speak about unsaved people who need to receive salvation. Read the context!]
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..." [KJV says "profession"].
The "good confession" was something Timothy did in the past, back when he was called to eternal life. Here Paul is later writing to Timothy to urge him to continue fighting the good fight, so he will eventually receive that eternal life. That which happened in the past (the good confession he made when he was called) is contrasted to the continued service he must render to take hold of eternal life.
V13 says it is the same confession Jesus made before Pilate. He admitted He was King, anointed Ruler of God's people: the Christ. When he was called to eternal life, Timothy confessed Jesus 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 hope of eternal life. When Timothy received that call and wanted that eternal life, what did he do? 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.
So, confession was a requirement to salvation after Jesus' death, just like it was a requirement to become His disciple while He lived on earth. [Cf. Heb. 10:22,23.]
Since the treasurer did not know about Jesus, Philip taught Him. He wanted to be baptized, but Philip said he first had to believe. In order for Philip to know the treasurer believed, the treasurer had to say so: he confessed that he believed in Jesus.
All the passages we have studied have led us to the conclusion that confession is essential in order for one to be forgiven of sins and become a disciple of Jesus. We have learned that this 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 v37 either in the text or in the footnotes.
* Even when scholars question the authenticity of v37, they all admit its teachings are in harmony with the gospel. Those who study textual criticism argue that the doctrine of Scripture is not affected by disputes over what should or should not be included. It follows that the doctrine of salvation must not be affected by whether or not v37 is considered to be valid; therefore the teaching of v37 must be truth. We have proved clearly that this is the case.
* 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). For hundreds of years until the late 1800's all English Bibles included this verse. Would God have fulfilled His promise to preserve the truth if He allowed a verse to be included if it taught error, misleading all these people for all these years? [This may not prove the verse is authentic, but it proves it teaches truth.]
For further discussion of the preservation of Scripture, see our article on that subject on our Bible Instruction web site at https://www.gospelway.com/instruct/.
Like Bible study, faith, and repentance, confession is something that needs to continue after we are converted and become children of God. But we have learned that all of them must begin before baptism.
What about you? Have you confessed Christ as a condition of your salvation?
It should be obvious from our study that confession is a condition essential to receive salvation and become a child of God. Let us simply summarize the evidence that this is true.
Romans 10:9,10 - If we believe and confess we will be saved. Just like 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 teach that faith and confession are necessary to salvation.
1 Timothy 6:12,13 - Confession was Timothy's response when he was called to eternal life by the gospel. So today, when people hear the gospel and want eternal life, one thing they must do is confess Christ.
Acts 8:37 - Before one can be baptized he must confess his conviction regarding Jesus. Many verses teach that, before people are baptized, they should hear and understand the gospel, believe it, and repent of sins. It would not be scriptural to baptize someone who had not done these things. So the person doing the baptizing (and everyone present) needs to know that the person being baptized does have this commitment. This happens by confession.
But remember that baptism is necessary to salvation. And one cannot be baptized till he confesses Christ. So confession is a necessary condition for one to be saved.
John 12:42 - People who do not confess are not disciples, therefore confession is essential in order for one to become a disciple. [Cf. John 9:35-38 and other examples above.]
1 John 4:15; Matt. 10:32,33 - Whoever confesses Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God. Clearly this is stating that confession of Jesus is a condition of fellowship with God. Doubtless it means we must continue to confess Jesus to continue to have fellowship. But it also necessarily teaches that fellowship cannot begin until we have confessed. The same conclusion would follow from Matt. 10:32,33. [Heb. 10:22,23]
[Note: 1 Tim. 6:12 implies that the confession benefits the "witnesses" too. All things should be done to edifying - 1 Cor. 14:26. It follows that the confession serves the purpose of instructing and edifying all who are present, so should be done in such a way that everyone is aware of what is being confessed and the meaning of it.]
Have you properly and Scripturally confessed Christ? You need to do so in order to be baptized so your sins can be forgiven and you can become a disciple, a child of God.
Confession must be based on a proper understanding and belief about Jesus, for this is what you are confessing. Do you believe Jesus is what 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, otherwise you have not properly confessed Him as Lord.
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?
Copyright 2009, 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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