What is the difference between believing in Christ, and confessing Christ? If you listened to the average stadium evangelist you’d get the idea that the confession accompanies a walk down the aisle and the sinner’s prayer. I’ve sat through enough sermons with confusing invitationals at the end to know that there needs to be clarity on this issue.
In this chapter we will examine the difference between the terms, “believe in Christ,” and “confess Christ.” Let’s start by looking at John 11:25-26.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”1
In these famous words of Jesus, we find the answer to the eternal salvation question. Those who believe that in Jesus as the resurrection and the life will have be resurrected and then never die. This concept is reiterated over and over throughout the gospel where this verse appears. Anyone who believes in Jesus has everlasting life.
In these two verses we discover that which comprises a saving belief in Christ. Someone must believe that Jesus is the one that will bring about resurrection, and give eternal life. Then if someone believes in Jesus for that life, they have it as soon as they believe. What’s significant about this verse is what it leaves out. It does not mention that a public, verbal confession is required. This verse is not an anomaly. None of the verses that give this single condition for eternal salvation include such statements. Why then have so many evangelists added this to the gospel?
For that we will transition from salvation to discipleship, since every action a believer is expected to accomplish falls into that category. So, what is confusion? We don’t have to guess since Paul tells us very clearly in Philippians 2:11.
…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord2…
In this we find a simple and concise definition. Confession is an action that is performed with the tongue. The mouth speaks words that proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, and Lord. Confession is a verbal action in which the person speaks the truth about Jesus’ position and status. It’s particularly focused on expressing submission to Christ. Therefore, confession is a good work. That’s why it falls in the domain of the disciple, but is not a requirement for gaining eternal life.
Let’s take a look at some believers who found it too difficult to confess in John 12:42-43.
Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;3
Here we discover that these born-again believers were unable to confess Christ. We know they had salvation because Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.4” These silent believers had eternal life and would find themselves in Heaven when they died, but they could not confess Christ.
I remember my Mom telling me one time, “Christians don’t deny Jesus.” What she meant was that it should not be done. However, what my adolescent mind took it to mean was that true believers are unable to deny Christ. Even then I understood that to confess Christ was the opposite to denying him. Thus true christians would be able to do nothing other than confess, or so I thought. However, these verses in John show that my understand was wrong. I wish I would have been aware of them at the time.
The fact that there are believers who do not confess Christ is no real surprise to our practical sensibilities. The question arises, though, “what are the consequences when a saved person doesn’t confess Christ, or even denies him.” For the answer to that question we will look to Matthew 10:32-39.
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.5
In this descriptive set of verses we get the image of a scene playing out in heaven. The setting is important. The fact that it is happening in heaven tells us that everyone there is, likewise, in heaven. That’s a hint to who Jesus is talking about. Since unbelievers won’t be allowed into the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about believers here.
He shows that there is a great reward for those who confess Christ. The reward is Jesus publicly announced approval when, “him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” Can you image the awesome experience of having Christ confess you as a faithful friend to his Father. What a reward that will be.
There is, however, a warning of consequence in the following verse. For the one who denies Christ before men there is a shameful reception waiting. Jesus isn’t going to sugar coat it. He’s going to tell God the Father the truth, and proclaim the believer to be one who didn’t confess. The “deny,” here, has a double meaning. Christ will not only shame the believer verbally, but he will deny him the right to reward, and rulership in the kingdom of Heaven. There is a great consequence for the one who doesn’t confess Christ. He will be present in heaven, which means he will be saved, but he will suffer loss in Heaven.6
We find this same concept echoed in Luke 9:26, but with an added dimension.
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.7
So you thought you could get away with being silent. Jesus shows that even the internal emotion that one has toward Christ will be reflected back toward him when that believer arrives in Heaven. Although being ashamed of Christ and his words, is an inward status, it implies that there will be outward signs. One of those signs will be that the person won’t confess Christ, and thus Christ won’t confess that believer. For the one who goes through life pretending as if he isn’t a believer, there is shame waiting for him in heaven. Once again we find a very similar statement later on in the same gospel but with yet another dimension. Let’s look at Luke 12:8-9.
“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.8
As in the last verse, Jesus will deny the silent believer in front of the angels of God. It’s as if there will be a parade of honor for the ones who confess Christ, but a walk of shame for the ones who don’t confess. God, and the angels will get to see who was faithful to Christ, not only in their heart but with their mouth.
In another place Paul gives us a very important encouragement to confess Christ. It’s not only important for our reception into heaven but it’s invaluable to our current life. We must confess Christ with our mouths in order to be saved from the consequences of sin in this life. Let’s look at Romans 10:9-10 to see how.
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.9
Here’ we must ask, “saved from what?” Paul is reiterating the idea that being delivered from the deadly consequences of sin, which he calls God’s wrath, can only be done if these two conditions are met. For more information on how we know this is not talking about salvation from Hell, see chapter 26.
Obviously the person needs to be a believer first. Then for all believers, they have the option to confess publicly the Lord Jesus, and believe in Jesus’ resurrection. If this is accomplished then the believer can expect to be delivered (saved) from the damage that sin causes. The implication in the chapter is that the action of confession is a catalyst for lifestyle change. It’s like, ‘putting your money where your mouth is.’ The believer who wants to grow out of, living by the flesh,10 should start with confessing that Christ is his master and grow into full commitment in discipleship. The more one confesses Jesus to peers the more accountability and expectation there will be. Confession is key to avoiding failure in discipleship. You can remember this simple line: disciples confess for success.
In this chapter we learned that believing in Christ and confessing Christ are not the same thing. Believing in Christ is the one requirement for having salvation from Hell. Confessing Christ is not a requirement for eternal salvation, but it is a must for any who want a good reception in heaven, and who wish to grow in discipleship.
1 John 11:25–26.
2 Philippians 2:11.
3 John 12:42.
4 John 6:47.
5 Matthew 10:32–33.
6 1 Corinthians 3:15
7 Luke 9:26.
8 Luke 12:8–9.
9 Romans 10:9.
10 Romans 8