I was surprised to find that the water was warm as I stepped down into the baptistry. I stood in what seemed like an oversized bath and answered a few simple questions from the pastor. "Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior?"
"Yes," I said simply. That was it. I had confessed Christ publicly. Obviously, I had already confessed that I believed in Him prior, but this was my coming out, my going public parade. From that point, I've confessed Christ on a pretty regular basis.
There are those who present the Gospel in such a way that they include confession. It’s sometimes called making a profession of faith. In the same way it’s often said that someone who lives like a Christian for a while but then falls into sin made a false profession of faith. What is this confusion and profession all about?
To start with let’s define the word confession. Confessing Christ is an expression of what you already believe about Him. It's an action performed with the tongue. We know because Paul told us:
…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… (Philippians 2:11)
Confession is a verbal activity in which the person speaks the truth about Jesus' position and status. Now we could extend this idea a little. Imagine that a person had such a speech impediment that they were completely unable to speak. Does that mean that this mute person is incapable of confessing Christ? No, I don’t think so, because confession can be done in writing as well. Have you ever heard of a signed confession? It’s a written statement on a certain subject. Thus, confession is a statement of belief, whether written or spoken.
Every Christian would probably agree that confessing Christ is important. However, a difficulty arises when we try to make confessing Christ a requirement for gaining eternal life. John's Gospel actually tells us that there were people who were saved, but didn't confess Jesus as Christ.
…Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life… 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. (John 3:15, 12:42-43)
Here we discover that these born-again believers were unwilling to confess Christ. These silent believers had eternal life and would find themselves in Heaven when they died, but they could not confess Jesus as the Christ at this point in their lives. Now, this comes as a surprise to many who have been on the wrong end of the angry pointer finger of forceful evangelists who have said that they need to confess Jesus publicly to have eternal life. I've heard this verse often quoted as part of an evangelist invitation.
…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. (Romans 10:9-10)
Paul gives two requirements for being saved. First, you must confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. (Which is action and a good work). Secondly, you must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. If you fulfill these two requirements, then you will be saved from something. It's important to note that Paul doesn't say, "You will be saved from Hell." Here we must ask, "Saved from what?" Paul is offering deliverance from some situation that was plaguing his readers and could affect us as well.
In chapter one Paul set up the consequences that the world faces. Because people had rejected God, and engaged in rampant idolatry, they faced some terrible consequences. The world's rejection of God and resulting idol worship has resulted in futile thinking, foolishness, and darkened hearts. The consequences are worse still as Paul explains that God turned the human race over to the corruptive effects of sin. (Romans 1:21) He goes on to say that it gets worse still because God has turned mankind over to the full effects of their sin. The result is that generally speaking people were:
…being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)
Paul explains that all of this is the result of people rejecting God and following idols. These were consequences that people were experiencing in their lives, and we too may experience some of these. It's true that people need to be eternally saved, but they also need to be saved from this type of destructive lifestyle. In the first chapters of Romans, Paul explains how to be Justified before God, which has to be saved-eternally. In the later chapters of Romans, Paul teaches believers how to live in a way that they can be saved-daily from the deadly consequences of their sin habit, especially with a focus on that which comes from idolatry.
So when Paul says in the later chapters, "Confess that Jesus is Lord, and Believe that God raised Him from the dead," he's explaining to believers how they can begin to have salvation from their destructive habits and lifestyle. Don't miss this. He's talking to people who have already experienced eternal salvation but were still struggling with sin. He's offering them a way to experience deliverance from the damage of daily sin.
Many people see the words of Paul, “and you will be saved…” and assume he’s talking about salvation from Hell. That’s simply missing the context. He’s already told his readers how to be saved from Hell, in earlier chapters, and it is by faith alone. Now he’s explaining how to escape the daily destruction that sin causes. Being saved from that is all about victory in life.
Jesus promises eternal life to all those who believe in Him. He promises deliverance and victory in this life and reward in the next life if you confess Him. Believing in Jesus is the requirement for gaining eternal life. Confessing Christ is a requirement for taking the next step of discipleship. It's imperative that we do not confuse these two concepts.