Confession unto SalvationBy: Joseph H. Murray
“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).
There is confession of faith and confession of sin.
We often hear the saying “an honest confession is good for the soul.” This, however, is not a scripture, but it is a good saying.
On the one hand, confession means to declare publicly a personal relationship with and allegiance to God. It is an act of open, joyful commitment made to God in the presence of the world, by which a congregation or individuals bind themselves in loyalty to God or Jesus Christ. It is an avowal of faith which can have eternal consequences. On the other hand, it means to acknowledge sin and guilt in the light of God’s revelation and is thus, generally, an outward sign of repentance and faith. It may or may not be followed by forgiveness (Josh. 7:19; Lev. 26:40; Ps. 36:5–6; Matt. 27:4; 1John 1:9).
Confession means more than giving mental assent. It implies a decision to pledge oneself in loyalty to Jesus Christ as Lord in response to the work of the Holy Spirit.
To confess Jesus Christ is to acknowledge Him as the Messiah: “and Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:16–17; Mark 8:29; John 1:41; 9:22); as the Son of God (John 1:34; 1:49; 1John 4:14); and that He is Lord, primarily on the ground of the resurrection and ascension: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1Cor. 12:3).
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11).
Confession of Jesus Christ is linked intimately with the confession of sins. To confess Christ is to confess that He “died for our sins,” and, conversely, to confess one’s sins in real repentance is to look to Christ for forgiveness (1John 1:5–10).
In preparation for the (first) coming of Christ, John the Baptist summoned people to confess their sins, and confession was a constant element in the ministry both of our Lord and of the apostles (Matt. 3:6; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:8; 15:21; 18:13; 19:8; John 20:23; James 5:16).
Although addressed to God, confession of faith in Jesus Christ should be made openly before men by word of mouth (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; 1Tim. 6:12; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11) and may be costly (Matt. 10:32–39; John 9:22; 12:42). It is the opposite of denial of the Lord.
Confession of sin is likewise primarily addressed to God but may also be made before men. Where the confession is for the benefit of the Church or of others, an individual may openly confess sins in the presence of the Church or of other believers, but this should never be unedifying (Eph. 5:12). True repentance may require an acknowledgment of guilt to a brother: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23–24), but there is no suggestion that confession of private sin must be made to an individual Presbyter or Priest.
Confession of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit and, as such, is the mark of the true Church, the Body of Christ: “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10:20; 1Cor. 12:3). For this reason, it accompanies baptism: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues (confess), and magnify God” (Acts 10:44–46). “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1John 4:2). “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti–Christ” (2John 7).
The perfect pattern of confession is given to us in Jesus Christ Himself, who witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate (1Tim 6:12–13). He confessed that He is the Christ (Mark 14:62) and that He is a king (John 18:36). His confession was before men, over against the false witness of His enemies: “for many bare false witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together” (Mark 14:56), and the denial of a disciple, “but he (Peter) denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew” (Mark 14:68). All of His confessions were infinitely costly, with eternal consequences for all men.
The Church in her confession identifies herself “before many witnesses” with the good confession of her crucified and risen Saviour. Her confession is a sign that the old man is dead with Christ and that she is possessed by her Lord, whom she is commissioned to serve.
Confession in the New Testament (like denial of Christ) has a perspective, leading either to judgment or salvation, because it is the outward manifestation of faith or lack of it. Christ will one day confess before the Father those who confess Him today, and deny those who deny Him.
Confession with the mouth is made unto salvation (Rom. 10:9–10, 13), and our confessions today are a foretaste of the last day when every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:11; Rev. 4:11).
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and saw these things: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:11–13).
“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony (or confession); and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:10–11).