Any attempt at distilling the teaching of the Bible on the divine plan of God for salvation down into a few easy steps robs us of a comprehension of the depth and richness of all God has done for us in bringing us unto himself. In short, to fail to understand the grace of God – God’s plan of salvation – because we are so focused on what man “must do to be saved” tragically results in a humanized “plan of salvation.” Yes, man must do something in response to what God has done. There are too many commands that call us to definite responses or obedience, but to focus on that to the neglect of what God has done results in man being elevated and God being denigrated. There must be a balance.
God has always required obedience from man. God is the creator, we are the created. God is divine, we are human. Whatever the message is and in whatever way God has made known his will for man he has always expected an appropriate response. If we wish the benefits God promises we must produce the response he asks of us. To do otherwise is to disobey.
The response God asks of man is faith, not just in the acceptance of a fact or a set of facts, but in the sense of trust in God. Faith, as we have already seen, always expresses itself. But how does faith express itself? What does faith “look like?”
As we are looking at man’s concept of man being required to take certain steps in order to obtain salvation, and since we have looked at faith and repentance, we want to look today at the subject of “confession.” Is confession a commanded “step” one must take in order to reach the ultimate goal of having his sins forgiven so he can be on his way to heaven when he dies? Some believe and teach that it is. Although I do not think he had this particular question in mind, Paul deals with this issue in Romans 10 where he speaks of the way the Jews had misunderstood God’s way of justification – of making men righteous – by faith.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (vss. 1-4).
Notice that he says his people, the Jews, in their ignorance of the righteousness of God had gone about to establish their own righteousness. How had they done this? By attempting to save themselves by law keeping. He argues that in order to be justified – made righteous – by law one would really have had to keep the law – the whole law.
“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” (vs. 5).
What the law required was not as easy as it sounded. What this means was that one would have to keep every part of the law perfectly. Once one breaks even one part of the law he has gone beyond the power of law to justify and stands condemned by that law. All he has to look forward to is not justification before God but the penalty demanded by law. As far as man is concerned, what law requires is such a feat as to be for all intents and purposes impossible. In fact, only one person has ever lived up to that stringent demand of law – and we all know who that was. (I am not going to get into the old debate on whether we can keep from sinning or breaking the law. It is enough to know that no one does avoid sin (Rom. 3:23).
On the other hand, faith makes no demands of that which is impossible. I believe this is what Paul means in the next verses when he talks about faith not asking who will ascend into heaven to bring Christ down or descend into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead. He shows in the following verses that they had heard Christ preached and had believed that message.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (vss. 8-11).
The message was in their hearts and in their mouths. It was in their hearts because they had accepted what they had heard – the gospel – the good news about Jesus and the salvation that comes to those who have faith in him. Whatever is in one’s heart that is what he will talk about. Jesus said … “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Jesus is not talking about a commanded “step” toward salvation. He is talking about what happens when one has faith. He evidences his faith by telling others about the one in whom he has faith. His confession of Christ is something that will be evident in the life he lives as well. He will live a life that will glorify God. His entire life and all his actions will confess his faith. Real faith cannot be contained nor can it be hidden.
Look again at what the believing heart confesses – that Jesus is Lord. One who believes that Jesus is the risen Savior also accepts him as Lord – and says so. Marvin R. Vincent quotes …
“Confession is just faith turned from its obverse side to its reverse … When faith comes forth from its silence to announce itself, and to proclaim the glory and the grace of the Lord, its voice is confession” (Morison, Vincent’s Word Studies).
Faith and confession are two sides of the same coin. One who has faith in Christ confesses him and one who confesses Christ is simply showing his faith in him.
Again, think of what this would have meant in the world of the New Testament. From very early in the days following the preaching of he gospel in Jerusalem Christians began to be persecuted. Scholars place the events of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ in the year 30AD. It is thought that Stephen was stoned in 32AD and that Saul/Paul was persecuting Christians in 33-34AD. His trip to Damascus to persecute Christians and the Lord’s appearance to him and his conversion would have taken place in 34AD.
For one to confess Christ in times like these would have been risky business. Yet the number of disciples continuously multiplied, especially after the persecution broke out in Jerusalem and the disciples went every preaching the word. Where the gospel was preached “there was much joy” and “rejoicing.” (See Acts 8:8, 39). Confessing faith in Jesus was a serious matter. It could very well have been a life and death matter. It was something a true believer would not hesitate to do, but one who did not have a genuine faith would certainly be reluctant to announce to the world.
Would it be wrong to ask a person to confess their faith before others before being baptized? I hardly see how it could be. Why would one not want to make his faith known? He is about to do something that in itself is a declaration – a confession – of his faith in the Savior. What would be wrong would be to demand that act of everyone as a prior condition of salvation.
(Incidentally, Acts 8:37, the passage so often quoted as authority for asking a candidate for baptism to confess their faith in Christ is not included in many versions of the Bible. Of the 25 English versions on BibleGateway.com, at least five omit this verse and eight bracket it to show that its authenticity is questionable and/or that it is not included in some manuscripts).
Tomorrow: What about baptism?