When our Lord sent out the twelve to preach in His name, He did so with a promise and a warning. He said, “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.” (Matt. 10:32-33, NKJV). This was spoken in context of the trials and persecutions that they and all followers of Christ would potentially face. It is clear that confession of faith in Christ is imperative for salvation. This is true in the sense of obtaining salvation, as well as that of maintaining salvation. The following is one of the most well-known and most misunderstood passages concerning confession:
“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. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:9-13)
This passage does not teach that confession alone is sufficient for salvation, as many understand it to teach. The reader should take notice of the word “unto” in verse ten. This is a translation of the Greek word eis, which is a preposition denoting an action toward an end result. One does not become righteous at the point of belief, but rather belief results in one becoming righteous. James says that even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19)! The scripture says that one believes “unto” righteousness, thus belief begins the journey toward righteousness. The same scripture states that confession is made “unto” salvation. Again, confession is another step in the progress of reaching salvation. Confession is not equated with salvation, but rather leads one toward it. Jesus said that many who have confessed Him as Lord will be lost (Matt. 7:21-23).
Verse thirteen of Romans 10 is often quoted as an answer of “how” to be saved, usually along with an explanation that one should pray a prayer to accept Jesus. This is commonly referred to as the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Actually, Romans 10:13 says nothing about praying a prayer. It is not even answering the question of “how” to be saved. It is answering the question of “who” will be saved. The previous verse states that there is no distinction between the Jew and Greek (Gentile) in terms of salvation. The point is being made that “whoever” (Jew or Gentile) calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved! Calling on the name of the Lord is submitting to His authority in obedience to His will. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). If one is to “call upon the name of the Lord” then one will obey the Lord by being baptized for the remission of one’s sins (Acts 2:38). Thus Ananias tells Saul, who became the apostle Paul, “… arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16b, emphasis added).
Confession of our faith is essential. We cannot be saved without it. The initial confession of our faith as it relates to salvation follows the example of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. It is revealed that Philip “preached Jesus unto him” in verse 35. As they came to water, the Ethiopian expressed a desire to be baptized (v.36). Notice in verse 37 Philip responds, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The man’s belief alone did not save him, but he was led by his belief to obey, resulting in salvation. The first action the man took, upon hearing the word, was to make a decision to repent of sin and follow Christ. This was followed by his confession of faith that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (v. 37). While there is no set verbal formula for making this confession, one must confess that Jesus is the Son of God. This confession alone does not save us, but leads us unto obedience in baptism for the remission of sins. The confession of the Ethiopian Eunuch was immediately followed by his baptism into Christ (v. 38). At this point, he was saved and the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, as his work was done (v. 39).
After one is baptized into Christ, confession of faith continues to be an essential part of a Christian’s life. This confession of faith is to be both in word and action (James 2:18; Matt. 5:16). The Christian should also be in the habit of another kind of confession, that of confessing sin to God (1 John 1:9) as well as to other Christians (James 5:16). When faith is made manifest by confession and obedience, the Christian can be assured that God is well pleased.
Michael Grooms is the pulpit evangelist for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.