Until recently most of our brethren agreed that a verbal confession of faith in Christ was a necessary step of salvation. Also, until just very recently, the kind of confession that should be made was widely agreed upon. But times are changing and even the most fundamental doctrines of salvation, like verbal confession, have been questioned and attacked.
Two vital questions have been posed and they are valid questions that deserve answers: (I) Does the Bible require a verbal confession of faith in Christ in order for the alien sinner to be saved and, if so, (2) What does that confession consist of?
The scriptures commonly used in times past to prove the necessity of verbal confession are one by one being attacked and eliminated. For example, Matthew 10:32-33 has commonly been used to prove the necessity of verbal confession, but this passage cannot be used to prove the point, we are told, because that passage encompasses more than a one time verbal confession; rather it envisions a confession lasting throughout one’s entire Christian life. Acts 8:37 has also in times past been used to prove the necessity of verbal confession, but this too is now rejected as being a spurious text that does not even belong in the Bible. The NIV, NRSV, RSV, and ASV relegate the verse to a mere footnote although acknowledging that some manuscripts include the verse.
If we can ever agree that verbal confession is even necessary, the next question is: What shall the confession consist of? Commonly our brethren would appeal to the confession made by the eunuch, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37), but as mentioned above, that passage has been eliminated from the discussion. In place of this standard confession comes a relatively new confession based on the NIV rendering of Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Thus, some are now taking confessions which consist of, “I believe that Jesus is Lord.” The difference between these two confessions is significant because confessing that Jesus is Lord is not the same thing as confessing that He is the Son of God.
IS A VERBAL CONFESSION NECESSARY?
Beginning, then, with the first question at hand: Is a verbal confession of faith in Christ a necessary step in the conversion process for the alien sinner? The Scriptures indicate yes. Jesus taught repeatedly that faith in Him was necessary for salvation.’ Moreover, before one can be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), he must believe first. Jesus plainly said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” It is sinful to baptize someone who does not believe in Jesus.
But the next most logical question is: What is it about Jesus that must be believed? Concerning John the baptizer, Jesus taught that men should believe that he was “more than a prophet” (Mt 11:9-11). If Jesus said this about John, how much more could it be said about Jesus Himself? Jesus is “more than a prophet” and men must believe this to be saved. But how much more than a prophet was He and how much more must be believed about Him before one can be baptized and be saved? To the Jews Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn 8:58). The name “I AM” was the name of God Himself (Ex 3:14) and when Jesus said this it was obvious that He was claiming equality with God. The Jews understood exactly what He meant and immediately took up stones to kill Him (Jn 8:59). The point is, Jesus required that men believe in His deity. Very pointedly Jesus said to the Jews, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). The word “He” in this passage has been added. Literally, the Greek NT reads, “If you do not believe that I AM, you shall die in the sins of you.” In other words, men must believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God and unless they believe this they are not fit candidates for baptism and salvation. Thus, the thing which must be believed is the deity of Christ.
But how shall we know if sinners believe in the deity of Christ in order that we might then baptize them for the remission of sins? It is impossible to read their minds for “what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Cor 2:11). The answer to this rhetorical question is obviously, “No one”; no one is able to know what a man is thinking within his spirit. First Corinthians chapter 2 uses this to teach a point about divine revelation. We cannot know either what a man is thinking or what God is thinking unless it is revealed to us. A revelation is needed, in either case, to know what someone is thinking. Therefore, in regards to salvation, the alien sinner must reveal to us that he believes in the deity of Christ before we may baptize him into Christ.
The revealing process, wherein an alien sinner makes known his faith in Jesus’ deity, is called “confession” and as pointed out above, it is a necessary prerequisite to baptism. “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” (Mt 10:32-33). Despite all efforts to remove this passage from the discussion, this scripture remains in the discussion. Whether at the beginning, middle, or end of one’s spiritual life, he must be willing to verbally confess his faith in Christ as the Son of God and if at any time one refuses to do so, his salvation is forfeited. While this passage may envision a lifetime of confession, it at least embraces the initial confession made before baptism. Again, the apostles wrote concerning verbal confession. Most notable is the passage written by John, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (I Jn 4:15). In keeping with what Jesus said in Mark 16:16, that belief was necessary before baptism could occur, we read the confession of the eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”’ (Acts 8:36-37).
So, in answer to the first major question, Is verbal confession of faith in Christ a necessary step in the conversion process for the alien sinner?, the answer is yes, a verbal confession is absolutely necessary.
WHAT SHOULD THE CONFESSION CONSIST OF?
The next question revolves around exactly what the verbal confession of an alien sinner should consist of. Commonly our brethren have required that sinners confess their faith in Christ as the Son of God, but a new generation of preachers has arisen to take issue with this. Because of the rise in popularity of the NW translation among our brethren, some among us now argue that the verbal confession should consist of, Jesus is Lord, based on the NIV’s translation of Romans 10:9. 4This translation is different and at odds with the KJV and NKJV which render the passage, “Confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus.” There is a significant difference between these two translations. The NIV rendition is saying that men should confess that Jesus is “Master” and that He should be submitted to in obedience. The K.JV rendition is saying that men should confess the deity of Jesus and this is not the same as confessing that Jesus is “Master.” Sarah confessed that her husband Abraham was “lord,” implying that she should submit to and obey him (1 Pet 3:6), but she was not confessing that Abraham was divine. The sons of Jacob confessed that Joseph was “lord of the land” (Gen 42:30), but they were not confessing he was divine. The apostle Paul called slave owners “masters” 5 (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1), but he was not implying they were divine. To the man born blind Jesus asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God He answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you”’ (Jn 9:35-37). Notice carefully that the blind man confessed Jesus as “Lord,” but this was not enough. Jesus required that he also confess Him as the “Son of God.” You will find the same thing in the case of Martha. In John 11:21 she confessed freely that Jesus was “Lord.” But, as in the case with the blind man, this was not enough to satisfy Jesus. She must also confess that He is the “Son of God.” Therefore Jesus said to her, “‘Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world”’ (Jn 11:26-27).
While it is true that men must confess Jesus as being Lord of all (Phil 2:11), this is not the same as confessing Jesus as the Son of God. To confess Jesus as the divine Son of God is a greater confession than to say He is Lord. If men confess that Jesus is Lord, they are making a worthy admission that He deserves to be submitted to and obeyed, but if nothing more is confessed, they are saying no more than Sarah said about Abraham. In contrast, to confess Jesus as the divine Son of God is to admit that He is divine, equal with God, and therefore is Lord and should be submitted to and obeyed. In other words, to confess that Jesus is the Son of God encompasses the idea that He is Lord, but this does not work the other way around. To simply confess He is Lord does not necessarily imply that one believes Him to be divine. A “Jehovah’s Witness” would be willing to confess, “Jesus is Lord,” and therefore should be obeyed. But they would not be willing to confess that Jesus is the divine Son of God, equal with God, and therefore Lord. Jesus is Lord because He is first the divine Son of God (cf. Heb. 1).
Part 2 Next Month
1 To list a few instances, consider the following passages: Lk 8:12; Jn 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38; 8:24; 11:25-26, 40; 12:36, 46; 14:1, II; 16:9; 20:31.
2 Rom 10:9-10; 1 Tim 6:12-13.
3 More on this passage later.
4 The NIV is not alone in rendering Rom 10:9 in this way. Other translations which follow suit include the RSV, NRSV, ASV and the NASV. ‘”Masters” in this passage is from the same Greek work kunos which is translated in other passages in “Lord”.
Published in The Old Path’s Advocate in October, 1997.