The Act of Confession
There are three words translated confession in the Greek New Testament. Homologeo, a verb, is one of the more frequently used by the Holy Spirit. Homologeo consists of homo, meaning the same, and lego, to speak; hence, to speak the same. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia has the following comments regarding confession:
"The radical meaning is 'acknowledgement' with the implication of a change of conviction or of course of conduct on the part of the subject .The act places one in harmony with others. It is the uniting in a statement that has previously been made by someone else .They are declarations of unqualified confidence in Christ, and or surrender to his services" (Vol. 2, pg. 699).
As we consider the biblical subject of confession, there are three observable areas involving confession. Let us now consider these particulars and see what Bible truths we can glean.
Confession of sin. The confession of sin is an act and situation that abounds in the scriptures and involves different circumstances and particulars. Two pertinent verses are: "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid, I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgaveth the iniquity of my sin" and "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Ps. 32: 5; Prov. 28: 13).
There is confession of sin to God and God alone seen in the scriptures (cp. Ps. 51: 1-4). Sin that is private and only involves the sinner and his God should, as a rule, be kept private, involving only God. It is sometimes unwise to parade or make public knowledge of this type of private sin. Notice John's teaching in connection to confessing sin: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I Jn. 1: 9). Notice the action of homologeo: we confess the same thing to God, in this case. However, what is the "same thing" being considered? The same confession is that God has said the Christian has sinned and the Christian confesses the same by admitting that he has sinned (the Christian obtains forgiveness through confession, while the non-Christian secures forgiveness of past sin through scriptural baptism, Acts 2: 38, 22: 16). Hence, man cannot have forgiveness unless he agrees with God in the matter of his sin.
There are situations that involve the confession of sin to others besides God. In circumstances involving a personal sin against another, there is to be confession of wrong (Lk. 17: 4). On perhaps a broader scale, James wrote: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5: 16). It is necessary that all men realize that they are sinners and be willing to confess this fact (cp. I Jn. 1: 8-10). Sin can interfere with the fellowship one enjoys with the local church (I Cor. 5). Those walking disorderly are not to be fellowshipped (2 Thes. 3: 6). In the event of a public sin, the Christian may privately pray to God, but there can be attendant responsibilities involving his brethren. In this vein, the confession of sin can be just as public as the sin itself (cp. I Jn. 1: 9, 7, 2 Cor. 2: 6ff.). In the matter of the confession of sin, though, it is strikingly evident that the scriptures do not even contain a hint of the Catholic practice of auricular confession.
Confession viewed as a profession of life. The concept of confession is sometimes used to suggest a way of life that imbibes and acknowledges Jesus as the primary focus. Consider Jesus' teaching:
"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 10: 32, 33).
To confess Jesus is to make him the object of our faith and life; it is to own him as a Savior; it is to honor him in the life; it is to espouse his cause and to face opposition and reproach for his sake," writes one commentator relative to Jesus' above statement (A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, by H. Leo Boles, pg. 233, see also verses 27- 33 of Matthew 10). This confession is ongoing and can stand for the Christian's entire life. Jesus said, "He that overcometh I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev. 3: 5). The King James sometimes, in this vein, translates homologeo "profession" (see Heb. 3: 1, 4: 14, 10: 23). This "profession" involves accenting to what God has said and taught and then acting it out in our daily lives.
Confession of Jesus as the Christ. One of the greatest acts of which the human mouth is capable of performing is the confessing of Jesus as the Son of God. An important text is Romans 10: 8-10:
"8: But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.10: For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom. 10).
The salvation being contemplated by Paul is "unto salvation" (eis soterian, in the direction or reaching toward salvation). It is evident that the salvation here considered is the salvation of the non-Christian (see vs. 1-8). We can read of confession of Jesus as a prerequisite to salvation:
"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, see, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8: 36, 37, see addendum).
This confession of Jesus declares belief in Jesus as God or deity (Acts 8: 37, Jn. 10: 36, 33). The statement, "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God" preceding baptism acknowledges the Lordship and rule of Jesus (Phil. 2: 11, Lk. 6: 46). Please recall the words, "they are declarations of unqualified confidence in Christ, and of surrender to his services" (Ibid.).
Some forerunners of the confession, "Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Peter made the good confession (Matt. 16: 16). Christ himself made this confession (Matt. 26: 63, 64, cp. I Tim. 6: 13). The confession also emanated from the mouth of the Father himself (Matt. 3: 17, 17: 5). This confession accents the centrality of Jesus as the "only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1: 14). This confession that precedes water baptism that is "unto salvation," is a test to determine the eligibility of the candidate to be baptized (Acts 8: 35-38).
The attendant blessings of confession. As noticed, this requisite confession to baptism is "unto salvation" (Rom. 10: 10). Since baptism is the actual act in which forgiveness of sin is experienced, the fact of this confession being "unto salvation" is consistent (Acts 2: 38). Confession that Jesus is the Son of God involves a relationship, both in the anticipatory and realized sense (I Jn. 4: 15).
As seen, confession begins with the person initially coming to God. Confession is a static part and act of the Christian throughout his spiritual journey and is necessary in order for man to be acknowledged before the Father (Matt. 10: 6-34). The fact of the matter is, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14: 11). However, at the time of the final judgment, it will be too late. It is desirable, then, to confess Jesus now and enjoy being a Christian now and in the world to come, eternal life (Mk. 10: 29, 30).
Addendum: Some have contended that because Acts 8: 37, as it appears in the King James Translation, is absent in some of the ancient manuscripts that it should be omitted from the text. The fact of the matter is, however, the reading, "And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" predates the extant manuscripts. I say this because Irenaeus quoted it (ca. 170-210 A.D.). This quotation shows that verse 37 was considered part of the text as early as the Second Century. Besides, the man of Ethiopia had just asked a question of Philip, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (vs. 36). Without "the answer" in verse 37, Philip would appear to ignore his question and simply baptize him. The answer in verse 37, then, not only has the validation of antiquity, but is natural in the sequence of the events.