THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Confession and Salvation
Are there specific words we must say to be saved?
By Dr. Christopher Plumberg
Getting saved is a little like getting married.
When a man and a woman get married, they generally stand before a man of God (a pastor, a close friend who is an ordained minister, or someone else who functions as an officiant), deliver some vows to one another, exchange rings, and kiss. At this point, the officiant then declares the man and woman "husband and wife," i.e., at this point, the man and the woman are married.
Now, an important part of any marriage ceremony is the set of vows each person makes to the other. There are some things which certainly should not be said in these vows: for instance, if a man insists that his vows should include the statement that "I will be faithful to you, my wife, unless I meet someone more attractive," he clearly is not really vowing to be committed in the marriage at all. In fact, if he said something like this, he would not even, biblically speaking, be married, because he failed to truly commit himself to his wife. The reason for this is that marriage, by its very definition, requires a total commitment of the husband and wife to one another. Similarly, if the man is unconscious while he is delivering his vows, he certainly cannot understand what he is doing: a man must be lucid and aware of his decision to marry the woman standing in front of him.
Likewise, there are certain things which do need to be said, in order for the man and woman to become husband and wife. For instance, each partner must pledge total, uncompromising fidelity to the other. They must promise to take one another as "husband" or "wife." In short, there are certain requirements which must be fulfilled in order for the exchange of vows to constitute a marriage. The most basic requirement is simply an unconditional commitment to the other person in the marriage.
Now, here is the point that I want to make about marriage: even though there are certainly requirements which must be fulfilled for the ceremony to constitute a legitimate wedding, there is still a great deal of flexibility in the precise choice of wording for the vows, as well as the various other features of the wedding ceremony. In other words, it doesn't really matter if the husband says "I promise to be faithful" as opposed to "I promise always to be faithful." There is no magic power in the precise words which are spoken; rather, the power lies ultimately in God's blessing on the heart attitudes of promise-making and promise-keeping which the husband and wife must have toward one another. In fact, there is even more to the marriage covenant than I have suggested here: when the man and woman make promises to one another before God, it is God Himself who joins them together (cf. Matthew 19:6).
Okay, I've spent a long time talking about marriage, but how does all of this relate to our salvation?
Well the confession of faith that a believer makes when he or she receive Christ is a little like the vows a husband and wife exchange at their wedding ceremony. The words themselves are not what is important: the core intent of the person's heart to follow Christ unconditionally, and the recognition that He alone can provide salvation, are ultimately what matter. This is what Paul means in Romans 10:9, when he states that "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (NASB). The key elements of receiving Christ are acknowledging Christ's Lordship over your life (following Him unconditionally) and recognizing that He alone can save you, as the one who was shown to be the Savior of the world by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). And of course, you cannot meaningfully call Jesus the Savior of the world without presupposing that the world needs saving, i.e., that you and I and the rest of humanity are doomed to an eternity in hell for our sins, apart from the work of Christ. So the whole confession ties together; even so, what is most important are not the words we speak in the confession itself, but the heart which recognizes and the mouth which affirms the truth of what Paul says in Romans 10:9.
Ultimately, the reason this is so is that both salvation and marriage are much more than just the words which are spoken initially. In addition to the vows, they include lifelong commitments to someone (either to a spouse or to Christ), and most importantly, they are both ultimately a work of God. Just as marriage is a man and a woman joined together by God as husband and wife, so salvation is ultimately a union of the believer with Christ (cf. John 15, Galatians 2:20) which is also brought about by God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10).
Your salvation does not depend upon you saying precisely the right words in your confession, or having a perfect understanding of everything which your confession implies. Rather, when you receive Christ, this reveals that God Himself is the one who is at work in you (cf. Philippians 2:13), and that He will also complete that work by the time that Christ returns (cf. Philippians 1:6). How tremendously encouraging to know that our confession of faith and our obedient lives of following Christ are evidence that God is truly at work in us! And if God is the one who is at work in you, then you and I should not be worried about whether we have prayed and confessed the "right" words.
A much better indication of the reality of our salvation, more than the words of our confession, is the fruit we bear as we grow in Christ. Are you growing and becoming more like Christ each day? If you are, this is good evidence that your salvation was and is genuine.
In short, a person can absolutely be saved by different presentations of the gospel, and different confessions of faith in response to it. What matters most is not the precise words which are heard or said, but the underlying meaning those words convey, and the underlying heart which that meaning reveals. The best test of genuine salvation, therefore, is not in the words themselves, but in the effects that the gospel produces in the life of the professed believer.
Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Salvation | Biblical-Truth | Jesus-Christ
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