THE GOOD CONFESSION
May 27, 2007
There is a simplifying, liberating and empowering joy in being able to say where you stand as a human being. A person who knows what he believes in, who he is, and what is ultimately important to him, is prepared to really live.
You can see it in Paul’s emphasis on “the good confession,” the noble, beautiful confession that he mentions in 1 Timothy 6:12-14. As I read the passage, please notice that Paul twice brings that phrase “the good confession” before us. He says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Witnessed The Good Confession
At the root of everything else Paul says here is the fact that Christ witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. Notice that very carefully. The text doesn’t literally say that Jesus made that confession. What it says is that while Timothy made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses, Jesus witnessed the good confession in the presence of Pontius Pilate. That is an interesting distinction. The word for “witness” used with regard to Jesus means “to provide testimony of what one knows to be the truth.” Jesus then testified to what he knew to be the truth before Pontius Pilate.
There is a difference of opinion on how the word “before” here should be translated. If “before” means just literally in the physical presence of Pilate, then this is a reference to what Jesus witnessed regarding his kingship in John 18:33 and following. There Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall, as we sometimes sing. Pilate enters his headquarters and calls Jesus to him and says, “Are you the king of the Jews?” The Lord answers in verse 36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews, but my kingdom is not from this world. Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’” Notice that in that statement what is at issue is whether Jesus is a king. That word had far greater and more profound meaning than Pilate realized in asking of it. If Jesus was the king of the Jews, that meant that he was the long-expected Messiah or the Christ. That is why Jesus answers the question as he does. And when he says, “You say that I am a king” (v. 37), he is saying more than it looks to us in English what he is saying. It is an idiom that he Hebrews have, a way of expressing something. It is a strongly affirmative response. It means something like, “It is just as you say,” or “Certainly,” or as you and I might say, “Absolutely, I am a king!”
On the other hand, if “before Pontius Pilate” means as some translate it “in the time of Pilate,” or “under Pilate,” then the scope of the good confession is even broader than Jesus witnessing the truth that he is a king – the king of the Jews. For example, notice the discussion shortly before he met Pilate here as described for us in Luke 22. The other accounts, especially Mark and Matthew, indicate that this was a time when the high priest in effect put Jesus under oath. But notice what the Lord says beginning at verse 67. They say to him, “”If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But he said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ (that was a claim to kingship) So they all said, ‘Are you the Son of God, then?’ And he said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ (Now remember, that is a way of saying “certainly.”) Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.’"
The good confession, then, acknowledges not only who Jesus is – that he is the Son of God – but also what that means – that he is the Christ. He bore witness here to the entire content of the Christian faith. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” That is what Jesus confessed; that is what he bore witness to. We sang a few moments ago a great song. Did you notice that the chorus said, “Yes, I believe in the one they call Jesus. I believe he died on mount Calvary and I believe that the tomb was found empty and I believe that he is the answer for me.” That’s the idea. That is what Jesus bore witness to before Pilate – the good confession.
Timothy Made The Good Confession
Notice in the second place that Paul calls to Timothy’s mind here that Timothy had made the good confession with regard to eternal life before many witnesses. This is the crucial point here. At some time or another, this text says that Timothy was called to the eternal life about which he made the good confession. Somehow his good confession was connected with whether Timothy was going to accept the eternal life or not.
R.C.H. Lenski, who was a Lutheran commentator, in his book on these epistles makes this observation on this statement. He says, “Combined, as this confession is, with the calling unto eternal life, it can signify only the confession made at the time of baptism and not what may have been confessed when Paul took Timothy as his assistant, …” In other word, the good confession did not have to do with some sort of an ordination of some kind. It didn’t have to do with a man who was already a Christian being sent to do some work. It had to do with Timothy becoming a Christian. The good confession is connected to the moment of his baptism into Christ in response to what Jesus has done for us.
We have an illustration of such a confession in Acts 8. Here’s what the good confession means in the life of an individual. Remember that this is the story of Philip teaching the Ethiopian man, and as Philip had preached to him Jesus, the Bible says that when they came to some water along the road, the Ethiopian man said, “See, here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) There was something about the preaching of Jesus that caused him to raise that question. Philip says to him in verse 37 says, “’If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he commanded the chariot to stop and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” Notice in the English version, there is a textual question about verse 37, the one where he says “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” In what is known as the Western text, that verse is present. If it is authentic, then it shows what Philip saw as the only basis upon which a man might truly be baptized into Christ. That man had to believe with all of his heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If, on the other hand, this verse is not authentic to the original text, if it is a scribal addition of some sort, then it explains what was being commonly practiced from the earliest days of the faith. The worst you can say about it, in other words, is that here is what people were doing in response to Christ in the first two centuries. That makes it a very important illustration. Seen this way, the confession actually gives voice to some of the crucial phrases which are mentioned in connection with baptism into Christ in the New Testament.
Everett Ferguson observed, “Baptism is a ‘calling on the name’ of the Lord (Acts 22:16). The reference is likely to the confession of faith made at the baptism.” (The Church of Christ, p. 180-181) Notice carefully that what he is pointing out is that calling on the name of the Lord is a reference to the confession of faith associated with baptism into Christ. “Such may be indicated by the description of baptism ‘in the name of’ Jesus Christ,” Brother Ferguson says. That means that this is an important statement.
That is what Paul has in mind when in Romans 10:9-10 he makes this wonderful declaration, “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.” The good confession has to do with the whole response that we make to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It seems fairly obvious that it is easy for us to lose sight of the place of a good confession in our response to the gospel. You may have observed that it is not unusual for people to think that one becomes a Christian by saying, “I confess that I am a sinner, but now I receive you into my heart as my personal savior.” Here is what I am trying to point out to us. There may be a time for a Christian to confess his sins and to pray for forgiveness, as 1 John 1:9 indicates. But it is not at the time he becomes a Christian, and that is not “the good confession.” The good confession is not “yes Lord, I am a sinner; I receive you as my personal savior.” The good confession is “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God.” That is what Jesus bore witness to, and that is what Timothy had borne witness to, and that is what Paul is asking him to keep in mind as he proceeds in his life.
The Good Confession Must Continue To Impact Life
Jesus witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, Timothy had made the good confession, and here is the third step in this passage. The good confession, once it is made, continues to exert a powerful influence in a person’s life. When I have made the good confession and I have made it genuinely and sincerely, I have committed myself to a course of life that I cannot swerve from without surrendering my integrity. David Lipscomb wrote years ago, “Faith in God and the courage to confess Christ is just as essential to salvation at every step through life down to death itself as they were at the beginning.” In other words, faith and the good confession continue to be effective. The good confession Timothy had made was to keep him in the good fight of the faith, not on the sidelines somewhere. It was to be his strong motive for him to take hold of the eternal life to which he had been called. And it was at the root of his charge to keep the gospel whole and pure.
The good confession’s capacity to clarify and to bless may be noticed every time it is made. I want to call your attention to this by taking you to some of the great passages of the New Testament for just a moment. The good confession, for example, can anchor a person in reality when confusing ideas are swirling around him everywhere. Did you ever find yourself that way? There are so many things competing for attention and for a following. It is so confusing that if we are not careful we can throw up our hands and say, “I give up. I don’t believe there is anything that is true.” Remember, in Matthew 16, Jesus brought his disciples aside at Caesarea Philippi, and he said to them, “’Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ (Isn’t that confusing – look at what all the people were saying.) He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Here is the simplifying, clarifying principle about life. It is not who does everybody else say Jesus is. It is what has he said and what do I say.) Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Let me ask you something. Did Peter at that moment understand the answer to every deep spiritual question that was going to come along? Before this paragraph is over, Jesus is calling him “Satan.” There were a lot of things he had to understand, but one thing he was convinced of is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And that principle can still give you something to anchor your life to when things are confusing.
Next, the good confession can keep us headed in the right direction when we are discouraged with people. Have you ever been discouraged with anybody? Have you ever been discouraged with people when you looked in the mirror? Most of us are discouraged with people at one time or another. In John 6, people were interested in Jesus because of what he could do for them, not because of who he was. And a lot of the crowd had just left him. Finally, Jesus turned to the twelve who were with him. Many of his disciples, John 6:66 says, turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “’Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.’” Are you affected when the crowd is not as great as it was before? Remember that Jesus is still who he always has been. He is the holy one of God, and we follow him.
Next, remember that the good confession can sustain you when your heart is breaking. We have people who experience grief, and not only do their hearts break but ours break with them. It affects not only the psyche of that individual or family who passes through the fire, but it affects the heart of a whole great congregation of people when we see folks we love endure difficulty. Remember that in John 11 Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, and he makes his way to Bethany belatedly, at least from the viewpoint of Lazarus’ family. Martha, the sister who was the lead in this family so often, heard that Jesus was on his way and went out to meet him. I will begin in verse 21 of John 11. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” Don’t miss the circumstance this dear woman is in. Her brother lies nearby in a tomb, and she is confronted with the challenge, “Do you believe this.” In one of the great triumphant statements of all time, verse 27 says, “She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’." She held on to that conviction at a time that would have shaken anybody.
Paul also expects the good confession to serve Timothy well in meeting the responsibility that he had ahead of him. William Barclay observed, “When we confess our faith before men, we can say ‘I stand with Christ.’” That then becomes the equipment which we need to face life and to live it well. “I stand with Christ.”
Maybe today you need to make that brave, wonderful statement before others and let that be the basis for your baptism into Christ. Maybe today you know that you once made that confession and the way you have been living with your priorities and your principles has not been matching that confession. That, you see, is the challenge of it. We have to decide whether we are living like people who believe in the one they call Jesus. I want to encourage you to make the good confession and then stand by it in your life. If we can help you, would you let it be known today while we stand and sing.