Confessions of Faith Help Us Obey Biblical Mandates

Confessions of Faith Help Us Obey Biblical Mandates

A Twofold Duty

Two consistent expectations of biblical Christianity—the declaration and the protection of the purity of the faith—gave rise to confessions. Apart from some statement of the content of the Faith, no one can give a convincing profession of personal faith. The believing heart proclaims its confidence toward both the Person and the truth that saves. Romans 10:9, 10 includes both of these: “If you confess with thy 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” (ESV). The credo of righteousness through the completed work of Christ alone to which the heart gives consent is expressed publicly by submission to the Lordship of Christ. Before one can confess, he must understand and believe. When one confesses, it must be of truths previously embedded within the heart. Not only, therefore, is faith a matter of the heart, but it cordially consents to the testable proposition that “God raised him from the dead.”

Faith and The Faith

That statement implies a large number of truthful propositions that constitute a body of truth to be believed because they have come to us by way of divine revelation. These synthesized propositions constitute what the Bible calls “the faith,” an identification occurring more than 25 times in the New Testament. Personal submission of mind and heart to these propositions is called “faith.” For example, Acts 6:7 states, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Paul said that his call to the Gentiles was to bring about “the obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name” (Romans 1:5 KJV).

A Mark of Perseverance

The reality of personal faith as trust in this revealed truth is so important that Paul can rest his doctrine of perseverance on maintaining conformity of both heart and mind to the system of truth that he preached. The Colossians, indeed all professors of faith in Christ, will be presented blameless before God “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast [grounded and settled KJV], not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:23 ESV). He insisted on enforcing this admonition to walk in Christ, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught” (Colossians 2:7).

Any so-called “faith,” that has no substantial truth as its object is not faith at all but an act of mental vanity and deceit. In demonstration of this fact, Paul declared without equivocation concerning an impressive list of truths to be affirmed, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

An Element of Christian Unity

Christian unity is defined in terms of a corporate harmony in consent to revealed truths: “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God [not being] carried about by every wind of doctrine; . . . Rather, speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:13-15). Paul’s desire for the Philippians also points to this relationship, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: so that whether I come and see you, or am absent, I may hear of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

Central to Faithful Ministry

Timothy was Paul’s “own son in the faith” and every minister of the word must hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,” even as deceitful spirits work to make professors “depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2; 3:9; 4:1). If Timothy teaches revealed truth he will be “a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith,” that is, “the good doctrine” that he had followed from Paul (1 Timothy 4:6). A mark of false ministry is an opposition to truth that showed them to be “corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8)

A mark of Paul’s assurance that the stewardship of his calling has been executed faithfully is couched in his language, “I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). The virtually inextricable connection between the grace of faith and the body, or content, of the faith may be discerned in Paul’s perception of his apostleship in terms of “the faith of God’s elect, and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1). So inescapably important is the interdependence of these two “faiths” that we find Jude, in his short letter, urging his readers in the proper integration of these twin concerns, earnestly to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” and to continue in the love of God by building up yourselves “in your most holy faith” (Jude 3, 20).

Confessions a Vital Preservative of The Faith

The purpose of confessions both conceptually and in their historic development has been the consolidation of doctrinal propositions. Such propositions so condense central ideas of biblical revelation that consent to them has been viewed as vital for true adherence to the faith. This practice began among the writers of Scripture and has continued throughout Christian history. Next time we will look at some examples of that process.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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