A PROPER PROFESSION OF FAITH
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 20, 2014
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
— Matthew 10:16-33, ESV
In our church we do not offer an “altar call.” We do not encourage people to “ask Jesus into their heart.” And, we do not consider a “profession of faith” to be some public announcement at the end of a worship service. The many modern evangelicals who came to Christ in these ways have been at least confused and at worst deceived.
Much of the confusion and deception is due to the way the modern church has misused the last two verses of our text at hand. Ignoring the context, they point out the necessity of non-Christians “coming forward” and “publicly professing” Jesus in order to be saved. But just who was Jesus speaking to in this passage? Lost people at a church service or so-called crusade? No. He was speaking to Christians He had already chosen, believers who had already chosen to follow Him, about their life and mission in the world.
What is our mission as Christians? It is to profess, confess, acknowledge our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are not merely to do it once in front of a crowd at church, but every day of our lives until the end. It is our primary profession, although most of us have other jobs on the side. It is difficult, costly, and ultimately the most rewarding thing anyone could ever be and do. So let us learn, along with the original disciples, how to give and how to live a proper profession of faith.
Behold, Your Mascot
Becoming a Christian is not entirely unlike joining a team. If you’re a Calvinist you know you’ve been drafted, if you’re an Arminian you think you’ve signed on as a free agent. Either way, you’re on the team. If you’re on Christ’s team, behold your new mascot — a sheep!
I think most sports teams would prefer the wolf over the sheep. Lake Hamilton High School sports a wolf as mascot, as does Arkansas State University. In other parts of the country there are plenty of wolves, but no sheep. What gives, and why would Jesus send His followers out “as sheep?”
Wolves are independent. They roam wherever they want, they take whatever they want, they do what they feel like doing, almost all of the time. Unlike their cousins the dogs, wolves are born deaf and blind and grow up fearful, untrusting, selfish, and prone to attack others. Like human depravity, they cannot be tamed, except by a super-strong external source. Those who make no profession of faith or a false profession of faith are wolves, and they have been surrounding and infiltrating the church for two millennium.
Sheep, on the other hand (the right hand, of course), are quite different. They gladly follow the shepherd, generally get along with one another, and would never attack others except in self-defense. They are easy to love, they love back in return, and they are extremely valuable to their owner. This is the basic character of a true Christian, one who has made a proper profession of faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
According to Jesus, being a sheep means being under attack from the wolves. Those first followers He found certainly fulfilled this prophecy. They were accused, arrested, tried, and punished by a variety of unbelievers, including members of their own families. Though we do not hear about it very much in our own country, the sheep have been under attack from the wolves for twenty-one centuries, and persecution in the twenty-first century may soon rival that of the first.
So, behold your mascot. And know that no proper profession of faith can be made until you stand ready to suffer for your faith, in ways small and large. A proper profession of faith will cost you money while the wolves make more, it will cost you time while the wolves enjoy theirs, it will cost you friends and family when you refuse to run with the wolves, and it can even cost you your life.
The Source of Your Strength
In the animal kingdom, a sheep is much weaker than a wolf. In the kingdom of God, however, the strength of the sheep is much greater. It is easy to run with a pack and attack those who are different. It is hard, however, to endure the attack and maintain the very thing that makes you a target, namely a proper profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
How do the sheep do it? The sheep have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit saves, the Spirit sustains, the Spirit is the source of the sheep’s strength, and the Spirit even shows the sheep what to say when under attack by wolves.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation for the sheep. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, regenerates the heart, and gives the spiritual gifts necessary for living the sheep life. Faith and repentance are given to create life, practical gifts of speaking and serving are given to live life, and a complete makeover awaits the end of this life and entrance into the next.
These first disciples displayed the power of the Spirit when they were pressured, attacked, arrested, and brought before the wolfpack. They spoke logically, spiritually, graciously, and forcefully regarding the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. When squeezed by the pressure of persecution, the Spirit of God within them came out.
There is no proper profession of faith without the presence of the Holy Spirit. And much more than leading you down an aisle or helping you pray a prayer, the Spirit is your strength to live your life for Christ, leading you where to go and showing you what to say, every day, until the end of your life. For if there is one thing that a Spirit-inspired, proper profession of faith surely does, it endures until the end.
The Perseverance of the Sheep
My New Testament professor in seminary taught me, “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.” It was his way of correcting the modern misconceptions of the doctrine of eternal security, or as some like to say, “once saved always saved.” I actually agree with this doctrine, although I think it has been badly misconstrued in our modern age.
Modern, lightweight churches lead people to make an improper profession of faith and then immodestly tell them to never doubt it. With the right rhetoric, the proper mood music, and a touch of Elmer Gantry flair, almost anyone can make almost anyone else walk and aisle or pray a prayer at the end of a church service. Many have done it in our century, most have dropped out of church afterward, and almost all of them think they are saved. Is this a proper profession of faith? No!
A proper profession of faith begins with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, them moves to the confession of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are public professions of faith in the perfect person and finished work of Jesus Christ. But these are the beginnings, not the end. Afterward, a true professor of faith will remain faithful to Christ and His church. He or she will grow in maturity and in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciple becoming like the Teacher and the servant like the Master. People who love Jesus will love you, people who don’t care about Jesus won’t care about you, and people who hate Jesus will hate you. And through it all, you will continue your proper profession of faith in Jesus “to the end.”
A Proper Profession of Faith
And when that end comes, it is then that you will truly make a proper profession of faith. This is the key, you see. A proper profession of faith is made at the end of your Christian life, not merely at the beginning. It will be actually be made after you die when you stand before the face of God.
Jesus, speaking to the sheep, speaks in these last two familiar verses of a great gathering of people before the Father in heaven. All of the people will “acknowledge” or “confess,” or they will “deny” something or someone, or both. The translated words “acknowledge” and “confess” literally mean “to say the same thing.”
Jesus said He was, is, and always will be God. Jesus said He came to earth to live, love, and lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus said He would arise from the dead, ascend into Heaven, and return one day to earth to gather all of His sheep. Jesus said those who deny themselves, take up the cross, follow Him, and live as sheep to the end will be saved.
Can you say the same thing? Can you say the same thing and mean it? Can you say the same thing and live it? For only saying it, meaning it, and living it will equip you with the ability and opportunity to one day make a proper profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Personal Testimony
This sermon has been exegetical, theological, and personal for me. I think it properly takes into account the text in its context. I think it is true to the theological warp and woof of the gospel and the word of God. And, I take it personally because of my past experience and present pastoral charge.
My first exposure to evangelical Christianity was through a Baptist church with brightly painted buses, a new building, a big baptistry, and a boast of begin one of the fastest growing churches in our state. They rounded up kids and teenagers. They brought us to a Sunday morning service where a sweaty preachers spoke loudly about heaven and hell, mostly hell. They told us the key to the kingdom could be found at the “invitation” at the end of the service, that if we’d walk that aisle, pray a prayer, and make this profession of faith in front of people, we would be saved. I eventually caved to pressure and went forward, got baptized with no counsel whatsoever from a pastor, and proceeded to be pronounced a sheep. Then, for all of my teenage years, I thought I was saved, never attended church, and lived a lift that more resembles the Wolf of Wall Street than the Good Shepherd. That’s some profession of faith.
So now, I’m going to ask you to make one, too; except it will be the one I made at age 20, not at 13. I’m going to ask you to carefully consider the claims made by the gospel and the word of God. I’m going to ask you if you feel a need, a conviction in your life of personal sin and the need for forgiveness and cleansing. I’m going to ask you to turn your life over to God, because of your belief in who Jesus is and what He has done. I’m going to ask you to be faithful and true to Christ, to the Bible, to the church, and to your particular calling in life to follow Jesus, until you die. In other words, I’m going to ask you to make a proper profession of faith.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org