AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 29, 2018
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
— Luke 12:8-12, ESV
In the twentieth century sincere men like the late Billy Graham and shysters in the vein of Elmer Gantry started using these words of Jesus to promote what came to be known as a public profession of faith. What had been a sparse part of the so-called second great awakening became featured in churches regularly. To this day it is common in many evangelical churches to see people walk aisles, pray prayers, and stand before congregations making public professions of faith.
The numbers are quickly tallied, too, to show the success of a church, ministry, or evangelistic campaign. In many circles the success of a service is gauged by how many people came forward. When studied further, however, the number of actual practitioners of the faith are but a small fraction of those who made a profession of faith.
Maybe this is just the way it has to be done. Or, perhaps there is a better way of looking at the sacred moment of salvation. Let’s talk about false professions, true confessions, and the difference between the two.
The modern profession of faith is just that, modern. That does not make it wrong in and of itself, but it might render it unnecessary. The church did without electricity for eighteen hundred years, but I rather like it now. The church did without altar calls and other mechanisms to make public professions of faith for just as long, and I wish it had remained that way.
Practically, the so-called altar call does not work, with a failure rate upwards of ninety percent. Historically, they are missing from the long halls of church history and from the lips of our greatest preachers. Biblically, they are frowned upon. Jesus never led anyone to Himself with a pressured emphasis to step forward, pray some prayer, and make any kind of public profession of faith other than baptism. On the contrary, our Lord called for a confession of faith, not a profession of faith, and there is a big difference between the two.
Professions of faith are spoken of only three times in the New Testament and all three of them are false (ref. Romans 1:22, 1 Timothy 6:21, and Titus 1:16). A profession is a mere promise which can easily be broken, or a claim that can prove to be untrue. Millions in our own denomination and millions more around the world have made professions of faith that are unkept and unfulfilled. Still claiming to be Christian in most cases, they are deceiving themselves in the worst way imaginable and have hard hearts that are virtually impenetrable with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at salvation another way, the way Jesus actually does in this passage, not as a false profession but a true confession.
Our Lord Jesus Christ’s words about confession (ESV translates the word “acknowledge”) are among the thirty or so times this word is used in the New Testament, almost always in a positive light. It literally means to say the same thing, to affirm the same covenant, and in this context to have one’s actions say the same thing as one's words.
God has said that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is for those alone who have truly repented, rested in the finished work of Christ as an atonement for their sins, and committed themselves to love and obedience of the gospel and the word of God. Can you say the same thing? Does your life say the same thing? If so, then you may confess your faith in Christ with confidence.
In a profession, you are brought before a crowd of people to make a promise about what you plan to do in your future. In a confession, you are called before judge and jury to give an account of your life, where words are spoken but actions speak much louder. The judge and jury is the Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of Luke 12, Jesus is speaking of the great judgement day to come. On that day there will be professing Christians condemned, while confessing Christian enter with the angels into eternal life.
It works quite simply, according to verses 8-9. When you die, if you have confessed Jesus Christ with your lips and your life, without hypocrisy or superficiality, Jesus will confess before the angels that you are His, forever. If, however, your cannot confess to a life lived for Christ, but only a fleeting profession of faith, then entrance into Heaven will be denied and you will suffer the alternative consequences forever.
To understand this end we must go back to the beginning. What is the difference between a profession of faith that does not last, and a confession of a faithful life lived under the saving grace and absolute lordship of Jesus Christ? He shows up in verses 10-12. I say He, because the difference between a superficial profession and a saving confession is the Holy Spirit.
The Difference Between the Two
All of us have spoken words against, or blasphemed, the name of Jesus. It is called unbelief. Since Jesus said you are either with him or against him (ref. Luke 11:23), all unbelievers blaspheme the name of Jesus in word and deed, all the time. But when true repentance and true faith come, the blasphemous unbelief is forgiven forever.
So where does true repentance and true faith come from? It comes from the Holy Spirit (ref. Acts 11:18 and Ephesians 2:8). Real salvation is regeneration by the Holy Spirit (ref. Titus 3:5). The same Holy Spirit that converts you to Christ convinces you of the necessity of confessing Christ through baptism, of confessing Christ in a biblical church, and of confessing Christ through consistent obedience to the inspired word of God, the Bible. If you cannot confess to such an experience of grace, then you are not a confessing Christian.
But, you may be a professing Christian. You don’t have to have the Holy Spirit to walk an aisle, pray a prayer, claim you are a Christian, and never engage in serious discipleship or responsible church membership. People do it, or don’t do it, all the time. It is blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Spirit. And when you refuse genuine repentance and saving faith from the Holy Spirit until the day you die, no matter how many professions of faith you have made, you will remain unforgiven forever.
The good news for those who can confess to a life of faithfulness to God the Son, Jesus Christ, is that there is never a time when God the Holy Spirit is not faithful to you. He is in you to teach you, guide you, guard you, and seal you in the kingdom of God. When persecution flares up against you or temptations come to pull at you, the Holy Spirit who converted you will be there to keep you and lead you in what to say and how to take bold and courageous action for the Lord.
I knew a young man who was pressured into making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ during his teenage years. The pressure was external, from a shallow and ambitious pastor wanting to increase the size of his church, from bus ministry captains who were keeping score of kids brought to Sunday School, from a church service without exposition of Scripture but geared towards an emotional ending where hell is infinitely hot, heaven is sugary sweet, and Jesus saves. But Jesus will only save you if you take the first step out into the aisle, walk forward, pray the sinners prayer, and make a profession of faith. Then you are saved and should never doubt it, they promised. So, I promised, too.
Nothing changed internally. Sinful habits persisted. No holy desires developed for God’s word, prayer, or fellowship with the saints. Had that young man died in that condition I fear our Lord would have denied him before the angels in Heaven, in spite of his profession of faith.
Some years later as a college student he heard the gospel, soundly exposited in a church service from the Gospel of Luke. Internally there was great pressure, then relief. It was the Holy Spirit. He did not walk and aisle or pray a prayer, he simply was changed inside and out. He loved the Bible, the church, the life of a Christ follower. People asked him what had happened. He confessed it was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That young man was me. I had made a false profession. Then, I obtained a true confession. The difference was the Holy Spirit. I do not fear for my own soul on judgement day, but I fear there are millions living somewhere in between that false profession of faith and a true confession of faith. I hope they hear this sermon or a similar one. I hope they repent of their blasphemies against Christ. I hope they head the words of the Bible and confess with their mouth Jesus Christ as Lord, and believe in their hearts the God has raised Him from the dead. And I hope Christ, through the Holy Spirit, will save them and live in them and with them forever.
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