I used to know someone, we’ll call him Fred, who boasted about his Christian faith while talking about his party lifestyle. He would do whatever he wanted all week long and party hard on the weekends. But he always made time to go to confession on Saturday to make sure he was “all set” before God. But my question is this: does that work?
Is it enough to believe in your mind certain truths about the gospel and lay hold of the promise, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1)?
Here’s the short answer: Saving faith in the gospel moves us past confession into repentance.
The Difference Between Confession & Repentance
The heart of confession is telling the truth. Telling the truth about God, and telling the truth about yourself. There are two kinds of “confessions” necessary:
- Confessing the truth about God. If we don’t know the truth about who God is and what he’s done, then we cannot place our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. At minimum, we need to understand who Jesus is, what happened on the cross, why it was necessary, and what God expects of those who confess faith in him.
- Confessing the truth about yourself. We need to admit to God and to others that we realize our complete inability to save ourselves. When we come to recognize the severity of our sin, and the wrath that is rightfully ours, then we confess our great need and God’s greater provision.
Meanwhile, repentance is a change in behavior. Where confession has to do with the mouth, repentance addresses the hands and feet.
- Repentance is a change in direction. It’s an about-face: whereas before you were walking in one direction you have stopped, confessed “I’m going in the wrong direction!,” turned around, and begun walking in the correct direction.
Wars. Terrorism. Earthquakes. Increasing racial and political tension. Even a solar eclipse! Some people may be wondering, “Are these the end times? These must be signs that we’re nearing the end, and Jesus’ return is soon!”
In what is known as the “Olivet Discourse” (because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives), Jesus addressed the end times with a small group of his apostles. That conversation is relayed for us in Mark 13. Here are a few of the highlights:
“Do you see these great buildings (the Temple)? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”
“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”
“But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son—but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.”
I’ve had the honor to attend many funerals as a pastor. Some funerals are marked by deep loss and pain. Others are highlighted by joyful hope. Faithful Christians leave a strong legacy behind them because they lived their lives in order to encourage and strengthen others. These services are full of stories and “remember when’s” that, though told through tears, radiate a deep joy and hope because that person’s life was shaped by their faith in Jesus Christ.
I am convinced the worst thing that can happen is not to be hated, but to be forgotten. This is why children who crave attention would rather have negative attention (discipline and punishment) than to be ignored.
The Bible gives a clear warning through the life of King Jehoram in 2 Chronicles 21,
“When Jehoram had established himself over his father’s kingdom, he strengthened his position by killing with the sword all his brothers as well as some of the princes of Israel…. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, but for the sake of the covenant the Lord had made with David, he was unwilling to destroy the house of David since the Lord had promised to give a lamp to David and to his sons forever…. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king; he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He died to no one’s regret and was buried in the city of David but not in the tombs of the kings.”
Jehoram got ahead in life – he had money, power, and position. But he lost it all, because it was gained by his own might and for his own benefit. The LORD only showed him grace because of His covenant with David. Eventually, God struck Jehoram down and the people rejoiced. His life and legacy serves as a warning for each of us today.
Rather than living to set up our own kingdoms, may we be remembered as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). This is the Christian calling: To know Christ and to make him known.
Here are three characteristics I’ve observed about the faithful men and women who have left godly legacies.
Jim grew up in church and still believes most of what he learned there, but his life doesn’t look like you might expect. He cusses, drinks more than he should, has been known to sleep around on occasion, and hasn’t gone to church (or read the Bible) in well over a decade. But overall, he’s a good guy who tries to look after his friends as best he can. When Jim hears coworkers talking about religion, he often jumps in to offer the “Christian perspective.” He considers himself a Christian (although he’s quick to admit “I’m a bad Christian”).
While friends like Jim don’t really care what label you give them, it’s worth our time to figure out what’s going on when religious ideas seems to get confused as faith.
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash
What is Faith?
The Bible defines faith this way,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
Faith isn’t simply a “good idea.” It’s assurance and conviction in what is unseen. The visible is interpreted through the lens of the unseen – faith shapes life.
- Because God is holy – I live my life to worship and honor him
- Because God is merciful and gracious – I am accepted because of his provision, not my performance
- Because God is the judge – I live according to his law
- Because God is faithful – I will trust him even in the midst of suffering
- Because the Bible is God’s Word – I will read it, understand it to the best of my ability, and obey it as the very word of God
What good is faith if it only survives in a sterile environment? The gospel belongs not only in our pulpits but on the streets .
Faith shapes life, gives meaning, and inspires hope. If the gospel is only good news to those whose lives are middle-class, then is it truly “good news?” The gospel applies to addicts, the homeless, and to the marginalized.
Jesus came to bring life to the hopeless, rescue for the perishing, and dignity for the beggar. If these are the people whom Jesus came to serve and give his life for, shouldn’t they be welcomed in our churches and in our theologizing?