The Public Confession of Christ
July 25th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE PUBLIC CONFESSION OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-25-82 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Public Confession of Christ. It is one in a series of doctrinal sermons on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation: what God says about how we can see His face and live, how we are saved. There are two texts: the first is in Matthew chapter 10, the second is in Romans chapter 10. The first, in Matthew chapter 10, verses 32 and 33:
Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father who is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.
The public confession of Christ. Reading in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, beginning in verse 8, Romans 10, beginning at verse 8—what does God say? What do the Holy Scriptures say?
The word of salvation, how to be saved, is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart. It is as close as your hands and your breath.
That is, the word of faith, which we preach;
Namely, If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead—
that He is alive—
thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
But, I must call. I must confess openly and publicly Jesus as Lord:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives—
that God raised Him from the dead—
thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart, we believe to a God kind of righteousness; a justification of us sinners in His presence, He making us righteous in our Lord. In our hearts, we believe unto a God kind of righteousness, and with the mouth, publicly, we confess our faith in Him unto salvation [Romans 10:10].
In the many years ago when such a thing took place—when it was possible, I held a revival meeting for a week in a great university. In that university was a famous Olympic athletic star, and he asked me to go to the athletic dormitory where the football team lived and other athletes, and to meet with them, and to invite them as a group to come to the revival service.
I ate supper with them, and after the evening meal, they gathered together. And that Olympic star, who was a devoted, dedicated Christian, told them why I was there: to invite them to come as a group to the revival. The captain of the football team asked that I leave the room while they discussed it. In a little while, they opened the door, and I came back. And the captain of the football team addressed me and said, “We have decided as a group to go to the revival service, but we want you to understand before we attend that there’s no thing as this stuff of coming down the aisle with us. We will not come down that aisle, if fire were to fall from God out of heaven! We will not go down that aisle.”
In the evening of the service in which they had chosen to be present, God moved in a marvelous soul-saving way. There were scores of those young men and women saved. And the power of the Lord was there. And I watched that entire athletic group. They literally held on to the back of the chairs, refusing to respond. And as I watched them through the benediction, I remembered the word of their captain, “We want you to understand that even if fire were to fall down from God out of heaven, we will not go down that aisle.”
Then, you cannot be saved. You mean that I have to go down that aisle in order to be saved? That’s what God says, nor is that unique or peculiar or unusual. God has always called His people to a public, unashamed, open, stated, an avowal of commitment and faith to Him. There’s no exception.
In the days of the Passover, God said to the children of Israel: “Take the blood of the Passover lamb and display it on the front of the house, on the lintel and on the doorpost on either side in the form of a cross” [Exodus 12:3-7]. Is God blind? Couldn’t He have seen the blood on the inside of the kitchen closet? I suppose God is not blind. But He said to Israel: “Take the blood of the covenant, and place it on the outside, on the front of the house, where the whole world can see that this is a family of God, publicly, openly.”
Is it not the same story in the life of Moses, who stood in the midst of the camp and said: “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26].
Is it not the story in Joshua: “Choose you this day whom you will serve . . . but, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15].
Thus, no different in the days of Elijah: “How long halt you between two opinions!” Elijah said on Mount Carmel. “If Baal be God, serve Baal: but if Jehovah the Lord be God, serve Him” [1 Kings 18:21].
I do not know, nor does anyone know, who wrote the spurious conclusion to the Gospel of Mark. But whoever it was, was reflecting that same spirit of the Lord: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” [Mark 16:16]. You mean water washes our sins away? No. But God demands a public avowal and commitment of our faith in Him: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” [Romans 10:9]; “Whosoever shall confess Me before men” [Matthew 10:32]; it is God’s way of saving the lost. When you study that and think of that, the reason for it is most apparent: a belief without an expression is meaningless. It is nothing. It is destroyed even in the heart of the man who avows he believes. I could say, “I believe I can play that organ,” but if I never tried, I could never play it. I could say, “I believe I can walk,” but, if I never tried to walk, I’ll never take a step. I can say, “I believe I can talk,” but if I never tried to talk, I could never speak. I can say, “I believe I can paint,” but, if I never try to draw a picture, I could never paint.” That’s why James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, said: “Faith without works is dead” [James 2:26]. It doesn’t breathe. It has no life. It has no meaning. It is vacuity and sterility. It is nothing. Thus it is with a man in his salvation: if he does nothing, he’s lost. He drifts into hell.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord tells the story of the talents [Matthew 25:14-30]. And one man had one talent, and he buried it in the earth.
When he came to give a reckoning to the lord, I tremble at what the lord said to that man, who buried the talent, who did nothing with it. He asked him: “Why did you not at least give it to the lenders that I might have mine own with interest? Take this man,” the lord said, “and cast him into outer darkness. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” [Matthew 25:26-30], because he did nothing!
The expression of faith becomes the faith itself! And if you don’t express it, you don’t possess it.
Oh, God will forgive your mistake, my friend.
He will lift you up if you fall.
But the one big sell
That surely means hell
Is to do nothing at all.
When a man gives himself to what measure of faith he may possess, however small it is, God honors it—the expression of it, the avowal of it.
I one time heard of a professor at a university, and some of the friends who knew him well were seeking to invite him to the Lord. And he said, “I just don’t believe in Jesus, and least of all, as my personal Savior.” They said, “Come before the church and just tell the church what you do believe.”
“You wouldn’t want me to do that,” said the professor, “for I don’t believe in Christ.”
“Come anyway,” they urged, “and what you do believe, tell them.” At their insistence and their urging, he came down the aisle and stood up before the congregation to tell the people what he believed about Jesus. The professor stood there, and he said, “I believe that Jesus is a good man.” He paused and said, “Wait. I believe Jesus is the best man.” He said, “I believe Jesus is a great man.” He paused and said, “Wait. I believe Jesus is the greatest of men.” He said, “I believe Jesus changes hearts and changes lives.” Then, he said, “Wait. I believe Jesus has changed my heart and my life!” God leads us from grace to grace. It says so in the Bible: John, first chapter, “from grace to grace to grace,” grace on top of grace, mounted on grace [John 1:14, 16-17].
When the man begins to express his faith in the Lord Jesus, God does something to that man’s heart. He just does. The Lord invites any man, anywhere, to test Him and to try Him and to prove Him. In the thirty-fourth Psalm: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” [Psalm 34:8]. Taste! Try! In Malachi:
Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord,
and see if I will not pour you out the blessings of heaven,
there will not be room enough to receive them
How many times in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, describing the beginning of our Christian dispensation, do you read the words of the invitation: “Come and see. Come and see” [John 1:39, 46]. Try it. See for yourself if the Lord is not all that He said He was and will do all that He promised to do.
We have avowed that the expression of faith is the faith itself. And unless it is expressed, it is nonexistent. It is meaningless. Faith expresses itself, and without an expression, it doesn’t live. It doesn’t exist, it is not. For example, here is a man—and I’ve heard this so many times in my life: “This man has great faith.” Haven’t you heard that? This is a man of faith. This man has great faith. Well, curious, I’d just like to see it. What is faith? What would it feel like? What is the texture of it? You say this man has faith. Well, I have decided just to find it and see what it is like. So you say he’s got it. Well, let me look at it.
So I get my scalpel and my surgical instruments, and I start on that critter. You say he has faith, and I’m going to find it. So I start at the top of his head. There’s his skull and his cranium. There are his cerebral hemispheres. There’s the pituitary gland. There are tonsils, his bicuspids. Well, I haven’t come to it yet, but you say he’s got it, and I’m going to look for it. So we’re still probing that man to find his faith. So there are his clavicles and there is his sternum. And there is his semitendinosus and his tensor fasciae latae. And there is his vermiform appendix. And there’s his pancreas. God help us! I didn’t know we had a pancreas. There’s his pancreas. And there’s his gizzard. And there’s all the other unnameable things that are down there on the inside of him. I haven’t found it yet. But, you say he’s got it. So, I keep on a probing. There is his femur. There is tibia. There’s his fibula. There is his tarsus. There’s his metatarsals. There’s his corns, bunions, and toe nails. I’ve got to the bottom of him. And I haven’t found his faith yet.
It must be that faith is something that the man does. It must be the expression of something. And if the fellow doesn’t express it—if he doesn’t show it, if he doesn’t do it, if he doesn’t act it, then he doesn’t have it. It’s nonexistent! Love is like that. Love is a way to act. It’s a way to be. It’s a way to go. It’s a way to express yourself. I heard of a fellow that hadn’t kissed his wife in twenty years, and he shot another man for doing it. He didn’t love his wife.
Once in a while, a mother will come up to me, and she’ll say, “Pastor, what in the earth shall I do with this ragamuffin boy? I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think. He won’t comb his hair. He won’t wash his face. He won’t tie his tie. He won’t keep his shirttail in. He won’t shine his shoes. I don’t know what to do with him.” I say, “Mother, forget it. Just wait. And by and by, upon a time, there will come traipsing by some little blue-eyed blond-headed curly-headed thing. And that boy will put axle-grease on his hair. He’ll tie his tie five different ways. He’ll shine his shoes. He’ll put a crease in his trousers you could cut your finger on.” Man, what’s the matter with him? He’s in love! He’s fallen in love. It’s a way you act. It’s a way you feel. It’s a way you do. And if you don’t do it, you don’t have it!
Faith is like that. It’s the expression of the thing! In the eleventh chapter of the wonderful Book of Hebrews, it says: “By faith Noah [Hebrews 11:7] . . .” How do you know: “By faith Noah?” Because when God said to him: “I am going to destroy this world by a flood,” Noah got his hammer and a saw and began to build an ark—“By the saving of his house,” by faith, he did it [Hebrews 11:7]. It says in that same eleventh chapter of Hebrews: “By faith, Abraham.” How do you know: “By faith, Abraham?” Because when God called him out to go to a country, which he should after receive for inheritance, he went out, not knowing where he went, he moved [Hebrews 11:8]. That’s faith! In this same chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says: “By faith, Moses.” How do you know: “By faith, Moses?” Because he renounced the throne of the king of Egypt, and suffered affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of that Egyptian political society for a season [Hebrews 11:24-25]. That’s faith. Faith builds. Faith moves. Faith gives itself to God! That’s faith. And that’s the way to the Lord. The prodigal son said in the hog pen: “I will arise and go back to my father and home” [Luke 15:18]. That poor woman with an issue of blood said: “If I but touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved.” She touched. She was healed [Matthew 9:20-22].
This last week, I received a letter from a wonderful attorney who lives in one of the cities in Texas. I had won that man to the Lord at Baylor, when he was a law student. I could never forget it. He said to me, “I am afraid to start the Christian life. I’m afraid I’ll fail in it.” I said to him, “If you never start, you will never reach any kind of a spiritual goal in Christ.” But, he said, “I am just afraid that I can’t.” I said to the lad, “Listen, it is better to start and fail than it is never to start at all.” And on that appeal, he said, “I’ll start. I’ll try.” That has been almost half a century ago. And for these fifty and some odd years, he’s been a great stalwart son of our risen Lord.
Act upon the faith that you have, however small it may be, and God will honor it. He says so: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, believe in thine heart that He lives, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9]. Then the apostle closes that marvelous passage with an unusual avowal:
There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile: the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
What a generalization that is: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!” [Romans 10:13].
God is sensitive to the cry of His people. He bows down His ear to hear when they call for help. That’s God. The Lord said to Moses on the back side of the Midian desert [Exodus 3:1], He said: “I have heard the cry of My people. And I am sending you down into Egypt to deliver My people, I have heard their cry” [Exodus 3:7-10]. God hears the call of His people: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13], delivered.
When old Eli, the pastor of the church at Shiloh, saw Hannah praying, only her lips moved, she didn’t voice the petition [1 Samuel 1:11-12]. And old Eli, the pastor, looked at her and thought she had been drunken [1 Samuel 1:13]. And he walked over to her and said: “Woman, put away your wine and be no longer drunken.” And Hannah said: “My lord, I am not drunken. I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit. And I have laid my petition before God” [1 Samuel 1:14-16]. And the Lord answered that petition. And she named the little boy who came to live at her house, born to her arms—she called him Samuel, “Asked of God” [1 Samuel 1:20]. God hears His people when they cry.
Elijah—kneeling by the side of the repaired and fallen altar of the Lord, Elijah cried: “O Lord, hear me. Hear me. Hear me, O God, that Israel may know that thou art the Lord” [1 Kings 18:36-37]. And God answered by fire from heaven [1 Kings 18:38-39]. He hears His people when they cry.
The people said to blind Bartimeus, when the Lord was passing by: “Hush up. Hush up, the Lord is too busy. Don’t you know, He is too busy?” And Bartimeus cried: “Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the Lord stopped and said: “Bring him to Me.” And Jesus healed his blinded eyes [Mark 10:46-52]. That’s God.
When the Lord said to the Syrophoenician woman: “I am sent but to the house of Israel, not to the Gentiles. It is not right to take the bread for the children and feed it to the dogs.” And that Syrophoenician mother who was asking that He heal her daughter, she said to the Lord: “But Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off from the children’s table.” And the Lord said: “For this, thy prayer is answered. Your daughter is healed” [Matthew 15:21-28]. God hears the cry of His people. He told the story of the publican sinner who went up to the temple to pray [Luke 18:9-14]; not even lifting his face toward heaven, he beat on his breast saying: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And the Lord said: “That man went down to his home justified,” saved, declared righteous” [Luke 18:13-14]. God hears His people when they cry, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. “If thou shall confess with thy mouth, trust in your heart, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9]. God hears and He honors a prayerful commitment to Him. He helps us. He answers us.
I read of two little waifs, two little urchins, two little, ragged, homeless boys on the streets of the city of London who were in the charity hospital, and their cots were side by side. One of those little lads was devastated with a burning fever. And the other little fellow had been injured, run over by the wheels of a heavy wagon. And side by side in that charity hospital, the injured lad said to the little fellow with a burning fever—he said to him, “Willie, I went down to the mission Sunday school, and they told me there that, if we’d call on Jesus, He would help us.” And little Willie replied to the injured boy, “How will He know that I’m here, and I want Him to help me when He passes by?” And the injured lad said, “Willie, you just raise your hand when He passes by. And He will see you. And He will help you.” When the evening came, Willie said to his little friend, “What if He comes by when I’m asleep? How will He know I want Him to help me?” And the little lad replied, “Willie, you just keep your hand raised up. And when Jesus passes by, if He comes at night, He will see your hand raised up.” And the little boy said, “But I don’t have the strength to keep my hand raised up.” So the little lad next to him took his own pillow and propped it up, so the little boy’s hand was raised high when Jesus comes by: “Help me!” The next morning, when the nurse came by, she saw that emaciated little lad there with his hand raised up, and she paused. And sometime during the night, the little boy had died. And he died with his hand raised up.
I want to say something about the theology of that. There was no understanding at all—absolutely none. None! It was as naive a little thing as I ever heard of. No profundity of wisdom or knowledge. Nothing! Just the little lad had faith to believe that if he held up his hand when Jesus passed by, He would help him, evidently thinking Jesus was some kind of a physician from the skies. Such a little boy, but that’s God! He said, “Whosoever shall raise his hand heavenward and God-ward, whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved [Romans 10:13]. I may admire the Lord and be lost. I may write books about the Lord and be lost. I may sing about the Lord and be lost. I may preach about the Lord in golden perorations and tributes and be lost, but I can’t call on His name and be lost, for if I do, I’m saved. He said so. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto God’s kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made openly and publicly, unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10]. That’s God!
May we stand together?
Our Lord, in how many ways and in how many times have You spoken that gospel message to us? We’re not saved because we are smart, or wise, or learned, or educated. We’re not saved because we’re strong or handsome or good looking or beautiful. We’re not saved because we’re rich or famous or advanced. We’re saved because of the love, and grace, and mercy of Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:5]. It is He who saves us. How many ways are we taught that, “Except ye be converted, and become as a little child, ye shall nowise enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 18:3], not coming before Thee in our own strength and self righteousness, but in the mercy and goodness of the blessed Jesus [Titus 3:5].
While our people pray and wait just for you, in that balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, a family you, “We have decided for God and we are coming today.” A couple you, take the hand of your friend, or your wife, or your husband, and say, “Dear, let’s go.” Or just one somebody you, “This is God’s day for me, and I’m coming.” Make the decision now in your heart, then when we sing this song of appeal, down that stairway, or down this aisle, it will be the greatest step you have ever made. Trust God for the rest of the way. He will not forsake us. Ever! [Hebrews 13:5].
And our Lord, openly, publicly, unashamedly, devoting to Thee our hearts and our lives, sanctify and hallow the decision we make, bless these who come. With the angels in heaven, we rejoice [Luke 15:10], in Thy saving name, amen.
While we sing our song, welcome! Welcome!