In debates over sexual ethics today, whenever longstanding positions are challenged, some say, “The creeds don’t speak to this.” Or “This issue is separate from our confession of faith.” Or “Theological affirmations are one thing, but ethical pronouncements are another.”
In The Thrill of Orthodoxy, I point out the ahistorical nature of this minimalist approach to the creeds, arguing instead for a robust look at the implications of what we confess, including ethics. The church fathers would find it strange to hear people pointing to the “silence” of the creeds as a license to implement massive revisions in morality. It’s impossible to completely sever orthodoxy from ethics.
Obeying Your Confession
But there’s additional biblical support for tying orthodoxy to ethics. The New Testament sometimes speaks of the gospel as something we “obey” (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17). And in 2 Corinthians 9:13, Paul praises the early believers for their generosity, describing their good deeds as “obedience to [their] confession in the gospel of Christ” (NET). The phrase can also be translated as “the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ” (NIV) or “your submission that comes from your confession” (ESV) or just “obedient confession of the gospel of Christ” (CSB).
Regardless of your translation choice, it’s clear that obedience and confession are linked. Generosity evidences the seriousness with which we take our confession of faith.
Now, we’d be overstating it to say “confession” in this passage refers to a “confession of faith”—something specific, similar to a later creed or doctrinal statement developed after years of debate and clarification. But the point still stands: confessing the truth of the gospel implies obedience. When we confess the truth about Jesus—claiming he is Messiah and Lord—we are, by implication, submitting our lives to his rule. If the confession is true, allegiance follows.
People of the Way
This is why recurring debates over whether or not we can trust Jesus as Savior without bowing to him as Lord are misguided. True faith is demonstrated not in mere assent to certain truths about Jesus but in personal trust that results in practical obedience.
We confess Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Don’t miss the implication. The truth of Christ is tied to a way of Christlike life. No wonder the early Christians were known as The Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) and Peter described Christianity as “the way of truth” (2 Pet. 2:2). One of the earliest Christian catechisms was called “The Two Ways,” made up primarily of ethical instruction. Confessing the gospel prompts obedience and directs us to a certain kind of life. Doctrine and practice reinforce each other.
When we confess our faith in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, we acknowledge the handiwork of the Creator in rightly ordering his creation. When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, we commit ourselves to his way. When we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, we rely on his illumination as we seek to bring our lives in line with holiness.
To confess Jesus Christ as Lord leads to action, a generous heart that extends into practice. Pure religion, James tells us, is to keep oneself unstained by the world and visit the fatherless and widows in their distress (James 1:27). Confession implies conduct. Charles Simeon urged “universal support” for good works that “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
On a similar note, Carl Henry wrote,
“Christian revelation unveils the fact that God and the good are inseparable considerations. . . . The good is God-formulated. Pure religion is ethical; biblical theism requires the love and service of one’s fellow-man as an essential expression of the service of God.”
Ethics of Generosity
The most heated controversies today revolve around sexual ethics. Can we claim to follow Christ and disregard or revise New Testament teaching on sexuality? Those who stand with the unchanging witness of the church say “Never.”
But the passages we just looked at should challenge us in other areas. We cannot consider orthodoxy as something separate from neighbor-love or the radical generosity required of believers. We shrink the ethical sphere if we try to exclude sexuality (as some revisionists do), but we also shrink the ethical sphere if we think of faithfulness almost exclusively in terms of sexuality when Paul linked confession to charity and James described pure and undefiled religion in a way that includes radical generosity.
So what does it mean to confess Jesus as Lord? Much more than merely stacking divine titles or uttering the right words about his identity. It implies our bending the knee to the majesty of the Name we confess and bringing our life in line with his truth.
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