Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God, who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession; that thou keep the commandment, without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:12-14).
Confession is one of those concepts that many people think they understand but often miss different aspects of what is involved. Most of the time, when we think of confession, we think of someone making known their transgressions. We might imagine a criminal confessing his crimes before a police officer or judge, or a person declaring their sins before God.
The Greek word for “confession” is homologeo; its parts literally mean “to speak the same thing (as),” and thus a confession or profession. It is used in passages like 1 John 1:9 to describe confession of sin, but it also maintains another powerful meaning in the New Testament, as we see in 1 Timothy 6:12-14: the “good confession” of Jesus and Timothy.
What is the “good confession” of which Paul speaks? In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus does not say much to Pilate, save “Thou sayest” as a response to the question of whether He was the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11/Mark 15:2/Luke 23:3). Jesus’ statement is not meant as disrespect; in Greek a statement and a question feature most of the same words with vocal inflection marking the difference between the two. Jesus declares the substance of Pilate’s words to be true.
John reveals a more substantive conversation between Pilate and Jesus. In John’s account Jesus declares that He has a kingdom, and it is not of this world (John 18:36); He is a King, and He has come to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). In any event, Pilate’s inscription placed above Jesus, declaring Him the King of the Jews, makes it clear that there was little ambiguity involved (John 19:19). Before Pilate Jesus declared that He was a King, the King of the Jews; to any observant Jew, this meant that before the Roman authorities Jesus claimed to be the descendant of David, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.
Therefore, Jesus as the Messiah is the good confession which Jesus made before Pilate. Early Christians insisted on every believer making a similar confession before others: many ancient versions record the Ethiopian eunuch doing so (Acts 8:37), Paul speaks about it to the Romans (Romans 10:9-10), the Hebrew author has something similar in mind (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23), and Paul here speaks of Timothy’s confession (1 Timothy 6:12-14). As Jesus confessed His identity before Pilate, so believers are to confess Jesus’ identity before others as well.
This confession is not the confession of sin or that one is a sinner; this is “speaking the same thing” as Jesus before Pilate, that He is the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Matthew 16:16). As Jesus spoke His confession before Pilate, so we are to speak our confession before others.
Today this does not seem very controversial or challenging for most people; very few of us have endangered ourselves to any degree by declaring that Jesus is the Christ, especially when doing so before other Christians. Nevertheless, in the first days of Christianity, as well as in some places around the globe to this very day, to declare Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, could easily lead to arrest, torture, and death. For generations many Christians have bravely declared Jesus’ Lordship in the face of oppression and tyranny to the point of death. We should all maintain that level of boldness in faith if we are called upon to do so (cf. 1 John 3:16).
Yet it is evident from what Paul is saying– as well as the Hebrew author’s use of the idea of confession– that there is more to this than merely declaring before other Christians that Jesus is Lord. The expectation is for all of us that what we declare orally we believe firmly in our hearts and minds. All we may say in our confession is, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Yet how much is really said in such a confession! If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, such demands that we trust in Jesus as Christ. It demands that we adhere to the teachings of Christ of which we learn in Scripture from the Apostles. This adherence to the teaching is not merely an intellectual exercise; it must be practiced, observable by all.
We have good reason to believe that Timothy’s confession took place over twenty years before Paul discusses it in 1 Timothy; a similar period of time (or perhaps even longer) is true for the Hebrew Christians to whom the Hebrew author writes. Their confession was something they were expected to remember; it was part of the moment in which they committed to the cause of Christ. Timothy declared before others that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; it is right for Paul to remind him of that declaration in terms of encouraging him to fight the good fight of faith, to hold firm to the commandment, and to continue to take hold of eternal life.
Merely declaring Jesus as the Christ means precious little, as Matthew 7:21-23 and James 2:19 attest. Instead, we must make the good confession of Jesus as Christ as a statement of confidence and trust, one whose implications we seek to work out throughout the rest of our lives. By confessing Jesus as the Christ, we confess our allegiance to Him and to His standard; by confessing Jesus as the Christ, we confess that we seek to be Christians striving to fight the good fight of faith, keeping His commandments, seeking to lay hold of eternal life. The good confession is as much a call to action and rallying cry as much as the declaration of Jesus’ identity. Let us make the good confession and make good on that confession throughout our lives!
Ethan R. Longhenry