WHAT IS A PROFESSION OF FAITH?
When someone mentions the word profession, what comes to your mind? If you are like most in our world today, you probably immediately think someone’s job. This definition has become so prevalent that translators of the Bible more often than not do not use this word often anymore. Even so, if you are a Baptist, then you have probably heard this word be repeated as often as someone joins the fellowship. New members are recommended to the church based upon their profession of faith. So what do we as Baptist mean when we say profession?
First of all we do not mean that our walk of faith is a job. Since we have already seen that Baptists view their spiritual life as a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, to also claim that we express that relationship in the same way we go to work seems absurd. Baptist understand profession in its older more nuanced sense of practice. For instance years ago lawyers and doctors did not have jobs, but practices. The reputation of the doctor’s practice so closely identified with his own character that people saw the doctor not as doing a job but as practicing a whole demeanor or bedside manner. Lawyers in days of old had a similar type of profession so much so that in days of old people began calling them legal counselors. Baptist understand that Jesus has given to us a faith that regenerates or transforms life so much so that our whole demeanor changes to be more like Christ. For the rest of life we practice or profess Christianity.
WHAT MAKES A PROFESSION BETTER THAN A CONFESSION?
This question arises particularly when people compare the uses of the word profession in the King James translation of the Bible with the uses of confession in the same passages in more modern translations. Very simply profession implies an active assent by a person. Confession implies a passive concession. In our modern church language, we can understand confession as one merely “accepting Jesus” which all the demons of Hell and every unbeliever will do on the day of judgment. Everyone will one day concede that Christ is Lord despite their objections, and then those who rebelled unto the end will enter into eternal death. Profession on the other hand more closely remembers the idea of “surrendering to Jesus” which does concede his Lordship, but also in repentance and faith presents a willingness to live in submission to him. To those who surrender here and now Jesus will grant forgiveness and eternal life. Profession leads to new life in Christ Jesus both here and eternally!
Further, when someone desires membership in the church, to recommend them based upon a profession of faith instead of a confession of faith implies that the candidate has produces evidence of a lifestyle change. Not that a new believer can exhibit much of that changed life yet. However, to insist upon a profession of faith, insists as well upon a life that continues to reflect the beliefs claimed. Profession of faith reinforces that the believer has received regeneration and life change rather than some meager form of intellectual assent.
SO HOW DOES ONE MAKE A PROFESSION THEN?
Let’s look at one of those passages where the King James uses profession by turning to Hebrews 4:11-16. In this passage we see that the word confession replaces the word profession in verse 14 in most modern translations. Even so, profession does fit better with the argument here. Why? The writer of Hebrews tries to argue carefully and consistently that the Christian faith stands far superior to the Jewish faith. Thus the readers of Hebrews should not merely accept Jesus but surrender to Him. Further, this passage opens up to us when we realize that it has three phrases that begin with “Let us”. These three “Let Us” phrases give us a sort of guide to making a profession of faith.
- Step 1: Strive to Rest from Battle Against Jesus (v. 4:11-13) – When do Jews rest? The Sabbath. When to Christians rest? All the time! There are no works that we can do which save us, Jesus has done all of the work! If we pick back up our labors in an attempt to save ourselves we will fall by disobedience to God’s law. How do we know this? Jesus gives us His Word that we might read is as a rebel, and allow it to pierce us like the close combat two-edged sword used in Roman days to mop-up the enemies. Even if we feign obedience, God’s Word slices past our fleshy obedience to the true intentions of our heart. Further verse 13 reminds us that we are exposed so that God sees all things. As exposed rebels Christ does not desire to destroy us, but to help us see that He will win the victory over us. Thus we should long for and desire rest from our rebellion against him, just as a war-weary soldier who knows he has been beaten longs for relief. If we surrender to Him, He promises that His Word no longer wages war against us but now stands ready to defend us against doubt and temptation. Surrender to Jesus as Lord comes as the first and foremost point of our profession of faith.
- Step 2: Hold Fast to the Profession of Faith (v. 4:14-15) – As we look to the next “Let Us” phrase it comes in the middle of several important Christological statements. Here we learn that Christ stands as our high priest. According to the Old Testament only the priest could offer sacrifice for sin. Only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, God’s throne room on earth. Jesus also comes as a high priest who exists as divine. He does not merely enter God’s presence, but as the Son of God shares God’s nature. This High Priest Jesus came as a man, learning how temptations affect the mortal frame, but resisting as a man each of those temptations. What makes all this theology so important? This theology Jesus gives to his people as their Profession. We profess a new life coming out of the two-fold nature of Christ. Christ gave himself to us as the Son of God stands as my high priest able to know each sin particularly and forgive each sin particularly. The Lord Jesus gave himself to us as the Son of Man stands ready to sympathize with my particular weakness and strengthen my hands to serve him. When we make a profession of faith we claim to hold fast to Jesus as revealed for forgiveness and new life.
- Step 3: Draw Near to Jesus by Faith in His Work for Us (v. 16) – The final phrase encourages the believer to draw near to the throne of grace where Jesus now sits. Even so we do not come as rebels who will face the wrath of this King. Despite the weakness of our flesh and the frailty of our existence, this king meets us not with wrath but with help. He grants mercy for our failings since he has already paid the penalty for our faults. He grants grace for our weaknesses that we might live new life through him. One word has been left out in our discussion of this verse thus far. The word confidence sums up the final part of a profession of faith. Weaknesses, sin, victory, and faithfulness all of these exist in the life of the believer because of our confidence in the Lord Jesus, and in Him alone. Jesus gives us this continual confidence in Him that we might draw near to Him by our profession of faith.