Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
Many evangelists use this verse to motivate seekers to walk down the aisle. They quote the verse and then say something like this: “If you want to go to heaven, then you must confess Christ publicly. You can confess Him now before those gathered here. In a moment we are going to sing a song. When we do, I want you to get up from your seat and come down the aisle to our waiting counselors. Don’t wait. Come on the very first word of the first verse. This may be your last chance.”
Salvation by Works?
One problem with interpreting this passage as dealing with how we gain eternal life is that it results in works salvation. Jesus made it very clear in the immediate context that confessing Him might cost us a lot, even our lives (Matt 10:16-31). Since the Bible is clear that eternal salvation is a free gift and that it is not of works (John 4:10; Rom 3:24; Eph 2:9; Titus 3:5; Rev 22:17), this passage cannot be dealing with the Gospel.
One-Time, Verbal-Only Confession?
Another problem with the salvation interpretation is that it misunderstands the nature of confessing Christ. That Jesus was not referring merely to verbal confession or to a one-time act is clear from Paul’s interpretation of this passage. In 2 Tim 2:12-13 Paul interpreted confessing Christ as enduring as opposed to being faithless in our Christian experience. In v 12 he wrote: “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” Where Jesus spoke of confessing, Paul spoke of enduring.
It is also clear from the context of Matthew 10 (cf. vv 16-31 and 33-42) that more than a one-time, verbal-only act is in view. Jesus spoke of being arrested, scourged, hated, persecuted, driven from one’s city, called names, and even put to death for one’s witness. All of those things could result from confessing Christ.
We are called to confess Christ every day, both in word and deed, regardless of the cost.
Confession and Denial by Christ?
What does it mean to be confessed or denied by Christ before His Father?
The two halves of 2 Tim 2:12 are antithetically parallel. That is, enduring is the opposite of denying Christ ( “if we endure” vs “if we deny Him”) and reigning with Christ is the opposite of being denied by Him ( “we shall also reign with Him” vs “He also will deny us”).
The issue here is not kingdom entrance. It is kingdom status. Will you be one of Jesus’ co-rulers in His millennial and eternal kingdoms?
Someday (see below) Jesus will announce those who will rule with Him. Only those who confess Him now in word and deed will hear themselves so announced.
Where Will This Judgment Occur?
Many wrongly understand this passage to refer to the Great White Throne Judgment. The problem is, only unbelievers will be present at that judgment (Rev 20:11-15) and this passage only refers to believers (Matt 10:5-42).
This passage looks ahead to the result of the judgment of believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom 14:9-13; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 9:24-27; 2 Cor 5:9-10). Jesus will there evaluate every Christian “according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). The purpose will not be to determine our eternal destiny. That was set the moment we trusted in Christ (John 3:18; 5:24). Rather, the purpose will be to determine our role in Jesus’ kingdom.
At some time after (or possibly during) the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Lord Jesus will introduce (“confess”) those who will rule with Him, the kings and queens of the kingdom. This introduction will in itself be a reward, and it will take place before God the Father and before the angels (cf. Luke 12:8).
This life is a proving grounds for eternity While the eternal destiny of every believer is set the moment we believed, the quality of our eternal experience is not.
If the Lord Jesus finds us confessing Him in word and deed when He returns or when He takes us home (cf. Matt 24:46; Heb 3:14), then He will confess us before God the Father. Imagine Him joyfully announcing you as one of those who will rule with Him!
The Free Grace position holds believers to a very high standard indeed. We are called to confess Christ until the end of our lives and much is at stake. If we do, we’ll forever be glad we did!