What Does It Mean to Be Confessional? Answered by Justin Perdue
Hey guys, it’s Justin. One of the questions that we get here regularly at Theocast is “What does it mean to be confessional in your theology?”.
A confessional framework begins with the understanding that the Christian faith is founded upon the objective and declarative realities of Jesus and his work in the place of sinners, and those realities are to be confessed, they are to be believed and trusted in. When we say that the realities of Christ and his work in the place of sinners are objective, we mean that they stand outside of us. When we say that they are declarative, we mean that they’re done. They’re finished, and so, in a confessional context, we are always looking outside of ourselves to Jesus and his work, which stand unaffected by us. His work is unaffected by how we’re doing, how we’re feeling, or even by our circumstance. He has accomplished our redemption. He has secured our salvation, and so we trust in him because there’s nothing left to be done that is necessary. That’s the lifeblood and the heartbeat of a confessional perspective.
Now, of course, in being confessional, we are looking back to confessions of faith that have been produced throughout the history of the church, and as reformed Christians, we are particularly looking back to the confessions that were produced during the era of the Protestant reformation. Those confessions, like any other confessions that have ever come about, were produced by a need for theological clarity. The medieval church was characterized by moralism and even a works-based schema when it came to salvation, and so the reformed confessions push back against those things.
In a reformed, confessional context, Jesus and his work are always in the foreground. They are the focus, and then the Christian and the Christian life stand in the background and are only seen through the lens of Jesus and his work for us. This is the opposite of a perspective, or framework, that would be called pietism, where the Christian and the Christian life are the focus, and then Jesus and his work are essentially in the background.
In a confessional context, the primary, fundamental question that we ask when it comes to the Christian life is “Who are we? What’s our identity?”, and the answer to that question is “We are in Christ by faith”. Our duty, what we are to do, is then derived from our identity, whereas in pietism, it’s the opposite. The starting point in pietism is “What must we do?”, and then our identity is determined by that. It’s determined by our duty. So it’s important that we understand that distinction, that in a confessional world, Jesus is the focus, and the fundamental question is “Who are we?”, and the answer to that question is, “We are in Christ Jesus”.
This has important implications for the Christian life in the church: that the motivation for obedience, piety, and godliness is always Jesus and his work for us, and also that the realization of piety, and the realization of godliness, in a confessional context, is never outside of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
This is the beauty, and the wonder, and the safety, and the security of confessional, biblical theology. We’re looking outside of ourselves to save what’s wrong in us. We are looking outside of ourselves to the rock-solid work of Christ in our place. We are looking to the person and the work of Jesus, and the fact that everything that is necessary for salvation has been completed, and we are confessing, and trusting, and believing, and resting in those truths.
That is what it means to be confessional.