To profess something is to openly declare it. When we use the term profession of faith, we usually refer to a person’s public declaration of his or her intent to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because words do not always reflect the true condition of the heart, a profession of faith is not always a guarantee of true salvation.
Romans 10:9–10 shows the value of a profession of faith in Christ: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Faith in the heart is accompanied by a profession of the mouth. Those who are saved will speak of their salvation—even when that profession could lead to death, as was the case for the Christians in Rome to whom Paul was writing.
Our part in salvation is minimal because salvation is a spiritual work performed by the Holy Spirit. Our words don’t save us. Salvation is by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), not by words we speak. Jesus’ rebuke of the Jews’ hypocrisy was based on their empty profession: “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me’” (Mark 7:6).
In the days of the early church, and in many parts of the world today, confessing Jesus as Lord could be costly. Professing faith in Jesus as Messiah invited persecution, even death, for Jewish believers (Acts 8:1). That was one reason Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus (Mark 14:66–72). After Jesus rose from the dead, ascended back into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, the formerly fearful disciples confessed Jesus boldly in the streets and synagogues (Acts 1–2). Their professions of faith won converts but also brought persecution (Acts 2:1–41; 4:1–4). They refused to stop speaking about Jesus, remembering His words: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). So, one purpose of our profession of faith is to declare that we are not ashamed to be called His followers.
Of course, words without a heart change are only words. A mere profession of faith, with no corresponding heart of faith, has no power to save or change us. In fact, Jesus warned that many who think they are saved because of a profession will find out some day that they were never His at all: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23). So simply professing faith in Jesus, even when the profession is accompanied by good works, does not guarantee salvation. There must be repentance of sin (Mark 6:12). We must be born again (John 3:3). We must follow Jesus as Lord of our lives, by faith.
A profession of faith is the starting place for a lifetime of discipleship (Luke 9:23). There are many ways to make professions of faith, just as there are many ways to deny Jesus. He said, “I tell you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). One such outward profession is baptism, which is the first step of obedience in following Jesus as Lord (Acts 2:38). But baptism does not guarantee salvation, either. Thousands have been immersed, sprinkled, or dabbed with water, but that ritual cannot save. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). Baptism should symbolize the new life we have in Christ, the inner change of allegiance we possess. Without that new life and change of heart, baptism and other professions of faith are simply religious rituals, powerless in themselves.
Salvation occurs when the Holy Spirit moves into a repentant heart and begins His sanctifying work of making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). When Jesus explained this action to Nicodemus in John 3, He compared the Spirit’s moving to the wind. We cannot see the wind, but we see where it has been because it changes everything it touches. Grass moves, leaves shudder, and skin cools so that no one doubts that the wind has come. So it is with the Spirit. When He moves into a believing heart, He begins to change the believer. We cannot see Him, but we see where He has been because values move, perspectives shift, and desires begin to line up with God’s Word. We profess the Lord Jesus in everything we do and seek to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). The way we conduct our lives is a more sure profession of faith than mere words. Words are important, and a believer in Christ will be unashamed to identify as such. There were times when Jesus pressed for a verbal profession of faith (e.g., Matthew 16:15), but He also pressed for more than words: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).