I was once in a church where we were taught “The ABCs of Salvation.” The A stood for “Admit You Are a Sinner.” The B and C were “Believe” and “Commit Your Life to God,” respectively. They got the “Admit” part from verses like Rom. 10:9, which requires us to “confess with our mouths Jesus as Lord.”
But what does “confess” mean? In English, it means “to admit,” but that doesn’t quite catch the essence of the biblical words.
In Hebrew, the main word is yadah. This word is usually translated “to praise” or “to confess,” and these two meanings are actually related. To “praise” or “confess” God is to acknowledge His intrinsic value and worthiness of worship. Confession of sin was tied just as much to God, since it was the acknowledgment that not only had one sinned against God alone and broken His laws, but also that He was the sole source of forgiveness and atonement. In the Hebrew mind, then, confession is completely directed at God’s character. It did not mean a mere admission of guilt.
The main Greek word is homologeo. It is composed of two words, homo, meaning “the same,” and logeo, meaning, “to say.” Thus, it basically means “to say the same thing as.” This, of course, begs the question, “to say the same thing about what as whom?” The “about what” is determined by the context of the sentence, but the “as whom” is usually God Himself. Thus, to confess our sin is to say the same thing about it that God does. This is clearly much deeper than an admission. Like the Hebrew word, it, too, is focused on the character of God. Likewise, to confess Christ is to say the same thing about Him that God does, which is that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God and the only way to salvation.
Next time, then, you see the word “confess” in the Bible, especially as it relates to sin, be sure to remember that its main object is not simply an admission on your part, but rather conforming your thinking to God’s.