The Ethiopian eunuch expressed his desire to be baptized in Acts 8:36. Here is what follows in verse 37 of the King James Version: And Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
This verse does not appear in most translations, except maybe as a footnote, because it is absent from the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence. So the verse was probably not originally in Acts, but was later added by a scribe who copied scriptures by hand. The motive for adding the verse was obviously to uphold what had become the tradition of rendering a formal confession just prior to one’s baptism.
The verse has since served as a proof-text to insure that formal confession is uttered by candidates for immersion. Confession appears as a step in what is often called the five steps to salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. While each of these actions play an essential role in conversion, the Bible never describes salvation in such regimented, step-by-step terms. To do so might leave the impression that salvation is about a mechanical response as opposed to heartfelt, spontaneous expressions of faith in Jesus.
While those who’ve not confessed Christ have no business being baptized, confession should not be reduced to a mere verbal acknowledgment just prior to baptism. Anyone can say words. Confession, however, is not just words, but a way of living. Our confession of belief in Jesus not only occurs in the moments before our baptism, but in how we live our life from day to day. Our whole life should confess belief in Jesus.
While the standard confession today is that “Jesus is the Son of God,” patterned on Acts 8:37, the earliest Christian confession was actually “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9).
I won’t quibble about the terms since acknowledging Jesus as God’s Son should certainly imply that he is Lord. But lots of people believe that he is the Son of God in the divine sense, yet they have not submitted to him as Lord.
To say, “Jesus is Lord” expresses the intent to hand one’s life over to him. But even such a verbal acknowledgement as this can be mere words. Jesus addressed the inconsistency of calling him ‘Lord,’ while not doing what he says (Luke 6:46). Many who’ve called him Lord will be dismissed on the last day as those who were never known by him (Matt. 7:21-23).
A confession is only effective if you mean it. Confessing Christ before others is not a one-time formality, but an ongoing lifestyle. Nor is confession primarily about saying just the right words, in just the right way, at just the right time as if conversion were all about mechanics. What supersedes having all the mechanics right is making sure your heart is right.