Positive Confession Done Right

by John C. Darrow (c. 1978)

What is "Positive Confession" (PC)? Its adherents could describe it as believing in and relying on God's promises even when circumstances do not seem in harmony with those promises. With such a definition, PC can hardly be faulted. In fact, that is a good definition of faith: the faith that is "what the ancients were commended for (Hebrews 11:2, NIV)." Why then is there controversy over this doctrine?

The problem arises when many attempt to practice this doctrine. "God's promises" becomes a code phrase for "whatever I want for myself." What is confessed is not necessarily what God has promised, but rather whatever the individual wants. "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24) is removed from its context of trust in God and submission to His will rather than our own. It is instead (mis)taken in a sense of "have faith in faith," ignoring the warning of James 4:3 to not ask from wrong, selfish motives.

One common area where such confusion occurs is in relation to God's healing power. The attempt is made to claim healing now, on our own terms, with no thought for God's sovereign purpose. Our boldness to ask (Hebrews 4:16) is used to overshadow submission to God's purpose. Even Jesus, who asked in the garden for what He wanted, showed an overriding attitude of submission to the Father's will (Matt. 26:39). We have every right to seek God's healing, but must submit ourselves to His sovereign will, whether that includes healing now or not.

This attitude towards sickness is sometimes stated by saying that sickness can have no claim on a believer. Thus the possibility that "Real Christians" can have sickness or pain, unless they have committed some sin, is denied. Judgment-sickness, as in Deut. 28 and other passages, is thereby confused with all sickness.

Even those who might vehemently reject the PC label often unwittingly embrace the same attitude. This attitude confesses only what one wants rather than what Scripture says. Such an attitude is seen when differences of belief are cavalierly dismissed without any serious study of Scripture. A difference over end-time theology may be dismissed with "if you WANT to suffer, you can believe that," as if our beliefs are to be determined by whatever we WANT to believe. A disagreement over Christian participation in war or the military may similarly be dismissed as "just not practical." Many other doctrinal differences are treated the same way. This attitude elevates one's own personal desires above the teaching of Scripture, and is the same attitude shown in the abuse of Positive Confession.

The heartaches caused to young Christians by this distorted doctrine are many. Couples who have a young child die are chastised for not having enough faith, rather than comforted with the knowledge that they can trust God to do what is best. Then, rather than being able to witness to others through their trust within trial, they may become bitter and reject healing in later situations when God desires to show His power. What could have been a vibrant show of true faith in God instead is stunted in growth by unBiblical expectations.

In summary, the concept stated by adherents to the Positive Confession doctrine may be quite Biblical, but practice of this doctrine seldom remains true to Scripture. Let us, then, strive to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good (I Thess. 5:21)" by a properly placed faith in God.