Are There Secret Believers?

There is an ongoing debate in certain circles as to whether one may truly believe in Christ as their Savior and keep quiet about it. To put it a little differently, does the Bible allow for what some call "secret believers," or will all genuine believers in Christ publicly confess their faith?

The most direct route to Bible truth is through a consideration of clear, plain and literal statements concerning it. For instance, over 160 times in the New Testament there is one condition to meet in order to gain salvation or eternal life: belief in Christ. It should be understood, however, that believing in Christ should never be confused with believing certain well established facts about Him. To believe in or on Christ is to rely upon Him, to depend upon Him, to trust Him to save you; it is to believe in Him alone to do all the saving with no room for confidence in anyone or anything else.

The Bible's Testimony 

Consider these few representative verses (there are over a hundred more), which reveal faith or belief in Christ as the one and only condition for being saved. 

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
— John 3:18
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
— John 3:36
Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.
— John 6:47
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
— John 20:31
To Him all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.
— Acts 10:43
Therefore let it be known to You, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
— Acts 13:38–39
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.
— Acts 16:30
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
— Romans 3:28
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
— Romans 4:5
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
— Galatians 2:16
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works. lest anyone should boast.
— Ephesians 2:8–9
And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness. which is from the law. but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.
— Philippians 3:9

The Bible's testimony seems overwhelmingly clear in its straightforward testimony on this question of salvation.

Has anyone ever been saved without confessing Christ publicly?

In light of the previous twelve verses it ought to be clear that anyone who is saved is saved at the very moment they believe in Christ before any type of public confession is even possible. Simultaneously upon belief the believing sinner is saved, justified, forgiven, and receives eternal life. His faith — apart from every other consideration — is accounted for righteousness. Confession may or may not follow, but salvation is his upon the single act of faith.

Consider these Bible examples of those who believed in Christ and were saved, and yet did not confess Christ publicly:

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
— John 19:38–39

This passage clearly tells us that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus. Why? Because his fear of the Jews was greater than his willingness to confess his allegiance to the Savior — that is, up until this point of his life.

Nicodemus, too, was in on the burial of the Lord, he who is described every time in the gospel of John as the one "who came to Jesus by night" — no doubt another secret believer.

There is yet another clear example in John 12:

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
— John 12:42

Some say these rulers only professed faith in Christ, but they didn't really possess it; they didn't really believe in Him. But what does the passage say? "Many believed in Him." It couldn't be more clear, especially in light of the fact that this phrase — believe in Christ — is consistently used throughout John's Gospel as the condition for receiving everlasting life. To conclude that these rulers were not saved is to read into the passage what decidedly is not there. It is reading into it one's already perceived concept of what the path to salvation should include.

What of the passages that insist upon confession? 

If at least 160 verses teach that salvation comes to one on the sole basis of faith in Christ, then there cannot be other conditions. Therefore the passages dealing with confession cannot be teaching additional conditions for salvation, but something else. For instance:

In Matthew 10:32–33 Jesus said:

Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
— Matthew 10:32–33

To whom was Jesus speaking? To unbelievers? No, not at all; rather, to His own disciples, those who were already saved because of their belief in Him (see John 2:11). The issue in Matthew is not salvation at all, but rather rewards for these disciples if they would be faithful to confess Him before others.

The same truth is presented in 2 Timothy 2:12–13: "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself." To be "denied" does not necessarily mean, "I do not know you." However, that's the almost universal meaning given to it in Matthew. However, it is clear in the Timothy passage that denial entails being denied the privilege of reigning with Christ. The issue is rewards for faithful service, not salvation for confessing Christ publicly.

Then there is Romans 10:9:

That if you confess with your mouth [acknowledge] the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
— Romans 10:9

It is strange to me that one may agree that salvation is by faith in Christ and that it is not the outcome of human works of any kind, yet still insist that public confession is necessary for salvation. 

It seems clear in Romans that the confession of verse 9 is the same as the calling of verses 13 and 14:

For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
— Romans 10:13–14

Please note that the calling (or confession) comes after belief; in other words, it is a call of faith, not a verbal confession that seals one's salvation. Additionally, to "confess with your mouth" literally means, "to acknowledge." What is being acknowledged is the deity of Christ — "Jesus as Lord." Such an acknowledgment is made to God from within one's heart. It may be done verbally ("with the mouth") sooner or later, depending on the circumstances of the new believer's life.

Salvation, then, is God's free gift and is received by faith alone in Christ alone. Rewards, on the other hand, are earned as a result of faithful service, part of which is to confess Christ before others, not being ashamed of the One who has saved us.