The Bible contains many positive declarations that celebrate God’s love and faithfulness and express the desire of God’s children to remain strong in faith and obedience.
For example, David declared: “I desire to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). “I will be careful to lead a blameless life” (Psalm 101:2). “In God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 56:11). Faithful Christians read and proclaim these holy declarations, as well as many others in Scripture, as positive professions of godly intent.
In contrast to biblical faith, there is a philosophy known as Positive confession that claims your own words can mysteriously create whatever you want to happen. You know, like magic. It is an alluring practice whereby people are instructed to just “name it and claim it.”
If you want a promotion, simply speak it into reality. If you long for greater wealth, then declare it. If you desire a spouse, create this outcome with your words. Rub the lamp and a genie in the bottle will fulfill your dreams. With positive confession, however, you actually become your own genie. You get to determine your future by just speaking it into existence.
Does God’s Word endorse this tantalizing formula? Did the Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, promote and practice positive confession?
Well, let’s see. Consider this oft-quoted declaration Paul penned:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
While this verse is certainly a noble and positive statement, we must carefully consider the context or we miss the point. Paul wrote:
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
This seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity to promote and practice positive confession. Instead, Paul celebrated Christ and his all-sufficient ability to produce contentment in the apostle's heart regardless of his circumstances ... “whether living in plenty or in want.”
Paul explained that his Christ-centered approach produces deep contentment, even when material needs are lacking. The materialistic aspirations often associated with positive confession are a far cry from the biblical descriptions of genuine godliness, humble faith, and mature discipleship.
Paul “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” It is a completely different mindset than relying upon your positive confessions in hopes of gaining wealth, material things, promotions, etc.
Paul’s highest goal in life was profound: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
Positive confession, on the other hand, seeks to manufacture one's dreams, wishes, and wants in a magical manner.
Paul was Christ-centered and spiritually-minded, whereas the practice of positive confession is man-centered and often geared toward materialism.
Rather than validating positive confession, the opulent lifestyles of its most well-known promoters merely illustrate that obscene wealth can be acquired by enticing people to become their own genie and then convincing them that this mystical method really works.
When the New Age book, The Secret, came out in 2006, its contents sounded eerily similar to positive confession. Readers were taught that by following the correct formula, “the universe will start to rearrange itself to make it happen for you.” “See the things that you want as already yours.” “If you can think about what you want in your mind, and make that your dominant thought, you will bring it into your life.”
In other words, magically create your preferred future.
Another New Age book that year, The Law of Attraction, stated: “If something you want is slow to come to you, it can be for only one reason: You are spending more time focused upon its absence than you are about its presence.” “If you want it and expect it, it will be yours very soon.”
As with positive confession, the law of attraction and The Secret actually hinder people from discovering the true secret of contentment.
Rather than attempting to speak his troubles away with positive confessions, Paul prayed fervently about his hardships and trusted Christ regardless of the answers.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Paul didn't proclaim positive confessions in hopes of improving his agonizing situation. Instead, he “pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away.” Rather than making positive declarations to the universe, Paul repeatedly brought his urgent request to the Lord. Interestingly, the apostle grew stronger in the grace and power of Christ due to his request not being granted.
Paul never taught that our declarations can create financial wealth, promotions, new relationships, worldly success, etc. The popular practice known as positive confession is a cheap counterfeit to the faithful way Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to rely upon his Savior “in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
While speaking positively is typically a good practice, it is dangerous to attempt to magically manipulate and control your circumstances by so-called “positive confessions.” Praying continually in Jesus’ name beats the magical practice of positive confession every day of the week and twice on Sunday!
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.