You’re still with me? Great! ‘Cuz this final post is a tad longish…and by “a tad”, I mean, “very”… 🙂
We’ve talked a bit about how Christianity is indeed a religion. Jesus didn’t give up heaven, live as a human, suffer, die, and rise from the dead simply so you could live however you want and ignore His commands.
He died so His people would live, and now lives so they will never die!
That should mean something.
If you desire to follow Jesus but don’t want to obey His commands, there is something very wrong. In fact, if you come across a Christian who’s message is simply “all you need to do is believe”, that person is telling you the truth for sure, but he’s only giving you the beginning of the story…
Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV) (18) And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What did Jesus say? His disciples are expected to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. But teach what? Is it simply things about Jesus? Jesus tells us that we are to teach His disciples obedience, and specifically, obedience to His commands.
If you call yourself a Christian, but do not want to obey Jesus’ commands, something is very wrong.
It’s not that obedience saves you, it’s that obedience is a natural outflow of a heart that beats for God. If you love God, you should obey Him. True belief produces change because true belief is the result of the Holy Spirit making you a new creation.
But the obedience part of religion, and the fuller understanding that comes with growth is a topic of another post. This is about the belief part of religion. When we teach people about Jesus, what do we teach them? When they believe, what do we expect them to believe?
Paul understood faith and belief well. In fact, many of his letters address topics of faith and belief – right belief and wrong belief. And he had some pretty harsh words about wrong belief…
Galatians 1:6–9 (ESV) (6) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (9) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Paul took right belief so seriously that he was willing to proclaim that anyone teaching falsely should be cursed! He took great pains to teach clearly what should be believed about Jesus, and in the 10th chapter of his letter to the Romans, he provides an excellent defense of one thing that a person must believe about Jesus in order to be saved: that Jesus is God.
Romans 10:1–4 (ESV) (1) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (2) For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (4) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In verses 1-4, Paul expresses a passionate desire to see his fellow Jews (the “they” in verse 1) saved. But he admits that their zeal (passion) for God is not according to knowledge – they reject Jesus when they ought to receive Him. But he doesn’t blame lack of faith, he blames lack of knowledge – they know better, yet they refuse to believe. Paul even explicitly says that zeal for God does not equal salvation – he wants them to be saved, even while he recognizes their zeal for God. They are zealous, they are not saved.
Are you passionate for God? Does that passion lead you to knowledge about Him? Are you content to let others “be smart” about Jesus?
They had read the same scriptures and had heard the same messages, but they did not understand. It wasn’t for lack of clarity – the “dumb fishermen” got it (God uses the foolish to shame the wise). In fact, it was based on ignorance – they did not understand righteousness so they created their own. They did not see that Jesus is the end of the law for everyone who believes. They believed in God after a fashion, according to their own understanding of the scriptures, according to who they wanted their Messiah to be. But they did not believe correctly. They were ignorant of the truth, and they were lost because of it.
Romans 10:5–7 (ESV) (5) For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. (6) But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) (7) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Next in verses 5-7, Paul reminds them what Moses wrote about the law – that all who seek righteousness through the commandments shall live by them. But Paul has proven over and over again that everyone has failed in this regard; there is no more room for seeking righteousness through the law. Paul makes it clear here that you cannot go to heaven and attempt to bring Christ to earth because God has already sent Him. Likewise, you cannot go to the abyss and attempt to bring Christ up because God has already raised Him. God has already done the things they wanted to do for themselves, that misses the point of righteousness.
Romans 10:8–9 (ESV) (8) But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); (9) because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
In verses 8-9, Paul tells us what true righteousness says. It says “you cannot attain it by working for it.” No matter how hard you work, if it is done apart from faith in Christ, it counts for nothing. He equates the word that saves with the word of faith “we” proclaim. What is that word? The apostles proclaimed many things about Jesus that are necessary – he was virgin born, sinless, prophetic, perfect, innocent, holy, majestic, glorious, the only Son of God, the second Adam, the author and perfecter of our faith, and so on. That is the context of the first part – we confess with our mouths that word of faith, that Jesus is holy, majestic, the only God, sinless, perfect, the word who is God, the Word who became flesh, etc.
In fact, Paul uses the word κύριον (kurios) for Lord which corresponds to the Hebrew word adonai which was the word they used for God! It is no small thing that Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, teacher of Israel, would refer to Jesus with the name of God.
But there is something else that Paul adds, we must also believe that God raised Him from the dead. Not only does this imply all sorts of things about why He had to die and why he had to be raised (that he was sinless and we are not, that he is the only sacrifice for sin, that only God could have borne the infinite sin debt, etc.), it also harmonizes with this statement of Jesus…
John 10:17–18 (ESV) (17) For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus claims that He will die because He lays His own life down, and that He will live again because He raises Himself up again. Jesus is the one who raises Himself from the dead. And yet, here is Paul saying that we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is one way to harmonize this apparent conflict – if Jesus is God, it makes perfect sense.
So, it is with this confession and corresponding belief that a person is saved. By way of example, do you think that Paul would accept this confession…
“I believe that Jesus is a lord and that God raised him from the dead, but he isn’t my lord. He’s one lord among many – that’s what kurios means – it simply means lord. There have been many lords, in fact, there are many lords now. And there have reportedly been a number of people who have been raised from the dead and I believe Jesus was one of them. I believe in my heart that Jesus is lord, and confess with my mouth that God raised him from the dead. Therefore, I’ll be saved.”
I seriously doubt it, because Paul continues…
Romans 10:10–13 (ESV) (10) For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (11) For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. (13) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Here, Paul ties “believe that Jesus is Lord” and “confess with your mouth” together with “believe in him.” So, it is not just believing something about Jesus, it is believing in Jesus. Believing what? That he’s a nice guy? That he is one god among many? That he’s a created being? Paul is not simply saying “believe in any old Jesus” or “just say ‘Jesus save me!'” (as I said for years in a completely selfish way.) His context is one of a sincere, deep seated, conviction of the truth of personal sin and rebellion against God and the truth that Jesus is the only sacrifice for that sin.
If you believe in this “him”, you will be saved. You must believe in your heart (deep, sincere, honest, true) which will result in you asserting this in your speech: that this “him” is the only one who can save, and your actions. And not just that, but you must also believe that this “him” is the only Lord, and Lord in the context of how Paul uses that title of Jesus – adonai – God.
Romans 10:14–15 (ESV) (14) How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (15) And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Beyond being completely correct, Paul is also very practical. In order to call on Jesus, you must believe that He is worthy to be called on. A created Jesus who is not God is just another man – why would he be any more worthy than Ghandi?
And how can they believe if they are not told? If someone tells them about a Jesus who is not the Jesus that Paul has been preaching, how in the world can they be saved? That Jesus would not able to save them because he would be a different Jesus.
And hearing requires a preacher sent by God. Would God send a preacher to preach a false Christ hoping that people who heard the false message would see through it and come to saving faith? I doubt it. So, the preachers who preach a false Jesus are not the preachers Paul is speaking of here – their hearers cannot place their faith in the right Jesus because they have not been shown the right Jesus. And more than that, these false preachers certainly do not bring the good news – they bring condemnation! Jesus even spoke about this:
Matthew 23:13–15 (ESV) (13) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (15) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
When the scribes and Pharisees sought to convert people to their “salvation by works” religion, their message moved their hearers from being apathetic about God to being fully against His message of grace! They were “worse off” in a sense than before they heard! They went from being garden variety children of hell to being twice the children of hell that even the false preachers were! Even still, God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, and a false gospel is certainly a crooked stick, but that doesn’t give us license to approve of using crooked sticks!
Romans 10:16–17 (ESV) (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (17) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
In verses 16-17, Paul presents a horrible truth – even in the midst of all of this sending, teaching, preaching, hearing, and so forth, they still didn’t obey the gospel. They refused to listen to the prophets of God and instead listened to false prophets or discounted the prophetic voice altogether. “Who has believed what he has heard from us?” is a desperate cry against rampant faithlessness. It was no different in Isaiah’s day or Paul’s day than it is now – people still believe whatever they want, in whatever savior they want – to their destruction.
But all is not lost for Paul. Rather than despairing, he turns to hope. He tells us how faith comes to the faithless – it comes through hearing, hearing not just “any old thing”, but hearing the truth as spoken by prophets, teachers, and preachers sent by God. And this hearing comes through the very words of Christ himself! Christ will not speak falsely about Himself – you must hear the very words of Christ in order for any of this to take root in your heart so you can believe in the first place!
But what are the words of Christ? Are they “I am a created being who is not God but rather Michael the archangel”? Is it “I am a created being who is the spirit brother of Satan.”? Is it “I don’t care what you believe about me, or my church, as long as you are a good person, I’ll accept you.”?
By no means! Jesus will speak truth about Himself, truth like:
“Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sin (John 8:24). I am the first and the last, I was alive, I died, and am alive forevermore (Revelation 1:17-18). I am the light of the world (John 8:12). Before Abraham was I am (John 8:58). I am the word who was with God and God from the beginning (John 1:1). I am the Word made flesh as the Son of God (John 1:14). All things were created by me and for me (Colossians 1:16). I am the sinless savior who died that you shall live and the one who rose from the dead so you shall never die (1 Peter 1:17-21). I am judge, jury, and executioner (1 Peter 4:3-5), and rule over all things (Ephesians 1:19-23). I am the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords (Revelation 17:14), the creator, the sustainer (Hebrews 1:3), the hope of the world (Matthew 12:18-21). I am the Mighty God and the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), the radiance of the glory of God and an exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). I AM!”
If you hear anything contrary to this, you are not hearing Jesus, you are hearing someone else entirely!
Romans 10:18–21 (ESV) (18) But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (19) But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (20) Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” (21) But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
And finally, in verses 18-21, Paul finishes his thought in by reminding his readers that the Jews cannot claim ignorance – they have indeed heard this good news. And because they couldn’t fathom that God’s grace and mercy would be extended to the Gentiles, they ignored their own prophets and scriptures proclaiming that it would happen! Their zeal for God was selfish and ignorant and not informed by knowledge. And here, Paul returns to where he started, stating that they are disobedient and contrary because they don’t believe God’s revelation of Himself.
But it’s not just Jews who cannot claim ignorance. It’s us too. In fact, it’s everyone.
Romans 1:18–20 (ESV) (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The tree outside of your window? That tree is enough. If on the day you stand before your Creator, you stand before Him in unbelief saying “But you never showed me enough! I didn’t have enough evidence!”, He can simply point to that tree outside of your window and say “I showed you that. That’s enough.”
But God did FAR more than show them a tree – He gave them His Son! Jesus had come but they rejected Him because he didn’t fit their picture of Messiah. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (for example) reject Jesus because they’d rather believe that he is not God but a created being who is less than God. They refuse to believe His revelation about Himself and would rather follow false teachers who have corrupted their scripture in order to make Jesus in their image. Only by repudiating that belief, repenting from it, confessing their sin, and turning away from the Watchtower and embracing God’s revelation about Himself can they hope to be saved.
It seems pretty safe to say that Jesus’ divinity is not something that you can be ignorant about. How can you truly believe and confess per Romans 10 without knowing who you are declaring as Lord? I still believe that there are things we can be ignorant about, in fact, the entire Christian life is one of constant growth and understanding. But I no longer believe that Jesus’ divinity is one of them.
But even so, through all of this, the hope of those who believe falsely about Jesus is the same as ours – God overcomes our false religions. He overcomes our corrupted minds. He speaks truth into dead hearts and makes them alive again. He sends true preachers to the lost sheep who are stuck in the thicket and Jesus will gather them all, every last one. None of whom the Father has given to the Son will be lost, none! A person can spend decades in a false religion with a false sense of security, but if that person belongs to Jesus, though he may be lost for a time, he will be found, guaranteed.
Jesus promised that…
John 6:37–40 (ESV) (37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (40) For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
…and that’s a promise worthy of our hope!