"THE ESSENTIALS OF SALVATION"
First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
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.
Romans 10:9 (ESV)
In this pluralistic age in which we live it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ. Our culture has redefined "tolerance" in such a way that it's not acceptable to say that you are right and someone else is wrong. This is bound to make anyone with strong beliefs timid. As a result, much of what we see and hear in "Christian" broadcasting is so generic that it makes little mention of Jesus, or if it does, it speaks of Him for the most part as a moral example and a motivator for how we are to live. Now I'm not against morality by any means; it's just that personal morality isn't the essence of Christianity, nor is it the way that people get into heaven. If it were, the Muslims would certainly get there way ahead of us. What sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world is that it is a religion of grace, teaching that the sinner's only hope is the grace of God revealed in the life and death of His Son Jesus Christ. But sometimes that kind of statement draws criticism even from other Christians, some of whom would contend that saying what I just said is divisive and nit-picking.
Why should any of this matter? It matters because there is such a thing as absolute truth and God has revealed this truth in His Word--the same Word that our Savior has commissioned us to proclaim to all creation. We are to share with others everything that Jesus taught and everything that He did. It is this Gospel and nothing else through which the Holy Spirit touches people's hearts and forgives their sins, turning them from fearful and hostile enemies of God to beloved and loving children of God. And it is this Gospel that identifies a person's teaching and preaching as being uniquely Christian. In trying to determine whether or not a person is a Christian I have learned that it isn't enough to ask: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" because just about everybody will say that they do, and most people (sometimes even those answering the question) don't really know what is meant by that. A far more revealing question is: "What do you believe about Jesus Christ?" The text before us this morning speaks of the essentials of salvation in terms of what a person confesses with his mouth and what he believes in his heart.
What does it mean to "confess with your mouth"? To confess means to publicly acknowledge something as being true for you and to claim it as your own. Some people think of confession almost exclusively in terms of acknowledging one's guilt or responsibility for misdeeds. That is certainly one meaning, but confession can and often does involve a lot more than that. To make a confession is to acknowledge something as being real for you. It can be sin or it can be a lot of other things, but the term does subtly suggest that some offense or hostility can be anticipated as a reaction to the confession. Undoubtedly Paul is speaking here about Christians confessing their faith in Christ. Our church-body in particular has a reputation for being a confessional church, which means that it consistently confesses, in word and in practice, the teachings drawn from the Scriptures and stated in its confessional documents. That position draws a lot of criticism--even from some of those within our own fellowship. But that's what confession is--the kind of confession that our text is referring to: acknowledging the truth of Jesus before every audience and in every situation.
What is it that we are to confess? The apostle says that we are to confess that "'Jesus is Lord.'" A lot of people these days use the term "the Lord" in a very generic way. Sometimes I get the feeling that it's a word that people use when they want to refer to a higher power without being too specific about who that higher power might be. In the original language of the Old Testament, however, "Lord" has a very specific significance. Because of their reverence for the Divine Name and their fear of violating the Second Commandment, the ancient Jews (like many modern Jews) would not dare to utter the name, so they used a substitute: the Hebrew word for "Lord." If you look even in this morning's bulletin, you will find places in the Old Testament Reading where the word "Lord" appears in all capital letters. In most English Bibles everywhere that occurs in the Old Testament is a place where the Divine Name appears in the original. So to confess Jesus as Lord is to confess that He is God--Yahweh--the Creator and Preserver of all that exists. Christians don't just acknowledge Jesus to be great; they confess that He is their God.
But before we can have something to confess, we first have to have a faith within us. Contrary to what some people may think, faith involves a little more than just believing a particular fact or set of facts to be accurate. Faith actually involves three things (as those of you who have had confirmation class with me ought to remember). The three elements of faith are knowledge, assent, and trust. Knowledge means that we know what claims are made about Jesus in the Scriptures. Assent means that we agree that these facts are true. Trust means that we are willing to stake our salvation on it. In confirmation class I would always explain it this way: If I claim that I can push a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls on a tightrope and you hear me make that claim, that is knowledge. If you believe that I can do it, that's assent. But trust is if you are willing to ride in the wheelbarrow. That's the way it is with Jesus Christ. It's all or nothing. There is no "Plan B" for our salvation. Christ is either everything to us or He is nothing.
What specifically is it that we have faith in? --"that God raised [Jesus] from the dead." The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the one historical fact by which the Christian faith stands or falls. In another of his letters Paul writes: "If Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe" (1 Corinthians 15:14 TEV). But why should I be making such a big deal of the resurrection during Lent? The resurrection of Jesus is important because it validates His suffering and death. True, it is His suffering and death, not His resurrection, that atoned for our sin, but we can only be sure that what He did for us is true and efficacious because He rose from the dead. The resurrection is God's "Amen" to the sacrifice that His Son offered to Him to atone for the sin of the world.
A confession of faith and the faith that motivates it have an object. The Object of our faith--the only faith that saves--is Jesus Christ, crucified for the sin of the world and raised again from the dead as the proof that everything that He did and taught is valid and true. This is the faith that we confess--and we confess it not just in some watered-down generic way guaranteed not to offend--but in all its truth and purity. There will be some who will not like it and will even take offense at it. That's to be expected. Our Lord warned us about that. But this is the message that He has commissioned us to proclaim, promising that the Spirit works through that message, creating and nourishing the faith that saves. That knowledge gives us a greater appreciation for and joy in the saving truth that we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts.
May the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us kings and priests before His God and Father, lead you to a life of repentance and trust. May He also be glorified in the lives of you, His people. He who calls you is faithful, and He will