St. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome says: ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9) On the surface it sounds like an easy formula. Indeed you sometimes hear people say: ‘just confess that Jesus is Lord and you have done all you need to do for salvation. You are assured of being in God’s good grace and can be confident that you will be going to heaven’.
Of course we know that there is much more to it than that. We would call such shallow thinking ‘cheap grace’ as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer the famous German pastor who lived during the time of the reign of the Nazis. He experienced the price of expensive grace when he was executed for speaking against the evils of nationalism. It is common to see cheap grace being sold on street corners, religious T.V. shows and in many churches across the land. A warped version of the gospel promising prosperity. Yet Jesus never says anything in the gospels about wealth coming our way as a result of following him. Though he does say: ”my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, he also warns would-be disciples that the way of the cross lies on the road ahead.
St. Paul’s statement concerning confession of faith in Christ means much more than a verbal or even intellectual assent. He continues: “If you believe God raised him from the dead…”. And this is central to Paul’s thinking as he states elsewhere: “If Christ was not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:17) Again this means more than just saying ‘I believe in the resurrection’. It also means belief in Christ’s divinity, the center of Christian faith. It means belief in him as messiah, belief in him as teacher of God’s way of salvation for the world. It means believing that he is the ultimate and full revelation of who God is. “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:19) It means that Christ’s revelation of what God is like, and what God’s will is for humankind, supersedes anyone else’s teaching of who God is and what God desires of us. It means that all of Christ’s teachings whether by word or deed can be fully trusted and fully implemented. The living example of the canonized saints, the writings of theologians and the words of spiritual teachers help us to learn how to implement the teachings of Christ, but only in so far as they faithfully expound on those teachings and do not contradict or deny them.
At one point in his travels with the disciples, after he had been with them for quite a while, Jesus asked them: “Who do people say that I am?” (Matt16:13-20) Everything in Christianity, everything in each of our lives depends on the answer to this question. Peter’s answer is our answer: “You are the messiah, the son of the living God”. The disciples had to be at a point where they could accept Jesus absolutely and unconditionally as messiah, revealer of God’s way because Jesus was about to reveal to them the way of God’s salvation for each individually and for the whole world. All of the disciples likely agreed with Peter’s statement. For the text says next that Jesus began to speak to them about how he would save the world. In effect he said this: ‘My Father’s plan is that I am going to go to Jerusalem and they are going to reject and crucify me. But I am going to endure it and give love in return. And as my disciples, you who believe that I am the messiah, the revealer of God’s way, must do the same. You must take up the cross and follow me. Whatever happens to you as a result of the sin, ignorance, blindness and evil of the world, you are to love back. Return good for the evil you are given. And that is how the world will be saved’. And we see that that is precisely what the disciples did. They were persecuted and endured it, returning forgiveness and Christ-like love. The disciples and the martyrs of the early Church knew that they were contributing to God’s redemptive work by doing as Jesus said to do. In this sense they viewed it as a privilege to love their enemies as they were being destroyed by them. They were contributing to the coming of God’s kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. As disciples of Christ we have the same opportunity. We can chose to fully trust in God’s way: to forgive those who mistreat us, to return love those who are mean spirited and unkind, to participate with gratitude in God’s way of salvation. We may never face the prospect of total physical martyrdom, but the daily returning of love for non-love is a form of martyrdom. It is difficult and requires total faith in believing that Jesus is indeed who he claims to be, and in what he has revealed to be God’s way. Knowing that we are contributing to God’s plan of salvation can act as an incentive that sees us through the difficulty. We can proceed with joy then, knowing we are doing our best to be faithful to Christ. We can confidently share in Peter’s confession: ‘You are the Christ, the savior of the world’. +AMEN