[Note: I wrote this on the plane ride home yesterday, but sitting here tidying up my sermon for today this is the first opportunity I’ve had to post it. I hope it is helpful reading for those who may be sick or otherwise under the weather and not able to make it to services!]
I just read Mr. Meredith’s lead article in the most recent Tomorrow’s World magazine (“YOU Need Salvation!” on p. 4; not online yet), and it reminded me of a series of discussions I had with a co-worker many years ago P.M. (that is, Pre-Ministry…). For purposes of this story I will call her Betty, though her name was not actually Betty. Her name was actually Alice. Just kidding! No, her name was neither Betty nor Alice. And my name, also, is not Betty or Alice. Have I wandered off the track? Yes, I think so. Must be altitude sickness or something. Let me attempt to return…
I worked in actuarial and Betty worked in marketing, and we had been assigned a huge project that would impact both of our departments in a dramatic way. (Actually, our insurance company was eventually purchased by a larger foreign insurance company—an action that would prove to turn our “huge project” into an “obsolete project.” But that is an entry for another day…) Due to the size and pressing deadline of the project, we were working together quite a bit and our conversations eventually turned to topics of a religious nature.
“Do you believe a person is required to be baptized to be saved?” she asked? Rather than get into what “saved” actually meant at that time, I responded, “Yes, I believe that Jesus commands us to be baptized and that we must obey.”
Thus began the first of what became fairly frequent discussions about the interaction between faith and works. Going into everything we discussed would take a lot of time, but there is one point that was really at the heart of our exchange and it is the point I want to share.
Betty was, by most measures, a “good Christian.” She attended a very large church in Texas and was very active in her faith and participated enthusiastically in her congregation’s programs and community’s outreach efforts. And Betty was a “good person.” She was kind and friendly. She placed her family above her work to the point of quitting her successful and promising career once she had her first child. It was a pleasure knowing her and I enjoyed every one of our interactions. I not only liked her, I respected her. If I unexpectedly bumped into her again at the grocery I would be thrilled, and I suspect the rest of my day would be better for it.
But she didn’t know the first thing about following Jesus Christ.
While Betty certainly considered herself a Christian, she readily admitted that she refused to be baptized. She also readily admitted that she understood the fact that Jesus Christ commanded her to be baptized. But she refused to do it. Why? According to her, she did not want to be baptized because that would mean being saved by works and not by faith, and no work is required (according to her) to be saved.
How is it that such a dogma can become so ingrained—so hypnotic—that it is possible for someone to believe that her faith in Christ allows her to willfully ignore Christ’s commands? I imagine a scene in the second resurrection like something out of a Douglas Adams’ tale of “Adam” using “God’s” words to prove that “He” doesn’t exist…
Betty: Well, Jesus, here I am—you have to save me!
Betty’s “Jesus”: Um, Betty… I commanded you to be baptized…
Betty: I know!
Betty’s “Jesus”: And you weren’t…
Betty’s “Jesus”: So, I have to save you because…?
Betty: Well, you also taught us through Paul that works have nothing to do with salvation, so thanks to your teachings I am free to ignore your teachings!
Betty’s “Jesus”: Oh! Well, I suppose I hadn’t thought of that. Saved you are! [At which point, Disney’s Tinkerbell flies in with her wand and “ping!”]
[Please note that I said “Betty’s ‘Jesus’” above because the real and living Christ would never say such a thing. I might as well have said “Betty’s ‘Paul'”, as well, since the real Paul taught nothing like Betty’s claim of him.]
I could go through the verses (and have before), but Mr. Meredith covers them very well in his Tomorrow’s World article, and I would refer the reader to that article. I would rather here discuss the reasoning behind such thinking.
What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? What does it mean to call Him “Lord”? Doesn’t He answer that question Himself, when He says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Don’t listen to those who start whining and saying, “But you can’t follow Him perfectly! You can’t obey perfectly! You can’t… etc., etc.” Such people are setting up a straw man to knock down. The perfection of our obedience is not the issue here.
Really—think about it. How in the world can you begin a relationship with Jesus Christ—how can you begin your acceptance of His Lordship in your life and your life of faith in His coming rule as King of Kings—when your very first act is one of disobedience? It is completely bonkers.
“Jesus, I want to follow you and have you as my Lord!”
“Repent and be baptized.”
“Ahhhhh… No. No, really, I refuse to do that.”
How is it so easy for some to imagine that such a conversation makes sense? Is it because they don’t see Jesus in front of them? What if they could and the conversation were face to face? Would they refuse so blatantly? That’s hard to imagine.
And if they would refuse so blatantly, would they actually expect to be taken seriously? If the former is hard to imagine, imagining this seems to me almost impossible.
So maybe those who consider themselves followers of Christ, calling Him “Lord,” and who admit that Christ commands water baptism, all the while refusing to obey His simple command, do not really believe He really exists—that He is real, that He thinks, that He reasons (that is, they hope for the truth of the second half of Isaiah 1:18, but deny the possibility of the first half). Perhaps they do have faith, but it is a faith in a technical doctrine (“workless salvation”) as opposed to a Personal God. I don’t know.
But if someone is told that the building in which they sit is on fire and that they need to evacuate immediately at the risk of their life, and they continue to sit there unmoving and unresponsive, reading their book or whatever, while telling the messenger, “I believe you, I really do!” – I think I would be justified in questioning the sincerity of that profession of faith. The disconnect between belief and action would be just too great.
Regardless, give me a faith that is honest and clear: a Lord to follow who says what He means and means what He says, a religion in which the doctrines don’t need four centuries’ worth of theologians and philosophers to “figure out” and finalize, and apostles whose teachings do not contradict the teachings of the Messiah to whom they point me.
Thankfully, the Father has done just that.