because if you acknowledge and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [recognizing His power, authority, and majesty as God], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Many people are terribly confused about what it means to become a Christian. They can’t fathom the startling concept of grace: God’s unmerited favor toward sinners like us. They cling to the false notion that God is a stern teacher and hope that He grades on a curve!
Others among us dive into the Bible and come up with a million requirements for being a child of God or evidences that our faith is real. Perhaps we say that we can’t know we’re Christians unless we tithe, go to church every Sunday, read the Bible thirty minutes each day (or is it an hour?), pray a certain way, and on and on. Of course, those things are important to help us grow in our faith, but they don’t earn us a place in heaven. We do them because we want to, not because we have to.
Paul made it clear and simple: Two fundamental truths are essential to salvation. First, we must agree that the Jesus who walked the earth is also the God of the universe. The term Lord refers to Yahweh of the Old Testament, the God who met with Moses and led him and the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus wasn’t just a good man who died a martyr’s death. He was Almighty God who came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. To pay for the sins of others, He had to be sinless Himself-God in the flesh.
Second, we must grasp the truth that the Lord of life rose physically from the dead after He was crucified. Actually, if we believe Jesus was God in the flesh, then the Resurrection isn’t a difficult proposition to accept.
These two truths form the bedrock of our faith, connect us with the grace of God (versus self-effort), and motivate us to please God all day every day.
It’s exciting to know that an all-knowing, all-loving God, the Creator of the universe who know even when a sparrow falls, loved me so much before I was born that He came to earth to lay down His own life that I might live.
To be like Christ is to be a Christian.
Humans began their relationship with God by a walk and a conversation and a single rule. In truth that relationship was love based- God loved them and they loved God and the keeping the rule was just evidence of that love. Unfortunately that relationship was broken for to have the knowledge of good and evil became more important than knowing God. From there we find that God entered into a relationship with Abraham who proved his love by being willing to offer his son Isaac. The friendship between Abraham and God is amazing especially in the fact that it occurred after the fall and after the flood. This says that it is possible for anyone who would seek such a relationship, that it is obtainable. God may never ask us to prove our love in the dramatic way that He did Abraham but without us loving God in return there is no relationship.
As the descendants of Abraham were being delivered from slavery, God invited them into a relationship with Him. However, they chose instead to have a rule-based relationship. They actually told Moses to have God tell them what He wanted them to do but they wanted to stay at a distance from Him. What a foolish notion that was and still is. The idea that we could please God or have a relationship with Him based on conduct or performance is impossible given that as flawed humans the best we could do is far less than perfect. But to give them what they wanted, God gave them ten rules which they were never able to keep.
By the time Jesus came those ten had developed into about six hundred. God sent His Son to redevelop a relationship with humanity. That’s the power of the gospel. Our relationship with God is based on love- God loving us and we loving Him. It’s that simple. Salvation is nothing more and nothing less than us opening our heart up to the love of God and accepting His love for us. I know that there will be those who object to this statement and will say that we still need to keep the rules and perform in expected ways. The secret to that isn’t obligatory rule keeping. It isn’t forcing ourselves to conform to some standard of holiness. It’s in truth fully surrendering our hearts to Christ in the same way that He surrendered His life for us on the cross. Temptation always arises in the place of our hearts that is not fully surrendered to God. Whatever we hold as our own and not given up to God is the place where Satan finds ground to offer us what we often find hard to resist. Oh, we may be able to manage our sin for a season. We may will ourselves to obey God or walk in righteousness for a period of time but to overcome, we must come to God and offer Him full capacity of our hearts.
Sometimes the church gets it backwards. Sometimes it pushes itself to comply outwardly with rules with a heart not surrendered. We like things we can see or measure so we can measure conduct or proper keeping of rituals or rule following. What can’t be measured is the heart.
The New Testament Church was faced with the issue of whether it was going to impose Jewish law on the Gentile converts. Both schools of thought were represented. Paul, the advocate of justification purely by faith, and Peter who had become a defender of Jewish law as the necessary works of righteousness came together in a fierce argument. Imagine that! And here we are still today arguing the same argument. In that meeting, the Holy Spirit speaks through James. No, the Gentile believers would not be required to become Jewish proselytes, only two requirements were to be required. They were to cease eating meats offered to idols. In other words they were to forsake worshipping any other god save Christ. In a world of polytheism, they were asked to declare their full loyalty to Christ. They could no longer follow Christ and still worship other Gods. Nothing new in any other relationship. For example, wedding vows include the phrase, “forsaking all others” and I’m sure that every bride and groom thinks that it’s not an unreasonable expectation. Neither does God and neither should we. That’s how we determine righteousness. Is what we are doing please God and our choices of doing what pleases Him comes from our love for Him? You see if you truly love someone you will make decisions that please them. The second requirement was to abstain from sexual immorality. One of the common practices of that day was to engage in sexual immorality as an act of worship of Greek and Roman gods. But beyond that, the giving of our bodies is pretty important. God surely designed intimacy between married couples but this requirement is asking the believer to consider that since they have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus to consider that they and their bodies belong to God. Therefore whatever they engage their bodies in, they also engage their spirits. There is no such thing as compartmentalization. Whatever our minds, our bodies, and our spirits engage in the other two are engaged also.
John as he addresses this subject of love and rule-keeping gives us this concept:
“Whoever says, “I have come to know Him,” but does not habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings), is a liar, and the truth [of the divine word] is not in him. But whoever habitually keeps His word and obeys His precepts [and treasures His message in its entirety], in him the love of God has truly been perfected [it is completed and has reached maturity]. By this we know [for certain] that we are in Him: whoever says he lives in Christ [that is, whoever says he has accepted Him as God and Savior] ought [as a moral obligation] to walk and conduct himself just as He walked and conducted Himself. For the [true] love of God is this: that we habitually keep His commandments and remain focused on His precepts. And His commandments and His precepts are not difficult [to obey].”
1 John 2:4-6,5:3
So today I invite you into a love-based relationship with God. First, that you know that He truly loves you without reservation not based on how you perform but just because you are you. Second, that you fall in love with Him, a love that moves you beyond any duty, obligation, rule-driven walk to the place where living to please God becomes natural. When we shift focus from what we have to do to seeing the privilege it is to worship, serve, and follow God because we are loved and we love in return, our faith journey becomes one of joy. Isn’t that what every love-based relationship becomes?