Often, I think, when one says, “I believe in Jesus,” what one means is that “I believe in the Good News that Jesus brought to the earth.” In a general sense, this practice is fine. However, in an actual sense, there is an inherent (if subtle) danger in equating the deliverer with His message. I believe the danger is two fold. In one we misrepresent who Jesus is if we do not have a clear understanding of what His message is. On the other hand, if we do not have a clear understand of whom Jesus is, we don’t really know what we mean when we confess our belief in Him. I believe that Jesus preached the Gospel. Scripture informs us that He preached a message of repentance and belief in [He who brings the Kingdom near]. I say this because Jesus preaches repentance “for the Kingdom is near” and also repentance and belief in Himself. This parallel implies the above in my estimation. So, the subsequent question becomes, “Who is Jesus?”
Whether Christians invented monotheism doesn’t apply to this conversation. In this context, if I am correct in my belief that Jesus is God, then my focusing all my attention upon Him (a.k.a. repentance) and placing my faith in Him (i.e. believing in Him and Him alone) is my appropriate reaction to the Gospel (a derivative of the Saxon phrase meaning “Good News”). This is the same relation that we are called to have in the “Shema“.
So, Jesus’ message is NOT the Gospel nor is the Shema. The Good News must be the reason that I may place my faith in Jesus. He is God and He sacrificed Himself willingly upon the cross so that the sins of the world may be forgiven making John 3:16 effective for all time. And, not only that, He rose from the dead and now sits upon the right hand of God the Father. Like Paul said, I believe that my baptism (a definition of which must wait for a different time, please) has connected me to the death of Jesus so that I may now live a life like Jesus’ forever. In affect, I am no longer a citizen of this world, but, instead, I am a citizen of God’s Holy Kingdom with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.It’s all connected, you see. But, the Gospel is that God lived, died, and now lives again for me and for you. Now that you’ve heard, you too may believe and live.
I think that even in the Exodus, the Israelites had access to the Gospel in a manner of speaking. They were called to the same action as the Gospel calls us to via the Gospel and/or the Shema. They were to focus on God and place their trust in Him. They could literally witness God’s presence in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. They were to actually follow God and trust Him to secure their passage through the wilderness. Their exodus was at the same time a real life experience for them and a metaphor of life on earth for the rest of us. They and we are called to focus our attention upon God (repent) and believe in His Word (via Moses or in Christ Jesus). The Gospel, I believe, is directly connected with the presence and accessibility of God. He is present so it is possible to do what He wills.
Confess AND/PLUS believe/trust/have faith. I believe that doing one and not the other has definite salvific consequences. One seems to be an inward effect while the other is an outward action, just as when Jesus preached “Repent and Believe”.
I think that there is always a way to confess one’s belief. The mechanism is less important than the action itself. But, I do believe that believing is the key. The question is whether one truly believes if one never acts upon that belief.
It is because God has made it possible to choose Him that we can and must choose Him. It is indeed a God thing that makes the choice possible. God never forces anyone to make the choice, however. He is a gentleman, after all. Our “yes” is made possible because of God’s “Yes” but we must still take the opportunity to say that “yes”.
God has already done the work. We must respond positively to what He has done. This is true repentance. This is our first act of faith. This is true faith in our Creator. I don’t think that anyone who is saved will NOT do this.
God justifies and God sanctifies. God saves too.In everything He wishes us to act relationally to Him and every good relationship requires effort by both parties. Sanctification is what naturally happens as we walk with God. We become more like Him. Responding positively in terms of our salvation is our “yes” (a positive statement) to God’s outstretched hands. Not everyone is saved however. Those who are saved are those who have taken God up on His offer.
Don’t get me wrong here. This is NOT WORKS righteousness that I’m describing here. Salvation is by Grace Alone. No one must say “Halleluiah!” seventy times in order to be saved or anything like that. THAT would be salvation by works. It is God’s grace that makes salvation possible (He did the WORK on the cross). It is God’s grace that offers the salvation that He made possible. It is through God’s grace that a person may realize that salvation is there for the asking. It is God who brings a person to Him and it is God that supplies that wherewithal for a person to reach for His outstretched hands and grab hold; even for eternity. BUT, everyone has to take that hand that is being so graciously offered or salvation is not theirs.
Christ has not returned. There is still hope for the world. We still have a purpose. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But, all that is because Christ’s work in the world is not finished since not everyone is saved who will be saved.