In this series we will try to go over the often confusing issue of what we need to know in order to be saved.
I have been told on more than one occasion that, according to Romans 10:9, the key to salvation is to confess publicly that Jesus is my Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. It would seem that nothing could be simpler, right?
I then have to wonder what a “lord” is, and what that means for how I live.
Once I process that, I have to wonder why I must believe that God raised him from the dead.
It turns out that there is a lot happening in that part of the book of Romans that can shed light on what those things mean. The strange part is that this statement appears in a section of the letter in which Paul is explaining why Gentiles are accepting Jesus in great numbers, while Jewish people seem to be rejecting him on the whole.
In response to their wondering Paul talks about the difference between seeking God’s righteousness (being “good” in God’s eyes) and seeking to make oneself right before God by studiously keeping the law God gave to Moses. Paul notes that, as a nation, they have failed to obtain God’s favour by attempting to keep the law. Long story short: they failed to keep the law. (In fact, they failed to obey the first commandment of God by failing to honour Jesus, who is God in human flesh. Of course, killing Jesus certainly did nothing to help their cause.)
You can’t fix a broken law. All you can do is live with the consequences.
The only hope is to be forgiven and be given a fresh start.
Paul contrasts self-directed righteousness with what he calls “the righteousness of faith” by quoting sections of Deuteronomy 30:11-21 in Romans 10:6-10. These quotes come from the concluding words of the final sermon given my Moses to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land.
Moses is telling them that the words of God’s law are neither far away from them nor particularly difficult to obey. In fact, God’s word is in their mouths and in their hearts. The interesting part about that section of Moses’ sermon is that he has just told told Israel (in 10:1) that they will fail to obey the covenant and thereby obtain the curses listed in Deuteronomy 28. Among other very unpleasant and frightening results is that they will be removed from the land by force and resettled as slaves in other nations.
If, however, they return to God while in their captivity, the Lord will “circumcise their hearts” and then they will be restored to favour and will once again obey God’s law. He will then [later] restore their fortunes. (Deut. 30:1-10)
Paul uses Moses’ final words to Israel as a template for what it takes to obtain God’s renewed favour. “No, the word is near very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
For the Christian, Jesus is the Word of God. He is near.
For Paul, the “word in your mouth” becomes the declaration that Jesus is Lord and the “word in your heart” is belief that Jesus has been raised from the dead. This is the heart of the gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is based on Jesus’ action of faithfully going to the cross on our behalf and rising from the dead.
Really believing that radically changes your life.
“Jesus is Lord.” What does this mean?
In the polytheistic Roman Empire worship of the Emperor had really taken off. Citizens honoured Ceasar by shouting, “Caesar is Lord!” Jews were the only people exempt by law from worshipping the Emperor (or other Roman gods). Even so, for a Jew to proclaim that anyone but Caesar was “Lord” was considered treason. A “lord” is a master or overlord.
Jesus, as Lord, is something immeasurably more.
In the last post we discussed Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration about Jesus’ identity, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now let us examine the statement itself to see if it helps us determine what Paul means by declaring “Jesus is Lord” with our mouth.
The expression “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title “Messiah,” which literally means “anointed one.” Anointing was done in ancient Israel for three main things: 1) appointing descendants of Aaron to the Priesthood to serve in God’s Tabernacle or Temple; 2) appointing a king to rule over Israel or a portion thereof; or 3) applying ointment to heal a wound or infection.
The most likely meaning Peter has in mind has to do with Jesus’ royal lineage, which Matthew has already described in Matt. 1:1-17. Peter and the rest of the disciples expected Jesus to assume royal leadership of Israel in driving out the hated Roman overlords.
The reference to the Son of God is probably inspired by Psalm 2:6-12, which speaks of Israel’s king as God’s adopted son. Whether Peter understands Jesus as someone more than merely human at this point is greatly debated.
Later on in John’s account we do find at least one of Jesus’ disciples, nicknamed “doubting Thomas,” saying the most amazing thing as he sees the resurrected Jesus. “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) As we read this story we sometimes see only Thomas’ doubt and miss the impact of his statement that Jesus is indeed God in the flesh.
The Apostle John himself acknowledges Jesus’ divinity at the very outset of his Gospel in verses 1-14 of Chapter 1. The Word is with God and yet is God, and then becomes flesh and dwells among us as the only begotten Son of God.
As we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord in our Christian witness, we acknowledge that He is Lord of both heaven and earth as God’s only Son. He is the creator of our world and everything in it, and he has come to save that same world that he created.
I think it is important for a Christian to speak to the issue of Jesus as both God and human in one person in order to prevent confusion when speaking to others about Jesus. He wasn’t just a “great teacher.” He wasn’t just a moralist with a message of peace and justice.
He was, and still is, God Almighty himself, on a mission to bring the entire world back to its intended purpose as his own beautiful, beloved creation. He cannot and will not fail in this mission, because failure is not in his nature.
The next post will discuss the significance of Jesus’ resurrection in the context of Paul’s statement in the book of Romans about believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.