And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
Today I stumbled upon the 1998 statement of faith of one of the main denominations of the American church. As I was perusing the pages of the tiny tract, I reached the page that showed the denomination’s foundational beliefs about salvation. Buried in high language about the spiritual regeneration, sanctification, and glorification of the redeemed, I found the underlying message: To achieve saving faith, the sinner must “accept Christ” and “(commit) the entire personality to him as Lord and Saviour.” I thought about those words and realized that I as a Christian sometimes have a hard time figuring out what they mean.
I read on, thinking that such a definitive document would eventually put in plain terms the meaning of the Gospel and the way to faith. I only found more spiritual jargon. Having grown up in church, I was able to decipher its meaning, but that was all right. This book was written for believers by believers. But knowing that almost made it more offensive when I reached the end of the litany of spiritual truths and the words “cross” and “resurrection” were nowhere to be found. “Blood” made it, but only as an abstract concept. As I thought about it more, I began to wonder: Do we really know what it means to be saved?
The resurrection was the central doctrine of the early church. Paul said that if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain and we are to be pitied above all men. Peter, when preaching at Pentecost, pointed the accusatory finger at the Jews, saying out loud what everyone knew to be true: You killed him, Joseph put him in a tomb, but he’s no longer there. And if that’s not enough, I’ve seen him with my own eyes. Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God” when he felt the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side.
Over and over in the Book of Acts, the apostles preach the Resurrection. Why? Because it is where the power of God comes from in our lives. Since Jesus didn’t stay on the cross and the grave could not hold him, we know that he has done what is necessary to take care of our sin (the cross) and the penalty for it (death and the grave). Because Christ has raised, we know we will be raised, and that assurance leads to a fearless life that is based on trusting Christ rather than just accepting him.
Granted, we are not eyewitnesses like the apostles, but faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). And if we can hold onto the bold truth that God’s power turned the system of life and death upside down, we will retain a dynamic and forceful spiritual life.
I believe that the authors of this treatise assumed a certain amount of prior knowledge in their readers. They meant well, and I think that their term “accept” encompasses the full belief in the Lord’s suffering and resurrection. But the fact that it is not expressly stated as it is so many times throughout the New Testament (Romans 10:9-10, for example) highlights a problem with the way we often try to bring people into the faith.
Yes, we must believe these tenets in our minds, and it doesn’t hurt to say a sinner’s prayer. But in the end, we must be clearer about the fundamental truths of Christianity. I can tacitly “accept” Christ’s ideas without ever truly loving him, and I can believe he is Lord without ever really trusting him. I can “commit my personality” to him without ever really knowing him. In the end, what matters is that I believe the tenets of the Word, and beyond that, I cease my striving, resting in his Resurrection as the means by which I become a new creation.
I am no longer my own. I am his. I am no longer a slave to sin. I am a slave to righteousness. I am no longer a child of the Devil. I am a child of God. I was dead in sin, but God made me alive in Christ through his own resurrection. Resting in his righteousness is much more than an intellectual pursuit, and likewise, it is more than spiritual jargon.
The Gospel is a mystery. As we seek to save the lost, let us not omit power for the sake of simplicity.