“You will know them by their fruits…. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:16a, 21).

…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

I attended a funeral recently in a nearby town. Preachers of two denominations–one fundamentalist, the other old mainline–were handling the service. I was saddened to hear the minister from the latter actually having to defend the religion Jesus taught and practiced, namely love God, love your neighbor, against the rigid doctrinal orthodoxy of his local colleagues and their parishioners, one of whom had also spoken.

But if I felt sad, I also was proud of the man. It could not have been easy being the lone voice for the true gospel in a town of truncated faith where apparently most people equated believing the right thing with being a Christian.

How did we get in this fix? How is it that so many think assent to an idea is all it takes? Jesus’ clear call was not to doctrinal purity, but to faithful discipleship that does what he did. He focused on relationships, meeting needs, reaching out to the unwelcome and left out. It was his enemies and critics that insisted on strict adherence to rules and regulations and forgot about serving people whom God loves.

I think I know at least one reason why so many favor credal orthodoxy over engaged faith. (Ironic that those who claim to have no creed but the Bible are actually the ones most tied to credal statements!) It’s a way to hold God at arm’s length rather than truly opening ourselves to him in Jesus Christ. It’s the same as reading a book but never meeting the author, liking the idea of marriage without ever popping the question to your beloved. It spares us vulnerability and demand and suffering. And it makes us feel superior to know the right answers, according to us; we can exclude all those who don’t measure up.

Nothing could be farther from the faith Jesus taught and lived! Saving faith engages us with the world God loves and for whom Jesus died. It sends us out to do what Jesus did.

Saving faith is not merely knowing something about the Bible, such as its claim that the stone was rolled away on Easter morning, and the tomb was empty. Nor is it even assent to a statement interpreting that event, such as that Jesus was raised from the dead. Saving faith is saying “Jesus was raised for me.” It’s trust in a person, not the affirmation of an idea. And such trust sends us out to bear fruit for the kingdom.

So I say to that brave colleague among his self-assured, misguided brothers: “Preach on!”

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

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