Rebuilding the Foundations
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Hoping to find irritating inspiration for a blog post, I turned on "Ask the Pastors" on TV today. I was not disappointed.
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The first question I heard asked was, "Why should we accept Jesus as our personal Savior?"
Ah, great question. That terminology is brand new in historic terms. I don't know when it was invented, but I do know none of the Reformers would have used it. The Wesleys, John and Charles, certainly would not have used it. They remained members of the Church of England to the end, and they would have regarded baptism as the entrance into King Jesus and his kingdom. "Accepting Jesus" was just not part of their vocabulary.
So what would these pastors say?
Oddly enough, every one of them appealed to Romans 10:9-10, except one lady pastor who added in v. 8. Let's look at that, shall we?
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes to righteousness and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.
Let me ask you a question. Do you see any references to Jesus as Savior in that passage? How about a reference to a personal relationship with Jesus?
I will give credit to the lady pastor who pointed out that the KJV uses "thou" and "thee" in this passage rather than "ye" and "you." This means the passage is directed at individual Christians rather than to the church or a group of Christians. From this she got the idea of personal relationship. "Thou" must confess and believe. Good for her. That was at least one small part of the question.
I'll bet you thought thee, thy, and thou were holy language. Nope. Ye is the plural form of you in middle English, and "Thou" is singular. That's the only difference. It's a rare evangelical who knows that. Kudos to that lady pastor.
The word "Savior" ("saviour" in British English) is found 25 times in the KJV, but not once in Paul's letter to the Romans. With no "savior" within earshot of Romans 10:9-10, what were these pastors thinking?
It seems obvious to me they were thinking tradition, not Scripture. We evangelicals believe that to be born again one must "ask Jesus into our heart" or "accept Jesus as personal Savior"; so, we just read that right into Scripture whether the passage says anything like our tradition or not. It says "confess," so it must mean we are confessing our belief that Jesus died for our sins because our tradition says faith should be in Jesus' death for our sins.
It must mean that. Except it clearly doesn't.
The focus in Romans 10:9-10 is Jesus' resurrection, not his death. The focus is that Jesus is Lord, not that he is Savior. In that sense, the passage is remarkably like the Gospel we find preached by the apostles in the Book of Acts. For example:
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses ... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made the same Jesus you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah. (Acts 2:32,36)
You will look vainly for a passage that says you should accept Jesus as Savior for your salvation. Jesus is our Savior, and the Father is called our Savior several times as well, but when the Scriptures address Jesus as Savior, it normally sounds something like this:
... looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus the King, who gave himself for us so that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:13-14)
You will find that I almost always render "Jesus Christ" as "Jesus the King" and in general translate "Christ" as "King." See "The Tragedy of Not Translating Christos."
When we hear the news that Jesus has risen from dead and is thus proven to be the Son of God with power, the Psalm 2 Anointed King, and the everlasting Lord, a response is demanded from us, and it is not to "accept Jesus into our hearts."
The response Peter demanded of the Jews was:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
The response that was demanded of Saul, before he became the apostle Paul, was:
Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins and calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)
After Saul became Paul and evangelized most of Asia Minor and Greece, he described the response he demanded of the Gentiles when he preached to them:
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but I proclaimed—first to those of Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then throughout all the coasts of Judea, then to the Gentiles—that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. (Acts 26:19b-20)
Repentance was obviously central to the apostolic Gospel. One of the most telling statements about repentance is in the Jews' response to Peter when he returned from the conversion of Cornelius the Gentile. Cornelius' conversion happened in Acts 10, but it is in Acts 11 that we read about the response of the church in Jerusalem. It was not positive until Peter recounted the experiences that led to his preaching to and eating with Gentiles.
Once the Jews' heard Peter's story (pure experience, no Scripture) they were convinced. Their remark is both interesting and important:
So God has granted the repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles as well. (Acts 11:18. Emphasis added)
The reason that repentance leads to life is because repentance is belief in the Gospel. When we realize that the Gospel is that Jesus can be Savior because he is God's Son and God's Anointed, eternal, divine King, proven by his resurrection, then we can realize that the only proper response to this message is to bow our knee to him.
Asking him into our heart or telling him that we believe he paid for our sins on the cross is not an acceptable alternative. He died so that he might be the Lord of both the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9), and it is for those that confess him as Lord, believe that God raised him from the dead, repent, and bury their old lives in baptism that he forgives sin.
I need to conclude that a personal relationship with Jesus is important. Without it, there is nothing else. God has no grandchildren, as the saying goes.
Entering that personal relationship, however, is not a matter of "accepting Jesus," it is a matter of believing that he is the Messiah—God's Anointed, eternal King— and the Son of God, then bowing your knee in repentance and baptism in order to be a part of his kingdom, abandoning all other loyalties, even to yourself, your dreams, your security, and your aspirations.
It is that belief that brings a person relationship with Jesus. The demons believe that Jesus died for your sins, and they tremble. They believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but they do not bow their knee before him even though they do flee in terror before him.
This web site addresses these sort of issues repeatedly, but I would like to recommend two short but indepth books on the subject: Forgotten Gospel and The Apostles' Gospel. Forgotten Gospel is about 150 pages long, explains the Gospel of the Kingdom, and gives a thorough scriptural foundation for it. Apostles Gospel on only 40 pages long, but it explores every sermon that the apostles preached to the lost and compares it with what we preach today.