A number of years ago, as I was getting ready to speak in a college chapel, the worship leader finished the music with these words: “The only thing required of us is to believe that Jesus blood saves us. Nothing more. It’s nothing but the blood of Jesus.’
I’ve heard these thoughts a thousand times. The problem was that I had in my Bible a message in which Jesus Himself had a very different answer to the question of salvation.
In reading through the Gospel of Luke, I had discovered that twice (10:25, 18:18) Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In the first passage, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who asks it. The lawyer replies with the Old Testament commands to love God with all your heart soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Matt. 22:34-40). Jesus affirms his answer: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer then tries to narrow the meaning of ‘neighbor’. Jesus then tells the unforgettable parable of the compassionate Samaritan who proved to be a neighbor to a bleeding roadside victim.
In Luke 18, Jesus responds to the same question, this time from the man we know as ‘the rich young ruler’. Jesus quotes the commandments forbidding adultery, murder, theft and false witness, and mandating honor towards parents. This young man says that he has kept all these commandments. Jesus then tells him to “sell all . . . and distribute to the poor.” Jesus assures him, “You will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me.” The “extremely rich” ruler will not do this and Jesus goes on to teach His disciples about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
Attempting with all that is in me to be a true expositor of the Word, I told the chapel students that on the two occasions in Luke when Jesus was asked how to have eternal life, He offered a four-fold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan story), do God’s will by obeying His moral commands, and be willing, if He asks, to drop everything, leave it behind and follow Him.
I concluded by suggesting that the contrast be tween how Jesus answers this question and how we usually do, is stark and very inconvenient.
In my tradition we ask people to “invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior.” Or we simply say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
But, Jesus never taught easy-believism! Whether He was telling the rich young ruler to sell all and follow Him or telling a miracle-hungry crowd near Capernaum that to do the work of God was, yes, to believe on Him (John 6:28-29), He called people to abandon their own agenda and trust Him radically. Radical trust calls for both belief and action!
Is it possible that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety? YES, believe in Jesus — that’s the first step. YES, invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior. THEN, empowered by God’s grace, embark on the journey of discipleship, in which you seek to love God with every fiber of your being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to live out Go’s moral will and to follow Jesus where He leads you, whatever the cost.
If Jesus is to be believed, inheriting eternal life involves a comprehensive divine assessment at every step along our journey, not just at the beginning.
Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians. Anyone can, and most Americans do, “believe” in Jesus rather than some alternate savior. Anyone can, and many Americans do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, love of neighbor, the moral practice of God’s will, and radical, costly discipleship.
If it comes to a choice between our habitual, ingrained ways of talking about salvation and what Jesus Himself said when asked the question, I know what I must choose. What is your choice?