When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone he was the Christ.” Matthew 16:13-20
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you, as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. I Corinthians 15:1-5
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” I John 4:1-3
This is the core of the gospel message of the Christian faith. It is to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, and that his atoning sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for my sin. Recognizing that there is nothing I can do to reconcile with God, that there is no sacrifice I can make which will save me from my sin, I must turn to God and be reconciled by Jesus’ atonement. The proof of his ability to sanctify me is in his resurrection victory over death. The remarkable thing, at least to me, in this gospel message is that I’m not even convicted of sin or drawn to repentance by my own initiative, but by the Holy Spirit, who also does the work of restoring my relationship with God and cleansing me of sin.
When I was teaching middle school students in Christian school, this was a hard concept for them to grasp. It always generated a lot of “What if?” questions. For example, “What if you believe this and you’re saved, but you never read the Bible or go to church. Are you still going to heaven? What if you believe this, and you’re saved, but later on you get back in your old habits, and you get drunk. Are you still saved? What if you believe this and you’re saved, but you go to a party and get drunk, and then you get mad at someone and pick up a pistol and kill them. Are you still saved?”
And of course, my answer is always to repeat this confession back, that you believe Christ’s death was sacrificial for your sins, and that his sacrifice was empowered by his resurrection from the dead which is victory over sin and death, and yes, regardless of things you may do that are sinful, the forgiveness and grace you received from Christ when he was hanging on the cross still applies to you. Then I’d give them some passages about living an abundant life on earth, not using your freedom in Christ as an excuse to indulge the flesh, and even a warning that if your behavior is as consistently sinful as it was before you are saved, or worse, you should at least give some consideration to whether or not you are genuinely saved, since the lack of conviction from the Holy Spirit might be a sign that you aren’t.
My encouragement, in following up to such questions, was for students to understand that as Christians, the best way to overcome the temptations that life brings them regarding their faith is to study the scriptures, and the best way to do that is to seek the advice and counsel of people who have been Christians for a while, and allow themselves to be “discipled” by them in order to understand that interpreting the scripture isn’t just a matter of “hermeneutical harmony” or “exegetical exactness” but also involves the process of illumination, where the Holy Spirit helps you take what the scriptures say and apply it to your life.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgements about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgement: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. I Corinthians 2:14-16
My friend and fellow blogger in Alabama, Bob Cleveland, points out a scripture passage that I frequently think was written specifically for me, “Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12
We probably need to keep committing that one to memory.
It might prevent us from indulging in the flesh and resorting to arrogance and anger when we encounter those Christians who claim to share the same spiritual heritage, but hold beliefs that are different than ours are. The same scripture that we use to claim our authority and cite to back up our own claims tells us to be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect.
What if that’s what Baptists were known for?