I hear a lot about Paul’s theology of salvation. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Paul. Romans absolutely blows my mind and I can’t imagine having to give spiritual oversight to Corinth. But I don’t often hear anyone talk about salvation accoridng to Jesus, other than John 3:16. I have been studying Matthew’s gospel for the last several weeks trying to look at it chapter by chapter as opposed to verse by verse in order to understand the motif or theme that connects the stories throughout. The last several weeks though I have been planted in the Sermon on the Mount (chs 5-7). I find it interesting that in Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples (1) of every nation, (2) baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, (3) teaching them everything he commanded, and (4) teaching them to obey everything he commanded.
So as I read Matthew I have been asking, “What does Jesus command?” It seems that he commanded a lot and had some hard things to say about “salvation.” For example, in 7:21 he says, “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 who is in heaven.” I believe I have been taught to say, “Lord, Lord,” without being taught to do the will of the Father. This has been presented to me as the great doctrine of Justification by Faith. Again, don’t misread me. I am not saying we can be justified by any other means. I am suggesting that we spend too much time trying to understand Paul’s message and not enough time trying to understand the one who informs Paul’s theology, which is the risen Lord, Jesus the Christ.
I have been challenging my people to take Jesus’s words seriously. We are to live out the beatitudes. We are to be salt and light. We are to pray. We are to learn to ask for our daily bread, not our storehouses of bread. We are to fast. We are to put our treasures in the kingdom so that our hearts will be there also. (Notice Jesus didn’t say, “For where your heart is, there your treasure is also.” It’s not just a matter of the heart. What we do with our money really does count.) We are to care for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, etc. I don’t want to become legalistic but I also do not want to be disobedient.
Perhaps it comes down to our understanding of faith. If we think of faith merely as an intellectual assent to some truth then I guess we can ignore much of what Jesus said. However, if by faith Paul (and Jesus for that matter) is referring to how we respond to God then I think faith means more. Perhaps faith is our belief in Jesus as the risen Lord, our belief in the God who raised him, and our belief that God has done this so that we may live in such a way as to help re-create creation for God’s purposes. Faith in this sense calls us to so much more, not the least of which is to re-read the gospels to learn to obey everything that Jesus commaded as well as to read the rest of the New Testament in light of all that Jesus has commanded. This is a big task but it must be done.
As a pastor I find that teaching my congregation what Jesus commanded is not that difficult, assuming I understand scripture rightly. The difficult part is teaching obedience. Here I must confess that the first one to fail is often the preacher. Ouch! But if we take Jesus’s call to live in community seriously then perhpas we can sharpen one another and teach other how to obey.
Perhpas Mother Teresa can help us understand salvation by faith in Christ.