Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Confess that Jesus is Lord

On this Feast of St. Andrew, we hear a portion of Paul's Letter to the Romans in which he states "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Now, this may sound like a rather simple formula, and some people take it to mean that the words are somehow "magical". Nothing could be further from the truth.
Paul is writing to those in Rome who have come to know Christ. Many of them were Jews, familiar with the Jewish Scriptures (much of our Old Testament) as well as the many other teachings of the famous rabbis that were used to determine how to live. In fact, there was a great controversy over whether or not one had to continue to hold to the various laws and traditions of Judaism in order to be a follower of Christ. As Paul was writing this letter (56-58 A.D., he was certainly mindful that not so long ago (49 A.D.), the Emperor Claudius had ordered the expulsion of Jews from Rome because of problems arising from this dispute. In fact, it could lead to financial, social and even physical ramifications if one were to state that faith in Jesus as Lord was the most important thing needed, and that His new covenant had superseded that Moses.
Paul wanted to make it clear that there could be no compromise in "confessing" faith. Now the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "to confess" as meaning "to declare fain in or adherence to" in this context. By stating that a person had to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in the resurrection, Paul was making them admit that merely following a set of laws, no matter how good, was not what save you. He clearly wants people to know that salvation is founded in and based on Jesus Christ, the Lord. So, even though it would be a rather dangerous thing for the Romans to confess this, it was necessary.
Now for us, the idea of confessing Jesus as Lord may not seem very important. After all, we freely are able to declare belief according to whatever religion we desire, with no fear of retribution. But just because we are free to say the words does not mean we are done. We also have to put them into practice. Just by saying the words, the Roman followers of Christ were forced to live their faith. Once they were identified as a Christian (although that term was used in Antioch, according to the Acts of the Apostles), the were ostracized by other Jews and certainly not favored by the Roman pagans. We, however, are in a different world. Our faith, our beliefs are considered "private", and in fact society does not want to confront anyone's faith. Therein lies the problem. The unspoken prejudice against having faith impact the public aspects of our lives is a tremendous pressure. And this can result in our saying the words privately or in the comfort of our churches, but not really "confessing" belief. This is the challenge for us. Do we allow society to silence us, to keep us from speaking of our faith? Or do we confess and proclaim that Jesus is Lord? If a law was passed that made it illegal to be a follower of Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you? When was the last time you confessed - publicly and not in the context of church - that Jesus Christ is Lord?

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