There was some excitement among certain Republican Christians when Dobson said Trump had become a “baby” Christian and should be cut some slack on that basis.
Two problems with that:
- A novice at practicing the Christian faith is not someone we should automatically admire, and trust, and therefore surrender top leadership posts to. Paul says to beware of promoting novices. Well, of course.
- Democrats can win elections and do evil without pretending to be “born again” Christians – but Republicans pretty much have to profess Christian faith and in some way or other make good with the evangelical vote. So, for some of them, the timing does look very suspicious. In fact, for some of them in my experience, the spectacle is repulsive. This is one of those times.
Still – this all raises an even more crucial issue.
What DOES it mean to believe in Christ,
or, as it is often put, to “receive” Jesus?
Here is an answer. See if you agree. (This is from my new, short book, The Moral Priorities of Jesus.)
It matters a great deal what Jesus wants … what he loves and values –
that’s a big part of who he is.
If we don’t accept those things, then we really don’t accept him.
And if we don’t accept him – don’t even really like him –
how dare we say we believe in him?
a. The Gospels Insist – We Need to Believe in Him
To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44)
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30,31)
b. That is a Very Deep and Demanding Thing
It often shows as
• strong respect for him,
• fascination with his character and personality,
• humility before his wisdom and love,
• an attitude of thorough honest self-aware confession before his honesty, justice, and kindness
• longing to follow his teaching and wisdom,
• commitment to shape our lives under his authority,
• willingness to listen to him over self-promoting, self-aggrandizing religious leaders and groups,
• desire to serve the people in our world whom he is concerned to serve.
It is a very big thing – which is what we would expect if Jesus really is who and what we say he is.
c. Today’s Watered-Down Version
Unfortunately that requirement has been redefined in modern American Christian circles. It is now possible to imagine that we believe in Jesus when in fact we accord him a very small, in some cases almost nonexistent, level of respect and attention.
That doesn’t work. He is smarter than that, and expects us to be too.
Today church leaders usually do not ask us to surrender our lives to the teaching and wisdom and guidance of this Great One, Jesus. We don’t hear much, if anything, about what his teaching is, or what his actual guidance for our lives would be. How is that respectful?
They may, and often do, ask us to surrender our lives (or at least our money) to them or to their organizations.
And, of course, we do hear about a certain few “sins” that happen to be the ones our groups choose to talk about most. They also usually happen to be ones that Jesus did not emphasize or even mention. Also, they don’t appear publicly very often in our contemporary American Christian circles. How convenient is that?
A Common Prayer:
Today we are just asked to acknowledge something about who we think Jesus is. And we are usually asked to make a simple statement that we are sinners and need forgiveness (with no sins explicitly mentioned). These modern belief-requirements often come together in a short prayer something like
“Jesus, I acknowledge you as Lord. I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I invite you into my life as Lord and Savior.”
But even Adolf Hitler, in his public speeches to the German people in the 1930’s, referred to Jesus as “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Because he said things like that, many “German Christians” gave their allegiance to him as their “Christian” leader.
They were wrong.
d. Actually Believe in Him
Jesus himself said,
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?”
Now that’s the right question! “Why?” indeed!
“There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’s expense and have nothing more to do with him.” – Dallas Willard (The Great Omission, p13)
You see, to believe in the Lord Jesus, as the Bible presents the idea over and over – and as history shows our English word “believe” to actually mean – is to love, to deeply admire, to cling to as a source of wisdom and truth and guidance and care. To believe in Jesus has a very strong connection to what Jesus called the greatest commandment – to love God with all your being. It is a very high standard.
e. It’s Free – Anybody Can Do It
And it merits no special credit; it’s the most obvious, elementary thing that needs doing in human life. It gives no bragging rights whatsoever.
But it’s not imaginary; it is the most basic, gut-level reality and necessity. Nothing matters more.
f. Can You Believe?
- How can you believe in him if you don’t care what he thinks?
- Can you believe in him if, when you get down to it, you really don’t want to know about or invest in the things that he cares most about?
- Can you believe in him if you have no interest in living in a way that is pleasing to him?
- Can you believe in him if you are unwilling to commit to learning him and to following his values and priorities?
- Can you believe in him if being approved of by your friends or your peers is going to have more influence in your decisions and lifestyle than he himself?
- Can you believe in him if you don’t want to live in a world structured according to his values and preferences? That, after all, is what the new world he is bringing will be.
- Can you believe in him if you love money or status more than you love him?If you were to write or speak a statement to Jesus making explicit your truly believing in him … what might it say? What would you want it to say? What do you need to think through?
- Can you believe if you love being right, in your own opinion, more than you love being corrected by him, learning from him and living his loving, serving, welcoming priorities in this damaged world?
It matters a great deal what Jesus wants – what his moral priorities are – because, after all, what he loves and values – that’s a big part of who he is. If we don’t accept those things, then we don’t accept him. And if we don’t accept him – don’t even really like him – how dare we say we believe in him?
g. A Very Short Assignment:
If you were to write or speak a statement to Jesus making explicit your truly believing in him – in light of the things you just read – what might it say? What would you want it to say? What do you need to think through? Dare you write it out? He is gracious – if you need to edit it in days to come as your insight increases, he understands that. I say, give it a try.
This article is chapter 8 of my 40-page book, The Moral Priorities of Jesus. It is available at LULU.com.
Or here’s a pdf version.
The Table of Contents is as follows:
a. The Gospels as History vii
b. Paying Attention to Jesus vii
c. The Big Purpose of This Little Book vii
Introduction: Why Was He Rejected? 1
1 ◦ Jesus’ Love for God and Religion 3
2 ◦ Jesus Inverted Common Moral Ideas 5
a. Self-Satisfied Religion 5
b. Wealth, Power, Pomp – “The Powers That Be” 6
c. People Seen as “Less-Than” 6
d. What is Detestable? 7
e. Courage and Respect 8
3 ◦ Jesus And Religion Had a Difficult Relationship 9
a. Complaints About Religious Leaders 9
b. Some Very Serious Charges 10
c. Liberals and Conservatives 11
d. His Own Solid Reputation 12
4 ◦ Jesus Loved Ordinary People 13
5 ◦ To Jesus, Economics and Exploitation Were Moral Issues 15
6 ◦ For Jesus, The Invisible is Always More Important 17
7 ◦ Did Jesus Have an Ego Problem? 21
8 ◦ How Can We “Believe In” This Jesus? 23
a. The Gospels Insist – We Need to Believe in Him 23
b. That is a Very Deep and Demanding Thing 24
c. Today’s Watered-Down Version 24
d. Actually Believe in Him 25
e. It’s Free – Anybody Can Do It 26
f. Can You Believe? 26
g. A Very Short Assignment: 27
a. Here Was a Real Man 29
b. The Intersect of Money, Power, and Religion 29
c. His Independence 30
d. He Asks Us to be His Witnesses 30
e. How Will You Remember? 30