There is a profound danger for the one who calls himself a Christian, yet takes for granted the spiritual realities of God’s grace and righteousness. To neglect them is to lose the opportunity to avert the eternal disaster of judgement and to forfeit the privilege of God’s amazing grace and love.
There are many instances in the Bible in which the Scriptures underscore this point for us. For example, when I read and prayerfully reflect on the passage in Matthew 8, verses 1-13, I am deeply moved in two ways.
The first is that this passage tells us of an encounter that Jesus has with an “ungodly” man. This persecutor and oppressor of God’s people, ultimately humbles himself before Jesus, declaring his recognition of Jesus as Lord and Savior (at least in a partial sense). There is no need to convince this man that Jesus is Lord, nor is it necessary to motivate him to seek out Jesus as Savior. It is clear to him that Jesus is Savior so he comes to Him with his appeal; it is obvious to him that Jesus is Lord so he humbles himself utterly, emptying himself of any notion of his right to Jesus’ help or expectation that Jesus humble Himself by going to the Centurion’s home. Since Romans typically viewed Jews as objects of contempt and Roman soldiers in particular had no qualms about forcing the issue and taking what they could from their subjects, this man’s attitude toward Jesus is quite out of character.
This man’s earnest plea for Jesus’ intervention as well as his perception of Christ’s worthiness are so remarkable that Jesus contrasts the man’s faith with the lack of it (and faith’s inherent qualities) in people who had been given every opportunity and resource to demonstrate genuine faith, yet did not. Faith is like that. When it is real, it shows up tangibly in a person’s life. Not as evidenced by a lack of trouble, problems, or sickness. Nor by the presence of comfortable and lavish possessions and surroundings. It shows up in the way a man or woman turns to Christ and trusts Him no matter what their circumstances, content in God Himself and not merely in how it makes us look or makes us feel. True faith moves the heart of its bearer to seek out God and His mercy in the big things of life, but also the “little things” of every day.
Many in Jesus’ day were going through the motions of faith (religious talk and activity), but did not have the substance of faith (namely, a genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ).
But there you have it. Religious activity does not prove faith – especially the soul-saving faith you and I desperately need. This realization, which is the second main way that this passage moves me, goes further than illuminating Jesus as Savior of the World (even of the Gentile Roman Centurion). It also includes a point that we would be unwise to pass over: that there is an eternal judgement reserved for all those who have not placed their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior no matter what religion or philosophy they supposedly subscribe to. That includes you and me. No matter what church or religion or good cause I may give myself to, unless I have personally received Him as Savior and Lord, I have only the destiny of eternal darkness before me to which Jesus referred when he spoke with that Centurion.
As far as receiving Him as Savior, He alone can save. I cannot save myself from hell. My “good deeds” do not outweigh the heinous crime of my rejecting Him. As far as receiving Him as Lord, I must now follow Him, seek to be like Him, learn His heart and walk in His ways. There is no alternative. It is natural to one who has been saved to deeply desire to know the One Who has saved him. Nor do I wish there to be an alternative. Following Jesus is the sweetest path one can know. The destination is beyond anyone’s ability to describe its glory and the fellowship with Him along the journey of life is a daily filling of peace and joy.
There is therefore a choice that we each must make. We may receive His invitation of coming to Him today. Or we may reject it. Even a delay however is a rejection. It is to put off the outstretched hand of Almighty God. It is to spurn the welcome of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is to say “no” to light and life. But perhaps today you hear His voice and you are ready to receive Him.
“…The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13 ESV).
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 24 ½ years, is the author of Led by Grace, The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com.” Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)