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Involving the Lips
February 24, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ROMANS 10:5-13

Last December three young people were hitchhiking. One of them was an exchange student who had lived in Manteca. They were picked up by a young couple. During the course of the conversation, the couple mentioned that they were on their way to San Francisco to attend a retreat and would  the youth like to come along? They made it sound so interesting and they were so friendly, the youth accepted. When they arrived, were greeted and began to get the program, the boy who lived in Manteca started going through the literature and saw the words Unification Church. He realized he was with the Moonies and immediately demanded to be allowed to go. They let him go, but they would in no way let the other two young people go. He went to the police and reported the “kidnapping”, but the authorities told him there was nothing they could do. 

I'm concerned about the increasing number of persons who are victimized and attracted by smooth talking missionaries of other religions. Even persons reared in a church can be confused and intimidated by conflicting claims of how we enter a relationship with God, what it means to be a Christian, what is the truth. I talked to a young woman this week who is being harassed and frightened by a zealous group who believe the end of the world is right around the corner. They are frightening her with wild schemes designed unbiblically by themselves about the end of time, telling her that it's very near, that she's not a Christian, and when Jesus comes in the rapture, she won't go. 

It’s time that we Methodists, as middle of the road Protestants, look at the basics of our faith. This Lenten season when we focus on the cross, when we remember Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross is a good time to ask these questions—What is a Christian? How do you get to heaven? What are the basics? What are the requirements? How do you know if you're in or out? What does the Bible say? Or rather, what does the church teach what the Bible says because the Bible is always interpreted. Even those groups that claim they let the Bible speak for itself are interpreting the Bible. They decide which verses to pick and  put together in their theology. 

So, what does our church teach about the basics? The passage is from Romans 10:9-10. Paul writes to the Romans, “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. For by believing in the heart, you are made righteous, and by confessing with your lips, you are saved.” That's it. That's the basics. There's no paraphernalia. There's no other trivia. No other requirements and restrictions need to be laid on it. That's it. It's so simple, it just pushes right by—amazing grace. Did you get the difference between the Old Testament lesson and the New Testament lesson? We are saved by our faith. Do you confess with your lips, and believe in your heart that you will be saved? 

Let's look  at the phrases that give us the basics. There are two in these verses: Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead. It was relatively easy for Paul's hearers to accept the divinity of Jesus. Because they were Greeks, they already believed In many gods, so it was very easy for them to relegate Jesus  among all the other gods. Therefore, it was crucial for those early Christians to underline and to underscore that God raised Jesus from the dead for this distinguished Jesus from all the other gods. To say that Jesus was raised from the dead meant that he died, and in order to die, he had to live. And in order to live, he had to be a human being. That distinguished him and made him unique among all the beliefs of that day. Jesus was a human being and God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus became part of the Godhead, part of the triune God, the Trinity. 

This claim made Christianity distinct from all of the claims at that time. What Paul is saying by God raising Jesus from the dead to you and me today is that the Christian first of all believes that Jesus Christ is the one unique act and revelation of God. Jesus Christ revealed God to us. All claims of other religions must be evaluated through the eyes of Jesus Christ, if you are a Christian. We do not believe as Christians in some vague, nebulous God which all other religions also worship. We don't believe there's a vague, nebulous God that everybody's trying to worship, seek and serve. We do not know what the other religions worship, we do not know what their god is, and what their ideas of their God is. All we know as Christians is that the God we seek, the God we worship, the God we serve is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. That's what we know. All of the other religions can make any claim they want. We do not judge them. We do not evaluate them. We judge our own. And we say that all we know of God is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. We identify God through Jesus Christ. We come to God through Jesus Christ, through the grace of Jesus Christ. Through the love of Christ, we come to God. Jesus purchased the ticket that gives us the right to God. When we get to the door, and the doorkeeper asks, “Who invited you?” we say “Jesus did.” And he says, “Welcome.” 

We come to God through Jesus Christ. We pray to God through Jesus Christ because it's in his name we come. We don't pray to any god. We pray to the God we know through Jesus Christ. Any prayer that is not prayed in the name of Jesus Christ is not a Christian prayer. It can be a very valid prayer. We don't judge. All we say is that it's not a Christian prayer if it's not prayed in the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we begin at the beginning which is Jesus, the one unique act of God and the revealer of God. 

The second phrase in Romans 10:5 is “Jesus is Lord”. Jesus is Lord means not only that Jesus is the unique revealer of God, but that  we have a relationship with Christ. Paul used the slave master relationship. The word “Lord” came out of slavery, uncommon to us today, but common in his day. He called himself a slave of Jesus Christ. That meant something to his hearers. In relation to the master, the slave obeyed. The slave was sensitive to the master’s needs. The slave identified through the master. The slave knew who he was, where he was and where he belonged. He had no life of his own. He belonged to the master. That doesn't have too much meaning for us today because we don't have that kind of relationship. But to me to say Jesus is Lord means Jesus is first priority. The first priority in a Christian’s life is Jesus—Jesus' values, Jesus’ standards, Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ beliefs, Jesus’ attitude. Jesus is our first priority. All other claims are secondary. All other values, all other standards, all other concerns about us are second to our concern about Jesus and our desire to serve and follow. Those are the basics Paul lifts up—belief in God, raising Jesus from the dead, and Jesus is Lord. “If by our lips confess that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” 

Now let's look at those two action words. Two verbs tell us what to do— confess and believe. The Jerusalem translation says, “If you believe with your heart.” The Good News translations and most of the other translations use the word faith—“If by faith you believe that God raised him from the dead.” Faith is the means by which we are put right with God—not by works, not by following somebody else's ideas, not by obeying rules, regulations and restrictions, but by faith we enter God's presence. We do not enter God's presence with a long list and say, “Look, God, what I've done. Look how good I am, what I've done, what I've not done.” It's faith by which we enter into God's presence. It's belief, it’s faith that God seeks, and God even provides that faith. That's the glory of the good news. God gives us the faith. If you say, “My faith isn't strong enough. I don't know if I'm a Christian, I don't think I can, I don't think I can always be faithful, I don't think I can always trust,” your faith doesn't have to be strong because God gives us the faith. 

Earlier in Romans, Paul makes a big point that it's God's power that saves us, not our faith. It’s God's power that gives us faith. It even says in Romans 8, when we don't know how to pray, God's Spirit prays for us. God takes over and does our praying. It is God's act. It's God's grace. By trusting in God, God even gives us faith, which is a gift. So the first act is to believe, to believe that Jesus has revealed God, and to believe that Jesus is our Lord, and can be trusted to be our Lord and our Savior. 

The second word of action is confess—“if you confess with your lips. “ Confess means to tell, to declare, to proclaim. The activity of faith in our heart is expressed through our lips. If an inner activity does not come up through the mouth, it probably is not very valid. For we are one person, we are a unity. The mouth is not separate from the heart, and whatever goes on in the heart comes out of the mouth. You can usually tell what's going on inside a person by what comes out of the mouth. The lips are involved. If a person thinks they believe something in the heart and it isn't coming out through the lips, it's not a very valid belief. We have sometimes adopted the precept that “actions speak louder than words” and we rationalized ourselves into silence. But if there's really activity in the inside, it has to come out through the lips. The lips must be involved. 

Speaking and declaring one’s faith are important for two reasons. First, it's important to confess because that reinforces the inner faith. You need to hear your own word. Public profession underscores and reinforces that inner faith. You must make an articulate verbal “Yes” In order for the inner faith really to have made a commitment. You need to sign the contract before you buy an article. You must say out loud “I do” before you're really married. You must say publicly “Jesus is Lord” before that inner commitment is really made. When you join the church, you make the public declaration to the whole world, “Jesus is my Lord and my Savior”. But that's not enough. Like in marriage, one time is not enough. You have to keep reminding yourself and keep saying over and over, “I love you”, and “I am married”. Likewise, to say “Jesus is Lord” must be more than one time. It almost should be said daily, “I am a Christian” —begin the day, before a decision is made, especially remind oneself, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is first. All that I do must be assessed according to the priority that Jesus is first. So it's important to confess because it reinforces the inner commitment. 

Secondly, it's important to confess, to speak, to proclaim, because the world needs to hear you. Not only do you need to hear you, the world needs to hear you and the people around you, the people in your family. In the world every day, you meet people desperately longing for a word from you. You may not realize it, but what they want from you is a word about what your faith means to you, of what Christ means to you. If someone said to you this afternoon, “I understand you go to church. Are you a Christian? What does it mean?” what would you say? Would you let the sidewalk swallow you up, or get a coughing spell? What would you say? If someone asks you, “Are you a Christian and why?” what would you say? Even though you're not asked that directly, people every day around you indirectly are reaching out to hear you. People could be greatly encouraged, helped and cared for if you spoke the word that Jesus is your Lord, and what that means in your own quiet, simple language, however you want to say it. 

One of our members told me recently of being in a group, none of whom went to church. As they talked about church, the whole tone of the group was of ridicule and the feeling that religion isn't important. Our member sat there, gulped, swallowed the lump and let the pitter patter in her stomach go by the way. Then she spoke up and told of her experience in the church, and what her faith means to her. She confessed that Jesus is Lord. “If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” (that’s all it takes) then here's the promise: you will be saved and by believing in the heart, you are made righteous. The Good News translation says, “If in faith, you believe that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be put right with God.” Righteous means being put right with God. Righteous does not mean a righteous life. Believing in your heart does not automatically make you live a morally pure life; that takes a whole lifetime to work at. By believing in your heart, you are put right with God. 

That's the beginning. This right relationship will be sustained all through one’s life. You will be saved, says Paul, through all human trials and temptations. Through judgment into eternity, you will be saved. That's the confidence. You don't have to wonder. You don't have to say “I think so you”. You don't have to say “I hope so.” You don't have to say “I guess so.” You can say “I am and I will because I've confessed with my lips and I believe in my heart and when I don't believe I know God gives me the belief. When I don't feel like I know, God still gives me the belief and sustains me. My feelings come and go, but faith is constant.” If we always felt saved, if we always felt right with God, we'd never need faith. Faith comes in the days we don't feel like it. Faith comes in the days we doubt. Faith comes in the days we wonder if we're on the right track. Then God gives us the faith to hold in there, hang in there and sustain. 

The promise is: If you confess, and if you believe you will be saved. Praise God.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris