Since it’s Easter week, I want to resurrect a discussion I participated in over at Evangelical Village a week or so ago (unfortunately, the site and the original discussion are no longer available.) It began when my friend Matt posed a simple but important question:
“What must a person know in order to be saved? What theological knowledge must a person know in order to become a believer?”
Let me say up front that I don’t want anyone to think I’m being critical of Matt here. I love my brother, I recommend his blog, and I know that he was doing what he always does very well–asking thought-provoking questions, and involving others in the discussion. I appreciate that.
The thrust of the post was that it probably isn’t necessary to “know” much to be saved, but you do have to “believe.” One commenter gave the example of the thief on the cross. He knew very little, but he believed in Jesus and was saved.
In the original post Matt had asked:
“If one would take the stance that a person must have a knowledge of personal sin and the sacrifice of Jesus, then would you say that God cannot save a person by merely reading John 3:16? … We need to separate the ideal from the necessary.”
God can do whatever He wants, but essentially I felt that this approach to faith set up a false dichotomy between what we know and what we believe. I think that what we believe (or who we trust) is necessarily built on a foundation of what we know.
I pointed out that Paul said we must believe in our heart that God raised Christ from the dead (which assumes we would have to first know that he was in fact raised) in order to be saved (Romans 10:9-11). That prompted Matt to ask:
“So Barry, does one have to know the Resurrection to be saved? Or could God save someone just by reading John 3:16?”
I replied (with a few edits included here):
I think that in Paul’s mind (which is the mind of the Spirit) understanding the resurrection falls into the category of “the necessary” rather than “the ideal.” In addition to the passage I quoted earlier (Romans 10:9-11), Paul considered the resurrection essential to the gospel:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Not only was the resurrection essential to the gospel, the gospel was essential to salvation. That’s evident in this passage from the tiny (but massively important) word “if” in the phrase: “by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (i.e., the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus).
It’s also evident in other passages. The gospel (again, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, according to 1 Cor. 15) is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16)
We’re saved by believing in Jesus, but what Jesus is that? One who was just a great moral teacher? One who was just a prophet? One who was willing to die for what he believed in? Or one who is defined by the content of the gospel? I believe it’s the latter. Which gospel and which Jesus one believes in really, really matters. That’s clear from the following passages:
“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” (2 Cor. 11:4)
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9)
I’ve continued to think about that discussion. It’s certainly possible that I’m wrong, but at this point, I stand by my conclusion. Our belief in Christ is not properly focused, and therefore unable to save, without a clear understanding of Christ’s death for our sins, and his resurrection on the third day.
So…what do you think? Is it necessary to believe in the resurrection of Jesus to be saved?
…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.’ (Rom. 10:9-11)
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17)