On occasion, we don’t know exactly how often, Jesus would deliver a saying so hard that it would seem as if he was trying to drive people away. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part of me.” Unless you sell all your possession, you cannot follow me.” “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.” “Unless you believe that ‘I AM’…
You can interpret his intention in several ways. Maybe he was trying to weed out the casual followers from among the true believers. Or perhaps he was trying to help those who followed him realize the cost of discipleship. In either case or both cases, when faith and following came too easy or too superficial, he would shake things up with one those hard sayings.
An unchallenged or unexamined faith is often superficial. For instance, When Christians who have grown up in a Christian home or Christian society are asked about the incarnation, they often respond, “Oh yeah, of course I believe Jesus was God come in the flesh.”
Whoa!!!! Hold on their partner. What do you mean “of course.” Do you realize the difficulty or implications of what you just said?
Dr. Gordon Fee, a leading New Testament scholar, put it something like this: Anyone who has not struggle mightily with the imponderable idea of the incarnation, how God could put on flesh, how a man could be divine… doesn’t realized the significance of that belief even though they have believed for their whole life without ever doubting. With the hard sayings; Jesus challenged their faith in order to highlight what an amazing thing they were being asked to believe.
THE ZERO-SUM GAME
I am reminded of the old song by the Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in which the devil wagers a golden fiddle against a Georgia boy’s soul on who is the best fiddler. Faith in Christ is likewise an all or nothing bet.
A little story from history illustrates the point. Sir Isaac Newton was famous for working out the details of gravitational theory, for inventing calculus, and for his belief in God. However, belief for Newton (according to the story I read) was not a trinitarian belief. In other words, he did not believe in the incarnation or the deity of Christ and therefore would not join the church, which was a requirement for his teaching position.
Newton’s defense was that to believe and acknowledge a man to be god was the highest form of offense against the one true God. Newton asserted that such a belief would be doing the very thing that the apostle Paul condemned, “worshipping and serving the creation rather than the creator.” According to Paul’s reasoning (Romans chapter one) even people who are ignorant of divine revelation will be judged for worshipping a man as God because they would have reject intuitive and self-evident truth.
There are certainly people who casually believe and worship Christ as a means of hedging their bets – just in case it is true. In their minds, if Christ is not who he claimed to be, well then, things will certainly work out because they were at least sincere.
Not so. The nature of the Christian faith is this: If Christ is raised, if He is Lord, if He is Judge, if He is divine, then to believe in him and to follow him gains you eternal life. If he is not, then you have committed the greatest of all sins – worshipping a man as god or, simply put, idolatry in the first-degree.
If you think you live in a place where there is no personal risk to believe in Christ (Nashville Tennessee, for example), you are terribly, terribly wrong. Faith in Christ is the ultimate a zero-sum game, meaning that the winner takes all and the loser loses everything. In this case, gaining eternal life or losing your soul.
So, how much are you or I willing to bet on our faith? If I believe in Christ and I am correct, I gain eternal life. If I am wrong, I am without excuse and bear the punishment of a conscious, intentional, and informed idolater.
I believe that Jesus was the incarnate son of God, that he died for my sins, that he rose from the dead, that he ascended to the right hand of the father, that the world will be judged through him, that he offer forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe.
Faith in Christ as a zero-sum game is like one of those hard sayings. And it has the same effect. Understanding what it is that I must put on the line to believe, not only awakens me to the fact that I cannot do this casually or superficially, it deepen my appreciation of its value.
So, what do you believe? Are you willing to bet your eternal soul upon it? The fact is that our souls are already on the line, like it or not, and we all have to choose upon what we place our faith.