Sunday School Confusion
As our little Sunday School class has been studying through LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life: Unvarnished Truth: Life’s Greatest Story, this past week’s lesson was a disappointment.
Previous lesson titles included, One Great Creator; One Great Problem; and One Great Savior. All were fine. But the title of this week’s lesson (Session 5) was: One Great Commitment.
I think you can already smell trouble.
The author had been building up to explaining the saving message. And so far, the last few lessons has concentrated on Romans. It would have been very easy for the author to pick out a passage where Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works.
But it was not to be.
Instead of clearly teaching the only way to be justified is through faith apart from works, the author went to Rom 10:1-3, 8b-13 in order to teach we are saved by a medley of “living in submission to and under the rule of Jesus Christ,” having an “outward confession,” an “inward attitude of trust,” a “public pledge of allegiance,” and, as the title indicates, by having “commitment.”
The author even went out of his way to attack the faith-alone message:
“Confessing and believing are not a form of ‘easy believism.’ Far from it. ‘Easy believism’ teaches grace without repentance, salvation without commitment. Many want Jesus to save them from hell, but they don’t want to live for Him. But we cannot accept Jesus as our Savior without embracing Him as Lord. Submitting to Christ’s lordship is essential for salvation” (p. 66).
In other words—despite what Paul says in Romans about being justified by faith apart from works (Rom 3:20, 28; 4:5; 5:1)—the author was strongly implying that works are necessary for our salvation. What else could he have meant by contrasting “easy believism” and repentance/submission/commitment? Obviously, those things are something more than simply believing. Those are works.
Now, if the author had faithfully followed Paul’s argument in Romans 10, and meant that commitment and submission were necessary for our sanctification and for our temporal salvation, I would agree. But the author was speaking about the condition of justification. Submission and commitment are required to be justified, he was saying, and that is absolutely false. We are justified by faith, apart from works. We are born-again, simply by believing in Jesus, not through our submission or obedience.
The author put the cart before the horse.
The Hammer of God
It reminded me of a passage from my favorite novel, Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God. The novella is set in Sweden. This particular scene involves the first meeting between a young seminary graduate named Fridfelt, who is confused about the condition of salvation, and his first conversation with the old Lutheran rector who will be supervising him…
Fridfelt seated himself on the sofa. He felt that he must not put off confessing where he stood. This strange old man with his brandy and his soldiers should at least learn what kind of assistant he had gotten.
“I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer,” he said. His voice was a bit harsh.
He saw a gleam in the old man’s eyes which he could not quite interpret. Was approval indicated, or did he have something up his sleeve?
The rector put the lamp back on the table, puffed at his pipe, and looked at the young man a moment before he spoke.
“So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that. What do you believe in?”
Fridfelt stared dumbfounded at his superior. Was he jesting with him?
“But, sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer.”
“Yes, I hear that, my boy. But what is it that you believe in?”
Fridfelt was almost speechless.
“But don’t you know, sir, what it means to be a believer?”
“That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy. I ask only what it is that you believe in.”
“In Jesus, of course,” answered Fridfelt, raising his voice. “I mean—I mean that I have given him my heart.”
The older man’s face became suddenly as solemn as the grave.
“Do you consider that something to give him?”
By this time, Fridfelt was almost in tears.
“But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”
“You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy,” he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor’s face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit oneself to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is” (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, pp. 122-123).
Like the young seminarian in the novella, the author of the LifeWay Bible Study believes we are saved by giving ourselves to Jesus—by offering Him our commitment, our submission, and our hearts. He doesn’t realize all that amounts to a “rusty old can on a junkheap.” It’s just works salvation. Teaching people that will not lead them to be saved at all. As the old rector told Fridfelt, believing you are saved by giving Jesus your heart means you will not be saved.
The only way to be saved, is to believe. That is the only condition. Believe in the Redeemer for life eternal, and you will have it. Paul said the Jews were zealous for God but not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2). Ironically, the same could be said for the author of the LifeWay study.
Going through that Sunday School lesson, and the confusing message it taught, only reminded me of how important it was to be zealous according to knowledge, that is, according to the knowledge Paul taught so clearly in Romans, i.e., that the only condition to have everlasting life is to believe in Jesus for it.