Many conservative Christians stress the necessity of holding specific beliefs rather than doing and acting certain ways toward others (perhaps because many Christians are taught that holding the right beliefs about God and Jesus and what Jesus accomplished on the cross is what assures them that God will forgive them regardless of their actions, so actions are of lesser consequence than right belief). Some passages in the New Testament appear to present the same view that belief trumps actions when it comes to salvation:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10 contains passages that some Christians have even nicknamed, “The Roman Road to Salvation.”
But looked at another way, one canʼt help but note that Mark 16:16 is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark but is part of what textual critics agree is a later added ending. While John 3:16 (from the famous “ye must be born again” dialogue) is a similarly dubious saying attributed to the historical Jesus. To see the case against its historical authenticity click here. As for Paul, he admits he never met the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the one depicted in the synoptic Gospels. Even Paulʼs interpretation of the meaning of Jesusʼs bloody death butts head with that found in Luke-Acts (See Part 1 of this series).
Give such questions, shouldnʼt one look deeper at how Jesus answered the question, “How Can I Inherit Eternal Life?” as seen in the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke)? In the synoptics Jesusʼs main teaching and concern was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” That was “the Gospel.” And in the synoptics you canʼt fail to notice that Jesus does little to try and get people to agree with specific beliefs “about” himself in order to gain eternal life. Jesus is depicted in the synoptics as advocating an approach to gaining eternal life that did not require outward showy religious displays or numerous rules, nor did he place major value on temple worship and blood sacrifices, instead he laid great stress on oneʼs relationships with others, as in his “Sermon on the Mount” Matt. chapters 5-7.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 7:12
Several times in the synoptics Jesus tells people to ‘love God’ and concentrate on storing up ‘heavenly treasures’ by ‘loving others,’ and to ‘follow Jesus’ in that respect:
“Good teacher,” one person asked [Jesus], “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the manʼs face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
Or there is the version in Matthew:
“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One Who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
There is also a Lukan version:
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
There is this additional teaching about how to gain eternal life that is also found in the synoptics:
“‘The most important one [commandment],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
“A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’”
Such teachings emphasize “doing” in relation to “how to gain eternal life.” This is not to say that Paul in Romans, nor the author of the Gospel of John, lack similar sayings, for they wrote:
“[God] will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life….”
“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
But, unlike the synoptics, Paul and the author of the fourth Gospel also have interpretations of who Jesus was that they tie up with their salvation messages:
“He who believes not [that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world] is damned already.”
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe… whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood…”
Romans 1:18; 3:22,25
But is blood sacrifice necessary for salvation? Jesus in the synoptics did not seem to think so when he instructed people to pray like this for forgiveness:
“Father… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matt. 6:12
“Father… forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke 11:4
Jesus in the synoptics taught that people who forgave the debts/sins of others would be forgiven by God without need of a blood sacrifice.
To sum matters up once again, as previously noted, Jesus is depicted as saying in Matthew:
“in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
If that sums up the Law and the Prophets, what need is there for much more to be said?
Or consider the parable of The Good Samaritan found in Luke, that ends, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10
Go and do. Doing is the main thing. Along with Godʼs direct and ample forgiveness regardless of oneʼs specific beliefs ‘about’ Jesus. In fact according to the Gospel of Luke one of the two thieves on the cross next to Jesus called Jesus ‘a man,’ but Jesus still promised him paradise.
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