If you weren’t a Christian, would you today declare, “Jesus is Lord,” if it meant being immediately arrested for treason?
There is something that the Apostle Paul said in one of his letters that, when he wrote said letter, was radical to state given what he was saying within the culture and laws of the time, but in today’s world, is not anywhere near as radical.
What did he say?
Romans 10:8b-9 – “This is the spoken word of the faith which we proclaim. If someone should confess with one’s mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in one’s heart that God has raised him from the dead, that one shall be saved.”
How has this become no longer radical like it was when Paul wrote it? In order to understand how, we must understand the implications of Paul’s statement within the culture and laws of the day. The law of the Roman empire was that allegiance was sworn to Caesar and he was lord, and only him. To declare another as lord was tantamount to treason, a crime worthy of death. But Paul says doing exactly this is the first requirement for entry into the new assembly that God created on Jesus as the Christ and the revelation of him as such. And this confession, this declaration, was not to be done in private; it was a public confession and, as such, a great and deep commitment had to accompany that confession.
This really came home for me this past week as I studied in preparation for yesterday’s sermon, “What’s in a Name?” This new assembly (I will not call it by one of its descriptive words – “church”) was made up of “called-forth ones.” These were individuals who were called forth by God and made the declaration of Jesus as Lord. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 declares that the only way one is truly able to declare, “Jesus is Lord,” is by the Holy Spirit. So, because of this, Paul, in proclaiming with his mouth the gospel of the kingdom, was advocating treason against the Roman empire. So, this was not a “wishy-washy” commitment. One’s life was potentially on the line here.
The other part (“believe in one’s heart that God has raised him from the dead”) was also radical. Not only would one be declaring treason against the Roman empire, one could be considered insane for believing that a person actually came back to life after being dead for three days. Think about it; if someone were to tell you that s/he saw a friend or relative of their’s walking around three days after death, we’d be seriously thinking that that person had lost it and wasn’t dealing well with the grief of the situation. Right?
So, not only was person making a treasonous statement (“Jesus is Lord”), but the impetus and basis for said declaration was something that could be considered insane. Talk about radical upon radical. Hence the reason why Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 states that if Jesus has not been resurrected, those who have declared Jesus as Lord as the most foolish of all people.
And because of the high potential of such a statement resulting in deprivation of possessions, liberty, and/or life itself, there was no room for lukewarm commitment. It was either all in or not at all.
I often wonder how commitment in today’s assembly compares to that of the 1st century assembly.