In chapter seven of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explicitly tells us that we must build on the rock. This is defined as hearing His words and obeying them. Those who hear His words and do not obey them build on sand, and will have a great fall. In the words of Christ:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
In context, “these words of Mine” refers to His teachings in the entire Sermon on the Mount. Interestingly, the first complete Christian apology (proof), composed by Justin Martyr and written to the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius, emphasizes these teachings. After detailing many of the specific teachings of Christ in his First Apology, Justin says this:
And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word: “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. For whosoever heareth Me, and doeth My sayings, heareth Him that sent Me. And many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in Thy name, and done wonders? And then will I say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity. Then shall there be wailing and gnashing of teeth, when the righteous shall shine as the sun, and the wicked are sent into everlasting fire. For many shall come in My name, clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly being ravening wolves. By their works ye shall know them. And every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.” And as to those who are not living pursuant to these His teachings, and are Christians only in name, we demand that all such be punished by you.
Justin’s understanding of these teachings is not unique to him. There is little doubt upon reading their writings that the early church unanimously understood Jesus’ teachings to be supremely authoritative and to be taken quite literally.
Unfortunately, a modern understanding of the Gospel almost presupposes the need for a careful exegesis of Paul’s letter to the Romans. However, this relegates the actual teachings and example of Christ to a secondary position. Yet Jesus Himself said no student is greater than His master (John 13:16 and 15:20). Interestedly, Jesus’ first two commands (proclaimed throughout the Gospels) clearly articulate the early church view of the Gospel; that is, repent and follow me! The Gospel according to Jesus is turn from your sins and follow Him. Turn from the world, the kingdom of darkness, sin, selfishness, hatred, and submit to the lordship of Christ, the Kingdom of God, righteousness, holiness, obedience, and love. This is the true Gospel. Christ’s atonement (that is, His incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection) were accomplished to facilitate this specific end.
God did not simply send Jesus to suffer and die so as to satisfy His own justice. Christ was not merely a substitute for our own just punishment for errant behavior, and He did not simply come to earth to take away the penalty of our sin. If this were true, why then did Jesus teach at all? Why did He show us how to live if the atonement was simply a legal transaction?
This “satisfaction” model of the atonement, though widely accepted by Protestants and Catholics alike, was not introduced until about 1100 AD by Anselm, the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. For 1100 years, this form of teaching was foreign—foreign to the Apostles, the early church, and everyone else. Yet, it is upon this foundation that the modern Gospel firmly rests. The result: a Gospel of “easy believism.” Since the penal substitution or satisfaction theory of atonement cleanses those who believe through Christ’s death on the cross, the work starts and finishes on the cross. Therefore, no repentance, no obedience, no holiness, no righteousness, no fruit, and no change of allegiance establishing Christ as Lord is deemed necessary in the one who professes to believe. The end is a “salvation” that does not require a heart turned to God. The result is a “gospel” quite at odds with the Gospel according to Jesus; “repent and follow me” is replaced with simply “believe in me.” This is one of the greatest deceptions the enemy has ever introduced to humanity. Satan, as he did in the Garden, again says, “Hath God really said?”
A clear understanding of why God sent Jesus to earth—that is, the incarnation and atonement—will lead to a proper understanding of salvation and even eternal security. So let us continue to discuss these vital doctrines. But before we do, let us discuss God’s nature with respect to humanity: just or merciful? —— [Coming up in our next post].
– Marc Carrier