Sixteen years ago at Thanksgiving 2002 I began a journey that would ultimately take me from the Evangelicalism of my younger years to my becoming a Catholic in 2008 which I still am. During that time as a man dedicated to following the "Word" and Jesus I have had a problem and wrestled over seemingly contradictory means of what it means to be a Christian and how to be one. Evangelicals would say accept Jesus as your personal savior and you're saved. However I see in places like Matthew 25 where Jesus teaches it's by our works that we will be judged and our eternal destiny decided. Many might say the Bible contradicts itself and this is one of these contradictions. However I am inclined to believe there are no contradictions in the Bible simply things I do not understand. The following then is a result of praying, seeking answers and trying to understand what the Bible is saying and seeking reconciliation between seemingly to opposing points of view. Its represents sixteen years of seeking and is presented here as my views at the moment and as food for thought that we might wish to consider.
So then going back to my to the question I asked in my title "What does it mean to receive Jesus"? Is just accepting Jesus as savior enough? Some would say you need to be baptized, or confirmed, or speak in tongues, dress a certain way, believe certain doctrines and so on. All those are good and useful in defining who we are and how we see ourselves within the Body of Christ. However Jesus taught that it is possible to claim to know Him, do works in His name and yet not really know or be approved by Him.
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says the following:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"
For me then the question is how can I or we keep from becoming like those Jesus just described. Obviously it takes something more than words, beliefs or actions to be a true follower of Jesus. So what is it then that will allow us to be believers who Jesus will acknowledge on judgment day as His own and welcome into His kingdom?
First we need to understand that that it is not through human efforts alone that we can please Jesus. John 3rd chapter refers to being "Born Again". In the original Greek it means to be born from above. Thus this is something which is initiated by God. This is further defined when Jesus says there are two births water/flesh and Spirit. Flesh birth humans have been doing since the beginning of creation so the issue becomes how can you and I be born of the Spirit?
The Apostle John begins to show us in the first chapter of his Gospel. In John 1:12-13 it says,
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the ]right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
This begins to bring us to the crux of what it means to receive Jesus. As used here, receive has a threefold meaning.
A. Actively lay hold of or to take or receive
B. To lay hold by aggressively and actively accepting what is available or offered.
C. Accept with initiative, with the emphasis being on the volition or assertiveness of the receiver.
Thus we can see this is more than mere intellectual assent to something. Also more than just a onetime thing we do and that's it. It is something we have to actively be seeking after and accepting. Whether or not we will be successful in that pursuit will be determined by our attitude and will be a deciding factor on how well me may in fact find Him (Jesus) Again this has to come from the will of God not man.
In John 14:6 Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life, by which no can get to the father except through him. So what is the way Jesus is referring to? Is it just himself eliminating any other way to God or is there something else here that Jesus is telling us? The word used here for way in the Greek means route, distance, journey, highway and progress. Thus Jesus could be saying he is showing us the route, journey or highway to God. If that is the case then what is this journey or highway that leads to God?
We can get a hint looking at the words of Jesus quoted in John 14: 21,23.
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to himâ€¦If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
Jesus here tells us that those who love Him will keep his commandments. By doing this they will automatically be loved by the Father.. Also both Jesus and the Father will come and make their home with them. What does Jesus command us to do?
In John 13:34-35 Jesus reveals the answer to that question.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.Â By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
The answer, Jesus says, is that we are to love one another. That is also how people will know we are his disciples. What is this love that Jesus talks about here? As used here it means to love in a moral or social setting. It is to love as Jesus did, choosing to do God's will by living through Christ and his power in us. It is being and doing what the very essence of God is.
In I John 4:7-8 John tells us something.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love."
John tells us here that God is love. He also tells us that all who love are born of God. Please note here that this is not restricted to just Christians, but to all who love without exception. This leads to two questions I would like us to consider. First, how is this love shown, and secondly, why is love necessary?
First, in Acts 10:38 it tells us how Jesus went about showing love.
"â€¦how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
Jesus went about showing love by doing good and healing all who were being oppressed by the devil. This he was able to do through the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit, which anointing and power was given unto the Church at Pentecost.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, that whatever we do, if it is not done in love, profits us nothing. Why is this important?
In Matthew 14:14 we are told
"And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick."
Here it says Jesus was moved by compassion to do what he did. This is also mentioned several other times in the gospels. The dictionary defines compassion as sympathetic pity, and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. It is my belief that only through love is it possible to be able to keep and live the Beatitudes and have the love and compassion to fulfill the requirements of Matthew 25. If we have only rules without love then it becomes legalism and a bunch of rules and laws for us to keep. On the other hand if we have just love and no rules then we get into sloppy agape where anything goes and there are no absolutes. This then can lead to selfishness where it becomes all about what I want and my needs. However in love founded in God and Jesus we can do all that God requires.
What about the death of Jesus on the cross. We have been taught that Jesus had to die to placate and angry God so we wouldn't end up burning in hell forever. However is that the real message of the cross? Could there be another message that the crucifixion and the cross are intended to show us? In John 15:13 Jesus says
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."
This, I believe, is the message of which Holy Weeks points toward, and the resurrection seals. It is the message that loves triumphs over all, even death, and conquers. The ultimate example is shown us by the example of Jesus going to the cross, dying for us that through the shedding of his blood we could be set free. Then, in his resurrection on Easter morning, he triumphs over Satan and his demons, destroying forever their hold on humankind through the fear of death. This was the message of the early church that through the resurrection love triumphed and if we would accept that love we could be changed and also change our world. This, they believed so firmly, that they refused to take up arms to hurt anyone or to serve in the military. Many went willingly to their deaths without resistance and helped plant the seed of what has become the Church universal of today..
In closing then, it is love which is all important. It is love which makes our rituals, creeds, beliefs etc. meaningful, and without which they just become empty, meaningless, a lot of commotion, but going nowhere. It is how we avoid becoming like the "believers" we talked about in the beginning of this study who claimed to know Jesus, but did not. It is the message, I believe, that should have been preached by the church all along and had been done much of sad history of the last two centuries could have been avoided. It is as people learn to love that change for the better can come. Again I am not against creeds, rituals etc which are good. However, let us remember that love is what will bring people to Christ. It is being the real deal by letting Jesus live and shine through us that will cause people to sit up and take notice. Let us embrace, walk and live in that love, changing our world and helping to usher in the visible kingdom of God here on earth