In Mark's gospel, Jesus comes proclaiming the "gospel of God," saying, "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the gospel." The last three words in this statement have always stood out to me. Most good news I am predisposed to believe. I think that this is because most of what I consider good news already conforms to what I value or believe. But this good news is connected to the word "repent," which indicates that believing might require me to see the world differently. Belief might require quite a risk, and seeing this announcement as good news might fight against my natural inclinations.
Whether or not you believe that this announcement of Jesus constitutes good news, the truth is there is no hope for anything beyond the way things are now unless there is some announcement of a reality that requires us to see things differently. And in the New Testament, the thing to believe to make a difference is often the resurrection.
Paul says in Romans 10, "if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." So, here's a reflection on "believe with your heart" and "you will be saved" in anticipation of Sunday's sermon.
I am convinced that "believe" in the New Testament means more than just intellectual assent. Believe here is something rooted in the heart, in our will and imagination. I want to be careful here not to make belief a quantifiable, a measurement by which we are thrown into perpetual anxiety about whether or not we truly believe. For instance, I think it is possible to "believe with your heart" and still entertain doubt, to still have moments of despair. What I think Paul has in mind here is the notion that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus (not the belief in resurrection in general, but belief in the specific person Jesus and what his life represents--that God honors this particular existence) evokes an entirely different world of possibility with an entirely new set of commitments and practices. And its not hard to tell if your life is oriented in a different direction in anticipation of a different reality even if we lack purity or consistency.
The most obvious difference here is that we no longer set our affections in life as if death has the final word. And this sets in motions all kinds of other commitments. We reckon time differently. It would be hard to prove from my life perhaps, but I think it would make mid-life less of a crisis. It would change what counts for progress or success and change our evaluations around words like strong and weak. And these kinds of changes are important in embracing the particular life to which Jesus calls people. The life of the Kingdom of God is full of risk. It requires us to love enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the other mile, to always forgive. These kinds of commitments are unsustainable, and have been deemed by many Christians impractical and unrealistic, apart from a belief in the heart that God raised the one who lived like this from the dead. It is belief in the resurrection that makes sense of language like "whoever would save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Kingdom will save it." This life is never wasted. God always honors it.
And this is what saves us. It's not simply checking the box "true" next to the statement "God raised Jesus from the dead." "Saved" is the actual lived existence of people who have chosen to live in a life framed by the world imagined by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
On a personal note, I frequently despair here. I often find myself living within a different frame of reference that suggests that I am the only one that can guarantee the kind of life I want or deserve or need. And I have from time to time serious doubts about the possibility of an actual resurrection in the first place. I think "believe in the heart" has to combine both the intellectual and practical side of this equation (notice here that I am not contrasting head and heart, intellect and emotion). There are times when my practice fails to point to my belief in this reality. In times like that, my understanding keeps me in the game. And in those times when my understanding fails, my commitments to practicing a particular way of life keeps me in the game. And all of this under the prayer, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."