I’m surprised the internet didn’t break after a well known pastor tweeted Monday his suspicion that President Obama didn’t know God. You gotta love social media. Or not.
At least it provoked me to go back and read how the Bible defines Christian faith and subsequently the articles I could find on President Obama’s claims of Christianity.
Romans 10: 9 … if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
After reading Obama’s claims of Christianity, I thought back to my experience growing up in Christian fundamentalism. Keywords in that experience: apostasy, heresy, and separation. We separated from those who denied Christ (or didn’t speak of Christ with the precision we did). We also separated from those who didn’t separate from those who didn’t speak of Christ with precision. And we questioned the salvation of a lot of people who claimed similar belief in Christ because they didn’t show “fruit” as fundamentalists defined it.
In that world, John Piper was questionable because of his associations with perceived apostates. John MacArthur was out because of a book he wrote about the blood of Jesus. Michael W. Smith and Steve Green were considered Christians (most likely), but we shouldn’t listen to them or fellowship with them because of the beat of their music. The list could go on, but you get the picture.
As I navigated that upbringing while studying the Bible on my own, I noted some straightforward passages, particularly Romans 10:9-10 which became a mantra in my head to help me navigate the squirrelly way the gospel was presented by those fundamentalists claiming a superior understanding of it. Romans 10:9 is straightforward, but it’s not the only verse that is. See also John 3:18, 20:31, I John 5:1, among others.
But Jesus gives us another interesting principle in Matthew 7:20-21 that seems to open a wide door to questioning others’ salvation regardless of what they claim to believe about Christ.
“Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
This presents a conundrum. The Bible says if you believe in Jesus you are saved, but not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Thankfully, if you read the whole of Matthew 7 and see the discussion in context, things become a bit clearer.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The context involves false prophets (people who claim an authority to speak God’s truth) that come to you in sheep’s clothing but are actually ravenous wolves. These are ones who may claim to cast out demons and give prophecies in Jesus’ name according to this passage. While they may call Jesus Lord, there is no evidence that they call Him Christ. That is likely an important distinction. Nevertheless, they are recognized by their fruits. Jesus doesn’t describe these fruits in detail here, but the Bible is the best commentary on itself, and Paul does discuss the fruit of the Spirit in clear terms.
Gal. 5:22 … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
If you put these passages together and let each reflect on the other, we see that the absence of love, joy, peace, and so forth in prophets who claim to cast out demons and give prophecies in Jesus’ name is a red flag. I’m not sure the end result is that we can question their salvation per se, but Jesus’ instructions definitely raise a red flag.
On the flip side, I do not see how this warning reflects on President Obama, and I personally am uncomfortable raising the bar of faith beyond what Scripture gives. When someone says they believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, I’m concerned that we deny the simplicity of the gospel if we cast doubt upon it.
If you go back to the heart of Matthew 7, we see Jesus fundamentally teaching on the need of self-examination over other-examination (Judge not that you not be judged …). In the case of the social media statement that started this discussion, raising questions of judgement on another, as Jesus accurately predicted, then raised questions of judgement upon the one making the original statement. There is wisdom for us all to take away from this.