(Rom. 10: 10)
“For with the heart one believes into righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10) writes St. Paul in his epistle to the Christians in Rome.
Before this, the Apostle expounds on a subject that was very common in his day, as it is in ours: what does a Christian need in order to be saved?
The Christians who had recently converted from Judaism still had deeply rooted in them the feeling that the way to God was through obeying the law of Moses to the letter, or in mathematical terms, that the sum total of good deeds equals salvation. Their closest of kin, who did not accept the Lord as their Saviour, remained in this belief.
However, the Apostle, with sadness in his heart, tells them that it is not quite that way. His Hebrew brothers, says the Apostle, run a good race, but they run off the path, not on it. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3).
The Lord Christ is the landmark: with Him is salvation, without Him, destruction.
The Apostle’s countrymen performed many good deeds, but they failed to do what is most important: they did not accept the Saviour. It is to them and their descendants that St. Paul says, “You can do all things but know this: that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
This was a significant issue in the Apostle’s day, both for Jews and Gentiles. It is, as I said, a significant issue in our day as well, only we are far behind St. Paul’s contemporaries. In his time belief and unbelief were not an issue at all. It was only a question of how one expressed one’s faith and of the paths that led to salvation or away from it. We are far behind them. So many godless and blasphemous things have surfaced in today’s world that among the weeds it is very difficult for a seed of faith to grow into a plant and to witness God in a fruitful way.
I have met scores of people, as I am sure you have, too, who say that they do not believe in any God, but they are convinced – and they will try to convince everyone else as well – that they live a moral life even without God and that they don’t see the difference. Even if that were true on the surface, it is a great self-deception. “God forbid a man without any brains to be your guide, and a Serb without faith to be your business partner” says the holy bishop Nikolai. Why? It’s a long story but true. People without any faith in God, if they truly exist, cannot do good. “He who loses his faith has severed the tie which connected him to the Creator and has instead held out his hands to Satan; he has put out the light of life in his soul and is stranded in darkness; he has strayed from the road and is wandering in a dangerous labyrinth; he has abandoned the ship of salvation and has given himself over to the mercy of the sea tempest and huge waves where certain death awaits him,” says Father Zivan Marinkovic.
I am not referring to the former World War II partisans, of peasant origin who had the law of God deeply rooted in their hearts by the faith of their forefathers. Even when they denied Christ they still lived by a set of Christian moral values. All their crimes were very often committed under orders of others who were under the influence of the Evil One.
You have heard the words of the Gospel, that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven men (Mt. 12:31). Our holy Bishop Nikolai explains this very well: “The ungodly man who hates and persecutes the truth of God is actually blaspheming against the Spirit. In the Gospel according to St. John it is written that on three occasions the Lord called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth (14:26; 15:26; 16:13). He who denies and mocks the truth, he also denies and mocks the Holy Spirit, and God Himself, who is both Spirit and Truth.
Zaccheus was forgiven his greed, the adultress was forgiven her sins of the flesh, the robber on the cross was forgiven his banditry and so many other sins were forgiven. Why not then the denial of truth, ungodliness and mockery of God the Spirit? Because there is shame and repentance in the former sins, but in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit there is none. With the other sins man still has a connection with God through fear and repentance. The other sins are due to human weaknesses, but blasphemy is obstinate. With other sins the soul is in darkness, but at least it desires light. With blasphemy against the Holy Spirit the soul is in darkness, but it claims that darkness is light. When a person has no desire whatsoever for salvation, then God does not wish to save him by force”, says our holy Bishop.
Not much better are those who, although they believe in God and obey His laws, keep this for themselves. Thus alienated from the rest of the people of God, they wither without ever bearing any fruit. They are like the fruitless fig trees that the Lord Himself condemned to fire (Mt. 21:19).
Marius Victorinus, a well-known Roman rhetorician, was a secret Christian, but because he was a man of good standing among the pagans, he did not dare to publicly confess his faith in the Crucified Christ. One day he visited St. Simplicianus and admitted to him that he was a secret Christian. The saint told him that as long as he did not confess his faith publicly and pray together with other brethren, he could not be considered a Christian.
“But the walls of a temple do not make a Christian,” said Marius Victorinus. “No,” answered St. Simplicianus. “But Christ did say, ‘For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’”(Mk. 8:38, Lk. 9:26).
Victorinus read these verses in the Gospels and reflected deeply. Soon he abandoned his love for human glory and power and began to attend church services regularly. (Zivan Marinkovic, The Best Educator).
I am sure you have heard many a modern day intellectual claim that the church is a mere institution which imposes limitations in their otherwise illumined minds. They are so self-sufficient that they insist that they are able to find their own “god” by themselves. You will also hear many Orthodox saying, “I believe in God and I pray to Him. He is everywhere and fills all things, and I don’t need a church in order to pray.” Both the former and the latter are under the influence of the Evil One. His goal is accomplished: he has managed to lure them away from the Church. He is likely to drag them into his dominion as easily as a wolf devours a sheep that has strayed from its flock.
The road that leads to God is not an easy one. There is no compromise with the powers of Hades. We cannot serve both God and the devil at the same time. We can only serve one or the other (Mt. 6:24). The road to God is narrow and steep, but it is clearly defined.
The Lord wants us to confess our faith at all times, not only by mouth, for not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 7:21), but neither will anyone who does not invoke the name of God. “Whoever fearlessly confesses his faith in Christ as the God-Man and the Messiah, to him shall the God-Man Jesus Christ be the confessor of his faith before the Father who is in Heaven, that is, the Lord will proclaim this person as His faithful servant and reward him with eternal life,” says St. Father Justin. “But he who denies Christ as God, he who is afraid of confessing his faith and denies Christ as his Saviour, will suffer most terribly, for the Lord will deny him with those dreadful words, ‘I do not know you.’”
You all know that for many centuries Christians were the victims of persecutions and killings. This was the case until very recently. Now, when there are practically no more physical persecutions, the Christians suffer a more cunning and therefore more dangerous threat to their faith.
We, the Christians of this age, should strive to answer this question: if there were persecutions of Christians today, would our persecutors be able to gather enough material to successfully accuse us of being Christians? If the answer is no, then we are guilty before God.