“And that night there was a great feast in Cair Paravel, and revelry, and dancing and gold flashed and wine flowed.” – C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I had a conversation just the other day about “teetotalism” – the idea that Christians should not drink any alcohol at all. Now, teetotalism is not the point of this post, but since I’ve thrown it out there I should at the very least tip my hand. In Luke 7:33-34 Jesus contrasts himself with John the Baptist, noting that John was tagged as having a demon because of his restraint in food and wine, but Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard because he did eat and drink (and with sinners, no less). Some will argue that this does not necessarily imply alcoholic wine, but in the days before refrigeration wine needed some alcohol in it or it would quickly become rancid. So, did Jesus drink wine? I’d say it is almost sure that he did – wine with alcohol, no less.
At this the response of the teetotaler is swift and reactionary. “Well, that wasn’t wine with as much alcohol as ours!” Perhaps not, but “some” is some, and therefore breaks the code of the teetotaler. “Well, that was OK for them because they didn’t have refrigeration, but we don’t have to!” This supports the argument from its own premise, which is no argument at all. (Consider the flow of logic: “wine is bad, wine was tolerable for them because of sanitation concerns, we don’t have those concerns so wine is bad and we shouldn’t drink it.” But you can’t defend a premise with the premise itself.) “Well, maybe it is OK to actually drink wine, but we don’t actually need to drink it so it’s never the best choice.” Is survival the only purpose to life? I’m sure you don’t need to eat a steak to survive either, but sometimes life is a celebration and a steak sure does help – and that’s OK. Maybe wine comes in handy during a celebration too.
OK, this isn’t a post about teetotalism. I just want to note that for some people, teetotalism is so important, that the first thing that comes up in a discussion of the gospel and salvation is that this or that person will first need to stop drinking alcohol. I think this tendency, to attach our own pet “sins” to the message of salvation is a mistake. The message is big enough on its own, and the first step is big enough.
In a similar vein, I caught the Ravens game on Sunday Night Football last night. I remember a few years back reading that Ray Lewis (Ravens linebacker) had gotten saved, which is FANTASTIC! I also read how he was counseling younger players on their behavior – particularly their sexual promiscuity. Now, I agree with Ray that folks should show restraint from sexual promiscuity, it is good (long term) in and of itself simply from the standpoint of emotional distress and health concerns. But from the standpoint of salvation, it is not a useful discussion – and in fact may be counterproductive.
There are no “next steps” to consider in the salvation discussion, whether teetotalism (a philosophy with which I disagree) or sexual promiscuity (a topic on which the Bible is adamantly unambiguous). The first step is the biggest, and the rest will take care of itself. So what is that first step?
The most common biblical passage considered when discussing “salvation” is Romans 10, consider verses 8-13:
“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
OK, there you have it. First, one believes. The Bible picks up the role of belief, and faith, in other places too. Consider John 3:16 (all who believe on Him have everlasting life) and John 6:29 (the work of God is that you believe on Him who He has sent). These verses give us also the action induced by belief (and this is a big step) – “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.”
There really is no consideration beyond this one. “But what will I have to give up?” If you declare Jesus as Lord? I’d say you’ve already made a far bigger declaration than giving up this or that contrivance, or even this or that sin. “But, are there things that Jesus will ask me to give up?” Almost surely, but I’ll let Him work that out in and through you. You don’t need to count any of that ahead of Lordship.
“But the Bible says to count the costs.” Yes, it does (see Luke 14:25-28). But this counting of the costs is counting the cost of declaring Jesus as Lord, of loving Him more than even your family or your own life, of loving him more than avoiding the persecution that comes with it. This is the cost that we must count.
The Bible notes that He is the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2). Yes, there will be massive transformation in your life. Yes, you will look up 10 years from now and find that things you thought were impossible to live without are the farthest things from your mind. This is what He does in us, not stipulations we put on new (potential) converts when we’re proclaiming the gospel. The Lordship of Christ is necessary and sufficient; the first step is big enough.