Minister's Moment: Necessary and Sufficient
Necessary and Sufficient
To be honest, I haven’t taken many philosophy classes in my long career as a student. I admit that I’m not fond of the discipline. That method of thinking and arguing is one I don’t find appealing. If others wish to do that sort of thing it’s fine with me; just don’t expect me to get involved.
Having said that, I do remember one thing from my slight brushes with philosophy—the phrase “necessary and sufficient.” Certain conditions are necessary for events to occur. For example, in order for it to snow, the temperature must be in a certain range and the air must have a certain amount of moisture. Without these conditions, snow becomes impossible, even if one has the best snowmaking machines available. There are also cases in which certain conditions are “sufficient” for an event to occur. In some new cars, rain hitting the windshield turns the wipers on. The driver doesn’t have to do a thing. The rain is sufficient to make the wipers work.
In this passage from Romans, Paul tells us that two conditions are both necessary and sufficient for salvation. We understand the need for salvation. If our expenditures are greater than our income, we need to be saved. If we’re drowning, we need to be saved. If we’ve gotten ourselves into any situation we can’t get ourselves out of, we need to be saved. Therefore, the first necessary condition for salvation would be the recognition of the need for salvation—necessary, but not sufficient.
Paul states quite clearly that, once we perceive the need for salvation, there are only two conditions that are both necessary and sufficient. He says (v. 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.”
That’s it! That’s all! That’s sufficient! Nothing else is necessary.
Because we are human, we try to make things more difficult than they really are. Churches, I’m sorry to say, spend a lot of time trying to surround Paul’s statement with doctrine, dogma, qualifying conditions—anything to make their little corner of the truth into the absolute truth. But Paul makes it quite clear that nothing else is needed. Confessing and believing are all it takes.
In setting up this verse, which is central to the whole passage, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy. Moses, in his farewell speech to the Israelites, has just finished laying out for them the blessings that will be theirs if they serve God, and the curses that will accrue to them if they don’t. Then he says (my adaptation): “It’s not difficult. You don’t have to climb up to heaven to find the answer [remember the Tower of Babel?], or cross the ocean. The answer is close to you—in your mouth [confession] and in your heart [belief].” Paul, in his adaptation, adds seeking Christ to Moses’ words, but the meaning remains the same. We don’t have to send out search parties to find salvation. We don’t have to belong to a certain church, or subscribe to a set of religious beliefs. We don’t have to be part of a particular political party, or sign a loyalty oath, or pass some litmus test. We only have to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead by God to become Lord of the universe, and confess that Jesus is our Lord, and we will be saved.
The last verse in this passage makes it clear that God’s salvation is open to everyone. We don’t have to follow any specific guidelines or belong to a certain ethnic group to be eligible for salvation. Paul, quoting the prophet Joel, says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (emphasis mine).
Remember John 3:16?