When asked who Peter thought Jesus was, he replied:

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16)

Jesus didn't praise Peter for giving a smart answer. Yes, the Lord did bless Peter for sharing these words, but he also made clear that Peter didn't come up with his answer on his own. Peter's answer didn't come through human insight. Jesus said it was revealed to him by the Fafther:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [TEXT]

Let's pause and think about these words of Jesus. Whether it's an episode of "Family Feud" or a teacher in class or the whispered voice inside our head, what do we expect to hear?

"Great answer, great answer!"

Our tendency is to give praise to the person who gives the correct answer.

In this situation with Jesus and his apostles, the whole interaction [CONTEXT] shows that Peter didn't have a clue what his answer meant. He had the right words, but not much else than those right words. He received these words through heaven's window with no idea what they really meant on earth, much less what they might mean for his own life.

So much of our approach to biblical truth today is about acquiring information and having the right words. It's like we're trying to become thumb drives full of biblical truth. The issue for Jesus, however, is not about having information. It's not about having the right words or the correct religious formula or saying things in the exact and proper way.

We can know words and miss what they mean for our heart's allegiances.

We can recite the truth, and the truth never challenges the conceptions we have of life in our minds.

We can proclaim the truth of heaven but never live it with grace so that truth is totally lost to us and to those around us.

We can say the words, but never be shaped into a true disciple of Jesus!

Jesus reminds us in his most definitive teaching on being disciples—the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7)—that knowing truth only makes us a fool if all we do is recite the words of truth and expect them magically to do something for us:

[Jesus told his disciples,] "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

...everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash" (Matthew 7:21-23, 26-27).

In a day where so many religious salvation peddlers offer quick and easy word formulas for people to be saved, Jesus' words appropriately sound harsh. When we command people to recite prayers or say words not even found in scripture, then give them assurance that they are saved, these words of Jesus are jarring... shocking... even confusing. In our day, there is little or no call for life and heart change (repentance), for following Jesus as Lord, or for placing our total trust in Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection in baptism. But all of these things were associated with believing and practiced consistently in the book of Acts when people came to Christ for the first time in the first century of Christianity.

So have we made faith mean something the Bible doesn't?

Have we reduced faith to saying a magic formula and getting the words right so we can feel good about our future?

Before you are ready to criticize me for trespassing into salvation by works, take a second to ponder a few things...

Re-read Jesus' words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and compare his words to our practices, formulas, and definitions of faith.

Think a minute about what happens to Peter in this story of his confession of Jesus' identity. He was divinely inspired to speak true words about Jesus' identity. He even believed those words based on his flawed definition of the terms.

What did Jesus say to Peter when this inspired disciple revealed his wrong-headed notions of what these words meant for Jesus?

What good Is having the right words when Peter rebuked Jesus' description of what those words would actually involve?

[Jesus] turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Faith isn't just about saying the right words. It never was. Yes, we have to believe the truth about Jesus. No one is denying that. But, faith is about trusting in what Jesus has done to save us and investing our lives in following Jesus as Lord because of what we believe. For us to have this faith, we've got to be willing to walk with Jesus as Peter did.

Like Peter, we're going to say and do some dumb, uninformed though often well-intentioned, things. We are going to have flashes of insight given to us through heaven's window and then be dumber than a hammer about what to do with those in our lives. However, the issue is not saying the formula, but following the Savior. We follow Jesus. We keep following Jesus even when we don't fully understand. That is what believing in Jesus means. We follow Jesus until our life is caught up into his life and his life becomes seen in our life. Being a follower of Jesus has never been about formulas or magical words (Acts 19:13-16; James 2:12-17); it's about Jesus and his way of life being formed in us (Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28-29). We are called to become JESUShaped!

To paraphrase James, "Words mean very little until faith puts our lives where our words are" (James 2:18).

Let's refuse to trust the formulas, the magical word sets, or the "easy believism" often pedaled today by those who want to notch their belts with the number of decisions they've led people to make. Instead, let's seek Jesus.

Let's have Jesus' words shape our lives.

Let's trust Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection as the basis of our hope.

Let's have our faith in Jesus call us to live a life like his.

Then, our words will match our lives, lives that flow from hearts of profound devotion, love, and trust. Which is, after all, a whole lot of what it means for us to truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, Israel's anointed one, the very Son of God!

The issue is not saying the formula but following the Savior and becoming JESUShaped!

This is the second of four devotional posts on "The Question" — challenging us to authentically answer the most important question of our lives:

  1. The Question.
  2. Heaven's Window.
  3. The Misunderstanding.
  4. Cruciformed Disciples.

The focus of these four articles will be Matthew 16:13-27 (ESV) — today's emphasis in bold:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."

But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

Emphasis added in bold for key focus.

Jesus images used courtesy of Free Bible Images and The Lumo Project.