The gospel message is, in itself, simple. Paul explains the gospel in two verses in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Jesus Christ died on the cross on Calvary to pay the debt which we owe for our sins. He was buried and lay dead in a borrowed tomb for three days. But, on the morning of the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. After 40 days, Jesus ascended back into heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus Christ was crucified in order to pay a debt that you and I could never pay for ourselves – the sin in our lives which has separated us from the presence of God.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (NIV)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to follow Him in obedience. It is not just a plea to make a “decision for Christ” or to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” The gospel of Jesus Christ frees people from their sins. But it also confronts and condemns the hypocrisy of those who are only outwardly religious. The gospel of Jesus Christ is an offer for forgiveness and eternal life to those who would repent of their sins. But it is a rebuke to those who do not live a life in pursuit of righteousness and holiness.
Matthew 23:25-26 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (NIV)
We all know of people who have made a “decision” for Jesus Christ at some point in their life, and who may have even attended church for some period of time, but then have fallen away from the faith. Where is the evidence of the pursuit of holiness in this person’s life? Were they really saved? In 1991, a major denomination in the United States began a “decade of harvest”, and garnered some 294,000 “decisions” for Christ in the first year. Only 14,000 of the people remained in the church at the end of the decade.
However, many people who make “decisions” for Christ don’t fall away. They become a nominal member of the local church and perhaps even moderately involved in the activities of the church. But the lives of these people do not indicate that there has been any real change. While they may attend church, the focus of their lives and passions remains unchanged and fixed on worldly things: worldly music, worldly television, worldly movies, worldly dress, alcohol, drugs, pornography, and promiscuous sexual activities. But more than all these worldly things, their life has not been surrendered completely to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And sadly, the modern evangelical church gives these people assurance of their salvation because there is never a call for anyone to make a radical examination of their lives to make sure they are truly in the faith.
James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (NIV)
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (NIV)
How is it that we have filled the church with people who are outwardly religious but do not pursue a life of righteousness and holiness? It is because of the insipid gospel message that has been preached in the typical evangelical church today. We invite people to become Christians by extending them the love of Jesus Christ without ever telling them why they need Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel message is foolishness to those who don’t know they are sinners; in fact, it is offensive to insinuate that a person needs to be saved from their sins when they do not comprehend that they are a sinner. The average person, if asked why they think they are going to heaven when they die, answers “because I’ve been a fairly good person. God is a God of love and he would never condemn me to hell. I’m not a serial killer.” The average person has no clue how disgusting their “acceptable” sins are before a holy God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (NIV)
Isaiah 64:6-7 “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.” (NIV)
Jesus’ words about eternal life give hope to believers, but give warning to those who take salvation lightly. The cost of following Jesus Christ is high, the way is narrow, and few there are who truly find it. Many who think they have called Jesus as Lord in this life will find that he really never was their Lord and will be barred from entering the kingdom of heaven.
Luke 9:23-25 “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (NIV)
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (NIV)
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV)
The modern church, by and large, ignores these warnings. The normal view of what is required for a person to be saved has grown broader and shallower. The portrayal of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in preaching and witnessing has become indistinct. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find a church willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person’s behavior shows any evidence of a changed life or a commitment to obedience to Jesus Christ. In this way, faith has become merely accepting some facts about Jesus Christ instead of a life surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NIV)
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (NIV)
We should learn from the pattern used by Jesus Christ. On two different occasions, proud, arrogant men asked him “How can I have everlasting life?” What did Jesus point them to? He pointed them both to the Law. (see Luke 10:25-37 and Luke 18:18-23) One of these men was an expert in the Law who hated his neighbor. The other man was a rich, young ruler who loved his money more than righteousness. And to both of these men, Jesus pointed to the Law as the way to eternal life. Not because the Law could save them, but because they were not convicted that they were sinners. Peter uses this same pattern in his messages in the book of Acts. In his messages, he first points his hearers (particularly the proud, arrogant Jewish leaders) to the sin of rejecting and murdering Jesus Christ, then he tells them to repent. To overlook sin in presenting the gospel is sure to result in producing a church filled with false converts.
Romans 3:19-20 “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (NIV)
Read the words of Martin Luther, the great Christian reformer from the 16th century, on the need for teaching the Law. “And last of all, which I should never have foreseen or once suspected, Satan has raised up a sect such as teach that the Ten Commandments ought to be taken out of the church, and that men should not be terrified by the Law, but gently exhorted by preaching the grace of Christ.” Did you notice how Luther described a church that does not teach the Law in such a manner that people don’t come under a conviction of their sins? He calls then a sect created by Satan.
When the presentation of the gospel message is devoid of the conviction of sin, another reason must be found for sinners to respond to the gospel. Modern evangelism, therefore, presents the gospel message as a “life enhancement” tool. “Come to Jesus”, the so-called modern gospel says, “and you will find peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and everlasting happiness.” While all these things are true, this presentation of the “gospel” betrays those who respond to it. There are two different themes of what happens to the person who is “saved” by a gospel that does not first convict of sin.
First, this “gospel” message betrays us when times of trouble or persecution come. The person who expects nothing but peace and joy in this life finds that being a Christian also brings mocking and derision from the world. And this person also finds that troubles don’t go away just because they have become a Christian. Cars still break down. Bills still pile up. People still get cancer and die. This person becomes disillusioned and embittered against the gospel because it hasn’t given them the peace and joy it promised and they disappear from the church.
Second, this “gospel” message betrays us when temptation comes. The person who has “accepted” Jesus Christ without being convicted of sin sees no problem in compromising between God and the world. Church becomes a Sunday morning experience, and only when there is nothing better on the calendar. In this way, many so-called Christians today are trying to serve two masters – Jesus and the world. And Jesus has told us that this is impossible. If this describes you, Jesus says you must hate one of these masters. Which master do your actions indicate you hate?
1 John 2:15 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (NIV)
This shallow understanding of salvation and the gospel message stands in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches. The call to follow Jesus Christ is founded on the fact that the sinner must repent of their sins and yield their lives to the authority of Jesus Christ. But the so-called “gospel” message which is preached today in the modern evangelical church is devoid of teaching about the depravity and sinfulness of each person. We teach about the love of Jesus to save people from their sins without ever telling people that they are indeed sinners.
Romans 3:10-18 “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (NIV)
What, then, sets apart true faith from the “easy-believism” that is so prevalent in the church today? Or, in other words, how can I know what it means to be truly saved? The following paragraphs define nine distinctives of a biblical understanding of the gospel of salvation. These distinctives revolve around the fact that Jesus is not only our Savior, but is also our Lord.
First, the Bible teaches that the gospel does not call sinners to faith without also calling them to repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning toward a life of righteousness and holiness. Repentance is a change of heart and a change of behavior. Without a repentant heart, there can be no salvation.
Acts 2:37-38 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)
Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (NIV)
Second, the Bible teaches that salvation is a work of God. Those who believe are saved, not by their own effort, but by the grace of God. Faith is a gift from God, not a work of man. There is nothing which you can contribute to your own salvation. Therefore, true belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior cannot be short-lived or defective, it must endure forever because it is a work of God and not a work of man.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)
Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Third, the Bible teaches that the object of the faith of the Christian is Jesus Christ himself, not a creed or a tradition or a prayer. Faith therefore must involve a personal commitment and a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, all true believers follow Jesus just as sheep follow their shepherd. If our faith lies in a commitment card or saying the “sinner’s prayer” or being baptized, then our faith rests in sinking sand. Our faith must rest squarely on Jesus Christ and nothing else in order to be saved.
John 10:24-30 “The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (NIV)
Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But 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.” (NIV)
Fourth, the Bible teaches that true faith inevitably produces a changed life. Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person. The unbroken pattern of sin and rebellion against God cannot continue in the life of a person who is born again. What are some characteristics that you would expect to see in the life of a person who has been born again? They follow Christ, love other Christians, obey God’s commandments, abide in God’s word, do good works, and continue in the faith. (For an excellent discussion on the evidence of faith, read the book of 1 John.)
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV)
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (NIV)
Fifth, the Bible teaches that the gift of eternal life also includes all that is required to live a life of godliness. It is not just a free ticket to heaven. If you have been saved, you have been given everything you need to turn away from sin and to strive forward in living a life of righteousness.
2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (NIV)
1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (NIV)
Sixth, the Bible teaches that Jesus is either Lord of all or he is not your Lord at all. Faith in Jesus Christ demands unconditional surrender. Eternal life is not given to those whose hearts remain set against Jesus Christ. The summons to submission is at the heart of the gospel invitation.
Romans 6:16-19 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (NIV)
Seventh, the Bible teaches that those who truly believe will love Jesus Christ. And in that love, they will long to obey him in all things.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (NIV)
Eighth, the Bible teaches that our behavior is a test of our faith. Obedience is evidence that our faith is real. A person who remains unwilling to obey Christ in all things does not evidence true faith.
1 John 2:3-6 “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (NIV)
Ninth, the Bible teaches that true believers may occasionally stumble and fall, but they will never turn their back on their faith. Those who turn completely away from the Lord show that they were never really saved.
1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (NIV)
The truth is, most people who read this page think they already are a Christian. And sadly, most people who read this page really are not. The greatest need for evangelism is within the walls of the church today. This presentation is a call to examine yourself. Better today than on the day of judgment. If you think that you have been a victim of “easy-believism”, I encourage you to carefully consider the two articles linked below.
2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (NIV)