Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Understanding of the Gospel

When I was about twelve years old, a young couple from an evangelism ministry visited a friend and me at my home. We had a conversation for an hour or so and they led me in a prayer to ask Jesus to come into my life. They recited a pre-written prayer and I repeated it and was pronounced saved. For a few weeks after, I played around with the idea, but eventually I grew up practicing the usual unrepentant sinfulness (not loving God as I should, disrespect of other races, selfishness, looking at things I shouldn’t look at, foul language, etc.). In other words, I was indistinguishable from an unbeliever. Sure, I went to church most weeks; I had done that all my life anyway; and I had a basic understanding of Christianity and Redemption. But I had no thirst for the things of God (prayer, Bible reading/study, hearing the Word of God preached, fellowship with believers, and an increasing sensitivity to sin); I went to church out of a sense of obligation (punching God’s time-clock?) and usually daydreamed through the sermons. In short, I was not bearing the fruit that comes from true Salvation:
Luke 6:43-45 - "For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Matthew 7:17-20 - So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

The young people who led me certainly meant well and were doing what they understood the Great Commission to be (“Go and make disciples…”). But if I truly understood the Gospel back then as I do now, I would have had no assurance of my salvation. This is not to say that true believers are perfect, they are far from it (and they know that for certain). It is certainly not to say that “good works” and attempts at righteousness will save you; they won’t. But they should flow out from true Salvation:

Romans 3:20 - For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 
Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But the truth of Scripture is far more important than my personal experiences. My point here is that the Bible does not speak of many of the methods used in modern evangelism, such as reciting the “sinner’s prayer” or “walking the aisle”. Certainly, people can be saved using these methods, since the Holy Spirit is the One who causes true salvation, and He works using whatever means He sees fit (John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes…”), but the risk is high that people will be falsely converted, self-deluded, and have a false assurance of salvation. (They might even be inoculated against the true Gospel.) These methods are part of a fairly recent phenomenon. The emotion of the moment, “Just as I Am” sang a dozen times, reciting a pre-programmed prayer, and walking an aisle, and some folks can be talked into believing they are saved when they have not been confronted with the seriousness of their sin and don’t even know what they are “saved” from.

What does the Bible say about Salvation?
  1. God created our original parents, Adam and Eve, to love and worship Him and give Him glory, obey Him, and enjoy Him. They were created in a happy and perfect state (Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:22, Genesis 1:31). However, they disobeyed Him, died spiritually, and were removed from His fellowship (Genesis 3:6-19).
  2. We are, all of us, born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3, Psalm 51:5: Romans 3:9-18). We inherited this sin nature from Adam as a result of the Fall (Romans 5:12-15), just as we inherited physical frailties, sickness, and death. The Lord Jesus and Paul call this being “slaves to sin” (John 8:34; Romans 6:17-22). However, each of us is still responsible for his own sin (Ezekiel 18).
  3. Sin is falling short of God’s perfection. It is the breaking of His commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:1-21). If we break only one of his commandments, we are guilty (James 2:10-11). And we’ve broken all of them, if not in practice, then in our hearts and minds (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28). Our sin prevents us from having fellowship with God, now and in eternity. God is Holy and will not tolerate the presence of those not holy (Isaiah 6:1-5; 1 Peter 1:15-16).  Those who remain separated from God will spend eternity in hell (John 3:18; Luke 13:2-5; Luke 13:27-28; Matthew 13:41-43).
  4. The natural (that is, unbelieving) man loves his sin and wants nothing to do with a God who will judge him (Romans 8:7-8). This does not mean that he is as totally bad as he can possibly be. He was born with a conscience, but it is not informed by the Holy Spirit. Typically, he has remorse for certain mistakes, but only because of their consequences in this life, not because he has sinned against the eternal God (Psalm 51:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
  5. The result of sin is death and the payment for sin must be death (Romans 6:23). This is justice: that sin against the eternal God must be paid for eternally.
  6. We can’t work our own way out of this mess because we are incapable of pleasing God in our unbelieving state (Isaiah 64:6-7; Romans 3:20, 28; Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:9).
  7. That’s the bad news; here’s the Good News. God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4-6) and has a saving love for people from all races and nations (John 3:16; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9) and He has provided atonement and forgiveness for sins for those who will repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10-11).
  8. Jesus (eternally God the Son), born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, is perfect and without sin, satisfying the necessity of a perfect sacrifice (Exodus 12:3-6). He lived a life without sin; He willingly gave Himself to be crucified on the cross and His blood is atonement (that is, propitiation of the wrath of God) for the sins of those who repent and believe (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 7:27).
  9. The sacrifice of Jesus to pay for the sins of believers is a “once and for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-27) and the Holy Spirit is given to believers as a guarantee for Salvation (2 Corinthians 5:5 ; Ephesians 1:13-14). When Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), the underlying Greek word is a financial term that means “paid in full”, indicating that Jesus has paid for the sins of believers, and provides forgiveness for their sins. When God looks upon a believer, He no longer sees the believer’s sin, He sees Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). He has declared them righteous. In this way, God remains just (see Point 5 above) and He is the justifier of believers (Romans 3:23-26).
  10. Jesus conquered death for believers and proved He is the Son of God by rising from the dead and He sits at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for believers (Romans 8:34, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 1:3).
  11. So, how does one become a believer? Repent of your sins (that is, be sorrowful for sinning against God and turn away from your sin) and believe (that is, have faith) in the Lord Jesus as the resurrected Son of God and your only hope for salvation. Call out to Him for mercy, in your own words.
Luke 18:10-14 - "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (emphasis added).
Only God can look into your heart and know if you are saved (John 2:24-25). It is through ignorance that many evangelists pronounce people saved after spending only a few minutes with them; they aren’t doing anyone any favors. Born-again Christians shouldn’t live with constant anxiety about their salvation (that is, true salvation can’t be lost; see Point 9 above), but they should periodically examine themselves to make sure they aren’t self-deluded about their spiritual condition:
2 Corinthians 13:5 - Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Remember, outward activities such as baptism and church membership or attendance do not save us, but, when properly understood, can be signs of our salvation

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