As I look back on my Christian life, I’ve had a lot of things wrong. I still get things wrong. I need to be corrected. I have a couple of good friends who will do that, including a wife who loves me enough to correct me and that is a two-way street in our marriage. We all need to be corrected to one degree or another. But here is one thing that we may need to be corrected on and most definitely need to get right: the gospel. How many people have prayed a prayer, signed a card, walked an aisle and walked away from Jesus? Many have. Some haven’t.
I was at a funeral one time where a lady jumped up during open testimony time and praised the Lord that the deceased was up in Heaven. He had prayed to ‘receive Christ’ as a teen but there was absolutely no evidence. I grieve at those open testimonies because they paint God’s grace as something very cheap. The God who is big enough to save us is also the God who is big enough to change us, in fact if He does save us He will change us…guaranteed (Philippians 1:6). The believer has access to the power that brought Christ back to life but no believer, no power, therefore no change. I believe that our churches are filled with unbelievers. There, I said it. One pastor has said that the gospel has been dumbed down so much that the unelect can’t reject it. You may have to reread that one to get it, it took me a while.
Mark Dever, pastor at Capitol Hills Baptist Church in D.C. will ask potential members to sum up the gospel in a minute. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I bet that many a church member could not answer that question well. They would talk about Bible reading, prayer, membership, a childhood experience, church attendance, being good and a bunch of other things that flow out of the gospel but are not the gospel. So here is my best understanding of the gospel in a few words:
God is holy and good and gracious and generous and almighty and judge and in a word rightly understood, awesome! And back in Genesis He had a close relationship with Adam and Eve in the garden but then came the big thud, the fall, the first sin, and because of that sin, there was a barrier between Adam and Eve and God. Every person ever born since has been born outside of God’s camp.
Man is born as a stranger to God because of our sin. We are born as a part of Satan’s team. Because of the first couple’s sin in the garden there is this grand canyon between us and God (Romans 5:12). And man has done lots of things to try and get to God. If I am a good person. If I don’t cheat on my taxes or my spouse. If I give financially to social causes. If I go to church. If I pray. If I read my Bible. Those are all good things but they don’t get us to God. All those ways to get to God fall short. That’s where Christ comes in.
Christ came as a Mediator between us and the Father. He was the virgin-born, sinless, Son of God, second member of the Trinity, God-man…fully God and fully man. He died and rose again three days later. He took the wrath of God on His shoulders that believers deserve. He was our substitute…Jesus in my place.
Response is what this ear-screaming good news needs. We need to repent and believe. By God’s grace we need to turn from sin (repentance) and turn to God (that’s belief or faith).
…and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV)
Repentance and belief go together. They are two sides to the same coin and you can’t have the one without the other. Another way to say it is that you can’t have Jesus as Saviour (belief) without having Him as Lord (repentance). Many times the gospel has not been presented fully and called people to believe but not repent…but if belief is genuine there will be repentance…and turning to God and turning from sin will become the rhythm of the believer’s life from their day of salvation forward. As s a body of believers we are to spur one another on to repentance and belief and that’s another post for another time.
Some of us are simply fearful that people will not respond if we make the gospel ‘too hard’ but if people respond to an inaccurate presentation of the gospel they are just unbelievers who think they are saved, and are not…and that is just plain sad. If we are simply faithful in our job of getting the gospel right, our job is done. We can’t make anyone repent and believe. Results are so not our department…they are strictly in Almighty God’s all capable hands. Let’s not take a responsibility that does not belong to us.