I will be perfectly honest here. If you asked me point blank how a person becomes a Christian in my early years of ministry I’m not sure I could give you the specifics. I might have stumbled through the bridge diagram with an unbeliever and I might lead them in a prayer but looking back I’m not necessarily sure if I had it nailed down. I may have talked about the experience of conversion but may not have been able to point out chapter and verse in how a person is rescued from God’s wrath.
There was a boxed church program a number of years ago that I used as a young pastor and something struck a chord in me when a prayer of faith was said and encouraged to be repeated from the video. It seemed a little fluffy. I can’t remember what exactly was said but it seemed a little light…a little cheap…and it lacked weight.
There was a guy in one of the communities I lived in who had made a profession of faith as a teenager but there was absolutely no evidence at all. In fact he asked one of the guys at our church regularly about God and Christianity from time to time like he didn’t know a thing about it. There was a dear Christian lady that was absolutely convicted that he was saved. It may have been that she was pretty close to this young guy and proximity may have blurred her judgement about his spiritual status… maybe it was wishful thinking.
The reality is that if we have a God who is powerful enough to save us, and we do, He is also powerful 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 same power that brought Christ back from the grave but how many have professed salvation and walked away?
The third mark of churches growing towards health is the gospel. In our churches we all get some things wrong, our hope is that they are the less important things. We need to keep checking our practices to see if they line up with the Word…but we can’t get the gospel wrong. It is the foundation to what we believe. The gospel is the incredible news about what Jesus Christ has done to reconcile sinners to a holy God. So here’s my best presentation of the gospel in a few short paragraphs. It’s not new with me but it’s a pretty good presentation that I have used again and again to keep things clear.
God is holy and this means ‘set apart.’ There was a big thud, a crash and burn, a fall in the garden of Eden when the first couple sinned. Because of that sin, there was a barrier that went up between them and God (Genesis 3, Romans 3:23). Sin broke that relationship and every person ever born since has been born enemies of God and deserving of His wrath…in this lifetime and in the next.
Man is born far away from God, because of our sin. The first couple’s sin was passed on to us and our sin has put a Grand Canyon-like gap between us and God (Romans 5:12). Man has done lots of things to try and get to God. ‘If I don’t cheat on my taxes…if I don’t cheat on my wife…if I’m a good parent…if I give to charities at Christmas time…if I’m kind to my co-workers….but doing good stuff will never make us acceptable to God. Our good works have no merit. The price of our sin was too high. We are in dire straights on our own and that’s where Christ came in.
Jesus 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. He died on a wooden cross and rose again three days later. He took the wrath of God on His shoulders that people deserve. The sinless in the place of the sin-saturated, the sin-stained, the sin-soaked. He was our substitute…Jesus in my place. (1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:9)
A response is what this ear-screaming good news needs. We need to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). By God’s grace we need to turn from our sin (repentance) and turn to God (belief or faith).
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). Sometimes 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. The local church body is the place where we’ll spur one another on to repentance and belief…we call that discipleship…and that’s another post down the road.
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 believers, and are not…and that’s 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.
So let’s just pray for unbelievers, preach the gospel straight, and then see what God does with it…in His time.