We would think that after 2000 years, the church would be able to speak clearly what the saving message is about. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The following statement from my friend Bruce Bauer helps to clarify the confusion and correct the all-too-common errors or additions to the saving message.
Eight Ways That Christians Misrepresent the Gospel
By Bruce Bauer, Lancaster, CA
There is much confusion in the Christian community today as to the basic plan of salvation, often called, “the gospel,” as spelled out clearly in the Bible. If you doubt this assertion, simply check out the websites of a large cross section of Christian churches in America and read their doctrinal statements on salvation (or read their published tracts). You will, undoubtedly, discover many varied and conflicting affirmations of belief regarding salvation. The following list is a sampling of common calls to salvation in the Christian community. Let’s examine whether they hold up to biblical scrutiny.
“Give Jesus your heart!”
What does that command even mean? Pretty nebulous isn’t it? I heard an actual story of a child who was frightened by this statement, fearing that he might have to forfeit his own physical heart. Christians need to be much clearer when presenting the gospel. Read on.
- “Walk the straight and narrow path.”
Living a relatively clean life will save no one. Eternal life comes only through believing on Christ Jesus and what he accomplished for you on the cross (more on this later).
“Become a follower of Christ.”
This call sounds noble, but what is it lacking? There is no appeal to believing in Jesus Christ to become saved, which is, the only way to become saved. In Acts 16:30-31, a Philippian jailer, fearing that his prisoners had all escaped due to a great earthquake, nearly killed himself and then cried out to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied immediately and without hesitation, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Now, is there anything wrong with following Christ? Of course not! Christians should follow Christ and serve him faithfully, but these actions are not what bring salvation. When Jesus walked on earth in the first century, there were many, many people who followed him, some for the free meals, others to see miracles, still others to seek physical healing. Some became believers in him, most did not. Jesus warned of unbelieving followers in Matthew 7:23: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers’!”
Judas was, of course, the ultimate “fake-follower” of Jesus. As a member of the inner circle of disciples, he was a follower for three years. But he never was a true believer in Christ Jesus, as evidenced by his betrayal of Jesus and by his ensuing suicide.
“Make Jesus the Lord of your life!”
What a presumption! Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation, Lord of the universe, Lord of heaven, Lord of the earth, Lord of redemption, Lord God of ALL, in spite of any puny declaration that you or I might choose to make. We can’t make Christ Lord. He IS Lord! Now, once we have become believers—we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), then by all means serve him joyfully and faithfully as we submit to his leading, as this is pleasing to God and the right thing for a believer to do.
“You must first count the cost.”
This demand originates from a wrongful understanding of Jesus’ proclamations in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Jesus warned the people of the costs of discipleship (the process through which believers grow and mature in Christ as they serve him faithfully, which can be difficult at times), NOT the costs of salvation.Salvation is an absolutely free gift of God through his son Christ Jesus; it can never be earned or merited–“not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).
“You must first repent of your sins (sometimes called, ‘turn from your sins’) and then come to Jesus.”
This demand is very common indeed. What’s wrong with it? First, it misapplies the term “repent.” From an English dictionary, the term might be defined as sincere regret or remorse, contrition, shame or penitence. But this is not the biblical meaning of the word “repent.” It has commonly (and incorrectly) come to mean in Christian circles, “a work that must be performed before coming to Christ.” Essentially, what its purveyors are saying is that one must first “clean up her act or her life” in order to be presentable to Christ and then be allowed to become saved. This understanding of repentance is unbiblical! There is absolutely no work that one must do to become presentable to Jesus.From the New Testament Greek, repentance, metanoia, simply means, “change your mind.” When applied to salvation, it means, “to change your mind and realize that your own relative good works will never be good enough to earn eternal life.” (ed. Not all who affirm free grace theology would agree with this view of repentance but many do.) You must come God’s way by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone. Biblical repentance in no way demands a change of conduct to obtain salvation. God will accept you, just as you are, warts and all, if you simply place your faith in Christ alone for salvation. As the hymn writer Charlotte Elliott put it so aptly, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”
“You must surrender your will to Christ (sometimes referred to as, ‘surrender and serve’).”
While speaking at the Passion 2012 conference in Atlanta, GA, John Piper labeled this approach as, “waving the white flag of surrender.” In his speech, Piper implied strongly that many in the audience of 40,000 Christian youths may not really be saved if they were merely relying on a one-time decision to believe in Christ Jesus, yet have not followed up on that decision with a lifestyle in which the realities of salvation must be apparent in their actions.
So, what’s wrong with this way of thinking? It puts the onus of salvation back on the individual instead of on a complete trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. This has been referred to as, “a backloading of the gospel.” Backloading of the gospel, in essence, means that it’s not good enough, i.e., it’s not efficacious or meritorious enough, to trust in Christ alone for salvation. One must, in effect, prove the reality of her salvation through a lifestyle of good works. A one-time decision to place one’s belief in Christ alone for salvation, if not followed up with, as some would say, “an on-fire lifestyle for the Lord,” in this way of thinking, means that the person is probably not saved. This assessment is unfair in that it is completely arbitrary. And it decimates assurance of salvation as trust is removed from the promises of God to protect our salvation (John 10:27-30) and placed on the failings of man. It takes no account of differing levels of Christian maturity or circumstances. How long must one serve to “prove” the reality of salvation? One year? Five years? Ten? What about biblical examples of believers in the Lord who experienced extensive periods of failing?
Jacob, Solomon, David, Lot, and Samson, all believers, come to mind instantly.
“You must make a public confession of Christ to really be saved.”
This wrongful thinking originates from a common misunderstanding of Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In Chapter 10, Paul is addressing believers (he calls them “brothers”) about how to live out the Christian life. The issue of justification has already been dealt with in the early chapters of Romans. The Greek word for “saved,” sozo, may refer to justification at times, but it has a much wider array of meanings, such as, “kept safe,” “protected,” “rescued from danger,” or “made whole.” 1 Timothy 2:15, for one example, says that women are saved (kept safe, sozo) through childbearing. Obviously, this verse does not mean that women obtain justification from sins through bearing children. Looking at the immediate context of Romans 10:9, we see Paul’s confirmation to his believing audience that the way of justification is simply by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone)—no strings attached! Verse 10:13 reads, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (a direct quotation from Joel 2:32).
Concluding Thoughts: The Bible is abundantly clear that simply by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished on the cross on our behalf (Acts 16:30-31, John 5:24, John 6:29 & 40, John 3:16-18, John 11:25-26, many other verses in John, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) a person can become saved (justified, receiving eternal life which, by definition, can never be taken away). Let’s all, in the Christian community, strive to keep the message of salvation simple, straightforward, clear and uncomplicated, and always biblical!
Serving Him with you until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Managing Editor, Grace Theology Press