By Jeremy Edmondson1
In the Church today, there is a distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many pastors are preaching a "works-based" salvation. This is completely foreign to what is taught in the Scriptures and ultimately diminishes the all-sufficient, saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Let's look at a biblical example of this same problem, examine how the Gospel is often presented, and show from the Bible what the Message of Life is.
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
The problem here is that the Jews were teaching that faith in Jesus Christ was not enough. They taught that you also had to be circumcised (15:1).
And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:2-5)
Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to converse with the apostles about the content of the Gospel. In 15:5 we see that some Pharisees there promoted both circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses.
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." (Acts 15:6-11)
Peter is clear that one is saved by faith alone (15:9). Peter also warns of the dangers of adding anything to faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. In 15:10, Peter states that adding works as a requirement to be saved is "putting God to the test" and likens it to placing a yoke on their necks that no one is able to bear. In 15:11, Peter states that we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jews and Pharisees were presenting a Gospel much like we hear today. While we may not be told to be circumcised, many well-intentioned Christians have added to the Gospel and have burdened lost people with a weight that is impossible to bear.
Front-Loading the Gospel
This is when requirements other than faith alone in Jesus Christ alone are added to the Gospel. Many people have been told to stop drinking, clean up their act, turn away from sin, repent of all of your sins, stop cussing, promise to be a good person, be baptized, be willing to forsake all, die to yourself, be committed, and hate yourself in order for Jesus to save you. All of these things have become "stumbling blocks" that keep people from believing in Christ and being saved. Here is the equation:
Jesus + Faith & Obedience to some Rules = Eternal Life
Back-Loading the Gospel
This is when requirements are mandated after one has believed the Gospel. We usually hear this: "well, if they aren't living a righteous life, they aren't really saved," or "if they were truly saved, they wouldn't act that way." We forget that Moses, David, and Solomon all had great sin! This makes the equation read like this:
Jesus + Faith = Good Works, Faithful Life
Christian author David Platt writes this in his book Radical: "If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all."
This is an example of back-loading the Gospel.
So, what is the true Gospel?
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
This is John's purpose statement for his Gospel, that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they would have LIFE in His Name!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The condition for Eternal Life is that one must "believe" in Jesus Christ. We also see this in John 5:24; 6:47; and 11:25-27.
Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
The jailer asks what he must do to be saved. Paul says "Believe in Jesus." Notice that Paul doesn't add anything else as a requirement. It is faith alone.
The Correct Equation: Jesus + Faith = Eternal Life FAITH- "Believe, be convinced of something, trust, have confidence."
"Faith" is simply believing that something is true. It is not a choice to believe something.
When you are presented with the fact that Jesus Christ alone has died for your sins and God raised Him from the grave and that He alone is the Son of God, you either believe that this is true or you do not.
Grace is the basis, faith is the channel, Jesus is the trustworthy Person.
If we try to bring anything else to the table, we determine that the death of Christ was not sufficient enough to save us completely.
Common Objections:1. You are teaching "cheap grace." Our salvation costs God's Son His life. That was a great cost. A gift always costs the Giver, but never the recipient.
2. You are teaching "easy-believism." Is this opposed to "hard-believism?" Jesus (John 6:47), Peter (Acts 15:9), Paul (Eph. 2:8-9), and John (John 3:16) all agree that belief in Jesus Christ is the requirement for eternal salvation.
3. If this is true, I can sin and get away with it. God's free grace does not promote willful sin. It is true that you can sin after you are saved and still have eternal life. However, you will not "get away with it." All believers will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ based on what they have "done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; Luke 19:11-27; Matt. 22:1-14).
4. But I know a guy who used to be on fire for Christ and now he's an atheist. Are you saying that he is still saved? Yes. Eternal Life is forever, regardless of our perseverance. God's grace is the basis for our salvation, not our works. God will discipline and chastise the wayward believer and they will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat (1 Cor. 3:15), but they still have eternal life (2 Tim. 2:13).
5. Isn't repentance important? Absolutely, because repentance is about having fellowship and intimacy with God. However, it is not about receiving eternal life. It can prepare one to receive eternal life (Acts 11:18; 19:4). Often repentance has to do with avoiding physical death (Jonah 3:4-5, 10; Luke 13:1-5; 2 Peter 3:1-9).
Let us use every opportunity to tell people only what the Scriptures have said. There is Life in believing the name of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ (Titus 3:4-7).
1 Jeremy is a board member of Bold Grace Ministries and the pastor of Resurgence Church in Evansville, IN. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.