Sunday, July 31, 2011

"How I came to understand the importance of a clear Gospel!" - by Peter Hann

I never realized how important and vital it is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ as clearly as possible. The souls of mankind are at stake if it is not. In this article I'll give my testimony as to how and why it is important to present the gospel in the clearest way possible.

In the fall of 2010, I left my former church, which I won't mention by name. It was hard for me to leave, because there were and are dear brothers and sisters in the Lord that I still do love and care about and continue to pray for. I'm also not saying these dear brothers and sisters in the Lord had bad motives. I left due to my concern about how their gospel was presented.

For example, when I first started attending in 2000, shortly after that in the summer of 2001 the church leadership asked me if I knew the "Sinner's Prayer". I sighed and said, "I don't know; I think I do." Then the pastor asked me if I knew it. He took me aside and prayed the prayer. I don't believe I was saved, because I was just saying words. I did not have a change of heart. I actually did get saved, by accepting Jesus Christ alone as my Savior in the fall of 2001.

Looking back, I scratch my head as to why the leadership asked me if I knew a prayer, because there are lots of believers in Christ who don't know the Sinner's Prayer. My former church had it in writing that if you prayed this prayer you were a part of God's family. I thought to myself, "that can't be right because of what John 1:12 says: 'To all who received Him (Jesus) He gave the right to become children of God.'" I'm concerned that praying the Sinner's Prayer can confuse an unbeliever by clouding the clarity of the gospel.

I am deeply concerned with one other statement my former church had given in written form. It stated that to come to saving faith in Christ, you had to "be willing to turn from your sins." Until 2006, I was fine with that statement. Then in the fall of 2005, I had another believer in Christ move in as a second roommate. When he saw the "Sinner's Prayer" and their statement "be willing to turn from your sins," he told me that he believed it was a "false gospel." I thought to myself: "Where in the world is this guy coming from?" "Does this guy hate the word 'repent'?" I also thought: "Is this guy just trying to make salvation in Christ a 'sloppy easy' believe without genuine repentance?" 

I then realized that my roommate was not trying to take the word "repent" out of the salvation experience, but instead he was trying to give out the true saving repentance message. His fear was that when someone reads: "turn from your sins," that person would think, "Oh, do I have to clean up my life first and stop my lying, stealing, etc. in order to come to Christ?" Some have labeled my former church's teaching "Lordship Salvation". My roommate told me how God is willing to take lost sinners and save them from Hell's flames just the way they are. Romans 5:8 says that "God demonstrates His own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."

Now it is true that in order for human beings to be saved from God's judgment in Hell, they must repent. But in salvation repentance, the unsaved need to change their whole minds about their own goodness or rituals to save them from Hell. Just like Hebrews 6:1 says: "We repented from our dead works." We came to Christ on the basis of grace alone by placing 100% trust in His redemptive work alone - nothing more, nothing less. It would be like someone offering someone else $20 as a free gift. But if the giver wanted the other person to run an errand to keep that $20 then it would not be a free gift. Our salvation in Christ is an awesome free gift! The Lord, through my roommate, helped me to develop an understanding of why it is important to present the gospel so it doesn't appear like Lordship Salvation.

I had another fellow believer in Christ who was also concerned about the clarity of the gospel. He pointed out a verse to me in Genesis 6:6 where it says: "It grieved the Lord that He made man." Some translations say: "It repented the Lord that He made man." In that passage of Scripture we know it means that God had a change of mind. There's no way God could repent of any sin because He is perfect and holy.

So I tried approaching the church leadership, concerned that they were telling unbelievers that they had to turn from their sins to get saved. That presentation of the gospel can be confusing. My church leadership thought that I too (like my roommate) was trying to take the word "repent" out of the salvation experience. I made it clear to them that I wasn't trying to take the word "repent" out - I was just giving it a clearer definition. Because before people come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, the only sin (singular) they can repent of is the sin of unbelief. Once an unbeliever trusts Christ alone, that person is then sealed with the Holy Spirit, like Ephesians 1:13 says. Now the believer can work on purging out sins (plural) like lying, stealing, and immorality - now that the individual is saved, and is growing, and maturing in their Christian walk. This happens as the Christian is filled and led by the Holy Spirit.

When unbelievers get saved they may (or may not) feel sorrow or remorse or contrition over their sins. There is nothing wrong with that. I just fear that unbelievers could think that being remorseful or sorry alone will save them from God's judgment. Even though Judas Iscariot felt sorrow after betraying Christ, our Lord still labeled him "the son of perdition". It's like someone being in a court of law with a $30,000 fine against him. No matter how sorry he feels about the crime, he can't be set free until the fine is paid. Someone has to pay the fine for that crime. This is exactly what Jesus Christ did for the sins of mankind - by suffering, dying, and being raised from the grave (as proof that the payment was accepted).

Paul said that he rejoiced not that the Corinthian Christians were sorry, but that their sorrow led to repentance. Because of what Jesus did for us, it should be the motivation for believers in Christ to live godly and holy lives - out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says: "For the love of Christ compels us."

Before I left my former church, I approached another one of the elders concerning the gospel and repentance. He thought my roommate was a Hyper-Calvinist with no genuine repentance. I told the elder that wasn't true. I told this elder that my friend's concern was a clear gospel. When I brought my concern to the elder about an unbeliever reading in the church bulletin, "be willing to turn from your (plural) sins," he made some kind of remark that it's not you turning from your plural sins, it's God turning you from your plural sins. I think he may have said "a will of the mind," in regards to turning from one's plural sins. I feared this again could make the unsaved think they have to clean up their lives first in order to come to Christ. I think this elder may also have said that he didn't think it was a big deal to present the gospel clearly - that God is sovereign and will bring to pass the gospel. I do agree that God is sovereign, but we must present the truth of the gospel as clearly as we can. Like I said before, the souls of men are at stake. I told the elder that it's similar to how we would want MapQuest to present driving directions as clearly as can be. This elder said that he was more concerned about presenting the gospel completely than clearly. But as believers we must present the gospel clearly and completely!

Another man in the church leadership, when he heard my roommate's concerns, may have been confused as to where my friend was coming from. He even labeled my roommate as "Grace Only." As I think about it now, I think to myself: "Oh my goodness." It's either a person is under law or under grace, like it says in Galatians. I've heard it said that there are only two world religions: "Grace" and "Works". I don't know what exactly this elder meant, but he stated to me that living godly and holy wasn't an option. I agree that Godly living is required in order for believers to have fellowship, but it is not required to get saved or to stay saved. Godly living is required in order for Christians to maintain fellowship with God as it says in 1 John. It's like a father-son relationship. If the son was to be disobedient, he would be subject to his father's discipline. But if he confessed it, he would be brought back into fellowship with his father.

I had another concern at that church. I hope I'm not quoting him wrong, but the one pastor made a comment that God saved him not because someday he would receive Christ, but because God had chosen him. That could be predestination which many who are devout Calvinists believe. It is true that God does grant repentance, but a human being must make a volitional choice to either receive or reject the Son like it says in John 3:36. Also, 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

I was water baptized in 2009. Before I was baptized I had to give my personal testimony on how I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. In my testimony I didn't say anything about "being willing to turn from my sins" (like the church bulletin said). I simply said that the way I got saved was by seeing that I was a lost Hell-bound and judgment-deserving sinner, and the only way of escaping that judgment was to place 100% trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone (His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection) - nothing more, nothing less. When I was bringing up my doctrinal concerns to the church leadership, I should have asked them whether it was right for them to have baptized me, due to the fact that I never said anything in my testimony about "being willing to turn from my sins".

One last thing I tried submitting to my church leaders before I left was a clearer definition of saving repentance, which I'll list point by point below.

Saving Repentance is:

  • A change of mind. To change your mind about your own goodness to inherit a right standing with God. To also change your mind about Who Jesus is and the fact that He died on the cross for your sins. You must realize you are a lost Hell-bound and judgment-deserving sinner. The only avenue of escaping that judgment is to place 100% of your trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone at Calvary (His death on the cross, burial, resurrection, and appearances.)
  • Belief in Christ. It's like if you're falling from the sky with a strapped on parachute. You must place 100% trust in the parachute to save you from hitting the ground at too fast of a speed, to your death. It's the same principle with trusting Jesus Christ. You must place 100% trust in His redemptive work to save you from the penalty for your sins on Judgement Day. You can't even place 99% of your trust in Jesus Christ and 1% of your trust in your efforts. You must place 100% of your trust in Jesus Christ.
  • Not to be confused with the fruits of repentance. The moment you trust Christ alone, you are now a saved child of God. Christians must be willing to turn from sins such as lying, stealing, etc. - not to get saved or to stay saved - but in order to maintain fellowship with God. Imagine a father-son relationship. If the son is disobedient, it does not mean that the son is not part of the family or that he will be kicked out of the family due to his disobedience. The son will always be a son. The disobedient son is just subject to his father's discipline. If the son confesses his sinfulness to his father, the son is brought back into right fellowship. If the son does not, he is still subject to his father's discipline. The same principle works with God's discipline of his children.
  • Consistent with grace. Salvation is a free gift. It's like being offered $20 as a free gift - only so much better! If the one who offered us the $20 told us that in order to keep the money we must wash his car, then it would not be a free gift.

This is what the grace of God is. It is God's simple plan of salvation. It is so simple a child can understand it. Mankind is the one who unfortunately complicates it more than is required for saving faith. Satan is the one who ultimately wants to confuse the clear gospel message. He does not want anyone to receive Jesus Christ but would rather that they spend a horrible eternity in Hell. So as believers, we need to get the true, simple, and clear gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost before time runs out!

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