Puritan Gems

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another Gospel

How are we commanded to preach the gospel? What do we tell the unbeliever? For much of modern evangelism, preaching the way of salvation involves telling the unbeliever that 'Jesus died for your sins,' or 'God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.'

There is no Scripture that says Jesus died for your sins; no one can have assurance of this until they have been saved. The biblical command is to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour (Ac. 26:20; Lk 24:47). Suddenly aware of our sinful state, our complete and utter helplessness, we throw ourselves upon His mercy.

You may have heard the catchy call to 'Decide for Christ,' and perhaps the encouragement to 'Go and tell somebody what you have done here today.' Not what God has done, but what you have done. Having attended both a Pentecostal and a High Anglican church, I regularly witnessed this kind of talk. But is it the case that the unregenerate can just 'decide' to come to Christ, practically on a whim, or impulse? Do these promptings in any way resemble the apostolic proclamation we find in the Bible? But it gets worse. Not only do we have preachers giving this supposed 'gospel message' to unbelievers, but they also fail to convict the unbelievers of their sinful nature and their standing before a holy and righteous God. Where's the conviction of men's hearts before God? Sure, we might, if we're lucky, hear the preacher refer to his audience (and himself) as sinners, and we may hear of repentance, and 'choosing' Christ. We will even hear him speak of the need for Christ... There is only so much of the message you can actually leave out. But these limp-wristed 'acknowledgements' are hardly worthy of the name. The message is so stripped of its punch as to be practically unrecognisable to the one true gospel.

This modern message carries with it some faulty presuppositions. To name but two:

1. The unregenerate are capable of repenting and believing
2. The proclamation that Christ died for your sins, i.e., the sins of every man head for head

Re: 1. Repentance is a moral act since it requires one to change one's mind and hate one's sin. Metanoia means a total change of heart. One must be regenerated in order to have this change of heart. The truly penitent cannot be unregenerate.

8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him (Romans 8:8-9 ESV)

Since repentance is a moral act which is pleasing to God, then it follows that one cannot repent unless one has the Spirit of God.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

It is crystal clear from sacred Scripture that those without the Spirit of God cannot understand the things of God, and therefore cannot do that which is pleasing to Him.

3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:3-6 ESV)

Unregenerate man must be born again before he can repent and believe. Until then, he can do nothing to please God.

Until then he is dead in his sins:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

The inspired apostle Paul contrasts the old life with the new, how we once carried out the desires of the body and mind, living by the passions of the flesh. This is precisely the state of the unregenerate. But God made us alive. The Greek here for dead - nekros - means 'deceased', 'lifeless'. Spiritually speaking, when we preach to the unregenerate we are preaching to corpses. There is nothing in man that can move him spiritually apart from the work of God. We must tell the unbeliever of his standing as a rebel in relation to God, his wholesale rebellion and the need for the grace of God and for His granting of repentance.

Re: 2. The presupposition that Christ died for the sins of all men everywhere who ever lived simply cannot be supported from Scripture.

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep...24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:14-15, 24-27 ESV)

Jesus is talking about His sheep. Those whom the Father has given Him. Christ plainly tells the hostile Jews the reason they do not believe is because they are not of His flock. To those Christians blind to their own (or others') traditions, this sounds too radical! They want to change the meaning of Jesus' words to something like, "...but you are not of my flock because you do not (yet) believe." But this is to turn Christ's words on their head!

42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (John 8:42-47 ESV)

Again, as with so many places in Scripture, we see particularity in our Saviour's very own words. The unbelieving Jews are deaf to Jesus' words. Why? Because they are not of God. They are of their father the devil, and they are content that way.

35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I have said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:35-37 ESV)

Christ is making clear that those who have seen Him and do not believe cannot have been given Him by the Father. Right after telling these unbelievers that they have seen and yet do not believe, Christ tells them that those whom the Father gives Him will come to Him, will believe!

Modern evangelism needs to rid itself of the unbiblical message, 'Christ died for you', and return to something resembling the urgency of the apostolic message. Are we living in less urgent times? Is the gospel less important today than it was in the day of the apostles? We are to convict the rebel of his standing before a righteous and holy God. Nothing less will do. We are to preach the gospel. The rest is up to God.

We end with a glorious truth:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria