Essential elements of the Gospel

These five points comprise the essential elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Technically, I think the first four are an accurate description of the "steps to salvation." But the fifth point seems necessary in a day and age where so many claim to be Christian, but would be hard-pressed if put on trial to offer any supporting evidence.

I would further add only that "salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9) and not simply and solely a human decision. John's Gospel states:

John 1:11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This verse articulates in part the mystery of God's Sovereign Will. The decision and choice men make to trust in Christ and receive Him is indeed the basis of salvation, their eternal destiny. But John carefully states that the ability to believe and be born spiritually of God is not merely a human response; God must enable the sinner to repent and believe the Gospel. Paul writes that before our conversion to Christ, all men are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1,4; Rom. 8:7) and Jesus plainly teaches that sinners are hopelessly in bondage to their sin and their state of spiritual death unless He intervenes to set them free (John 8:31-48).

The Good News in what appears to be man's complete and hopeless condition is the magnitude of God's grace and benevolence.

  • He mercifully awakens the sinner from spiritual and eternal death (Eph. 2:4; Rom. 8:7);
  • He imparts to them the ability and the willingness to renounce sin and even assists them in the very act of repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor 7:10);
  • He gives to men faith itself, enabling them to believe in Christ or to receive Him and be saved (Eph 2:8; John 1:12).

My purpose at this point is demonstrate from Scripture that the act of becoming a Christian is not merely something one does, or chooses to do entirely on his own. I (and possibly every other evangelical Pastor) have seen people raise their hand to receive Christ, walk the aisle, and even say "the sinner's prayer" but without apparent result. Their lives did not change, they never began to truly love the Lord or His Word, and they finally drifted away from the church and spiritual things altogether. Did God fail them? Absolutely not! In fact, some of them are actually converted at a later time and share a glorious testimony. What I would have us to recognize is that salvation is not simply a rational, independent decision that occurs among other choices of the day like cereal or eggs, bus or train, exercise or get flabby. The resolve to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation is the primary result in a progression of gracious activity that began in the heart of God before the foundation of this world (Eph. 1:4,5). Scripture teaches that "salvation is of the Lord" and is not merely the reasonable choice of a logical thinker that "heaven is better than hell". When complacent people become morally and spiritually awakened to comprehend the filth of their inward selves and their rebellion against God, and, in regret and repentance, seek out mercy and pardon from the only One who can help them... then I think that this is conversion and salvation. But if we make salvation simply a cool-headed, calculated decision to "go to heaven", "receive eternal life" or the ambiguous "accept Christ" that anyone can make at any time without personal inventory, repentance and attentiveness to God's Word, then perhaps we end up with a church full of tares (Matt. 13:24-30) and spiritually confused people who may be only partially converted. We must not exaggerate the scope of our own abilities.

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 "But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out... 44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day... 63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 "But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father."

These several verses from only one discourse of Jesus should forever dispel the myth that men "save themselves" by faith in Christ. In fact, the Father must "drag" us (vs. 44, literal and more accurate rendering) as one might drag an unconscious or lifeless body from a wrecked car or burning building. And this is precisely what God the Father does for a sinner "dead in sins and transgressions." Because we cannot help our condition in even the smallest degree, the Father grants that we should be awakened from eternal (spiritual) death, and breathes life into us by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. This sovereign act begins a wonderful and blessed progression of supernatural activity whereby the sinner is given spiritual insight to see his wretched condition, is aroused to repentance, and furnished with the very faith that enables him to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. All the praise for our salvation belongs to God alone; He shares His glory with no one, for no man may claim any part or portion of salvation upon his own merit.

"Is the will of a man involved at all in this process?" you might ask. Well, not at first. Dead people are not really capable of exercising a will...or exercising anything else for that matter (the same principle applies for the spiritually dead). Once we are awakened, once the "life-giving Spirit" has begun His work and we are made spiritually alive in Christ...then we truly have a will, a will which all the New Testament plainly teaches must be submitted to the obedience of faith, to righteous living and service to Christ. This awakened will of ours now becomes the battlefield of the old sinful nature struggling against the new presence of God's Holy Spirit and we learn what temptation, weakness and reliance upon the Word are all about.

But, the spiritually dead man has no war inside of him. He has no will concerning spiritual things. He is perpetually dead in sin and doomed to eternal punishment in hell ...unless and until God determines otherwise. Is not this why we pray for the lost, why we cry out to God that He might have mercy and save them? But if the determining factor for salvation belongs entirely to the one lost, why pray to God at all? Better we should study salesmanship, "persuasive speaking" and positive thinking. On the other hand, if the determination for salvation belongs entirely to God, then why do we preach or share the evangelical message? Simply because He has commanded us to do so in a wondrous "partnership of the Gospel." The fellowship the saved becomes entrusted with a glorious and amazing partnership whereby God chooses to communicate His grace and salvation (the Gospel) to a lost world through their testimony, witness and teaching. He does the work of salvation, but the propagation of its message is given to those who have experienced it.

Rom. 10:12-15

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same {Lord} is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!"

 

To those who have no understanding of the "behind-the-scenes" activity of God, it may appear that someone who previously had not trusted in Christ finally saw the wisdom and necessity of doing so. And the onlooker may not properly credit God with the awakening from the dead, the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit and the motivation to repentance that enabled the lost man to do so. But the Scriptures offer abundant evidence of sinful man's utter inability to help his spiritual condition, or even to hear the message that might save him (John 8:42-47).

So should people wait until they feel God calling, until they think God is awakening them and helping them to repent, to have faith? Not at all! The commandments to repentance and faith are clear. Obey them. Turn from sin; read the Scriptures; trust in Christ. Those who are lost care nothing for these things and will not obey; those "appointed unto eternal life" (Acts 13:48) and "drawn by the Father" will ultimately succeed, though there may be difficulties, false attempts and even some apparent failures. But when a sinner is definitively converted and has truly trusted Christ and been "saved," know for certain that God was at work enabling the believer in every step of the process. "Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9)."