Ever notice that the first three gospels (the synoptic gospels) never explicitly
speak of salvation through faith in Christ (except for Mark 16:16). In
fact in those gospels when Jesus is asked the question, "What must I do
to have eternal life?" he responds with the Law - a performance based concept
of righteousness. But in the gospel of John Jesus speaks explicitly of
the gospel of grace which is a faith based righteousness, which is also
found in Paul's writings as in Romans. Why the difference?
It is not that the synoptics are contrary to the gospel of grace as
clealy laid by John and Paul. For consider that Luke, who was one of the
writers of the synoptics was Paul's traveling companion and was devoted
to him all the way to the end. (2Tim 4:11) The synoptic gospels
were primarily to prepare people to hear the gospel of grace, rather than
actually presenting the gospel message explicitly. They were focussed on
the attitudes and applications of Biblical faith so that when salvation
through faith in Christ was presented, people would understand what was
meant by "faith". They would understand and be prepared to exercise the
quality of faith that saves.
The Stumbling Block of Calvinism
This idea of preparing people to receive the gospel of grace has been largely
neglected in much of historic post-Biblical Christianity even up to the
present. Part of this neglect has been due to the Calvinistic theology
that man in an unredeemed state cannot receive spiritual truth and that
no cooperation is involved on the part of the unredeemed to be saved. This
in contrast with, for example:
John 6:45 "Everyone who listens to the Father and
learns from him comes to me."
But rather they propose that God in puppet-like fashion simply causes people
to believe - there being no actual "choice" involved on their part. This
the Calvinists label "irresistable grace". But if this is the case, then
there is also no prolonged process of conversion. For if we are but puppets,
then immediately upon the Holy Spirit leading us, we believe. I've had
Calvinists tell me that one is first born of God and then believes. The
idea being that one must first become regenerate to receive spiritual truth
(the gospel) before one can believe it. But the Bible speaks of belief
"To all who received him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God."John 1:12
One does not even receive the right to become a child of God until one
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the
word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were
marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." Eph 1:13
Notice "having believed" - you then received the Holy Spirit.
When I pressed some on this point with these kind of verses, they propose
that everything is simultaneous. This being the case, there is no gradual
process of believing. Thus those with a Calvinistic theology tend to make
very little effort at preparing people to receive the gospel of grace.
This has spilled over to evangelical circles in which the gospel has been
condensed down to "4 spiritual laws" or "The bridge illustration". And
while these are useful in presenting the gospel of grace clearly, these
tend to be the only thing presented even in a first-contact situation.
Jesus didn't do that. It is unlikely for a person who knows nothing of
Christ, that you can save that person in five minutes though a simple gospel
presentation. This is the presumption of much of modern Evangelicalism.
What you end up having is a bunch of nominal Christians, some of whom go
on to be saved as they learn more of Christ, and others fall away.
The truth is that those who are products of the gospel of "easy-believism"
have not necessarily ever been born of God, never having accepted nor even
understood the complete gospel. For example, they may have accepted Christ
as Savior, but not as Lord. They may have misunderstood the faith that
saves to be merely superficial. They thought all there was to it was simply
a matter of technique - like "praying to receive Christ". But believing
in Christ the way the Bible speaks of it is not the same as going through
the mechanics of praying to receive Christ - as if in some experimental
fashion. I myself had "prayed to receive Christ" after a simple gospel
presentation. But I don't perceive that I understood the significance of
the gospel (let alone believe it) until about a year later, even though
having been brought up in a Catholic background I had knowledge of the
basics. Realize that Jesus was even speaking to "pre-churched" people in
a sense. For these were Jews raised on the scriptures, having knowledge
of God. Yet he didn't give them a simple presentation. He had to break
down their theological presumptions and he often spoken in allegorical
forms - as parables - so as to forced people to infer what he was saying
with their spirit. He didn't make it easy for people to understand. One
reason he did this was to filter out those who were not serious. In fact
if you were to ask the apostle John what the Gospel is, he may go on for
When you present the gospel, realize that God wants converts who have
more than simply an understanding of the gospel. For many today say that
they believe whereas they really mean that they understand. Make sure that
people get the complete picture. Biblical "belief" is not a trivial thing,
as many treat it today. Jesus was not interested in producing "nominal"
believers, but rather disciples whose convictions dominated their lifestyle.
How does Christ present the gospel? How is it presented in the Bible? Much
differently than in the "easy-believistic" fashion of Modern Evangelicalism.
Leading people to Christ is not a trivial process. In the synoptic gospels,
Christ speaks much about "attitudes", not dealing so much with the object
of faith, but rather with the manner in which (or attiutude with which)
one should believe. The following is a list of some of the attitudes and
ideas which dominate Christ's teachings particularly in the synoptic gospels.
While substantive of themselves, the primary purpose of these is to prepare
one to respond properly to the gospel of grace.
Prerequisite Character Qualities
Humility - This is the most essential of character qualities
particularly because it does two things.
It tends to make one evaluate oneself honestly - leading to conviction
It tends to make one listen - putting God's Word above one's own opinions
Conviction of Sin
Through the Righteousness of the Law
Standards of legal righteousness - such as the Sermon on
Fulfilling the law - such as the parable of the good Samaritan
Jesus speaks of the Law in the same manner Paul does in the early chapters
of Romans. They both use the Law to bring people to conviction of sin.
Humilating the Proud - Jesus speaks of the hypocrisy of
the "religious elite" and their failure to follow the Law, in the same
manner in which Paul does in Romans 2. Such humiliation was meant to instill
humility in such people so as to prepare them to receive the gospel of
grace. Similarly with rich young ruler who thought he was a "good" person.
To the proud and self-righteous, Jesus gives the Law so as to humilate
Qualities of Saving Faith
Application Oriented Faith - "Belief" without any outworking
is not a belief, but an opinion or an idea.
Commitment- Biblical Faith is a conviction. It takes its
belief seriously. Inherent in this is also the idea of "counting the cost"
of following Jesus. This is not paying for salvation, but rather it is
simply a readjustment of one's priorities. If I sell all I have to buy
the pearl of great price, I've actually lost nothing. I've simply transfered
my account from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. In this
sense eternal life is free even though it costs you everything you have.
Endurance of Faith - "He who believes to the end will
be saved." This is not a requirement for continued salvation as if
salvation can be lost once gained. Rather it is a description of the quality
of faith of the redeemed. By its very nature - convictions are those things
which endure your whole life. This is a characteristic of Biblical Faith.
Submission & Obedience - Lordship of Christ
Gratitude as a result of the revelation of God's grace
Placing Value on Eternal Things - We see this in such parables
as the pearl of great price, the rich fool, the hidden treasure, as well
as Jesus' many promises concerning rewards for following him. (as in Heb
Against Nominalism - Jesus warns of not being too presumptuous
about your salvation status
Against Idols - such as money
The urgency to diligently practice the faith in view of Christ's
Return and the coming judgment
Attitude towards the Word of God
The Necessity of hearing and listening - Jesus often uses
the phrase "he who has ears, let them hear" provoking people to listen
carefully and making correct inferences from his teachings. In the parable
of Lazarus and the Rich Man he makes response to the written Word being
more essential than a Charismatic reliance on miracles to lead others to
Christ. And in the parable of the Growing Seed he speaks of God at work
through His Word. Responding properly to the Word of God - the message
itself - is essential for salvation.
Fruitfulness in response to the Word of God
Attributes of God
In answering prayer
In forgiving sin
In his concern for the lost
Just - calling people to account for themselves
Summary & Application
This list is not comprehensive, but gives you the sense of the content
of Jesus' message. These can be contrasted with the manner in which the
gospel is generally presented by Christians today. But from this list let's
attempt to summarize what kinds of things we should think of sharing with
people before - or in addition to - sharing with them the basic gospel
message. We need to prepare people to hear the gospel of grace by getting
them to know about God and about their present relationship with God. Before
they can have a right relationship with God, they must get to know God
God is just. He hates sin. Unless your sins have been payed for, you cannot
have a right relationship with God.
God is holy. He hates sinfulness. He does not prefer relationships with
sinful people. To be completely reconciled to God, your sinfulness must
God is gracious. He forgives sins and answers prayers of the humble, but
holds the proud in contempt.
God has standards of righteousness as described in the Law and will
call everyone to account for themselves resulting in rewards and punishments.
How do you know God has spoken? Miracles
The humble take the Bible seriously
One should approach God and God's Word with an application oriented mindset
and an attitude of submission and obedience. God desires the message to
be received with thankfulness and to produce fruitfulness.
God doesn't owe us anything. He wasn't obligated to save anyone. He graciously
gives us what we don't deserve to save us from what we do deserve. Thus
the outworkings of our faith should be done with an attitude of gratefulness.
Attributes of Biblical Faith - the faith that God requires
We need to have an attitude of humility characterized by submission and
obedience. But serving not reluctantly but out of gratefulness.
We need to have a faith that is application oriented.
We need to put God first, being fully committed to seeking Him, valuing
eternal things higher than things of this earth, and continuing to do so
the rest of our lives.
Hinderances to Biblical Faith
Idols such as money or worldly ambitions
Pride and Bitterness resulting in an unforgiving attitude towards others.
A lack of zeal or sense of urgency in applying one's faith.