Abandoning Christ’s Gospel

Abandoning Christ's Gospel

Listen to today’s typical gospel presentation. You will hear sinners entreated with such phrases as “accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior”; “ask Jesus into your heart”; “invite Christ into your life”; or “make a decision for Christ.” You may be so accustomed to hearing those phrases that it will surprise you to learn that none of them is based on biblical terminology. They are the products of a diluted gospel. It is not the gospel according to Jesus.

The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy-believism.

Our Lord’s words about eternal life were invariably accompanied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call Him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 7.13–23″>Matthew 7:13–23).

Present-day evangelicalism, by and large, ignores those warnings. The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow, while the portrayal of Christ in preaching and witnessing becomes fuzzy. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find evangelicals willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person’s behavior shows any evidence of commitment to Christ.

Proof of Spiritual Life

One segment of evangelicalism even propounds the doctrine that conversion to Christ involves “no spiritual commitment whatsoever.” [1] Those who hold this view of the gospel teach that Scripture promises salvation to anyone who simply believes the facts about Christ and claims eternal life. There need be no turning from sin, no resulting change in lifestyle, no commitment—not even a willingness to yield to Christ’s lordship. Those things, they say, amount to human works, which corrupt grace and have nothing to do with faith.

The fallout of such thinking is a deficient doctrine of salvation. It is justification without sanctification, and its impact on the church has been catastrophic. The community of professing believers is populated with people who have bought into a system that encourages shallow and ineffectual faith. Many sincerely believe they are saved, but their lives are utterly barren of any verifying fruit.

Jesus gave this sobering warning:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7.21–23″>Matthew 7:21–23, emphasis added).

Clearly no past experience—not even prophesying, casting out demons, or doing signs and wonders—can be viewed as evidence of salvation apart from a life of obedience.

Our Lord was not speaking about an isolated group of fringe followers. There will be “many” on that day who will stand before Him, stunned to learn they are not included in the kingdom. I fear that multitudes who now fill church pews in the mainstream of the evangelical movement will be among those turned away because they did not do the will of the Father.

Contemporary Christians have been conditioned to believe that because they recited a prayer, signed on a dotted line, walked an aisle or had some other experience, they are saved and should never question their salvation. I have attended evangelism training seminars where counselors were taught to tell “converts” that any doubt about their salvation is satanic and should be dismissed. It is a widely held misconception that anyone who questions whether he or she is saved is challenging the integrity of God’s Word.

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jmacarthur@churchleaders.com'
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and president and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. He has written nearly 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible.