“…pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Colossians 4:3-4
The great Apostle Paul asked the believers of Colosse to pray for his gospel presentation to be as clear as possible. Wow.
If Paul needed prayer to ensure a clear proclamation of the good news, how much more do we? This is the same brilliant and determined disciple who baffled the Jews after his conversion with his inarguable arguments for the grace of God. This is the same one-of-a-kind writer who penned the salvific books of Romans and Galatians, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence of the Christian faith. Yet, in spite of all his qualifications to preach the gospel, he asks for prayer to be clear as he presents this simple, yet astounding message.
Why did he do this? Because clarity matters, especially when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He knew that the difference between a clear presentation and an unclear presentation is the distance between heaven and hell.
Napoleon had three commands for his messengers:
1. Be clear!
2. Be clear!
3. Be clear!
We can be sure that these same three commands apply to every preacher, evangelist, and Christian as well. We must be clear as we present the gospel!
Let us be clear on what the gospel is. Paul defines the core facts of the message in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”
We were sinners, and Christ died for those sins. He rose from the dead, proving he was who he claimed to be. These core realities comprise the foundation of the gospel message.
So once we understand the basis of our salvation, let us continue our clarity adventure by being clear about how a person receives the gift of salvation.
When the Apostle Paul was asked, “What must I do to be saved?” by the Philippian jailer, his answer was surprisingly succinct. He replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Notice what Paul did not say. He didn’t say, “Turn or burn! Try or fry! Forsake or bake!” Instead he said, “Believe and receive!”
Some of you reading this right now may be cringing a bit, wondering if preaching this faith alone in Christ alone message may lead to a license to sin. The great reformed preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones once wrote, “The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”
What this once-in-a-generation preacher was saying is that whenever you preach the gospel of grace it can sound like a license to sin. If it doesn’t sound like a license to sin, then it is not the gospel. Is the gospel a license to sin? No! No! No! (Romans 6:1.) But it can be easily perceived as a license to licentiousness by those who are afraid of unleashing the full force of God’s grace with nothing added.
These same folk will often try to bolster the grace of God with terms that focus on what we must do (turn, try, surrender, commit, etc.), or they will try to redefine faith as more than simply trusting in Jesus. They are afraid that just saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” is just not enough to save a person, so they add a price tag to the “free” gift of God’s grace. But in so doing, they destroy the principle of grace. This fleshly tendency of trying to add works to the gift of God’s grace is what the entire book of Galatians is about, by the way.
There were those in Galatia who were seeking to add one little work (aka “circumcision”) to the free gift of God’s grace. What was Paul’s response? Fury! He wrote these surprisingly blunt words in Galatians 5:12, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.”
This is a painful reminder that one human work, in this case circumcision, ruins the principle of grace. Paul is saying that if a person wants to try to earn their way into God’s favor through human effort, they must be willing to go the whole way and refuse to stop with a “snip.”
In Paul’s day, that snip was circumcision. In our day, it may be a personal commitment, a determination to serve, a willingness to try harder, etc., etc. But that little snip, whatever it is, destroys the whole point that we are saved by what Christ has done, not what we must do.
We come as sinners, fully convinced that we fall short of God’s perfect standard. We come convicted of our need to the cross of Christ and simply believe in what he has done for us. We rely on his work on the cross for us instead of our work on the earth for him to save us.
But when we genuinely trust in him, he begins a new work in us (Philippians 1:5-6). From the moment of justification, his Holy Spirit indwells us and begins to turn us from our sin and transform us into the image of Christ. This turning and transformation is a result of salvation, not a prerequisite to it.
What about those genuine believers who resist this process (as both you and I have done time and time again)? First Corinthians 11:30 makes it clear that there are consequences to resisting the good work that Jesus has begun in us, “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” God will discipline his children. God will sanctify his kids…even if it takes death to complete the work.
So although we are saved by faith alone, we are called to combine works to our faith after salvation (James 2:24-26) so that our faith and our actions are working together and our faith is spiritually matured by what we are willing to do.
Bottom line? Be clear. Be clear. Be clear.
Is that clear enough for you?