A disciple of mine told me the other day, “Don, the way you talk about the gospel and how to explain it to others, uncovered my self-deception about my own salvation. I’ve known I did not have anything real, but I did not think there was anything more to being a Christian than saying the prayer and joining the church, then try to be good enough. Last night I understood the gospel for the first time, and I truly believed it with all my heart.”
There is probably nothing as important in this life we now live than getting the gospel correctly understood and then putting our total trust in it. The consequences of a misunderstanding are devastating.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-22, “”Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'” (NLT)
They not only were followers of Christ but supposedly learned how to use His powers to effect inexplicable phenomena. However, Jesus next statement must stop everyone in their tracks: “But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Mat 7:23 NLT).
It seems evident that “many” have a sense of security or assurance of salvation that do not actually have a salvation relationship with Christ. It is all in their minds or imaginations, but is not a reality. We call these “nominal” Christians, that is, just in name alone, but not reality. It is like some couples pretend to be married, but really have never been married.
There have always been many superficial followers of Christ, who are not true believers. They are attracted to the benefits of using His name or faking their Christianity that they convince themselves that is all there is to religion.
How could they do miracles in Jesus’ Name, yet never be true believers? In Acts 8 Philip convinced an unbelieving miracle worker named Simon to “believe.” Simon became attracted to the miracles the Philip did instead of the Savior. He wanted the power to do more miracles (“Give me this power also, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit”—Ac 8:19NET). He was not interested in the abiding presences of Christ in every aspect of his life or making Him known. He was interested in making a respectable name for himself.
There were many false apostles and false prophets (2 Cor 11:13) who pretended to be “apostles of Christ” and who wanted to be “considered equal with us [the true apostles] in the things they boast about” (11:12). The tragedy is the many they deceive along the way.
Can true faith come without a clear understanding of the Word? Is believing in God’s power the same as saving faith? Throughout history defeated armies were convinced the victorious army had the more powerful God, so they were forced to convert to the most powerful One. If someone is convinced that Christ is the most powerful God, is that saving faith?
Many today, and throughout history, have seen visions of Christ, an angel, or Mary. Some have heard voices and genuinely believe that what they saw or heard was real, but is this saving faith? How many saw Jesus in person, even His miracles, but never believed in Him? Visions are not the same as faith, however real they may lead to a genuine faith, if they seek out the truth in the Word of God and trust it.
Is believing you are saved, the same as having saving faith? Or is this presumption? What is the difference? The answer is critical.
The following are some of the self-deceiving arguments that some use to convince themselves they are saved.
- I love to worship in praise services. Since only Christians love to worship I must be saved.
- I feel that I have a warm relationship with Christ, so I think I am saved.
- God answered my prayer and since God only answers the prayers of Christians I must be saved.
- God healed me and since He only heals Christians, I must be saved.
- God appeared to me in a vision therefore I must be a Christian.
- Everyone thinks I am a Christian, so I must be one.
False thinking, as well as false teachings, deceive many into thinking that whatever they believe (whether true or false) God will accept it because you are sincere. However, if you drink poison sincerely thinking it was pure water, you are sincerely wrong. You can be wrong in a lot of things in life, but you do not want to be wrong about salvation.
Many have joined the church and been baptized thinking this was part of or essential to being a Christian. Millions follow Christ continuing to think that they have to be good morally, avoid trouble, stay in good standing with the church or other Christians so they will make it to heaven. It is as though “getting to heaven” is the main purpose of this life and if I’m good enough I’ll make it.
What a difference to understand the gospel and trust in the Christ of the gospel, not just a more powerful God who can do things for me, but the God of Truth. Here are some of the main truths to understand and believe:
- Truth about man’s sin making him incapable of ever being good enough to be acceptable to God. When someone thinks he has no sin “the truth is not in him” (1 John 1:8). The first truth that must be “in” a person’s conscious is that he is undeserving or lost and without hope of ever being good enough for God. “For there is no difference, all have sinned” (Rom 3:22b-23a).
- Truth about God’s heart and commitment to take all our sins on Himself on the cross as full payment for the complete forgiveness of “our sins and to cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Truth about the gift of God’s righteousness to make us fully acceptable in His holy presence. Paul wrote, “that we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21 NET). This is our only hope of ever being in a relationship with Christ. All our offensive selfishness and self-centered thoughts and actions are covered with His righteousness.
- Truth about trusting His Word with our whole heart, knowing there is no other alternative and He never fails to keep His word. “For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness…” (Rom 10:10). This has always been God’s way of accepting sinners: “Abram believed the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6). This is “good news.”
- Truth about God’s miracle of regeneration and coming to indwell all who hear His Word, believe it and accept it as their own. “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Tit 3:5 NLT). Now He is within us and part of all we do or think.
- Truth about His commitment to us: “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 NKJ) We can never deserve it, but He has promised to always be with us to go through life’s difficulties and into eternity together. This is why we seek to spend our lives “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved”. (Eph 1:6 NKJ) What a message to tell!
We owe Him everything. This is why we will follow Him to the ends of the earth to tell everyone who has never heard or is confused about His amazing grace.
The power of intimidation and fear of rejection have crippled believers through the ages. We become so fearful of being criticized, ostracized or left out, or made fun of, that we are willing to keep silent instead of speaking up for Christ and the Bible. When the restraints of Christian accountability are lifted and Christian friends surround you, it will be a time of testing, character-building and a realistic self-appraisal of our genuine commitment to Christ.
To a church in Smyrna Jesus sent a message, “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering… Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself” (Rev 2:10NET).
There are 400 references to fear in the Bible, both positive fear and negative. Paul wrote that “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). Any thought or motive that encourages fearfulness, weakness, selfishness or uninhibited impulsiveness does not come from God’s Spirit. God wants us to be bold and unashamed of His wisdom, His salvation, and His Name.
During an extremely difficult time in Zimbabwe, it was very risky to be identified as a Christian. A young unknown African pastor in 1990 was killed for his faith. Later investigations when to his house after he was martyred and found among his papers his sermons and journal. One of his papers included what has become one of the clearest declarations of true faithfulness to Christ ever written. Could you write and sincerely mean this pastor’s Commitment to the Fellowship of the Unashamed:
“I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!”
If Jesus comes soon, will He recognize your colors?
This has been a great semester at Liberty University where many have learned to know Christ personally as never before as well as how to share Him with others. We are going home next week for Christmas break and here are some pointers on how to share your faith.
Someone is bound to ask you a question like, “Why do you go to Liberty University?” [Maybe you’re wearing a sweatshirt or you told them where you are studying. Your answer must be wisely framed.]
[Note: Politicians have learned that regardless of the question they have a message to deliver so they put a spin on the answer that quickly turns to their message. Here’s how we can be as “wise as serpents” (Matt 10:16).]
Answer something like this: “It’s the greatest Christian university in the world. You see, there was a time in my life when I was not interested in anything to do with Christianity, but I thought I was a pretty good person and that was all I needed to be. Then I met someone who shattered my false hopes…”
[Notice: I answered his question but immediately started the real reason I am at Liberty, namely because I became a Christian. So far I’ve avoided using Christian jargon (“I was lost”) and I did not get distracted into talking about myself (“I came from a Christian family,” “I was into drugs, sex and sin, etc.,” or “I was a child when I accepted Christ”). All of this may be true, but it is distracting. I call them “trap doors” that will get you off target – sharing the gospel. What I said was enough for anyone to identify with your background: either they are disinterested in Christianity or they think they are a “pretty good person” or both.]
Continue to say something like: “I was asked if I knew whether I would go to heaven or hell when I died?” [Obviously you’ll rephrase this to your situation, but be wise and purposeful in how you say it].
“I had never thought much about it, but then he [or she] asked me if I though I was a good person?”
[This is the false hope that all unbelievers count on as in 1 John 1:8, 10]. “I answered ‘Yea, well, pretty good.’ Then I was asked if I ever told a lie? I reluctantly admitted that I had. He showed me that that made me a liar. He asked me if I’d ever taken anything that wasn’t mine? I finally answered that I had and he made me admit that I was a thief. That was painful to my pride. But then he asked me if I’d ever had lustful thoughts about another person? He told me that Jesus said that if we ever had lustful thoughts it was as though we had already committed adultery.” [For your information that is Matt 5:28]. “He concluded by telling me, ‘By your own admission you’ve told me you are a Liar, a Thief and an Adulterer. If God is going to judge us by the Ten Commandments how do you think you will stand? Guilty or Innocent?’ I admitted that I would be guilty. For the first time I realized I wasn’t good enough to go to heaven. I felt lost.”
[If this is as far as you get, the seed has been planted. The hopes of being good enough have been shattered in your listener, hopefully forever. Now he is obligated to ignore his reality of guilt (a Freudian psychological tactic) or begins to search for a solution.
[Once proclaimed or announced the gospel is the “power of God,” that is, the Holy Spirit begins His work in a person once they have heard the truth about themselves: “he will convict the world of sin…” (John 16:8). Count on this. Continue sharing the good news:]
“Then my friend told me that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered the wrath of His Father for all my sins, so I would never have to suffer for my sins. God punished His Son, instead of me. And He only asked of me one thing: would I trust Him enough to make Him a part of my life as my personal Savior.”
[The gospel is easy to explain once the person has lost hope in his own goodness. This is the purpose of the Ten Commandments, which no human being, except Jesus, has ever been able to obey!]
“I simply told Jesus that I was sorry for my sins and thanked Him for taking the penalty for all my sins. Then I asked Him to come into my life and be my Savior forever. … And He did.”
[You’ve shared the Bad News, the Good News and now the Results].
“Since then I have not been perfect, but Jesus has never forsaken me and I’ve learned from the Bible that His way is always the best way to live. This is why I decided to go to Liberty University, where I can learn how to make a difference for God in this world.”
[If this is all you get to say you have left a seed in a heart that someone else will be able to water with another testimony or explanation of the gospel, which could bring about a salvation encounter with Christ. You may never know what happens until that day when we stand before Christ and He shows us how much we really accomplished for His kingdom. Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed to speak up for your Savior, the King of Kings. If time permits, say…]
“Can I ask you a few questions?….”