I didn’t want to believe it at first. I still don’t.
But me wishing it weren’t true doesn’t change the uncomfortable fact. Many American Christians remain imprisoned by the very idea Jesus came to demolish…
…that we they may somehow earn the favor of God, our way into Heaven.
In recent weeks, I’ve become much more aware of the prevalence of this misconception. Rather, I’ve become personally aware of it.
It’s become personal.
What I’ve Seen
I’ve been blessed with wonderful church experiences.
I’ve been a member of three fellowships (two churches and the chapel while I attended Command and General Staff College). What I heard was faithful, biblical exposition. All three fellowships were led by faithful men of God who preached the full counsel of God’s word. They did not shy away from hard truths or tough topics.
At some point, I came to know the doctrines of grace, the beautiful and blessed doctrines that reveal the character of God, the heart of the Lord. The doctrines of grace describe the mercy and love by which a holy and righteous God saves men from their sin.
God saves sinners—the crux of the Gospel.
Once I came to know them, my desire to proclaim the Gospel, the true Gospel, became a blazing furnace in my soul. I could nevermore keep silent upon knowing and understanding the saving grace I had received some years before, though at the time of my conversion, I could scarcely fathom the depth or the source of the grace I had received.
“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – Jesus (John 3:3)
Jesus uses an appropriate metaphor to describe the new birth that is necessary for salvation, for seeing the kingdom of God.
Birth requires nothing on my behalf. I did not decide to be born. I did not seek to be born. There are no steps given to being born again. It happens completely independent of me. I am a recipient of birth. I am acted upon in birth. I am born or, in this case, reborn. This is the regeneration, the giving of the new heart, prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel centuries before.
God removes the onus for salvation entirely from human hands. It has to be this way. It’s supernatural. It doesn’t make sense to us, but my total depravity demands it.
The unregenerate heart hates it.
The idea of surrendering every shred of ability to save myself or even participate in my salvation grates against my human spirit. I’m sorry masses of evangelicals, but I don’t even participate 1% or .05% or less. You get the idea.
I am a corpse, was.
God breathed life into me. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
No dead man has ever willed himself to life, but that is exactly what many church-attenders believe.
What I Hear
I have not personally observed this, but I hear anecdotal accounts and it’s disturbing.
As we live in highly-transient military community, people ‘passing through’ frequent our congregation. By the time they get to us, many have visited numerous churches and the reports are similar. Watered-down, sugar-coated preaching. Shallow theology. Topical messages of personal empowerment.
You are enough. You are better. You deserve. You are powerful. You are worthy. And worst of all…you can and you will.
Be good. God would never condemn a ‘good’ person to hell. You know ‘good’ people. You are a ‘good’ person. You pay your taxes. You help people. You’ve never murdered anyone. You try to do ‘good’ things. You have a ‘good’ heart.
Why would God condemn someone as sincerely ‘good’ as you?
This is practical universalism and everything I hear tells me it’s growing in prevalence. The numbers back it up.
What Reality Says
Decades ago, the second best-selling book in the United States, after the Bible, was The New England Primer. From this short text, all children learned to read and write, but really learned the truth of the Gospel, reinforcing that which their parents were already teaching them.
Consider some of the sentences they had to write:
– God having out of his mere good pleasure from all eternity elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of a state of sin and misery, and to bring them into a state of salvation by a Redeemer.
– We are made partakes of the redemption purchased by Christ by the effectual application of it to us by his holy Spirit.
– The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
Children once learned to read and write by reading and writing the doctrines of grace, the truest expression of the Gospel message. In this way, they hid the sacred words of Scripture in their hearts.
The average Christian today could not articulate what these sentences actually mean. Biblical literacy declines continually as biblical error proliferates and perhaps the greatest error of all, a lie straight from the pit of Hell, is that a man can earn his way to Heaven or even that he must or may cooperate with God in that salvation.
False religions (all religions apart from Christianity) have this as the central tenet of their doctrine. I have to do things and once I do things, I may attain things such as the favor of God, even Heaven.
This teaching is anathema to biblical Christianity.
Yet, the numbers demonstrate a troubling trend. Increasingly, professing American Christians believe these lies:
– Many different roads can lead to Heaven, including other religions.
– If I do enough ‘good’ God will let me into Heaven, even without Jesus.
The last one, it’s what I want to believe, in my flesh. I want, at the very least, to have some say in my salvation. The idea of complete surrender of the rights to me and my livelihood is unsettling.
And the church cooperates in the propagation of this tragic misinformation.
Who I Know
A family member I love is caught in this trap.
I had suspected this relative of only being a church-attender for some time. Whenever he spoke of his faith he spoke of ‘it’, as in religion, instead of ‘him’, as in Jesus.
He is a good man. He helped build the new fellowship hall. He played in the worship band for years. He helped out whenever possible. He worked in the community on service projects. He attended, religiously.
He could not articulate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
This man had been a regular church-attender for the last thirty years or so and He could not tell me the first thing about grace and mercy. He felt no burden of sin. He saw himself as a ‘good’ man, a righteous man. He saw the sins and shortcomings of others and declared, thank God I’m not like that other man.
In short, He doesn’t know Jesus and as he is nearing 80 years of age, time is of the essence. He articulated to me the gospel of the western church when he said,
“I try to be a good man. I try to do good.”
“I feel like it [religion] has made me better.”
For over two hours we talked and I shared Christ with him in any way I could. If nothing else, he heard the Gospel at least once but how could a man attend the same church for thirty years and at least not understand the grace of God on an academic level?
My spirit tells me this is far from unique to him.
This is the new/old norm, the elevation of works, even if in a seemingly minor way, that slanders the grace of our heavenly Father. May the true Gospel demolish these strongholds in our nation. May we repent of allowing this false gospel to flourish.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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