There is no better news than the Gospel! In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul lays out a clear description of the “gospel”:
15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Notice that Paul goes straight to the cross and never waivers from the cross throughout his letters:
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2.
The Cross for Paul was the good news and it still is the good news today. It is the “cornerstone” of our faith and nothing could be better news than Christ substitutionary atonement for our sins even “while we were still sinners.” The problem today is that there is less emphasis on the cross in the presentation of the gospel and more emphasis on escaping hell and what we are to contribute (surrender, commit, turn away from all sins, invite Jesus into our lives) to our justification as believers in Christ. This is NOT the gospel.
There is no formula that is either directly or indirectly given that one must follow in order to be saved – the thief on the cross for example. The fact is, that we offer nothing that helps our cause before Christ other than to humble ourselves enough to accept a “free gift” – as my pastor likes to say. It is 100% Christ’s work from start to finish. It is Jesus perfect life and perfect sacrifice that are the only acceptable means of justification for the salvation of our souls. Paul says that we are accredited with the righteousness of Christ that is not of our own doing. Nothing else would be acceptable because God’s standard is perfection. We could not lose our salvation if we tried:
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28
God saves us and He keeps us no matter what. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” In other words, there is absolutely nothing we do to cause God to disown us. Can you imagine a father disowning their own child based on performance?
No other religion offers eternal security upfront to the entire human race based entirely on God’s work and love for ALL who are created in His image. God does not call some and not others as some would have you believe.
“The LORD is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
What also makes Christianity unique among all other religions is the fact that God loves all men equally without exception (yes, He loves even the wicked). Sadly, there are some Calvinists (such as D.A. Carson) that rob Christianity of this uniqueness. This is not only unbiblical, but it is terrible news for those who are created in God’s image. God’s word is clear:
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
And who is us?
“For God so loved the world (this is us) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever (us) believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
William Lane Craig puts it well, “…the Qur’an assures us of God’s love for the God-fearing and the good-doers; but He has no love for sinners and unbelievers. Thus, in the Islamic conception, God is not all-loving. His love is partial and has to be earned. The Muslim God only loves those who first love Him. His love thus rises no higher than the love which Jesus said even tax-collectors and unbelievers exhibit.”
The concept of grace makes no sense to people who live in world where acceptance and worth is based primarily on performance. When performance is a condition that is mixed in with God’s grace it always leads to either debilitating shame or boasting in our own works. In 1 Corinthians 1:31 Paul says, …Let the one who boasts boast in the LORD.” When we boast in our own works it always leads to “fruit inspection”.
“Fruit inspection” means to inspect one’s good works to prove one is saved. This is very common among evangelicals today and it does more harm than good. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that we are to be “fruit inspectors.” This is especially common in Reformed and Arminian religious circles. Jesus says that there is only one work (notice that this work is singular) that justifies us before God (John 6:29). But, even John Calvin taught that one should not look to his works for assurance of salvation. We are to examine ourselves (or take a personal inventory) to see if we are being obedient and then return to the Lord. But not as a measuring stick to see if one is saved.
“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” Lamentations 3:40
Today a common error among many of the reformed Christian leaders (Chan, Washer, Cameron, Piper, MacArthur) is that they qualify faith or the command to “believe” by adding works; or faith plus. Faith needs no qualifier. The Bible does mention a faith that is dead (useless) but this has absolutely nothing to do with our position in Christ. However, any works that stem from a useless (dead) faith will be burned up in the end (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).
The theologian, Charles Bing, says “To make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit. The Scriptures are clear that we cannot confuse grace with merit lest we boast (Eph 2:8-9). It confuses Christ’s work with what we are required to do. We are required to believe in order to be saved. Who did the obedience for our salvation? It was Jesus Himself who obeyed.” Romans 5:19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (italics added). “It’s not our obedience that saves us, it’s Christ’s obedience that saves us. We are the recipients of the blessing of the work that He has done for us. The only command for an unbeliever to obey is the command to believe the gospel.”
To put this all into perspective, I think it is important that we see the parallel in Luke 18:9-14:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness (insert fruit inspector) and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
If the only source of information that we have regarding the holiness or good works of a particular Christian leader is through their own writings or sermons then be very cautious. Be very cautious of Christians who walk without a limp. The fact is that if you are condemning others because of the lack of fruit in their lives, you are in essence saying that your fruit is acceptable before God which is a good indication that you are “looking down on others” no matter how you try to frame it:
“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” Galatians 6:3-5
What was Jesus response to the adulterous woman after her sins were exposed by her accusers in John 8:1? – “Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
What a beautiful picture of God’s love for the broken and for those living in a sinful state. This is the way that we should approach those who are struggling with a life of sin (Galatians 6:1) for “There is no such thing as a believer who avoids habitual sin.” Bob Wilkin – see here and here. If Jesus does not condemn an adulterous woman who was caught in the very act itself, then what gives us the right (who sin every single day) to be a fruit inspector?
We have to be very careful in the way we present the good news to others. No where in the New Testament does it say that we are to do anything other than to change our mind about our sinful state and “believe” on Him who justifies (John 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 20:31, Acts 16:31, Titus 3:5, Romans 4:5-6). To say that we have something to offer that justifies us is not the good news and it does not save – whether at the beginning, during or at the end of our journey with God. How would that be good news?
So what role does “fruit” play in our relationship with Christ and is there any evidence within the New Testament that some believers can live “carnal” lives even to the end. We are definitely created to do good works once we become believers and those of us who “overcome” and live fruitful lives are promised rewards once we get to heaven. Living fruitful lives also helps us to avoid God’s discipline (which I have had plenty of in my own life) and it does wonders for our fellowship with our Creator. Paul makes it clear that not all of the “brethren” will be fruitful. If being fruitful were an automatic response (as Calvinists would say), once we emerge as “new creation in Christ”, then there would be no need for Paul to admonish, remind or exhort those who continue to live in the flesh and not the spirit. Paul even says that it is possible for a believer to backslide and get out of step with the spirit:
“Since we live by the spirit, let us stay in step with the spirit, Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another.” Galatians 5:25
Notice, what Paul is saying. He is warning believers that it is possible to live sinful lives if we continue to live in the flesh. Why would he warn believers of committing certain habitual sins if being fruitful was an automatic response. It is sad, but it is possible and there are many examples of believers throughout the old and new testament who showed very little evidence (if any) of a life of good works (Solomon, Saul, Lott, Samson, the carnal Corinthians, and the thief on the cross for example).
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24
This verse is good news because Jesus makes it clear that those who “believe” have (not will) passed from death to life at a single instance in time. It would not be everlasting life if it depended on some kind of “final salvation” as John Piper likes to add. This kind of error only causes confusion and it robs the believer of the joy that comes with the “simplicity” that is in Christ. If Piper’s assertion is correct, then there would be no way of knowing whether one is saved until a few seconds before they die. But 1 John 5:13 says that we can know: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The gospel is simple. We cannot rob others of that “simplicity” just because we are afraid that some people will take advantage of grace. Paul was accused of being an antinomian three times because he preached grace to the edge. He preached grace in a way that could easily be misinterpreted to mean that it does not matter if we sin because “where sin increased grace abounded all the more”, (Romans 5:12). However, he goes on to say we are not to abuse grace:
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
Reformed theologian Paul Washer says that …”those who have professed Christ and are living in continuous state of carnality without the least evidence of Holy Spirit convicting them of sin – it is because they are not saved…”
This is a clear example of back-loading the gospel with works which always leads to fruit inspection. Always! I read recently the following quote from a anonymous blog: “Paul Washer sets himself up as the Lord and judge, determining whether or not he can see a person is a believer by their actions, even after the person has professed his faith in Jesus Christ. He completely ignores the clear teaching of the carnality of the Corinthian believers, contentious, etc.”
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:1
“What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? 1 Corinthians 3:1
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.” 1 Corinthians 4:21-5:1
Washer’s message is essentially preaching the Lordship salvation message of John MacArthur, which is, if a believer does not turn from sin before and after he trusts Christ and does not live the “Christian life,” according to their rules then he cannot be a believer.
“And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” Romans 4:5-6
Theologian Jody Dillow was once asked by a co-worker (who strongly denied that the Bible teaches the existence of the carnal Christian):
“Jody can you show me even one verse that proves that a born again believer will not persevere in a life of good works until the final hour.” I said, sure and turned to the following words from Christ, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “
He goes on to say, “Jesus had been accused of abolishing the Law. To the contrary, He says that even the least important laws must be obeyed. He says that the individual in this verse will be “in” the kingdom, that is, saved; but he has not only disobeyed even the least of these commandments, but he has also actively taught others to do the same! He himself not only “disobeys” the Law (abolish) but he actually causes the little ones to stumble (as in Matt 18:6). He is a dangerous teacher for he is saying that God said things He did not say, thus incurring the judgement of James 3:1. He is a saved person, but will have the lowest status. He finished life a failure – he is a carnal Christian.”
” …To the degree that someone bases his assurance on his works, he moves from a God-centered, grace based perspective of his security to a man-centered, performance-based perspective.” Roger Fankhauser
There is only one thing that is required of those who seek to be born again and that is to “believe” or put another way to humble oneself enough in order to receive God’s free gift of salvation; to say “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner”. There is no formula or magical words that we can add. I once heard someone say, “If only I had down sized to a smaller house and fed the poor like Francis Chan, surrendered everything with a heart felt sorrow like Paul Washer, persevered to the end in order to receive “final salvation” like John Piper, or were as fruitful as John MacArthur then I would be saved.” This is Lordship Salvation and it is not the gospel. The psychological effects of Lordship theology can be devastating – see here. I believe these men of faith have much to add to our walk as believers but are confused about our position in Christ.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27“Yes, LORD,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:25-27
Notice Mary knew exactly what Christ meant by “believe” and Jesus neither admonishes her or corrects her for her answer.
if you still have questions and want to be sure you have eternal life then this is a good place to start: https://faithalone.org/tracts/you-can-be-sure-2/
Thank you Jesus, have mercy on me for I am a sinner! Help me to never again be subject to the yoke of slavery and help me to never grow weary of doing good.