“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’”——Mark 1:14-15
Somewhere along the line, we have learned unbiblical beliefs and methods about the Gospel. This has led to many claiming to be “Christians”, but in reality are not. Without the proper Biblical understanding of the Gospel, we or anyone else cannot be saved.
The reason I bring this up is that there continues to be a lot of talk about the numbers of people that are “coming to Christ”. When you look at those that “led” them to Christ, what they actually believe about Jesus, and the lifestyle of those claiming to “have put their faith in Jesus”, there is often a huge disconnect. People seem to be much more concerned about the reward of heaven than actually submitting their lives to Jesus and turning away from sin.
Part of the problem has been that Christians have embraced being eternal optimists. For many, or even most believers for that matter, our desire is to see everyone put their faith in Jesus and walk with Him. But in our current day of political correctness and tolerance, this eternal optimism has spilled over into what people actually believe about Christianity and how they share the Gospel. Many have fallen into the trap of simply trying to get as many people “on board” as possible through worldly methods.
Things such as “praying the sinner’s prayer”, altar calls, making “decisions” for Jesus, and many other things, have replaced the Biblical understanding of the Gospel with man’s own ways. This has produced far too many who have been given a false hope and a false assurance about their eternal life. Whereas these things may have the appearance of pointing people to Jesus, they end up missing the mark to the detriment of many.
At this point, you may be asking why I am being so tough on the ways that have seemed to produce so many converts?? Simply because there is no basis or model to believe or do these things in Scripture. It may be possible that God can work in spite of these efforts, but there is no reason to believe that this Easy-Believism is truly making disciples. These things have been done more for personal assurance and fulfilling goals than for the people we want to see put their faith in Jesus. Wouldn’t we do far better to take our cues about the Gospel and evangelism from the Bible rather than man’s own beliefs and methods??
In Mark, chapter one, we see a clear example of Jesus’ beliefs and methods for preaching the Gospel. It says that he was preaching and calling for people to “…repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Now most people might quickly read past this, but it is critical that we fully understand what is at stake.
There are two parts to what Jesus was preaching. The first being to “repent”. The second, to “believe the gospel”. These two are forever interconnected and you can’t have one without the other in order to have true faith. Seems pretty straight forward.
Repentance is that word that we don’t talk enough about. If we understand our sin before God and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we will see that repentance is central to our forgiveness and faith. What most people get uncomfortable with is that they cannot continue in their sinful lifestyles and still believe that they will be saved. In other words, repentance isn’t just a one time event, but a continual commitment to turning away from sin and turning to God.
Some make the mistake that repentance is just simply a change of mind or agreeing with God about sin. They often twist Hebrew and Greek words of the original Bible texts to try and prove their point. Those that believe repentance is merely a change of mind, fear that a person might believe they are saved by “earning” their salvation through their “works”. But what is missed is that although we can change our mind and agree with God about sin, doesn’t necessarily equate to actually seeking to do what is right before God. Without truly turning away from sin and turning in active obedience to God, a person cannot come to faith in Jesus and their sin still remains.
To “believe the gospel” is to understand our sinfulness and need for Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is more than simply making a “decision” or profession of faith. To believe the Gospel means that we must fully surrender our lives to Jesus; recognizing the only means of redemption is through His sacrifice for our sins, through His death and resurrection, and seeking to live for Him. Without fully grasping the implications of the Gospel and the cost of discipleship, it ends up only leading to unregenerate false converts. In other words, people that profess to know Jesus, but in reality, don’t know Him. (Luke 13:22-30)
Another aspect that has affected us is that our culture and business practices have taught us that we must be results oriented. This has led to evaluating the effectiveness of evangelism on the terms of numbers. That is why from even a pure motive to see people put their faith in Jesus, it has blinded many from seeing through the real results of these “quick fixes” in evangelism. Instead, we should evaluate our effectiveness upon our faithfulness in sharing the Gospel rather than seeking the seemingly scores of people that raise hands, fill out cards, go to the the “altar”, and so on.
It is important that we learn to leave the results to the Lord. We aren’t called to simply “seal the deal”, but to give people a clear understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus and let them go to the Lord on their own initiative. We must allow God to work through the proclaiming of the Gospel and not rush people into an emotional, momentary, decision without letting each individual count the cost of repenting of their own sinfulness and what it means personally for them to put their faith in Jesus. (Luke 14:25-35) Yes, there is an urgency, but we must also realize that God is the One that is drawing people to Himself; our job is to merely share the Gospel clearly.
We must stop making excuses for why these beliefs and methods happening in many churches today may happen to lead someone, somewhere, to Christ and return to the Biblical models of sharing the Gospel.
We can always be optimistic in hoping people put their faith in Jesus, but we must be realists as well. This means that we can’t cut corners and believe that the masses, we are told, are really coming to Christ. The reality is that most people want “Jesus”, but don’t want to submit their lives to Him. Therefore, it is critical that we don’t lose sight of the Truth by putting our own spin on the Gospel and giving false assurance to those we are trying to win to the Lord. We must return to sharing our faith in a way that allows people to wrestle through the implications of faith for their lives that includes both repentance and believing the Gospel.