“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” (Gal. 1:6-7)
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 10:7)
Jesus preached a gospel and commanded us to preach it as well. It wasn’t the gospel modern Christendom embraces. Nowhere in the Bible will you find it said Jesus preached the gospel of salvation we are promoting in our temples today. No, the gospel Jesus preached was, logically, the one He came to bring and to model as well: the gospel of the kingdom! While Jesus is seen preaching just “the gospel” many times, the only times the description is more specific is when it is “the gospel of the kingdom.” What are the differences between His gospel and ours today, and why is it so critical we understand them?
In part one of this six-part series I will focus on where the gospel of salvation begins [and unfortunately ends for many naïve converts to our ranks today]: praying the Sinner’s Prayer with someone. We do it this way because it’s quick and painless [something life in America has become all about], and so everyone can be fully assured their ticket to heaven is punched without any further action required on their part [also quick and painless]. It also enables the person who led them through it to go out and boast they “led someone to Christ.”
The journey must begin somewhere, and so I’m not opposed to a sinner’s prayer of some sort as long as it is accompanied by sincere instruction from the one facilitating it as to the cost involved in becoming a disciple, not remaining a lifetime convert. To facilitate the gospel of the kingdom any conversion must be accompanied by a diligent effort from both parties to engage in the process of lifestyle discipleship thereafter.
“Praying the prayer” and receiving Christ gives us the “right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It does not guarantee us that all important ticket to heaven [see more later on in discussion of grace]. John also tells us to love “in deed and in truth, not with word or with tongue” (1 John 3:18). In Matthew 7 Jesus damns people who claim to follow, but whose faith was comprised of words and temple activities, while in Matthew 25 He calls those who were involved in the simplest acts of love His “sheep.” How can one who has only employed their tongue possibly have loved with their deeds? In John 15 Jesus says those who believed (“every branch in Me”), yet bore no fruit would be taken away [words used to describe damnation in other passages], and said only those who keep His commands would be called His “friends” who knew what He was up to. Praying a prayer keeps no command at all.
We will be judged according to the fruit of the Spirit born through us operating in the love of Jesus and guidance of the Spirit, along with our words. How can anyone, based upon a two minute prayer uttered, then be assured they are going to heaven [with the possible exception of a sincere death-bed conversion]? The gospel of the kingdom Jesus modeled was to love “with word, tongue, and in deed and truth.” This is what bears fruit in the kingdom. Per the gospel of salvation, once you have uttered the words and displayed regular attendance in the temple it matters not how else you live your life, or who else you touch for the kingdom. Apart from that grace has everything covered.
Well-known missionary Paul Washer had the following to say about people believing they were saved by merely reciting some form of Sinner’s Prayer: “What we face today is the Sinner’s Prayer, and if there’s one thing I’ve declared war upon it’s that…it’s sent more people to hell than anything else on the face of the earth…Men today are trusting in the fact that at least one time in their life they prayed a prayer, and someone told them they were saved…They say, “One time in my life I prayed a prayer,” and they live like devils. But they prayed a prayer.”
Then there is the other side of the salvation gospel coin: those who lead others in Sinner’s Prayers and then declared they “led people to Christ [for more on this, see http://theawakenedchristianman.org/2017/05/10/do-we-lead-people-to-god/].” Every time I hear Christians say this my spirit recoils within me. The lack of knowledge displayed in such an unbiblical and arrogant statement is more than a bit troubling. Under the gospel of salvation this is the goal, and those who can claim the most Sinner’s Prayer scalps are highly venerated, sought after, and handsomely paid on the temple speaking circuit. Sadly, many say this innocently because they hear it said so often by others and repeat it without giving it much thought. But the truth is we lead no one to Christ. 1 Peter 3 tells us Christ died for sins that He might bring us to God. In John 16 Jesus proclaims the Holy Spirit would convict us of sin and guide us in to truth, and in John 12 Jesus says if He is lifted up He will draw men to Himself.
Our responsibility is to preach the gospel to people, but God does the rest. According to Paul some plant [the seeds of the gospel shared], some water [to continue the process of discipleship], but only God causes any growth (1 Cor. 3). However, even in these roles can we boast we did anything? Who “led us” to preach, plant, and water if not the Spirit? Also true to John 16, the Spirit of God alone provides two critical elements of conversion no man can possibly bring to the table: conviction/repentance and the opening of hearts/eyes. Anyone who has ever shared the gospel with others knows the futility of trying to preach to a heart not prepared beforehand by God’s conviction and opening. They also know how fruitful and simple sharing is with someone whom God has prepared through conviction and opening.
While there are many passages discussing how we are to preach to, serve, and disciple people, as with any sort of formal Sinner’s Prayer or mention of the gospel of salvation, you will find no reference to people leading other people to conversion in the New Testament. However, when your understanding of the workings of Jesus through the Holy Spirit is limited by the shallowness of the gospel of salvation most preach today, you come to believe you lead people to Christ by merely repeating the process you went through, and salvation is accomplished via the utterance of mere words. Paul said, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). As I will say throughout this series, the gospel of the kingdom must be lived as well as taught. That’s what Jesus did, and He was the kingdom come to earth. The gospel of salvation is mere words. Ah, but the gospel of the kingdom is pure power!
So, the question is what gospel are you preaching? More importantly, what gospel are you yourself living and modeling before those seeking Jesus Christ? I believe the fields whitest for harvest in the Christian world today might possibly be our temples filled with the converts of modern Christendom, who are looking for kingdom saints to take them out of their Laodicean malaise and transfer them into the kingdom of heaven on earth! If not now, it certainly will be so when God’s judgment just now on the horizon comes upon us like Noah’s flood. I pray, preach and be the gospel of the kingdom, for that is what yields “disciples who observe all Jesus commanded!”