If, Then, and Grace By Hal Lindsey In math class, we learned about IF-THEN statements.…
The Nonnegotiable Gospel
By Dave Hunt
What is the “good news” of the gospel—and from what does it save us? In order to answer that question, we must begin in the Garden, for it was there, in the most perfect environment that God’s heart of love and His creative power could design, that sin had its awful beginning.
Surrounded by beauty, satisfied by abundance, and enjoying the fellowship of their Creator Friend, our ﬁrst parents nevertheless fell to the seductive lies of the Serpent. “Ye shall be as gods” was Satan’s promise, while Adam, in loyalty to Eve, whom he loved more than God himself, joined in her disobedience and ate of the forbidden fruit (1 Timothy 2:14).
Thus, “by [this] one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death not only ends this short earthly life; it separates the sinner from God forever. In His inﬁnite foreknowledge, wisdom, and love, however, God had already planned how He would restore life and reunite mankind with Himself.
Without ceasing to be God, He would become a man through a virgin birth. Only God could be the Savior (Isaiah 43:11; 45:21, etc.), thus the Messiah had to be God (Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 45:15; Titus 1:3, 4, etc.). He would die for our sins to pay the penalty demanded by His justice: “’Tis mystery all, the immortal dies!” hymn writer Charles Wesley declared. Then He would rise from the dead to live in those who would believe in and receive Him as their Lord and Savior. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life would be theirs as a free gift of His grace. Centuries before His incarnation, God inspired the Old Testament prophets to declare His eternal and unchangeable plan of salvation.
Deﬁnitive criteria were provided by which the coming Savior would be identified. Jesus and His apostles did not invent a “new religion.” Christianity fulfills scores of specific prophecies and is therefore provable from Scripture! So it was not a new gospel that Paul the apostle preached but “the gospel of God (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures) concerning his Son Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1-3).
Thus, the Bereans could check Paul’s message against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11); and he could use the Hebrew prophets, which were read in the synagogue each sabbath, to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah (verses 2, 3). Not Buddha, not Muhammad, not anyone else—only Christ has the required credentials! The fulfillment of scores of specific prophecies in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth should be absolute proof that He is the true and only Savior.
In Hebrews 2:3, the vital question is asked, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” The answer is so starkly plain: there is no escape. The Bible makes that solemn fact abundantly clear. To reject, add to, take from, or otherwise pervert or embrace a substitute for “the gospel of God” is to perpetuate the rebellion begun by Adam and Eve and to leave one eternally separated from God and His proffered salvation.
No wonder Paul wrote, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” (2 Corinthians 5:11). So must we, too, persuade men through the gospel! The “gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13) “wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2) is simple and precise, leaving no room for misunderstanding or negotiation: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day…” (verses 3, 4).
This “everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6) was promised “before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) and cannot change with time or culture. There is no other hope for mankind, no other way to be forgiven and brought back to God except through this “strait gate and narrow way” (Matthew 7:13, 14). Any broader road leads to destruction.
The one true “gospel of God’s grace,” which God offers as our only salvation, has three basic elements:
1) who Christ is—fully God and perfect, sinless man in one Person (were He less, He could not be our Savior);
2) who we are—hopeless sinners already condemned to eternal death (or we wouldn’t need to be saved); and
3) what Christ’s death accomplished—the payment of the full penalty for our sins (any attempt by us to pay in any way rejects the Cross).
Christ has commanded us to “preach the gospel [good news!] to every creature [person]” (Mark 16:15). What response is required? Both the desperate question and uncomplicated answer are given to us: “What must I do to be saved?…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30, 31). Neither religion, ritual, nor good works will avail. God calls us to simply believe. “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) — whosoever believes in him will not perish, but has eternal life (John 3:16).
It is the gospel alone that saves those who believe it. Nothing else will save. Therefore, we must preach the gospel. Paul said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Sentimental appeals to “come to Jesus” or “make a decision for Christ” avail nothing if the gospel is not clearly explained and believed. Many are attracted to Christ because of His admirable character, noble martyrdom, or because He changes lives. Such converts have not believed the gospel and thus are not saved. This is the solemn teaching of Scripture (John 3:36)!
Paul said that “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). He also called it “the gospel… by which also ye are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2); and “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). Clearly, from these and other scriptures, salvation comes only through believing the gospel. Christ told His disciples to go into “all the world, and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15), a gospel that the Bible precisely deﬁnes.
Salvation comes on God’s terms and by His grace, and we negotiate the gospel neither with God nor with one another. “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). Salvation is a work of God and His Son. We either believe it or reject it. We don’t “dialogue” about it. It is also called the “gospel of Christ” (Mark 1:1; Romans 1:16; 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12, 18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). He is the Savior, and salvation is His work, not ours, as the angels said: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Paul specifies the gospel that saves: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). “I am the door,” said Christ: “by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). The gospel contains nothing about baptism, church membership or attendance, tithing, sacraments or rituals, diet or clothing. If we add anything to the gospel, we have perverted it and thus come under Paul’s anathema in Galatians 1:8, 9!
The gospel is all about what Christ has done. It says nothing about what Christ must yet do because the work of our redemption is ﬁnished. “Christ died for our sins.” His was a past act, never to be repeated, for Christ triumphantly declared, “It is ﬁnished” (John 19:30)!
Nor does it say anything about what we must do, because we can do nothing. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5); “for by grace are ye saved through faith…the gift of God (is) not of works, lest any man should boast…” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Instead of works, the gospel requires faith. It is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justiﬁeth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5)…“that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The gospel is a two-edged sword. It declares, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” The same verse also says, “and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Right here we come to the most difficult part of the gospel to accept—that those who do not believe it are eternally lost, no matter what good works they do.
The reasons for that fact are grounded in both God’s love and His justice. God’s justice requires that the inﬁnite penalty for sin must be paid. In payment we would be separated from God forever, so He became a man through the virgin birth to pay the penalty for us. No one can complain against God. He has proved His love by doing all He could for our salvation. He has himself paid the penalty and on that basis can be both “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Christ pleaded in the Garden, “if it be possible (i.e., if there is any other way mankind can be saved), let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). We know that there is no other way, or God would not have required His beloved Son to bear the full brunt of His wrath against sin. The fact that men nailed Christ to the cross would only condemn us. But on the cross, when man was doing his worst to his Creator, Christ paid the penalty for our sins in full. Only if we accept that payment on our behalf can we be saved.
“There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); “what must I do to be saved?…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30, 31). To “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” includes who He is and what He has done.
Jesus said, “…Ye are from beneath; I am from above…if ye believe not that I AM [this is God’s name, Yahweh], ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:23, 24). Jesus himself says we must believe that He is God, for He is; and no one less than God could save us. We must believe that the sinless One “died for our sins,” and was buried; and that He rose bodily from the grave. Only by believing this gospel are we saved. So says God’s Word.
Why could not even a Mother Teresa get to heaven by good works? Because we are all sinners; and because once we have broken one of God’s commandments we “[are] guilty of all” (James 2:10); and “by the deeds of the law there shall no ﬂesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). Keeping the law perfectly from now on could never make up for having already broken it.
For God to grant salvation by any other means than faith in Christ alone would be an insult to the One whom the Father insisted had to endure His wrath as the sacrifice for sin. Furthermore, God would be breaking His own code of justice and going back on His Word. No, even God himself could not save earth’s most notable “saint.” Christ’s blood avails only for repentant sinners. Oswald Chambers warned lest, in our zeal to get people to accept the gospel, we manufacture a gospel acceptable to people and produce “converts” who are not saved.
Today’s most popular perversion is the “positive” gospel, which is designed to offend no one with truth. One of our most popular televangelists, for example, has said that it is demeaning to call anyone a sinner and that Christ died to restore human dignity and self-esteem. He claims to win many to Christ with that seductive message—but such a gospel does not save sinners.
Evangelistic appeals are often made to come to Christ” for the wrong reasons: in order to be healthy, happy, successful, to restore a marriage, or to handle stress. Others preach a gospel that is so diluted or perverted that it deceives many into thinking they are saved. No fraud could be worse, for the consequences are eternal! Religion, not atheism, is Satan’s main weapon. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ… should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). To combat “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), the great deceiver has many false gospels, but they all have two subtle rejections of grace in common: ritual and/or self-effort. Ritual makes redemption an ongoing process performed by a special priesthood; and self-effort gives man a part to play in earning his salvation. The one denies the ﬁnality of the Cross. The other denies its sufficiency. Either one robs God of the uniqueness of the gift He wishes to bestow upon fallen man: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).