“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
(1 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV).
As Americans, we spend lots of money, time and energy trying to either get fit or stay fit. While being or getting physically fit is important and may even be God-glorifying (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), the apostle Paul reminds us that it is only of limited value. Training for spiritual fitness, however, is of eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore, argues Paul, we are to train ourselves for godliness because it is of value for this life and the life to come. But what does it mean to train for godliness? Let’s follow Paul’s argument.
Note the command and Paul’s argument. Stated negatively, Paul warns against having anything to do with irreverent (godless) babble and silly myths. Positively, Paul commands that we train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). To train for godliness, then, seems to be the opposite of giving oneself over to the false knowledge that comes from false teaching. It is giving oneself over to “the words of the faith” (i.e., the gospel), and the good doctrine that flows out of that gospel (1 Timothy 4:6). In other words, to train for godliness is to train oneself in the true knowledge of God that comes from giving oneself over to God’s Word.
At this point some may argue that such training sounds and smells like legalism. But training for godliness is not legalism because this true knowledge of God begins as a gift of grace at salvation, and this true knowledge of God is a gift of grace for sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this knowledge of God and His saving power, we must continue to grow in this knowledge – this is what it means to train in godliness. It is only legalistic if you believe yourself to be gaining God’s favor by your actions. But if we receive God’s gracious Word and take it in by faith, then we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ by His revelation to us. But you may still wonder how to go about such training?
To be sure, the Lord grants us many different means of grace (ordinances, one another, gathering as a church, etc.), but here I want to emphasize the foundational means of grace for our sanctification: God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. Donald Whitney in his book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life calls this Bible intake. God has mercifully not left us in the dark to figure things out. Our Lord Jesus promised to be with us by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit guided certain men to record the Word of God about Christ. That’s what the Bible is: God’s Word about Jesus. If we are to know God, that is, understand who He is (character, attributes) and His ways, then we must take up the gracious gift of God’s Word and read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it read and preached, and even sing it. If we are to understand the Bible itself, we must read it because earlier passages of Scripture shed light on later passages of Scripture and vice versa.
To train in godliness, then, is to train diligently in the knowledge of God in Christ by giving yourself over to the gospel and the doctrines that flow from the gospel – that’s Bible intake (Hos. 4:6)! So, establish a time and a place, then find a plan and begin by faith. It is hard work; after all, Paul calls it training. Taking the Bible in and hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, singing it is merely hearing God and getting to know Him in the manner in which He has graciously revealed Himself to us. Let us train together and grow in spiritual fitness!
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, ESV)
The gospel is a gospel of peace. It declares that since the time of Adam’s sin we have been born into this world as God’s enemy: hostile in mind and engaged in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21) against God (Romans 8:7). The most holy God had every right to declare the differences between Him and us irreconcilable. Yet, in His wisdom and love God chose to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). By judging our sin at the cross of Christ, Holy God is able to reconcile to Himself us who receive Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf by faith.
Through Christ, we who have been reconciled to God have also been given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As ministers of reconciliation, we proclaim this gospel of reconciliation to the world in order that all peoples may be reconciled to God through the death of Christ. But our ministry of reconciliation does not end there, for we must continue living in the light of the reconciling work of Christ. Consequently, we must live our lives reconciled to one another.
Even though we Christians have been reconciled to God through Christ, far too many professing Christians still live in conflict with others. Such conflict is manifested in marriages, homes, workplaces, even church relationships. Unfortunately, many of us address such conflicts according to worldly wisdom rather than heavenly wisdom. This is why Christians have as many divorces as non-Christians, why they stop talking to fellow Christians, why they leave churches over conflict, and why churches even split over conflict.
What kind of Christian testimony do we offer this world if we are reconciled to God through Christ but fail to be reconciled to one another? One of the most powerful witnesses we can provide our community is the witness of reconciled relationships that flow from being reconciled to God. If we are to live in such an atmosphere, then we must cultivate a culture of peace. According to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a culture of peace is a culture where “people are eager and able to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships in a way that clearly reflects the love and power of Jesus Christ” (291). If we are to cultivate such a culture of peace, then we must have a biblical strategy for resolving conflict. Sande offers the following counsel (the four “G’s”):
Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our entire lives must be motivated by a desire to glorify God. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). We must first look at our own hearts in order to discern our contributions to conflicts. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). The Bible gives us clear instruction in approaching those with whom we have conflict. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Once we have addressed conflict, we must be willing to restore relationships.
Let us cultivate a culture of peace in our local churches. May we be about God’s glory, and address conflict biblically by first looking at our own hearts, then approaching one another with the goal of reconciled relationships that give evidence to the fact that we are a people reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
From The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline (85-92)
By Mark Lauterbach
The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity. No matter where we draw the line of “when to speak to a brother” we must do so in a context of the Gospel and knowing that we are all maturing in Christ. Every day believers need the Gospel.
The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is not a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross.
How to wisely address concerns about sin with brothers and sisters in Christ:
1. It should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions [or personal preferences]. “Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary” (86).
2. Guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin (Matthew 7:1-5). “The call to reprove my fellow believer for sin must be put in the context of the call to encourage them and build them up” (88).
3. Remember that the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. “I find it helpful,” notes Lauterbach, “to assume that another believer wants to please God. Therefore, they welcome my encouragement. The attitude behind reproof is to help them grow in Christ, which they want to do” (89).
4. Remember there is sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining sin. “The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging it themselves? If the latter, I may forbear” (89).
5. Remember to take into account the work of the Spirit. “[The Spirit] is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this” (90).
6. Where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. “They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound” (92).
7. Sometimes we must intervene quickly. “Some sins have an unusual seriousness (and danger) to them. If I see a friend flirting with someone of the opposite sex, it is not time to be patient. It is time with wise and gracious words, to intervene, see if suspicions are correct, and seek their repentance before adultery is committed” (92).
May the Lord grant us the grace to speak to one another in love about sin.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
Parenting is the hardest task I’ve ever been given. It’s like a roller coaster ride. Sometimes things are up; sometimes they’re down; it’s always a fast ride, and you can never anticipate all the turns. The sad thing is that even though I’ve been parenting for over twenty two years, it hasn’t gotten any easier; the truth is that oftentimes I feel like an utter failure. Nevertheless, I will continue to cherish the opportunity God has given me to raise our girls in the discipline and instruction that the Lord requires.
Like all parents, I too want what’s best for my children. Jeanine and I diligently work at home to make sure we are teaching them God’s word in an effort to bring them along to a proper understanding of a gracious and holy God. There is only one problem; children tend to be very much like their parents. Have you noticed? The most humbling moments in our home are when we have realized that our children not only look like us; they act like us. This truth is a double-edged sword.
I believe God gives us these reflections of grace in order that we may understand Him better. I am speaking of reflections such as marriage and parenting, for God has revealed Himself as Father, and we know Jesus as the bridegroom. For example, we received our girls into our family when they were born. Similarly, God receives us into His family when we are born again (John 1:12-13). The good news for us is that as God’s children, we begin to take on the characteristics of our heavenly Father, for God is conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
When you read through 1 John, you will see that John sets out the characteristics of a child of God in contradistinction from the characteristics of a child of the devil. In 1 John you will discover that God is love; therefore, if we are born of God we too will love as a reflection of our Father’s love (1 John 4:7-8). As you read through 1 John, you will notice that the apostle John also emphasizes that God is light; therefore, if we are born of God, we will walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:5-7).
For now, consider how John combines the idea of the holiness of God with the second coming of Christ. Knowing that Christ is righteous, those who are born of God will also be righteous (1 John 2:28). When Christ returns for His bride (the church), those who are His will have no cause for shame, for we will have remained in Him and His righteousness (1 John 2:27). This is the ultimate hope for the Christian, that when Jesus returns we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him (1 John 3:2-3). This being the case, do not be conformed to this world, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). If Christ were to come today, would you have any cause for shame? Or, are you in the process of becoming more and more like Him? If you are being conformed to the image of Christ, then you have no need to fear His return.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
One of the features of Christian liberalism in the early 1900’s was the teaching of the “Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man” (see Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity?, 1900). In other words, liberalism denied that the true gospel message was about exclusive faith in Christ. The result of this understanding is that God is the Father of all, and we are all brothers and sisters. But is this the message of the Bible?
To even propose that God is not the Father of all is at a minimum disturbing for some and at most heretical for others. Therefore, allow me to give two points of clarification before answering the question, “Who is a child of God?” First, all of humanity is God’s offspring in creational terms, that is, in the sense that all humans derive their being from God (Acts 17:22-31). John Stott says it well when he declares that, “Although in redemption terms God is the Father only of those who are in Christ, and we are his children only by adoption and grace, yet in creation terms God is the Father of all humankind, and all are his offspring, his creatures, receiving their life from him” (The Spirit, the Church and The World, 1990).
Second, the Bible affirms God’s love for His creation, particularly His human creation. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:27), and upon His creation of humankind, God declared it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Further, the Bible also affirms that God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners because of His great love for the world (John 3:16) and that He desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
Therefore, to say that God is not the Father of all people is not to deny His role in creation or His great love for the world. However, when we deal with the issue of salvation, the Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are God’s children and those who are children of the Devil (1 John 3:8-10). The Bible clearly states that only those who have been born of God have the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13; see also Romans 8:12-17). How did we become Children of God? The Bible says that although we were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3) and were formerly hostile to God (Colossians 1:21), God has now reconciled us to Himself through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (Colossians 1:20). In other words, “God rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). The result of this new birth by which we have been transferred into God’s kingdom is eternal life. Thus, we have a future hope; Jesus is coming again for us (John 14:1-3). Having this hope, we now live, not for this world, but for the world to come. Are you a child of God?
As we strive to be a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered church, we remind ourselves that God glorifies Himself by taking rebellious sinners and transforming them into those who worship Him in spirit and truth; the Father is seeking such worshipers (John 4:23-24). We also remind ourselves that the church is the people to whom God has entrusted His gospel and who serves as His instrument to reach an unbelieving world.
It is our joy and privilege, then, to join the Father in the gathering of genuine worshipers into the body of Christ. We will, therefore, by any and all means available to us and permissible by Scripture, take the gospel of Christ to unbelieving and unchurched family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends, and acquaintances. However, I want to remind us that the primary evangelism strategy of High Pointe is YOU – each of you having natural, normal, conversations about the gospel with unbelieving, unchurched people. I want to challenge each one of us to do what no one else can do; invest time in YOUR unbelieving and unchurched family, friends and neighbors, and take advantage of opportunities the Lord provides to speak to them about Jesus – His life, death, resurrection.
A study of the formerly unchurched by Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, shows that those who were closest to the unchurched were the most likely to reach them with the gospel. Of all relationships, family relationships proved the most pivotal. Rainer found that “of the different family members, wives were the most often mentioned as important in influencing the formerly unchurched to Christ and the church” (Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, 49).
The same is true in other relationships. Christians who invest in the lives of unbelievers are in the best position to introduce their friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ and the church. This much has been proven already at High Pointe. Just last Sunday (Easter) our building overflowed with your unchurched family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. In addition, many of the visitor cards we receive each week are filled out by those who were invited to attend High Pointe by a friend or family member. Let me encourage you, then, to invest in the lives of unbelieving and unchurched family members, neighbors, friends and co-workers. When you invest in the life of unbelievers you will have opportunities to share Christ with them that others will never have. So invest in the lives of the unbelieving and unchurched with the intention of having gospel conversations that point them to Christ.
And don’t forget that many unchurched people are open to an invitation to attend a service with you, so ask them to come with you. In fact, invite them to come with you next Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, yet again. We promise to pray, plan and prepare for worship gatherings that will honor God, exalt Christ and present the gospel. We will also provide free resources that you can give to your friends and family at the Welcome Counter. I urge you, invest in the lives of unbelievers, then speak to them about Jesus. And as you have opportunity, invite them to come with you as we gather each Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As we share our lives together as a church founded on the gospel, High Pointe will increasingly grow as an attractive witness to the glory of God (Acts 2:42-47). However, our witness is not merely to be attractional; God has chosen that the church both originate and continue to expand through the intentional witness to Christ through gospel proclamation. It is to this end that we have been commissioned (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). Be encouraged, though, for we have also been promised the power we need for such a mission (Acts 1:8). Therefore, we go in faith under the authority of Jesus Christ, boldly proclaiming his gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). In this light, let me encourage you to pursue ten practices of intentional witness.
1. Know the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)! The gospel is the revelation of God concerning Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16-17); it is a divine message. One of the ways we encourage you to remember this gospel is with four words: God, Man, Christ, Response. When we understand the gospel, we know that GOD is holy and created a world without sin. God provided the man with all he would need to dwell in God’s presence. However, MAN rebelled against God, declaring his independence because he wanted to be his own king. Such rebellion requires judgment, the penalty of which is death. But God in His grace and mercy, provided CHRIST as a substitute to live a life of perfect obedience acceptable to God and to receive upon Himself the penalty of sin. Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day indicating that the Father accepted His substitute life/death for sinners and had gained victory over sin and death. Now, all who RESPOND with repentance from sin and faith in Jesus have eternal life. This is the gospel, the good news that we must know and understand if we are to share it with others.
2. Live your life in light of this gospel. As this gospel takes root in our own lives and we begin to apply it to our marriages, parenting, relationships, lives together as a church, etc., then our lives will be markedly different than the world and thereby attractive. How can we announce that this gospel is the power of God to save and change lives if we who profess Christ continue living just like the world?
3. Pray and fast for unbelievers (John 14:12-14; 15:7-8). One reason unbelieving people are not on our minds is because we don’t pray for them. First, pray that God would break your heart for the lost in general and for specific people in particular. Then, make a list of unbelieving people and begin praying for them and their salvation because it is God who saves. But also pray for opportunities throughout the day. Ask God to open doors for evangelism, then by faith be obedient when the opportunities arise.
4. Be willing to share your life with unbelievers (1 Thessalonians. 2:1-8). We can’t just share the gospel word, we must also share our lives, investing in those we desire to reach. In other words, we must make evangelism part of our normal lifestyle, not a special program! We need to take time to talk to people everywhere and invite them into our homes for a meal, or small group, or even church. But, in order to do that, we need to know the culture (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The apostle Paul said he became all things to all peoples that he may save some. We must seek to understand people and their cultures in order to reach them. That means we need to get to know unbelieving people. We need to know where they live, shop, eat, recreate and move out of our comfort zones to look for opportunities to relate to them where they are, instead of thinking they will come to us.
5. Share the gospel with urgency! We are on an urgent mission (2 Peter 3:8-10)! We must share the gospel naturally & clearly. Since the gospel is a word/message about Christ, then we must be word-centered and use the Bible. Also, the gospel is a word that must be proclaimed! We cannot keep it to ourselves. But I think one of the reasons we struggle with evangelism is because we think it is “special” – we have to do it in a “special” way, using a “special” outline, and there are Christians who are “especially” gifted at this. The truth of the matter is that evangelism is NOT special; it is normal. Think of evangelism simply as a conversation about who Jesus is. If using the four words, God, Man, Christ, Response, is helpful, then think through the gospel story in that way. But in the same way we have normal, every day conversations about the weather, the Longhorns and Aggies, we should think of evangelism as normal – this is a normal activity of every Christian: speaking of Jesus when our conversations permit during the opportunities God gives us.
6. Study the doctrine of hell! If you lack urgency in evangelism, then perhaps you should do a personal study of the doctrine of hell. As you study what the Bible says concerning the fate of those who reject Christ, ask God to break your heart for those who reject Christ and to move you with urgency to share the good news.
7. Invite unbelievers to repent and believe! As I mentioned above, the gospel requires a response. We must call on all people everywhere to repent (turn away from their sinful ways) and believe (in Jesus Christ).
8. Invite unbelievers to church. This goes along with sharing our lives with unbelievers and investing in them. Invite unbelievers and unchurched to come with you on the Lord’s day so that they may hear the gospel proclaimed. Surprisingly, in a 2010 study of unbeliving, unchurched people in Austin, a large number of people indicated that they would be open to invitations to go to church. Imagine that! They don’t come because we don’t ask.
9. Trust Christ for the results. Faithfulness, not results is what God requires of us. Salvation is of the Lord, so we must trust the sovereign Lord to do His work in the hearts of unbelieving people. Our responsibility is to faithfully share the gospel indiscriminately.
10. Share with others and ask them to join you in prayer. I have found it greatly encouraging to hear other Christians’ stories of evangelism and to know that I am accountable to someone for evangelism. Share your encounters and pray together for those souls. May the Lord grant us a great harvest of souls!
After this He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him (Luke 5:27-28, ESV).
Have you ever wondered what Jesus would say about those who profess to be Christians on Sunday, yet live like the world the rest of the week? When we look at Scripture, it’s clear that to be a Christian is to be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus Christ. In Luke 5:27, Jesus noticed a tax collector named Levi and commanded him to follow Him. When Jesus says, “Follow Me” we must follow! And to follow Christ we must be willing to leave everything behind (Luke 5:28). This is what Levi (Matthew) did, and this is what it means to follow Christ.
Notice that there is a cost to following Christ. Jesus said it is foolish to follow Him without counting the cost (Luke 14:28-30). It seems that some today want to follow Christ, but they simply have not counted the cost. What is the cost of following Christ? Let me highlight only three from Luke’s gospel:
Following Christ may cost you your life (Luke 9:23-26). Christ demands your life. In the same way that He lived His life with a focus on His cross of death, so too we who follow Him must be willing to live our lives for His glory and His gospel, realizing it may cost us our lives. This is the reality that Paul spoke of when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Following Christ may cost you your family and friends (Luke 12:51-53; 14:25-26). It’s hard for some to understand that our relationship with Christ comes before all other human relationships. Only when we realize this will we truly be able to love those around us. I was the first one to follow Christ in our family, and it created great turmoil. My parents were angry, but realizing the riches of God’s grace, I had to follow Christ. To have followed my parents’ desires would have been to reject Christ and be condemned to eternal damnation. Nevertheless, in God’s great grace, my entire family came to faith in Christ six months later. Thus, though following Christ cost me my family for six months, what I gained was much greater: brothers and sisters in Christ for eternity (Luke 18:29-30).
Following Christ may cost you your possessions (Luke 18:18-27). Jesus warned His disciples about how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven: not because God is opposed to wealth but because wealth tends to become people’s master. Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).
The issue of following Christ is not that it WILL cost you these things; the issue is that it MAY. It’s not about having to give these things up when you come to Christ; it’s about being willing to forsake everything to follow Him. Are you a follower of Christ? If not, then what is keeping you from following Christ: fear, friends, family, wealth? “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own life” (Luke 9:25)?
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV).
Much confusion exists today over just exactly what the gospel is. In an effort to clarify the gospel some begin with a via negativa. Highlighting what the gospel is not can be very helpful because, unfortunately, the word “gospel” is thrown around quite a bit, and we need to be reminded that just because we use the word “gospel” does not mean we are gospel people. But stating what the gospel is not isn’t sufficient. We must continually remind ourselves what the gospel is, for IT is the power of God for salvation to all who believe and IT is what we need to fight against sin by faith and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. There are several places in Scripture where the gospel is briefly summarized; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, is just one of those places. There the apostle Paul reminds us:
The gospel is the revelation of God’s plan to reconcile sinners to Himself (1 Corinthians 15:3). This saving plan was prophesied long ago (1 Peter 1:10-12), revealed to the New Testament apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20) and inscripturated for our sake under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). In other words, the gospel is not a man-made message (Galatians 1:11-2:11) but a divine revelation received (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The gospel is about Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This saving plan that was revealed in a progressive but limited fashion to the Old Testament prophets, then fully disclosed to the New Testament apostles and prophets concerns Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-4). God reconciles all things to Himself through Jesus (Colossians 1:19-21). Consequently, the Father sent Jesus at the appropriate time in history to face the “hour” of His death on the cross for us (John 12:23-28; 17:1). In this sense we may also say that the gospel is an unrepeatable event in history.
Thus, the heart of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for this historical event was the plan which has now been revealed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
1. Jesus Christ died as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin (1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:14-17). We are sinners born in sin who owe a debt too large to pay (Romans 6:23). Thus, the gospel is not a message of what we must do to redeem ourselves—that’s religion. The gospel message announces that only the Father can cancel the debt of sin that we owe by counting it against Jesus, His own Son (Colossians 2:13-14; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). This penal-substitutionary death was according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53:4-5).
2. Jesus Christ was buried. The point here is that contrary to Greek philosophical ideas that Jesus only appeared to die, He really died, and He really was buried (cf. Isaiah 53:9).
3. Jesus Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4; see also Acts 2:23-32). Without the resurrection there is no gospel, no good news. Without the resurrection we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-18). The resurrection reminds us that in the same way Jesus was raised, all who hope in Him will also be raised.
What are we to do with this gospel?
1. We are to repent (turn away) from our sins and receive Jesus’ work on our behalf by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Mark 1:14-15).
2. We are to remain in this gospel by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), for the gospel is that on which Christians stand. In other words, we will never outgrow the gospel.
3. We are to proclaim this gospel, for it is the only hope of salvation to the world (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3). This is the gospel priority (1 Corinthians 15:3). It was Jesus’ priority (Luke 4:18, 42-44); it was Paul’s priority (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 9:23); it should be our priority (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-47).
Unlike many Roman Catholics, I grew up very devout. I remember a kind, retired priest taking me under his wing and showing me the ways of the Catholic church. Much of what drew me in as a young teen was the mystery of God and the reverence with which this particular priest approached God. With time, however, the more questions I had, the more the mysteries began to dissipate in the light of God’s Word. I don’t want to rehearse my personal journey out of the Catholic church here; what’s important to note is that theological mystery is good for the Catholic church and many Catholics are content to live “in the dark” about what the Catholic church explicitly teaches in many areas.
I, for one, am glad the Pope said what he said concerning atheists and eternal life. To many in the secular media, the Pope’s admission that atheists who follow their conscience are heaven-bound will sound like a new and welcome break from the dogma of conservative Catholicism, represented most recently in Benedict. The media elites will celebrate Pope Francis as a liberal breath of fresh air in the stuffy halls of the Vatican. Others within evangelicalism will be aghast at such an “admission” and rebuke the Pope for diverging from Catholic dogma. However, this Pope has duped both the secular media and conservative evangelicals if they think the Pope has said anything new or controversial. In fact, what Pope Francis stated has been the normative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II.
In Lumen Gentium, Chapter 2-On the People of God, Canon 16, the Catholic Church teaches:
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
So yes, since Vatican II the Catholic Church has taught that anyone who has “not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” may be saved. So long as those who know not, deny or are ignorant of God “strive to live a good life,” they will merit eternal life because the church sees this “goodness” as “given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.” When Pope Francis admitted that atheists who follow the dictates of their conscience go to heaven, he was merely quoting Catholic dogma. Here is the pertinent statement:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.
However, it’s not just atheists who go to heaven according to the Catholic Church; it is also Jews, Muslims (Mohamedans), those acknowledging their creator and those seeking an “unknown god.” Anyone, anywhere who sincerely seeks truth, light will find life according to the Catholic Church.
To be sure, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross. So the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through Christ and no other. However, the Church would say that one does not need to express explicit faith in Christ to be saved. This is the official position of the Catholic Church: inclusivism. Evangelicals have argued that the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross AND that one must believe in Christ, receiving his cross work on their behalf and turning away from a life of sin: exclusivism or particularism.
Recently, some “evangelicals”, like the Catholic Church, have also embraced inclusivism: i.e., John Sanders (1991), Clark Pinnock (1995), Terrance Tiessen (2004). Unfortunately, their influence has grown. However, it’s not hard to understand why. You only have ask a number of people in your church the age-old question about the man on the deserted island who’s never heard of Christ and never will. What happens to him? What happens to those who never hear the gospel? It is an emotional question, and we are inclined to give an emotional answer.
Nevertheless, we must work through the difficult topics and teach what the Bible says rather than shrouding difficult doctrines in mystery. Mystery only works when people ask no questions. Even hard questions deserve answers. When we think carefully about the difficult question concerning the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, we should be moved to feel the urgency of the church’s mission. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. However, if it doesn’t matter whether or not people hear the gospel and place explicit faith in Christ for salvation, then we will do more harm than good when we go on mission, for if we go and they reject Christ, then their fate will be sealed.
A Couple of Resources for Thinking Through Pluralism, Universalism, Inclusivism & Particularism
Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.
Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash