Church, we’ve got a huge problem, and it has to do with our Gospel.
Maybe I should show you where I would like to place the emphasis here. You see, the problem doesn’t have do with our Gospel, but it has to do with our Gospel. We are the problem, not the Gospel itself, and this is what I mean: the way in which we present the Good News of Christ to every single lost soul we encounter on a day-to-day basis is flawed, rooted in something extremely unbiblical. The Gospel itself is something so beautiful and unique that only a church run by imperfect sinners could screw it up, but the sad thing is that, I hate to break it to you, but we are a group of imperfect sinners, and it’s negatively affected this group of people we call our Church.
We’ve screwed up the Gospel.
Why do I say this, you ask? I say this because most churches present the Gospel as this: say a prayer, invite Jesus into your heart, and bodda-boom bodda-bang, you’re saved now! By reciting a few magic words, the hellfire and brimstone has given way for an eternity of golden-laden streets reverberating with the sounds of angelic hymns, and because you happened to experience a few tender moments of emotion while sitting in a pew one Sunday morning, you’re good to go, no more questions asked.
The problem is this: there’s no such prayer in the Bible. Further, the Bible never tells us to “invite Jesus into our hearts” or even to “accept Him into our lives.” Those teachings have no biblical basis and are merely the result of preachers seeking to sound good to a congregation, hoping to stack up their pews rather than shepherd lost souls as they are commanded to do. We’ve become so scared of offending people that we have chosen to damn them instead, and my friends, do you recognize how un-Christian that is? David Platt describes this pseudo-Gospel as this: “It’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand, and it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.” We have grown to care so much for society’s subjective and ever-changing, far-too-sensitive feelings that we have forgotten to love them as the Bible commands us to, and the result of this is that hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people will wake up in the afterlife in a place they didn’t expect to be. And that’s a huge problem that should deeply concern us!
You see, saying a simple prayer won’t get you into heaven. To make a claim to the contrary is, to me, as ridiculous as people who claim that baptism gets you into heaven: they are both works, actions, things that you, as a human, do as a result of your relationship with God! Prayer is a conversation just as baptism is a representation, but neither of those are the methods in which one can attain salvation. (And yes, I am proud of how that all rhymed.) The Gospel tells us that we are saved by grace through faith alone: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). At which point does Paul say, “For it is by that prayer that you have been saved”? Don’t go searching the Bible for it, because it won’t be found. Reciting a few magic words will never be the difference between heaven and hell, yet we have deluded millions of people into thinking that this is the case, and their security, founded upon a lie, is reflected through the reality of the rest of their lives.
This leads me to my next point: You aren’t called to “invite Jesus into your heart” at any point in the Bible. Not in the way churches use the phrase. If by “accept Jesus into your heart” you are referring to a symbolic cycle of repentance and surrender, then by all means, I agree, but when churches use the phrase, they are using it in a way that makes it sound like you were Pharaoh during the Exodus, hardening your heart against God, yet all of a sudden you opened it up and let the Holy Spirit sneak on in. It’s like Jesus is just knocking at your door, and it was up to you to open it up to him…but that’s just not the case.
“But David, what about Revelation 3:20, which records Jesus as saying, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’? Isn’t that evidence that Jesus is knocking at our door?”
Yes, it is. I never said that Jesus isn’t knocking at your door, but you have to look at the context of that passage. Jesus isn’t knocking at the door of your heart; He’s knocking at the door to our churches. The passage is addressed to the lukewarm church of Laodicea, who claimed to be Christians yet were living in a very dispassionate manner. This is, in fact, proving my very point: all because you claim to be with Christ doesn’t mean that you are! Jesus is knocking at the church’s “door” because He is wanting them to realize that true, genuine faith is demonstrated not through a 15-second prayer but through a life surrendered to Him. In that same passage, Jesus says that He would rather people either be hot or cold, but never in the lukewarm phase of stagnant faith that lies in between the two (Rev 3:15-16). Yet the Gospel that we present to our congregations gives them no reason to be anything but stagnant; they’ve said the prayer and heaven is theirs, so why should they live in a Christ-like manner? When Paul asks us whether or not we should keep on sinning so that grace may abound in Romans 6:1, people of this pseudo-Gospel have no reason to not say “Yes.” Resultantly, the church as a whole gets a bad name thanks to all these false converts living flagrantly sinful lifestyles.
And all of this brings me to the crux of the situation: We are saved by grace through faith alone, but the Bible also tells us that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:14-26). How do you reconcile these two things? I think of the story of David and Goliath, where David unwaveringly proclaims that His God is bigger than the giant and will deliver him, the little shepherd boy, from Goliath’s hand (1 Sam 17:37). Now, if David got all scared when it came time to face Goliath – or if he began doubting God by cowering away like the rest of the Israelite army – that wouldn’t exactly be the greatest demonstration of faith, now would it? In this scenario, David would be proven as faithless as Saul and all the rest of the Israelites soldiers. Instead, however, David took action, and through that action proved that his faith was genuine. So yes, it was David’s faith that calmed his fears, but it was the action that resulted from the faith that demonstrated that his faith was genuine.
This also leads us to what Jesus said in Matthew 7: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (v15-20). A tree bears the title of “good tree” before its fruits are produced, but the good fruit they produce are a testament to their description as “good.” If they were to, however, produce bad fruit, it would be evident that we misunderstood the claim that the tree was good to begin with. In the same way, salvation is earned through faith – not a prayer – but the ultimate testing of whether or not the person is saved will come through the fruit they produce. If they are going on living in the ways of the world (without remorse of any signs of fighting it, that is), then it is a very good sign that they aren’t actually saved. “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal 2:19-21). How can one be a part of the kingdom of God if they are serving the world? “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (the things of this world that you place your confidence in)” (Matt 6:24). Jesus makes it perfectly clear.
All this being said, how can the church better display the Gospel to its masses? By being brutally honest, unafraid of offending people and more concerned about guiding them to the one true King.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…when we are afraid of offending people, we lose all opportunities of sharing the one true Gospel, because the Gospel is, in itself, quite offensive. From a zoomed-out perspective, it tells us this: we are sinners deserving of hell, and God has every reason to send us there, no questions asked. However, God, though unobligated to be, is all-loving and all-caring and decided to come down in the flesh, be beaten, battered, and murdered, all so that we could one day be with Him once again. The unobligated Giver has given, to us undeserving people, an unbelievable gift. That’s the Gospel, and if you aren’t offended by it, then you haven’t received the true thing. You don’t deserve heaven. You can’t get there on your own. You are in need of a Savior. You are in need of a Lord. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). That’s how it happens. You can’t just believe He is Savior, but you have to believe He is Lord, meaning that you surrender yourself over to Him and make yourself subject to His plans for your life. Will you stumble? Of course! But that’s where the grace comes in. You can’t say a prayer to attain salvation. You must surrender yourself to the God of all creation.
So stop “inviting Jesus into your heart;” God isn’t some beggar just hoping that you will have time to accommodate Him amidst your busy life. Whenever we encounter Jesus in the Bible, it is never through people inviting him; in fact, the one story where somebody does invite Jesus into his home, the man is reprimanded for not being a good host (Lk 7:36-50)! Instead, the Bible gives us a constant story of God inviting us. God always takes the initiative, and it is we who must respond. It was God who went to Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was God who called Abraham, God who called Moses. God who sent Samuel to anoint David. God who sent the prophets to invite his people back to Him. When we get to the life of Jesus, how does He call his disciples? “Follow me,” He tells them (Matt 4:19). We can’t invite Jesus into our hearts because it is Jesus who is inviting us. He wasn’t worried about numbers – he was worried about souls. In fact, there is one story where He literally reduces His follower-count from tens of thousands to hundreds or maybe even a few dozen people purely because the good majority of the group were willing to call Him Savior but not Lord (see John 6). He is extending the invitation, but He makes it clear that to accept that invitation is not as easy as a simple prayer: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Jesus didn’t want to just be a Savior. He knew He needed to be Lord. And He sure as heck didn’t just want fans. He wanted followers.
Which one are you?