(Galatians 1:6-9) — 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ESV
Just as it was in Paul’s day, there are versions of the gospel message today that are false, or more accurately, a “distortion” of the true. There is one version of the gospel, in particular, that I want to address. I’m not talking about a false gospel of the cults or of other religions. I’m referring to a distorted gospel within the walls of Christianity. It’s a gospel of deception. A gospel that can’t save. A gospel with a cross, but without a throne.
I’m talking about a gospel message that is presented to the unsaved that can be described like this: In effect, it has Jesus Christ as Savior, but saves to a kingdom that has no king. He has the power to save, but no authority to rule. Or He may be seen as having the authority to rule, but who doesn’t necessarily require our allegiance. In other words, it’s a kingdom where obedience to the King is optional. It’s our choice, we can choose to submit to the Lordship of Christ or not to. It’s an understanding of the gospel message that requires faith, but where faith-fulness is an option. We can choose to follow Christ or choose not to. It’s the false understanding that, “either way, we go to Heaven, so what difference does it make?” This is not the gospel message that Jesus proclaimed or the message the writers of the New Testament taught.
This perverted form of the gospel is being preached by many pastors today. They present a message that requires a person to receive Christ as Savior, but makes following Him as Lord, optional. They literally don’t believe that a person needs to receive Christ as Lord. They believe that this is an option that He’s given to us. They believe it’s a decision we can make sometime down the road after we receive Christ as Savior — if we want to. Or not! We may never make the decision to follow Christ. In their minds, it doesn’t matter if a person does or not, because in their understanding, it has no bearing on one’s eternity. They believe that as long as a person believes in Christ as Savior, it doesn’t matter what they do with their lives after that. They encourage following Christ, but they view discipleship as something completely separate from the gospel message and salvation. I don’t know where these pastors are getting their theology from, but it’s not from the Bible. And they’re passing on this erroneous understanding of the gospel to their people.
Nowhere does the New Testament Scriptures present the gospel message as an empty tomb with an empty throne. On the contrary, the empty tomb proves that the throne of Heaven is not empty (He 1:3; 10:12). Jesus proved Himself to be who He claimed to be, and that’s Almighty God. God does not exist without a throne. He’s Ruler of the universe! Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the throne of Heaven where He came from. Jesus has always existed as Ruler of all. He’s always had the title of King, but practically speaking, He acquired the title of Savior when He rose from the dead. In other words, He proved Himself to be the Savior of the world through what He accomplished.
Jesus existed as King before He became the Savior — although to be the Savior of the world was always in the plan of God. Indeed, it was Christ the King who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. He left His throne in glory and came to this earth in human form. He identified Himself with mankind by becoming one of us. He did for us what we were not able to do for ourselves. He paid the price for our sins, and He did it as the King of kings (Matt 2:2; Matt 21:5; Jn 1:49; Jn 12:15).
Yes, Jesus is the Savior, but it was Jesus the King who was hanging on that cross. It was Jesus the King who paid the price for the sins of the world. Therefore, the idea that submission to His authority has nothing to do with our salvation is erroneous. Indeed, His very title as King demands our allegiance. There is no cross without a throne. There is no gospel message without a throne. There is no Savior without a King. The idea that a person can accept Christ as their Savior but not as their Lord, is not part of the true gospel message. Those who teach this, have a limited understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a message that’s incomplete. They’re leading many people to an eternity without God, without Heaven. People are being led astray, giving people a false security about their eternity — because a gospel that teaches that a person does not have to submit to the Lordship of Christ, is a false message. A message that gives a person the idea that they can receive Christ as Savior, and still continue to live their own self-willed life of sin, is a message that cannot save.
The Lordship of Christ is an integral part of the gospel. Some view “Lordship salvation” as “faith plus works.” But that is not what we’re talking about here. While faith in Christ implies – and requires – allegiance to Christ, that is not a “works-salvation.” Allegiance is not the same thing as works, nor is it the same thing as obedience. Rather, works and obedience to Christ are the result of allegiance. Allegiance produces faithfulness. Put another way, when someone places their faith in Christ, it’s with the understanding that they’re making a life-changing decision. They recognize who Christ is and make a decision in their heart to follow Christ. That decision is called repentance.
People say, “but we’re saved by grace.” That’s true, but grace doesn’t teach us to continue in our sins. Grace doesn’t teach us to continue to go our own way. On the contrary, true biblical grace teaches us to live righteous lives, as the Apostle Paul describes in the following passage:
(Titus 2:11-14) — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (NASB)
Jesus died not only to save us from the penalty of sin, but to turn us away from sin. God’s grace doesn’t mean that He now allows us to continue in our sins. On the contrary, the grace of God opens our spiritual eyes to the things of God, which lead us along the path of God’s will. The grace of God opens our eyes to the ugly truth about sin, and to the glories of living for Jesus. The grace of God leads us to a life of faithfulness to Christ. The grace of God reveals the authority of Christ and His worthiness to rule our lives.
Somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that the grace of God that saves us, allows us to continue to live in our sins. Somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that a holy gospel allows for an unholy life, that a holy God allows us to live according to the sinful desires of our own heart. That’s not what the grace of God looks like. The grace of God opens our spiritual eyes to the truth about our sins and to Christ who paid the penalty for our sins. It opens our eyes to the light that shines upon the darkness of our sins. Those who claim to have accepted Christ as Savior, but who continue to live in the darkness of a self-willed life, are only deceiving themselves about their salvation. The grace of God that saves, is a grace that changes our lives, because our eyes are now open to the truth. The truth about Christ and about ourselves has a life-changing effect on us.
Notice also what Paul says in the above passage. The grace of God gets our eyes off this world and on the return of Christ. Since our eyes have been opened to the truth, they’ve been opened to Jesus and the eternal blessings that are ours in Him. Instead of living with our eyes on the things of this world, we now live with eternity in view—that is, when Christ returns to lead us into the Eternal Kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21:1-5). A grace that keeps our eyes on the things of this life, isn’t the grace of God. It’s a false grace that is leading many astray. It’s a false grace that’s leading many to “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Th 1:6-10).
Faith involves humility. Humility involves submission to God and His will. There is no true faith apart from humility. The very substance of faith is humility. Therefore, when someone places true faith in Christ, humility before God is assumed. Humility recognizes Christ and His authority as Lord and King, and they surrender to that authority. It’s a decision to turn from going their own way, to live in submission to the King who gave His life for them — who returned to Heaven to sit upon His glorious throne.
When someone makes the decision to receive Christ, they must do so with the understanding that they are leaving this world behind in order to serve Christ in His kingdom:
(Colossians 1:13) — “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (ESV)
Following Christ is not an option, as Jesus Himself makes clear:
(John 8:12) — “Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world: whoever follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
(John 10:27) — “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:”
(Matthew 10:38) — “And whoever does not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me.”
(Matthew 16:24) — “Then said Jesus to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
(Luke 9:23) — “And he said to all, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
(John 12:26) — “If anyone serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if anyone serve me, him will the Father honor.”
The Bible makes it clear that those who turn to Christ in faith do so with the understanding that they are making a life-changing decision to become followers of Christ. Those who receive Christ must realize that they are not only being saved from the penalty of sin, but being saved to a whole new way of living, a life that is devoted to following the will of their Lord and King.
(John 16:7-8) — “7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (ESV)
When a sinner hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they’re brought under conviction of their sins (by the Holy Spirit), it means that they’ve become aware of the ugliness of it, that it separates us from God, that we need forgiveness for those sins in order to come into a right relationship with God. True conviction means that we become aware of how much God hates our sins, and it’s an awareness that is so strong that it drops us to our knees in humility before God to live a life of obedience to Him.
Conviction that does not turn a person away from a sinful, self-willed lifestyle, does not result in salvation. A faith that does not change a person’s heart and direction in life, is a false faith and a false salvation. Again, true faith is always characterized by humility. Humility recognizes who Christ is and responds in sincere worship and surrender of one’s life to His will.
Save me, but leave me alone!
The attitude among many who profess Christ as Savior is, “please save me, but let me live my own life!” They may not admit to it or verbalize it like that, but if they were honest with themselves, they know in their heart of hearts, that’s the way it really is with them. This is not the fruit of salvation. On the contrary, it reveals a false faith and a false conversion. Those who have been born-again through a true faith, have a new heart and a new desire and a new love for God — and a way of living that gives evidence of it. The true gospel of Jesus Christ, and the true salvation that produces it, changes hearts and changes lives. If one’s life has not been truly changed, if there’s not a sincere desire to live according to the will of God, we’re looking at a false conversion. They’re living a lie.
I believe there are a lot of people who receive Christ as Savior, but it’s no more than an emotional response. There’s no real conviction of sin. It’s not a genuine faith that is rooted in a sincere heart before God. They may attempt to live for Christ for a while, but eventually when the newness wears off, they’re back to living their old life again, with no genuine desire to live according to God’s will.
I think many “receive Christ” and begin living for Him because they want Him to bless their lives, they want Him to meet all their needs and desires. They want a go-to person when they’re in trouble and need help. They want Christ for what they can get from Him. If they don’t get their prayers answered, and things aren’t going their way, if they think this “Christian thing” isn’t working for them, they’ll give it up and go back to living for themselves. That is not the fruit of salvation.
When we come into a right relationship with Christ, it’s not just an experiment that we try for a while to see if it works. Rather, it’s a life-changing decision we make to live for Christ. The fruit of that decision is revealed through a sincere worship and devotion to Him that is not dependent on whether things are going our way. True salvation results in an abiding love for Christ and a relentless pursuit to please Him regardless of how things are going for us. He becomes our everything, the central focus of our life. We follow Him because we recognize His authority as our Lord and King. We follow Him because we recognize our place as His servants in His kingdom. True faith follows whom it professes to believe in. True faith lives with eternity in view.