by Mike Ratliff
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)
Any attempt to “improve” the Gospel according to human wisdom or philosophy empties the Cross of Christ of its power. In our day, this tinkering with Gospel is called “Contextualization.” This is the process of adding to, taking away, and changing the Gospel message in an attempt to make it relate to culture. While there is a part in all of us that sees this as a “good move,” if we compare this with what the Word of God teaches us about the Gospel and how God works through it to save His people, we will see that this process actually creates just another false gospel or non-gospel.
We looked at this in the post The Curse of Gospel Contextualization. An example of what this contextualization looks like can be found here. I hope that you watched that video to completion. Did you see how the four-circle presentation is not the Gospel, but is a form of the “social gospel?” Does it preach Christ and Him crucified? Does it preach the Law and how all people are born dead in their trespasses and sin? Does it preach that we all need a Saviour or we will spend eternity separated from God in Hell? No, it does none of those things. This is the Emergent gospel message. For clarification let us look at what God’s Word teaches us is the Gospel.
If you have not done so already, read the passage I placed at the top of this post (Matthew 1:20-21). The name “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means, “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” This name described His mission, which was given to Him by the Father. What was it? It was to save His people from their sins. This salvation is the Good News or Gospel, but what exactly does it mean to be saved from one’s sins? Carefully read the following passage which describes what it means to “be still in your sins” when the Day of God’s Wrath does come.
The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:14-18 ESV)
Who is it that will be consumed by the wrath of God? It is those who have not been “saved from their sins.” However, the following passage describes those who have been “saved from their sins.”
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV)
This passage tells us that those whom Jesus saves have “turned” from serving false gods and idols to serve the Living God. This “turning” has also changed them so that instead of pursuing the world and its ways, they wait for God’s Son from Heaven, who raised them from the dead and delivered them from the wrath to come. We learn from this passage that all true Christians have made this “turning” away from false religion to serving God. This “turning” is repentance. Notice also that those who have repented also believe. They await the return of the Son. This is what those with saving faith do. Their Saviour promised to come back for them and keep them from God’s wrath.
However, this salvation is much more than simply be saved from hell and being taken to heaven. Yes, salvation does produce this, however, it also contains our Lord’s triumph which has also given to His people a complete deliverance from their enemies. When Christ saves someone, He casts Satan from his throne in that person’s heart. He will not let Satan be master over that person any longer. Sin remains, but it will never have dominion over a true Christian. The Christian’s unredeemed flesh will still lust for dominion, but it will never again gain the throne over his or her New Nature. Christ will be the Master of the heart, and that means sin must be mortified.
The Word of God tells us plainly that the visible Church is made up of genuine believers along side of tares. These tares are professing Christians, but they are not genuine. The true Christian is not sinless and never will be in this age. However, in the age to come when each true believer’s spirit enters glory, sin will be expelled permanently. However, the regenerate heart of the true Christian will be in the process of becoming more and more holy. All believers should examine themselves to see if sin is being subdued in their hearts. The life that is unholy is the product of a heart that is unregenerate. The unregenerate are unsaved. When a Christian repents and believes by God’s grace through his or her regenerate faith, God justifies them. He imputes their sins to Christ on the cross while imputing Christ’s perfect Righteousness to their account. He then sanctifies them. This begins the process of drawing the Christian out of sin into holiness. It will continue for the life of the believer. The regenerate heart is given a new character. This character hates sin and loves holiness. The unregenerate heart is the opposite. Since that person’s flesh is in dominion over them along with Satan, he or she has no ability or desire to hate sin and love God and His holiness.
God’s grace makes the true Christian a new creation. Those who profess Christ, but are unregenerate are counterfeit Christians. God saves His people from their sins not “in their sins.” They are justified after the washing of regeneration, not before.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)
This salvation makes a Christian holy and this is not simply justification which is a declaration, but is also sanctification which is holiness in reality.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19 ESV)
If a professing Christian is unholy in their heart and actions then he or she has no hope of being counted among God’s people. On the other hand, the true Christian will be washed clean through regeneration and changed forever with a heart that loves God and His holiness while abhorring sin and evil. He or she will desire deeply to live a life that brings honor to their Saviour.
Examine yourselves! If you have doubts about your salvation then now is the time to settle it with God. Ask Him to change you, to save you, to wash you clean and turn your heart to Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!