Despite the increasing opposition to Christianity, let’s face it, in western civilization it’s pretty easy to proclaim Christianity as one’s established religion.
What is the gospel? It is God’s rescuing his creation from the ownership of sin that happened at the fall through his work in the Son. It is recognizing the fact that something went terribly wrong in Genesis 3 that disconnected all mankind from eternal communion with God and subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:19-21). The gospel is the good news of redemption, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father and hope of enjoying him forever (See Eph 1:3-14). The gospel is sourced in God’s work through the Son, whose sacrificial atonement on the cross nailed the debt of sin for those who believe and whose resurrection forever expunged the condemnation associated with that required payment. (The first 8 chapters of Romans pretty much sums this up.)
I think its safe to say that if you’re a Christian, you might automatically nod or even get a little smug since you probably would rattle off different iterations of this description. You wouldn’t hesitate to say, yes I believe the gospel because I believe that Jesus died for my sins.
But do you really believe the gospel? See it’s one thing to know facts about God’s work through Christ in rescuing what was lost. But it’s quite another to live as if that is true. It’s one thing to say that it took the work of God by the Holy Spirit to bring us into union with Christ completely on his work, but quite another to put assurance in that work and not on ourselves. It’s one thing to verbalize that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, cut off, unable to even respond to God without his intervention, it’s something else all together when we act like we can qualify the gospel with our contributions.
Here’s a little test…
1) Do you feel like you’re a good Christian because you haven’t committed any egregious sins?
If you’re proud of yourself that you’re not like those who have fallen into error, chances are you believe that you had something to do with your righteousness. That’s not believing the gospel but our own works
“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 my boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
2) When you sin, do you try to fix it yourself before coming to the Lord?
If you truly believe that Jesus bore your sin for all time (Heb 10:10-13), you’d believe that forgiveness is found in Christ because of his atoning work on your behalf. Sin should cause us to run to him because only in him is forgiveness of sin found. If we think we need to get right first, we are essentially saying that our righteousness is found in our ability to get it right apart from him.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
3) Do you feel like some people are more deserving of God’s grace than others?
If you truly believe that grace is unmerited favor that is lavished us solely because God choose to provide it, then you wouldn’t get bent out of shape at the thought some receiving equal acceptance as heirs of God’s promise. Contrarily, you wouldn’t consider some more favored or loved because they’re just better people. See #1
“For as many of you as were baptized in Christ Jesus have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29)
4) Do you try to earn God’s acceptance of you?
Is your motivation for good works a form of earning acceptance from God or do you serve in response to the great gift of God’s love that has been poured out through the atoning work of the Son? If you truly believe the gospel, you wouldn’t feel the need to perform for God to gain his love and possibly wear yourself out in the process because his love and acceptance is not being truly embraced.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)
5) Do you put your trust in your faith, your words or other acts to gain God’s favor?
As I wrote here, placing our trust in our faith, words or material blessings as proof of God’s favor really is a form of prosperity teaching, which is another gospel. In fact, Paul argues in the book of Galatians that putting trust in anything other than Christ for acceptance is another gospel, which is really no gospel at all. (See Gal. 1-2)
Finally, do you live in a state of hopelessness when enveloped in the affairs of this life. Because if we take God’s consummation of his kingdom as described in Rev. 21 seriously, we would know that a day is coming when God will set everything right, wipe every tear from our eye, where there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more strife. Oh and if you believe that means some saints will not have it as good as others and suffer while others enjoy the fruit of their labor, then you really haven’t believed the gospel at all.
Listen, I’m not saying that if you have any of these thoughts that you’re not Christian though that may be the case. What I am saying is that if we confess belief in the gospel then we also have to live like it’s true. It starts with our thinking and correcting the ways in which we believe that run contrary to the gospel. I confess that I wrestle with a couple of these points on a regular basis but then cry “Lord I believe but help my unbelief.”