DISCOVERING THE GOSPEL
by Lance B. (Doc) Latham
There is something within the heart of a man which constantly presses to make a perverse addition to the sole basis of our salvation, the work of Christ on the cross. Constantly pressed by the sin of pride, the mind of the natural man is ever reluctant to admit its sinful, helpless condition.
Many who understand the Gospel refuse to come to Christ because they will not admit that they lack a shred of goodness, righteousness or desirability within themselves that God can accept.
Religious leaders try to add baptism, church membership, faithful living, personal sacrifice or some other human work to the work of Christ to the hope of salvation for the believer. Such philosophies may have filled the coffers of religion but have confused the issue of salvation and thus damaged countless souls.
One who discovers the Gospel will instantly realize that the sole basis of his salvation is the work of Christ on Calvary's cross. Saving faith depends alone on the value of Calvary. All other possible sources for the assurance of salvation are counterfeit.
The Gospel is the good news. It is not a new set of obligations or duties to be performed —new strivings — more agonizings — but rather an announcement of what has been done for us. We do not present the claims of the Gospel. We present a wonderful free offer by God Himself to the sinner who believes.
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19)
We find the fearful need for salvation in Romans 1:18 through 3:20. The Lord came "not to call the righteous, but sinners." For unless the person seeking salvation realizes his desperate need, he will not flee "for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6: 18).
Then there follows the need of a scriptural invitation. A great passage in Romans 3:18 through 4:8 has often been called the core of Romans and of the entire Bible-this is the one place in the Bible where the way of justification is set forth and explained (it is defended in Galatians). And there are many instances of salvation in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
Let us look closely at a few of the "invitations" listed at the beginning of this chapter.1
As William Reid so well says in his Blood of Jesus, "'Give your heart to Jesus' is law rather than gospel."2 Salvation is not my gift to God, but His gift to me. This also applies to like invitations such as, "Give your life to God," "Give your heart to Christ," "Surrender all," "Put your all on the altar," and "Ask Jesus to come into your heart."
On what Scripture does this invitation rest? We find in Proverbs 23:26, "My son, give me thine heart." Surely there is no justification for an invitation so generally given in this one verse! It is addressed to "my son, " an already established relationship, with no reliance on Calvary.
This means that the sinner must promise to live perfectly from now on. I read in Romans 8:7:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)
God accepts us as ungodly, as we are, when as sinners, we trust in Him and His redeeming work on Calvary. Then, once we are justified, " He shall save His people, from their sins."
This is commonly used in rescue missions, and doubtless God saves many, in spite of such an incomplete invitation. And do you notice what usually is added, "And save me for Jesus' sake." We quote the faithful note in the Scofield Bible regarding Luke 18:13:
Greek hilaskomai, used in the Septuagint and N.T. in connection with the mercy-seat. As an instructed Jew the publican is thinking, not of mere mercy, but of the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. His prayer might be paraphrased, "Be toward me as thou art when thou lookest upon the atoning blood." The Bible knows nothing of divine forgiveness apart from sacrifice.
William R. Newell teaches us, "to preach full surrender to an unsaved man as the way of salvation will just make a hateful Pharisee out of him."3 And, from Dr. Ironside's tract, "Another Gospel":
When anyone comes promising salvation to those "who make full surrender" of all that they have to God, and who "pay the price of full salvation" he is preaching another gospel, for the price was paid on Calvary's cross and the work that saves is finished. It was Christ Jesus who made the full surrender when He yielded His life on Calvary that saves us, not our surrender in any way to Him.4
The great conclusion of Romans 3:19-28 is, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." Apart from our living! The matter of my continuing in sin is not brought up until Romans 6, after the matter of my justification is well settled. I am justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, as stated in Romans 3:25, "through faith in His blood."
E. "Believe in Jesus"5
Ask any Roman Catholic, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" and he will answer, "Of course." Is this man therefore saved? The real question is, "Where is your hope?" Are you depending upon Christ and what He has done at Calvary alone, or is your hope in penances performed, masses, baptism and so forth? This is not faith in Christ and His work; this is faith in your own works, faithfulness to church, and therefore cannot save!
Hebrews 6: 18 describes people with saving faith as those "who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us."
The climactic exhortation in Romans 12:1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice" is addressed to believers, those already saved. The basis for that appeal is "the mercies of God," the wonderful possessions we have in Christ presented in the previous chapters of Romans. Having this apply to unbelievers getting saved robs God of the great victory that grace, and grace alone can win.
This is just another variation of the "surrender all" invitation. Surely we must recognize who He is, or we will die in our sins (John 8: 24). But this is vastly different from making Him your Lord in your life, in other words, promising to obey the rest of your life. This latter is preaching "works." His mercies, with all His graciousness to us, will lead us to making Him Lord, and that out of a heart of love and appreciation of Him.
We feel that those who propose this way of salvation change the obvious meaning of Romans 10:9 to justify this:
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.6 (Romans 10:9)
This cannot be made to say, "make Him Lord of your life." ˘
This article is used by permission from Awana Interntational and is taken from a chapter by the same name from The Two Gospels (Rolling Meadows, lL: Awana, 1984), 43-47. Lance (Doc) Latham was founding pastor of North Side Gospel Center in Chicago. He was a gifted musician, dedicated student of the Bible, and instrumental in the founding of New Tribes Mission. Lance served for 35 years as President of Awana, helping to grow the fledgling ministry into a worldwide outreach to children.
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