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Scanned and edited by members of the Bartimaeus Alliance June 2000
(Note: You can search for each title using an * (asterisk) or shift-8.)
* MONOGRAPH 1 - God's Gospel for Salvation: An Evaluation of the Facts of the Gospel Concerning Christ
* MONOGRAPH 2 - "Unless You Have Believed in Vain": Faith Without Hope and the Gospel Concerning Christ
* MONOGRAPH 3 - Misleading leading Questions: Protecting the Church in the Membership Candidate Interview
* MONOGRAPH 4 - The Role of the Gospel in Salvation: The Neuter Noun "Gospel" and Its Relative Pronouns
* MONOGRAPH 5 - An Eternally Embarrassing Situation: The Problem of Conversion Without the Gospel
The whole idea of the "gospel checker" ministry came as a result of the Lord's leading in what is now an unusual circumstance. While traveling on sabbatical, the writer walked onto a popular street in a well-known American city one evening. The street was packed with people and it appeared that almost half of them were passing out tracts. Over many years of ministry in many churches I knew that most tracts never include the gospel concerning Christ. The same is true of those who distribute them. Without a doubt, I knew that I would be approached and so asked for God's wisdom (Jas. 1:5). When the first young man approached me with a tract, I reached out my hand and said, "You don't know me but I'm the Gospel Checker. Can you tell me what the gospel is that a person needs to believe to be saved?" Thus began a ministry of approaching those who distribute tracts, of writing letters to publishers of tracts, advertisements and other Christian literature that give plans of salvation without the gospel of Christ. These monographs are an expansion of Gospel Checker Ministries.
Gospel Checker Ministries exists with the purpose of checking the plans for salvation in "Christian literature and presentations" for the accurate presentation of the gospel of Christ. When a "gospel" tract comes into the writer's possession, it is possible that he might send a "Gospel checker" letter. If the gospel is not presented or is confused (by omissions or additions) and the Lord leads, I send a letter to the source. If the gospel is presented accurately, I may send a letter of commendation. The ministry has three tracts that carefully present the gospel through which a person is saved. These monographs extend the ministry to assisting saints when they share the gospel with others. Our goal is to encourage the recognition of the importance of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 to believing in Christ and to press for the accurate presentation of the facts of the gospel in every presentation so that people can truly believe in Christ.
David K. Spurbeck Sr.
"The Gospel Checker"
"Just follow the directions!" In our lives we are faced with many opportunities to follow the directions. Often the directions are the only way to get a result or to reach a destination. Otherwise "you can't get there from here." If you leave the yeast out of a bread recipe, the result is failure -- flat bread. "Just follow the directions!" How many people have killed a hard drive on a computer because they didn't read the manual or consult a help menu? Kids, dads, Christmas and toys go together. Unfortunately, the assembly of toys is a part of the program. How many times have toys been assembled, unassembled and then reassembled because Dad didn't read the directions? There are people who are always late because they don't follow directions. "Forget the map, I know how to get there!" Directions, directions, directions.... Are they an unnecessary bother or are they necessary to get the job done? God gives clear, simple directions through which men, women, boys and girls are saved. He simply says that a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ through the facts of the gospel concerning Christ and He will save him or her.
One of the most interesting problems with directions for assembly is when a product manufactured in another country comes with directions for assembly. Sometimes the manufacturer has someone from that country who does not speak English write the directions in schoolbook English. As a result, these directions are confusing, frustrating and humorous. This is exactly what happens when earthlings try to rewrite God's instructions for salvation. The result is not only weird but eternally misleading. When one adds to God's directions, God will not save the hearer or reader. When someone subtracts from the gospel, God will not save those who hear the partial gospel.
The Gospel Is the Means of Salvation. God uses the gospel as the instrument of salvation. Let me translate 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 to show the importance of the gospel concerning Christ. "Now I am making known to you, brothers, the gospel which I gospelized to you, which also you received, in which you also stand, by means of which you are saved, since you are holding fast to that word I gospelized to you, unless you believed without an object." As you can see "gospel" is mentioned three times and is called "a word" before it is actually given in verses three and four. The gospel or "good news" concerning Christ is the essential ingredient in the directions or instructions for one to be saved. The gospel is defined in verses three and four. "For I delivered to you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." Without the facts of the gospel there is no instrument for salvation. There is nothing to carry a person from where he or she is to faith in Christ the object.
God gave the instructions in a very logical way. He states two essential facts and then gives proof for each one. Fact 1 is that Christ died for (or on behalf of as our Substitute) our sins. Proof 1 is that He was buried. Fact 2 is that He was raised on the third day. Proof 2 is that He was seen of many witnesses. Let us look at each part of the gospel by which one is saved to understand why they are important parts of the God-given directions or instructions.
The First Essential: "Christ Died for Our Sins (1 Cor. 15:3b)." Physical death is the separation of soul and spirit from the physical body. Because of the incarnation when the Person of God the Son took upon Himself a human nature and human body, Jesus Christ could die physically. Otherwise physical death was impossible. His death was real -- flat line -- in every way. There was no pulse, no brain waves, nothing -- He was dead. He was dead for three whole days and nights (Matt. 12:40).
Notice the title used here is "Christ." It is the Greek word translating the Hebrew word Mesheach, Messiah. Both words mean "the anointed one." Old Testament prophecy promised an Anointed One who was deity who would come and deliver Israel while establishing a physical Messianic kingdom. Jesus began His ministry at His baptism by John the Baptizer (Matt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lu. 3:21-22) beginning what is known as His "earthly ministry" or His "Messianic ministry." He presented Himself as the Anointed Messiah. With the beginning of the Church at Pentecost, the title "Christ" took on a different meaning. The one who in His humanity is called Jesus was made both Lord and Christ. God the Father made His human nature what it had not been before -- Lord and Christ. "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts. 2:36)." "Lord" refers to His being Master with authority from His position at the right hand of the Father. "Christ" now means "the Glorified, Resurrected One." The One who is now the Glorified Resurrected One and who is seated at (lit. "in") the right hand of the Father is the One who died physically -- His human body was separated from His human soul and spirit. The emphasis is not on "Jesus" the Savior but upon the fact that the job is done, it is finished and now He is seated in heaven in glory.
Christ died as a substitute paying the price of the sins of the world. His substitutionary work is presented in the "for" preposition. The Greek preposition uper (huper) has the idea of "in place of, for the benefit of, as a substitute for." He took the judgment for our sins on Calvary's cross. We deserved to die for our sins and He took our place. He died as a Substitute for more than our acts of sin. He died for everything that could separate a human being from God including our sin nature, our sin guilt and every form of unrighteousness. Yet the gospel focuses on our acts of sin.
"Sins" are open acts of lawlessness ("the sin is the lawlessness" -- 1 Jn. 3:4 definition). Many passages describe how Christ's physical death and shed blood dealt with the acts of sin. "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father (Gal. 1:4)." His shed blood is directly linked to acts of sin. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14)." Christ dealt with sins and is now seated in the third heaven. "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged (lit. cleansed) our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3)." He offered a single sacrifice for all sins. "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12)." Peter says it in this way. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (1 Pe. 3:18)." By His death He reconciled man with God so that man would no longer be constituted an enemy of God.
Why doesn't the gospel say that Christ died for you? Why do the instructions require that a person be confronted with his or her sins? There are people who do believe that they have some value or worth within themselves. "Of course, I'm good enough for someone to die for me, I'm a nice guy!" Sins, on the other hand, confront the person with specific, known acts of lawlessness against God. Many contemporary plans of salvation say, "Christ died for you." That is not a part of the gospel by which we are saved. This statement comes from the misapplication of Scripture.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)." This verse is addressed to Christians -- read the context. It is not designed to tell someone how to be saved but to tell Christians how they were saved. I believed that Christ died for my sins as a part of the gospel to be saved and then after I was saved I could look back and see that Christ died for me. I learn this after the fact of salvation and not before salvation is given.
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." What was Paul thinking here? Scriptures are "things that are written." How much Scripture was written when 1 Corinthians 15 was written? All of the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament were written. Very few of the New Testament books were written. Let us look at 1 Peter 2:24 where Isaiah 53:5 is cited as an example. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." Because of His cross work, He heals spiritually dead sinners by giving them eternal life.
The First Proof: "And That He Was Buried (1 Cor. 15:4a)." Burial is one of the strongest proofs that someone is dead. We take every precaution to insure that a person is not buried alive. Authorities examine the body for vital signs and in the absence of the signs they pronounce the person dead. No doctor or coroner pronounced Christ dead. It was a Roman soldier that confirmed it. He came along with others to break the legs of the "executed" to bring rapid death before the coming Sabbath day. He looked and saw a dead man. He ran a lance into His side and blood and water flowed out indicating that the heart was not working (cf. Jn. 19:33-37). Capital punishment was a common form of Roman punishment and the Roman soldiers were experienced at determining whether a person was dead or not. Christ's death was real.
His body was prepared for burial following as much of the normal embalming procedure as possible. Time was short. The Jews could not work on the coming Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus (and probably others) prepared the body for burial (cf. Jn. 19:38-40). Without a doubt, they wished more than anything that there was still life in that body. The Lord's disciples had already given up even though He had told them several times that He would die and rise again.
Burial is proof of real death (under normal circumstances). When a body is placed in a grave and that grave is sealed, the finality of death is evident. Burial is a major stage of the grief process. It says that it is over, done. The person is really dead.
In 1 Corinthians 15:4 it says, "that he was buried." The verb is passive. Someone else had to bury Him. He wasn't alive. He couldn't bury Himself. He couldn't walk to the tomb. He couldn't wrap Himself in grave clothes. He couldn't lay Himself down on the shelf of the tomb. He was dead! Physically dead! Everyone knew it. He needed to be buried to prevent the odor of decay from affecting the community. Out of respect he was carefully buried in a tomb near Calvary (Jn. 19:41-42).
His physical death and burial proved that He had a real human nature and human body. As a man, He could be the Substitute for all mankind. His burial said that every authority, every friend, every disciple knew that He was dead.
The Third Essential: "And That He Rose Again the Third Day (1 Cor. 15:4b)." Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days and three nights after He died (Matt. 12:40). A physiological transformation took place as molecules comprising His body were transformed into the elements of His glorified body. A change from a body of flesh and blood (1 Cor. 15:50) to one of flesh and bone (cf. Lu. 24:39) took place. His glorified body was designed to emanate His human spirit (1 Cor. 15:44-46). Christ's resurrection was a real physical resurrection. It was not a resuscitation (after death God gives life but the person will die again, example Lazarus). He lives forever now in a glorified physical body.
More New Testament Scripture affirms the resurrection of Christ than His death (though in most contexts they go together). It is His resurrection that makes His death different from any other death to that time. All three Persons of the Godhead had a role in His resurrection. His present ministry as the God-man seated at the Father's right hand is based upon His resurrection. He could have passed through death directly to the third heaven without reappearing on the surface of the earth but He appeared as the Living, Resurrected One.
God emphasizes the third day resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:4. Christ emphasized His third day resurrection during His earthly ministry using two different Greek words (anistemi and egeiro in Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Lu. 18:33; 24:7, 46; Matt. 16:21; Jn. 2:20). Three days and three nights verify the reality of a supernatural resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:4 says that Christ's resurrection fulfilled Scripture -- Old Testament Scripture. Acts 13 gives a list of Old Testament Scriptures that involve the resurrection of Christ. "But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee [Psa. 2:7]. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David [Isa. 55:3]. Wherefore he saith also in another Psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption [Psa. 16:10]. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption (Acts 13:30-37)." It is His resurrection that gives hope to faith for salvation (1 Pe. 1:3).
If you are pressured for insisting that Christ's resurrection should be a part of the gospel for salvation, you are in good company. Paul suffered trouble as an evil doer because he insisted that the resurrection was a part of the gospel by which one is saved. "Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound (2 Tim. 2:8-9)." The Lord included the resurrection in the gospel. Paul included it and suffered because of it. He followed directions.
The Second Proof: "And He Was Seen ... (15:5-9)." In addition to the eleven disciples more than 500 other witnesses saw the real physically resurrected Christ. He walked, talked and ate with them. They touched him and conversed with Him. They testified to his physical body. Thomas saw Him and the physical wounds in His resurrected body and believed (Jn. 20:26-29). The testimony provides proof of the reality of the resurrection and the whole of the gospel by which one is saved.
Is There Any More to the Gospel Concerning Christ? Is it possible that 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 leaves out essential elements for the plan of salvation? If one reads plans of salvation, it would appear that God has left out key elements of the gospel by which one is saved. There are many "gospels" in grace revelation that have nothing to do with one's initial salvation. Most of them have a relationship to the believer's present tense salvation. Only the facts that are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are the gospel by means of which or through which one is saved. Without every element of the gospel spiritual salvation is impossible. Additions to the gospel simply confuse the one who hears. If the facts are included accurately, the Holy Spirit can override the errors and use the accurate gospel as the facts through which a person believes in Christ. Other passages of Scripture have the facts of the gospel but when they are used one must be certain that all of the facts of the gospel are included.
Two questions are often asked about other elements of Christ's existence and salvation. Why not include His sinless life and His earthly ministry? Though they exhibit the reality of the incarnation as the God-man, neither is a part of the gospel. His earthly ministry was primarily to His people Israel. He offered them the Messianic kingdom. Very, very late in His earthly ministry He indicated that the benefits of His death would apply to more people than His people Israel. Why not include His ascension? Does it contribute to my salvation? He physically ascended into and above the third heaven but it has nothing to do with the gospel for initial salvation. It does contribute benefits to the present salvation of one who has already believed.
Why are there fewer results when the gospel by which one is saved is presented? Because both natural and Satanic blindness prevents an unbeliever from seeing all the facts they need to be saved. Other "plans of salvation" are not affected by these types of blindness and easily produce professions of faith. When we present the gospel accurately, the Holy Spirit may or may not give the gift of faith to the one who is hearing. He knows those who are His and will bring them to salvation through the gospel by which they are saved. We share with Him when we accurately give God's directions -- the gospel concerning Christ.
The most important verses in the New Testament for salvation are 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Why? Because these verses identify the gospel by which (or by means of which) a person is saved. They tell what a person must believe about Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Yet there is a possibility that a person may believe in vain that is mentioned in the text itself.
Too often these verses are never mentioned when someone is attempting to lead another person to Jesus Christ for salvation. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved ... (Acts 16:31)." How often does one hear or read what he or she needs to believe about Jesus Christ to be saved? John 3:16 has been called "the gospel in a nutshell" but it doesn't tell a person what to believe. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Preachers omit the gospel. Evangelists confuse it, change it, add to it or omit it. As a matter of course Christian writers don't mention these important verses or they minimize their importance. The gospel for salvation is: "For I delivered unto you First of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen ... (1 Cor. 15:3-5a)." This passage of God's Word establishes the minimum and maximum information needed for one to believe in Christ.
But why are these verses overlooked in so many "plans of salvation?" The phrase "if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain (1 Cor. 15:2)" may complicate the presentation of the plan of salvation for some believers. God the Holy Spirit made certain that the Apostle Paul included these words in these most important verses for salvation. Let me retranslate the two phrases to clarify their grammar and the meaning of the words. They literally say, "since you are holding fast, except unless you believed without a purpose (or object)."
Some have said that "believing in vain" means that a person can lose faith and, as a result, lose salvation. Others prefer to keep any doubt from the prospect's mind. Yet others want to avoid a negative idea in a plan of salvation. Opponents of the security of the believer focus on these phrases in their arguments for the believer's potential for losing his salvation. Those who believe that all three Persons of the Godhead save a person and keep him saved often are confused about the meaning of verse two and neglect all four verses as a result.
In these pages I intend to discuss the meaning of these phrases and why the Holy Spirit put them in the text. Other divine revelation corroborates the statements and their importance for understanding salvation. Key to this is the fact that true salvation is by God, by grace, through faith and not by men or any work of man (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Sense of the Condition. In the English language "if" always establishes a condition that must be met before the action of the main verb can take place. There is always uncertainty as to whether the condition will be met -- a big question mark. "If you clean your room, I will give a piece of cake." It depends on how much a child or teenager wants a piece of cake as to whether or not he cleans his room. For some there is no piece of cake big enough to make them clean their room. The condition will not be met and no cake provided.
"If it rains tomorrow, I won't go to work." Who knows whether the conditions will be met? Here in the Northwest even the weathermen don't know! That's the way the English language works. The New Testament was written in the Greek language and the grammar is different than English grammar. There are four kinds or classes of conditional sentences in the New Testament Greek language. In 1 Corinthians 15:2 the "if" of the King James Version should be translated "since" because it is of the first class of conditions. Without getting too technical, let me put it this way. The "if" with the verb is "determined to be fulfilled" and so should be translated "since" or "since it is a fact or true." In other words, it is assumed to be true. Paul knew that the Corinthian Christian readers were holding fast (with divine help) and so he uses this specific type of conditional sentence. Before we go any further, we need to discuss the concept of biblical faith.
The Substance of the Meaning of "Believe" or "Faith". Sometimes it is difficult to compare one language with another. In English we have two words that translate the same Greek root. The verb can be translated "believe" or "have faith." The noun is normally translated "faith." They come from the same root word. One is a noun [a name] and the other is a verb describing an action. Faith in action is believing. In other words, when one sees "believe," he or she must think of "faith" in activity.
What is faith? Theologians and other Christians provide a variety of definitions of faith. The best definition is God's own definition of what faith or believing is. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence (the reality or standing) of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)." Faith is that which makes hope a reality even though the thing hoped for cannot be seen.
In order to define faith, we must understand what God sees as hope. "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Rom. 8:24-25)." Hope is always based on a promise. New Testament hope involves a divine promise of God. A person confidently expects God to provide the thing promised though the specific time of provision may not be known. The only question in New Testament hope is when the thing promised will be provided. We know He will accomplish it because He is God and makes the promise without condition.
What are the promises on which hope and then faith are based concerning salvation. There is one overriding promise concerning the results of faith. It is that God will save the one who believes (Acts 16:31). As a result of salvation, there is a promise that the believing one will receive eternal life (immediately) and will not perish (John 3:16). The Godhead provides these results for those who believe in Christ through the facts of the gospel because of Christ's cross work.
Faith in Christ brings these benefits. Faith makes the specifics of the work of Christ real or substantial. One believes in Him and receives the benefits promised by the Godhead.
Bible faith is not merely accepting the actuality of a historical record. Some define faith as unquestioning belief or trust. It is not the same as belief in the existence of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. We all believe that these men existed. Anyone can see the tombs of these great men and believe that their remains are there. That kind of faith does nothing for the life of most people. Bible faith is not the simple accepting of the actuality or reality of the existence of something. That kind of faith is the best faith that a human being can muster from within himself or herself. New Testament faith will make the promise of God an eternal reality through the cross work of Christ. Not one human being has that kind of faith. God must give the person saving faith.
Three passages of Scripture teach that God is the source of the faith that brings salvation. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man (1 Cor. 3:5)?" Paul says that the Corinthian Christians believed as the Lord freely gave faith to each Corinthian believer. "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29)." This verse says that God has graciously given the faith to believe on him. He uses a different verb than he does in 1 Corinthians 3:5. The best known passage concerning the gift of faith is Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." The grammar clearly teaches that the faith, the instrument that brings salvation, is the gift of God. Human faith will not bring salvation. God-given faith does bring salvation. Without the gift of faith from God, there can be no real salvation.
The Divine Selection of the Word for "Vain". There are three words in the Greek language that are translated "vain" in the New Testament. Each has a distinct meaning even though they all may be translated "vain." All three are used in 1 Corinthians 15 and describe problems with believing or faith and so each is pertinent to this discussion.
The Word in Verse Two. "Unless you have believed in vain" uses the word eike (eike). This word means "to have no object, purpose, destination, reason or cause." As a result there is no effect or result. In Matthew 5:22 Christ refers to being angry with a brother without a cause using this same word. The translators considered the context to require the "without a cause" translation of this noun. It occurs seven times in the New Testament. Here it is used to say that there is a kind of faith that is misdirected so that it doesn't hit the target -- Christ. It is faith that is directed toward anything but Christ. It can be religious! It can be a faith that is directed toward escaping eternity in the Lake of Fire. It could be faith in some work or personal righteousness. It could be faith in a crucifix with a dead Savior. There are a multitude of directions that faith can be directed for salvation that do come near to Jesus Christ yet miss Him completely. Acts 16:31 clearly identifies the target when it says: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved...." He is the target, the object, the bull's eye.
The Word in Verses 10, 14 and 58. Paul uses kenos (kenos) four times in these three verses. This word occurs 28 times in the Greek New Testament in all of its forms and is the most common of the three. It means "empty" and is translated that way in Mark 12:3; Luke 1:53 and 20:10-11. The word describes a lack of contents -- empty, void. This is the word that is used in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) to translate Solomon's great statement in Ecclesiastes 1:2 (cf. 12:8): "Emptiness of emptinesses, says Koheleth, emptiness of emptinesses, the whole thing is emptiness (my translation)." The container is empty!
The Word in Verse 17. In verse 17 Paul uses the word matios (matios) to describe a problem with Christian faith. This word is found 12 times in the New Testament in all of its forms. The idea of this word is that of being useless, devoid of results, ineffective or groundless. It is worthless in that it can accomplish nothing. Now let us confront the problem of believing in vain in the chapter. This can only be accomplished when one understands what the Scriptures teach that faith is.
The Significance of Believing in Vain. How does "believing without an object" work? In order to understand this we need to know the process necessary for faith. Even though God provides the faith to believe, there are elements that are always included. As has been seen, there is a promise. God promises something in His Word and because He is God, He guarantees it unless He makes conditions. Then there is hope. Hope takes the promise of God and eagerly awaits its fulfillment having the assurance that it will be fulfilled. Finally there is faith which gives substance to that hope and substance to the things not seen (Heb. 11:1). The order is: promise -- hope -- faith. Each of these plays a role in believing in the gospel concerning Jesus Christ.
The promise of spiritual salvation is of primary importance as well as the promises that the believing one will not perish and will immediately have eternal life (John 3:16). These promises stand. Hope expects God to do what He promised. Faith makes the hope a reality in the life of the believer.
When a person believes in vain, he usually takes biblical hope out of the process. He creates his own hope which in turn misdirects faith to an object other than Jesus Christ Himself. This can happen even when the promise of salvation is recognized. They miss the target.
Believing when there is no promise or hope is another problem. "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is empty (1 Cor. 15:14)." Omitting the resurrection of Christ from the gospel removes both the promise and the hope from faith. One might as well not present a plan that leaves out the resurrection because without it the faith is empty. Christ's resurrection guarantees that He is the God who can keep the promises and accomplish the salvation. No resurrection and there is only a human object of faith and faith is completely empty. The best human faith fails again.
"But if [or assuming that] Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless (vain) and you continually are in your sins (1 Cor. 15:17)." If the resurrection is omitted in the presentation of the gospel, the presentation is useless. It produces no results. The resurrection makes Christ's death for our sins effective. Without His resurrection, the results of His work in heaven could not be accomplished. It is in heaven where the Father accepted the penalty for acts of sin and satisfaction is accomplished. A gospel without the resurrection is useless and God will not save. The Substitute's work is useless since it would not be finished on the heavenly altar.
The Salvation Provided by God. The salvation that comes from God comes by means of the facts of the gospel concerning Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Through these facts one believes in the real object of faith -- Jesus Christ Himself. What one must believe about Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried and rose again. These three facts are what we call the work of Christ. It is his work that provides salvation. Without His complete work, a human being can never be saved. The Scriptures pointedly give the gospel concerning Christ by which one is saved (cf. Vss. 1-2).
How can a fallen, depraved sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) make this his own? He can't! He doesn't have enough faith nor does he have the right kind of faith. Salvation is by God by grace through faith. God saves and only God. God the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Godhead who gives the faith (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 1:29). He gives the faith and convinces the person of his or her sins. He makes the promise clear. He makes the hope certain. He makes the faith one that hits the target. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.... (Acts 16:31)." Believing in Christ through the gospel with faith given by the Holy Spirit, guarantees that you will not believe in vain. You hit the target - Christ! Your faith is full and not empty! Your faith is useful! God will save you!
"How much does a five pound bag of sugar weigh?" "Do you believe that Christ died for your sins?" Both of these are leading questions in their own way. The first gives the exact answer in the question. The second tells the one to whom the question is asked what the questioner is seeking by asking a "yes" or "no" question. If the person wants to please or wants to get away from the questioners, he will choose the answer that he thinks the interviewer wants to hear. This happens many times in the interviews of prospective church members. Leading questions can be asked so as not to embarrass a candidate and to finish the interview with dispatch. Many are afraid that a candidate might ask why he is required to go through a theological examination in order to become a member. Questioning concerning the prospect's salvation is essential because it maintains a church comprised of truly born-again members (as much as humanly possible).
Every church professes to have a desire to live by the Word of God. Yet when it comes to salvation, Christendom presents many different ways for a person to be saved. Too often God and His Word have no part in plans for salvation. Passages that God never intended to be used for salvation today are torn from context and used to apply to the unsaved. Salvation is only from God. Jesus Christ is the only way (John 14:6) to salvation. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12)." God has only one plan for salvation and no more. We must accept His standards or we have no standards for receiving salvation at all. He says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16)." Several passages tell the individual to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved (John 3:16; Acts 16:31) but they do not tell us what to believe. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 does tell us what to believe and says that it is the means by which we are saved. We believe in Christ through the facts of the gospel concerning Christ. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain [without an object or destination]. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" This is the divinely designed plan of salvation and any other plan of salvation is man contrived even though it might use passages of God's Word for support. The gospel should be the central subject of every membership interview.
Approaches vary in many churches. Some churches admit members on the affirmative answer to the simple question, "Are you saved?" If the answer is "yes," the person is recommended for membership and voted onto the roll.
Other churches ask for a testimony from the candidate concerning his or her salvation. These testimonies give the interviewers an introduction to the candidate and some insight into one's view of salvation. Everyone who hears the testimony is interested and concerned for the candidate because the candidate is another person who wants to share in the responsibilities of church membership.
Everyone is blessed when a clear and concise testimony is given to demonstrate that a candidate has believed in Christ through His death for our sins, burial and physical resurrection. But what if the testimony doesn't present an accurate gospel as the way the person became a Christian? What does the interviewing committee do now? Too often members drag out those leading questions to confirm a person's faith in Christ for salvation.
A leading question provides its own answer by giving information within the question. Either a clear answer is given as in the five pounds of sugar question or the questioner gives the answer in a simple "yes" or "no" question. The candidate doesn't mention that Christ died for his or her sins and so the leading question is, "Do you believe that Christ died for your sins?" The resurrection hasn't been mentioned so the leading question is, "Do you believe that Christ rose from among dead ones?" There are many other leading questions used in membership interviews. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?" "Do you believe that Christ was buried because He really died physically?" What candidate would dare to say "no" before a membership interviewing committee since he or she has applied for membership? Of course, the answer would normally be "yes" to each of these. As a result, the church really doesn't know with any certainty whether the new member is a believer or not. Leading questions may have misled the church to vote an unbeliever into membership.
Unfortunately, misleading leading questions may be asked because members of the interviewing committee themselves don't know what the gospel is by which a man, woman, boy or girl is saved. Without clear recognition of the gospel, salvation is impossible. It is through the gospel of Christ that one believes in Christ. The gospel is what a person believes about Christ and His work to be saved. The gospel is clear and simple. It is "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4)." No gospel -- no salvation! Omissions -- no object of faith!
In the Upper Room the Lord Jesus promised to send another Comforter who would take His place after He had returned home to the Father (John 14:16; 15:26). He clearly identified the other Comforter as the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17, 26; 15:26). "And when he is come, he will reprove [or convict, convince] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me (John 16:8-9)." He convicts the persons comprising the world of sin because they are not believing on Christ. When He convicts of the sin of not believing in Christ, He convicts them of what they need to believe about Christ to be saved -- the good news concerning Christ. When the Spirit of God gives the gift of faith, the new believer must know what to believe or he or she has believed with an improper object -- "in vain" (1 Cor. 15:2). An absence of facts or wrong facts about Christ prevent salvation. The individual will be able to say clearly that the conviction of the Holy Spirit convinced him of the sin of not believing in Christ. He has also been convinced that Christ died for acts of sin ["sins"] as the Perfect Substitute. After salvation, the new believer can look back to the moment that he was given the gift of faith and say, "Christ died for me." This cannot happen until after salvation has been accomplished (cf. Rom. 5:8). I believe that the Holy Spirit may bring essential facts of the gospel to mind to some who believe when a plan of salvation is presented omitting a specific, necessary fact. This assumes that the person has heard that fact at some time prior to the presentation. This is uncommon but possible given the ability of the Spirit of God. The fact is that a true believer will know and give assent to the gospel of Christ. It may be fuzzy but with careful, accurate questions the gospel will be clear (not with leading questions).
A new members class should normally begin with a presentation of the testimonies of prospective members. It is a useful mechanism for determining the validity of a testimony before an interview. Early in the class the teacher will go through the gospel and its role in salvation. "But won't that of itself be a basis for leading questions?" No! An unsaved person will not remember the facts of the gospel. Whether they are simpletons or geniuses, all have the same problem -- they just can't remember the facts they need to know to be saved! Even if an unsaved person has an IQ of 200, he or she will not accurately remember the gospel when asked after hearing it repeatedly. A true believer with an 80 IQ will always remember. Why? Because the unbeliever has at least two forms of blindness: a natural blindness (Eph. 4:18) and a Satanic blindness (2 Cor. 4:4). His fallen nature is not capable of comprehending the significance of the gospel and so he has no interest in it. When the gospel is presented, Satan drops the blind over his mind and keeps the whole of the gospel out of his mind. Yet God the Spirit removes the blindness from a person when He saves him.
Too often churches accept the testimonies of candidates that are an eternity away from the gospel of Christ. "I asked Jesus to come into my heart." "I prayed the sinners prayer, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner.'" "I accepted Christ as my Savior." "I love Jesus." "I prayed to be saved." "I repented of my sins." "I confessed Jesus as Lord." "I was born into a Christian family." "I have attended church all my life." "I opened my heart's door and let Jesus come in." "I walked the aisle. ..." "I raised my hand. ..." "I saw Jesus." "I worked for God." "I was baptized." "I cried out to God to save me." "I cried when I heard about Jesus." "My mother taught me to pray at her knee." "I prayed for salvation." "I have been a church member." The number of the bogus testimonies given for membership would fill volumes. Not one of these is a part of the gospel by which you are saved. Many times a person's testimony is ignored for the sake of the addition of a new member to the roll. It makes the additions report look better. With testimonies like these, leading questions can be asked to justify a "yes" vote. Up comes the "Are you a Christian?" question. Most Americans can answer that with a "yes." After all isn't this a Christian nation? A "yes" answer hides the reality that a person is not saved.
We do have some perfectly good questions that aren't leading questions. "How do you know that you are saved?" This question gives the candidate a perfect opportunity to say that he has believed the gospel concerning Christ and to identify the gospel by which one is saved. In response to the "I believed in Jesus Christ" answer, one might ask, "What did you believe about Christ to be saved?" This is a perfect question that encourages a person to give the gospel accurately. Again, if the person believed the gospel, he should be able to give the essential facts -- Christ died for my sins, was buried and rose again.
Three other important questions also need to be asked. "What did you do to be saved?" It is very encouraging to have the candidate hesitate, think and then say, "Nothing!" Such an answer indicates that the person is not relying on works for salvation. We must remind ourselves that faith is not a work (Rom. 4:5) so that we can answer "I believed." Another question is: "Where did you get the faith to believe?" True Christians know that they didn't have enough faith or the right kind of faith within themselves to believe in Christ but that it had to come from God -- the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 3:5). The third question is: "What happens if you sin?" The answer to this question accomplishes two things. First it can give a view of whether the person believes that salvation can be lost or not -- i.e. eternal security (the perseverance of the Savior). Secondly, it can give an understanding of what the person knows about the rudiments of the spiritual life.
None of these questions are leading questions. They test the reality of Bible salvation and divine intervention in one's life. They provide a measure of protection from unbelievers becoming members of the local church. A tare can look like, sound like, live like and smell like a true believer. His sin nature has religious works that can make him indistinguishable from true believers. For this reason Satan sows them among the wheat. Only when the harvest comes will it be evident who the tares are. Yet we have the responsibility to do everything possible to have a regenerate church membership.
Some might say, "We never turn anyone away from membership." In spite of a professed belief in regenerate church membership, the temptation is too great to become a part of the members numbers game. "So this person has a weak testimony, even with leading questions, we'll let him join so that he can begin to learn what salvation really means." An attitude of this sort reflects a view of "salvation by education" that is no more than another form of works salvation. Compromised membership standards and interviews bring unbelievers into membership. Sadly these produce their own kind (even better than true believers do). As a result, the very idea of a local church being the manifestation of the Church which is His Body, the universal Church, is impossible. Leading questions direct goats into what should be a sheepfold. This is the way that the wolves get into the local church so that they can attack from within (Acts 20:29).
Misleading leading questions bring in tares -- unbelievers -- into churches. Clear, accurate knowledge of the gospel by which one is saved is absolutely necessary. If a person omits parts of the gospel, it is highly questionable whether he or she is saved. If he or she adds to the gospel, that person is not saved. No gospel! No salvation! No church membership!
Why is the gospel important for salvation? Isn't believing in Christ more important than what you believe about Him? 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (the verses that precede the giving of the gospel) defines the role of the gospel in salvation.
"Now, brothers, I am making known to you, the gospel [or "good news"] which gospel I gospelized to you, which gospel also you received, in which gospel also you are in a state of standing, by means of which gospel also you are being saved, since you are holding fast to a certain word, except unless you believed without an object [or target/destination]." My translation plainly identifies the antecedent of the four relative pronouns in the verse. Five clauses show what God sees as the role of the gospel in salvation.
Paul writes these verses to encourage the Christians in Corinth to know in their experience the gospel that he had preached to them. One might ask, "Why would he need to review the message by which means they were saved? Were they confused?" Paul understands the problems that he brought with him when he arrived in Corinth from the Mar's Hill debacle in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). He had attempted to present his Christian faith to the intellectuals of the world system on their level. He had pitted his philosophical knowledge against that of the philosophers of Athens. As a result, when he spoke of the resurrection of dead persons, some mocked him and others postponed hearing more (a "we'll call you, don't call us" situation). He left Athens defeated determining not to philosophize but to preach only the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 2:1-5). He arrived in a pagan city with "weakness, fear and much trembling." He was carnal and those who were saved generally followed his example. In chapter 15 he attempts to make certain that the Corinthian brothers and sisters are living in light of the gospel and using it with their life witness showing an experiential knowledge of it.
In verses one and two "gospel" is presented with two verbs and a single noun as is reflected in my translation of the verses. "The gospel which gospel I gospelized" appears to be redundant. The repetition shows how important the gospel is to salvation. The facts are essential for one to be given faith and then to be saved. Verse two also includes the verb "gospelized." The gospel is clearly given in 15:3-4. "For I delivered to you First of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
It is the noun that is the focus of this monograph. Here the grammar is most important for understanding the role of the gospel in salvation. Let me deal with some grammatical technicalities. In the Greek language nouns have three genders (by form) -- masculine, feminine and neuter. The noun "gospel" is a neuter noun in form. As a neuter noun, it is the antecedent for the four neuter relative pronouns that follow. That is why I supplied gospel with the relative pronoun in my translation. It is closely linked to the masculine indefinite pronoun and masculine "a certain word" that was gospelized. (For the person not versed in the Greek language the forms found in the Greek text or an interlinear appear to be different. Each form is a neuter relative pronoun form but in different Greek cases.)
Furthermore a variety of Greek tenses (aorist, perfect, present) are used in the relative clauses. Each has a special significance. In this context the aorists go back to the point in time throughout which Paul presented the gospel to the city of Corinth ("preached, received, gospelized). The perfect tense describes a state or condition of existence ("you stand"). The present tense describes continuous action in the present time ("saved, hold fast"). So much for the technical necessities.
The Presentation of the Gospel as Good News. Paul announced the gospel in his first conversations and messages in Corinth. Even as a carnal believer, he could give the facts of the gospel by which gospel one is saved. People needed to hear the good news or they could not be saved. "Which gospel I gospelized" looks back to the time when the information was given. He did not share his philosophy, his system of morals, the Mosaic law or a repentance mechanism. He simply gave the gospel. All he wanted to do was to intuitively know "Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2)." He wanted the people of Corinth to be saved so he gave them the only message by which means a person is saved -- the gospel.
The people, who became the local church in Corinth, heard and responded to that message. The "you" (plural) to which the statement is addressed are identified as "sanctified in Christ Jesus (1:1)" indicating that they had been baptized into the Body of Christ. They are "called saints (1:1)." These people knew that they were saved and were not waiting for a day when their salvation would be revealed to them in the future.
The Reception of the Gospel When Paul Presented It -- "Which also you received (1:1)." The Corinthian believers had received the gospel after Paul had presented it to them as the good news (i.e. "gospelized") them. The word "received" clearly implies that someone came to them and offered the gospel to them. There was something to offer and so something to be received. The word translates a compound Greek word paralambanW (paralambanoo) that means "to come alongside and take" something that is available for the taking. They received the gospel for themselves. They saw it as something that could be possessed for their personal benefit.
In many cases when the gospel is offered, it is refused. Man does not naturally want to take the facts of the gospel for a variety of reasons. Most of all is the fact that fallen men of themselves can not see the value of it. They can't see that it is the means that God uses to bring salvation. To them the subject is not part of their thinking nor is it worthy of their consideration. "Taking" the gospel is essential before one can believe in Christ through these facts [that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures] and be saved.
The form of the verb indicates that there was a point in time at which the Corinthians took that which had been offered. That point in time matches up with the point in time when Paul gave them the gospel concerning Jesus Christ [noted in the previous clause by the relative clause link].
Some believe that "receive" directly relates to the "But as many as received Him ..." of John 1:12. The context clearly tells the reader that it is referring to the time of His earthly ministry. It says that it was the time when "He was in the world ... and the world knew Him not (1:10)" and when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (1:14)." A literal translation makes this even clearer. "He came unto His own things [neuter], and His own people [masc. pl.] did not receive Him. But as many of His people as [masc. pl. correlative adjective agreeing with "His people"] received Him, He gave to them a quality of authority to become born ones [or children -- not sons here in any Greek text] of God, to the ones who are believing into His name [i.e. character and Person] (Jn. 1:11-12)." Those of His own people who received Him were given the authority to become children of God if they believed in His character as God while He was living on earth. After His cross work and resurrection, one who believes in Christ actually becomes a born one of God. He is not authorized to become a child but he actually becomes a child of God. Those who believed in Him as deity during His earthly ministry had the authority but were required to wait until the work of Christ was done and the Holy Spirit was sent. Only after the Holy Spirit was sent was it possible to be born into the family of God, regenerated and hence a child or born one of God. At the moment we believe in Jesus Christ now we can say with John, "Beloved, now are we the born ones [children] of God (1 Jn. 3:2)." The gospel is received and Christ is believed!
The Condition of the Believer in a State of Standing -- "in which also you stand (15:1c)." Paul sees the Corinthian believers as being in a state of standing in the gospel. "In" (en) is a preposition that can be translated "in, on" (describing location) or "by" (describing instrumentality). In the context Paul clearly uses a preposition (dia) that very strongly indicates means with its form. I believe that the "in" translation is what was intended here by the Holy Spirit. "In which gospel even you stand" is a phrase that goes beyond the initial salvation of these Corinthian Christians.
They are in a state or condition of standing that has continued from their reception of the message and the gift of faith to the time that Paul was writing carrying on into the future (All this to say that this is a perfect active verb.). The verb "stand" (Istemi) has the idea of being fixed in a place, being established and standing fast. They know that they are saved and they continue to stand fast in the facts of the gospel concerning Christ that God used to save them.
At this point, it is important to say something about the tenses of salvation. At the point when the Corinthians heard, received and believed the gospel concerning Christ, they were saved. After that time they could look back and see that God saved them in the past tense -- initial salvation. They were saved. God saved their human spirit in initial salvation (Jn. 3:5-6). Now they appropriate the provisions of the work of Christ in its present tense. They live by the benefits provided by Christ's death and resurrection for the life of the saint in the here and now. God provides these benefits by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that places the person in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and by regeneration (new birth, being born again) that places the person into the family of God (Titus 3:5). A new believer immediately has possessions and a position in Christ. Jesus Christ also indwells the new believer as his or her eternal life (1 Jn. 5:11-12). Present tense salvation involves the believer's growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ toward Christian maturity. Future tense salvation is completed when the saint receives a new, glorified body and when God finally saves his or her soul (1 Pe. 1:9). Christ will come back for His Church and provide these benefits to its members for all eternity. The standing of the Corinthian believers involves the fact that they appropriated initial salvation by the gospel concerning Christ. Now they are living in their present tense salvation as a result of the provision of Christ's cross work and resurrection.
Salvation comes through the facts of the gospel concerning Christ that lead the person to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian's standing in the gospel gives him or her a firm foundation for a certainty that salvation is eternal from the instant one believes the gospel. The provisions of the work of the Godhead in salvation provide security -- an objective fact. One's condition of standing is provided by God and not by man. When the believer understands his or her standing, it gives him or her assurance - a subjective feeling.
The Provision of Salvation Through the Instrumentality of the Gospel -- "through which you are saved (15:2a)." The gospel concerning Christ is the instrument by which a person is saved. If there is no accurate presentation of the gospel, a person cannot be saved. God does not accept a mutilated, inaccurate, fuzzy gospel as the means by which He saves a person. "Through which (or by means of which) gospel you are saved" is one of the most important phrases in the Bible concerning salvation. It is the flag that waves, telling fallen, sinful human beings what they need to believe to be saved. It is the billboard, the beacon, the announcement that makes 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 essential verses for salvation.
"Through (dia)" is a preposition that can be translated several ways with this form of the relative pronoun [a genitive case]. These include "by means of or through the agency of." The cause is the gospel. The effect is salvation. The instrument or agent is the gospel. The result is salvation. This preposition says that the way to the Person who is the Way is through the gospel. There are no other means, no other entrances, no other plans for salvation that God will use to bring salvation to the sinner.
With three verbs focusing on the point in time in which the gospel was given by Paul, it would have been easy for him to have used the same tense of the verb for being saved [the aorist]. They were saved at that point in time. Here the Spirit of God directed him to use a present tense passive voice verb. They are continually being saved. The present tense emphasizes continuous action in the present time. The passive voice clearly says that someone else is acting on the believer saving him or her. They were saved in the past but are continually being saved in the present. There is no salvation in the here and now without the gospel concerning Christ. If there was no gospel in the there and then, there is no salvation now.
Just what is salvation? There are two sides of salvation: what one is saved from and what one is saved to. It is amazing that God would take human beings from their abhorrent condition. Every man, woman, boy or girl is an unrighteous disaster. Even the most righteous human being is repulsive to God for He sees "all their righteousness as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6)." Mankind is fallen, depraved, unrighteous, sinners by nature and by action, and dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Every part of mankind deserves eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire. We have all earned it and justly deserve it. God's salvation saves us from what we deserve -- spiritual death with eternal separation from God.
More important is what we are saved to. God saves the sinner for Himself. The Godhead made plans for the sinner that is saved. A part of that plan involves the fact that the person is saved from the Lake of Fire and fitted for heaven. When God saves, He provides a new relationship between the saved person and God (Eph. 1). When a person enters the family of God, he or she becomes a child of God. When the person is placed in the Body of Christ, he or she becomes a mature son of God and receives all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. Eternity will barely be able to reveal all that the Christian receives from God in his or her salvation.
The Possession of a Word Concerning Salvation Gospelized -- "since you are holding fast to what word I gospelized to you (1 Cor. 15:2c)." The Corinthian Christians were holding fast. "If" is equivalent to "maybe or maybe not" in English. But the New Testament was written in Greek. It is a condition that assumes that they are holding fast to the word that was gospelized (a first class condition). The grammar demands that it be translated "since" rather than "if." It assumes that those who have met the previous criteria will hold fast. The verb actually means "to assuredly have or to certainly possess."
What do they possess? A "what" or "certain word" is firmly held. These words are omitted from some translations. The gospel is firmly possessed or held because of the faith that the Holy Spirit gives. Interestingly enough it is just as much a fact that some believe in vain, without an object [see Monograph 2 for a discussion of believing in vain].
A person who willingly distances himself or herself from the gospel as presented in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 will never be saved. The gospel must be presented (gospelized). It must be received. It is the place where the believing one stands. It is the means by which one is saved. It is the word that true believers assuredly have and hold. It is what must be believed. Through the facts of the gospel a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and God saves him or her. The gospel is the essential mechanism through which God saves a human being. The role? With it you may have salvation. Without it you will never be saved.
Some people say that they were saved without believing key facts of the gospel or any gospel at all. The problem goes two ways. People identify their time of salvation with the presentation of a plan of salvation (and even admit that it didn't include the gospel or a part of the gospel). Others give a plan of salvation that excludes the gospel by which one is saved or perverts the gospel by omission of facts or addition of erroneous means of salvation. "Conversions" have taken place as a result, but are they real? How does God see them? This is an eternally embarrassing situation -- an eternity without God versus an eternity with God.
Recently I read an article about a lady who had made a profession of faith and as a professing Christian had been very active for many years in a local church -- choir, church secretary and such like. For a period of time she knew that she really wasn't saved. Finally through a series of events she made another profession. Everyone was thrilled. If she was saved the way she said she was, she wasn't saved at all. She just responded to a different plan of salvation with no more gospel in it than there was in the first plan of salvation. Amazing reports come of Bible college students, seminary students, pastors and missionaries being saved. I am not surprised. Is this just a shift in plans of salvation or have they been given faith to believe the gospel by which one is saved? Without a clear presentation of the facts of the gospel a person cannot be saved. The gospel is simply stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain [without an object or destination]. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:"
Two Important Questions. In this monograph I want to address two key questions: "What if you didn't believe by means of the gospel of Christ when you said you were saved?" The second question is, "What about those people you have 'led to the Lord' with another plan of salvation that omits the gospel?" What can we do about this? It takes a real man or woman to admit that he or she is wrong and not really saved. You can ask Jesus to come into your heart a thousand times a day and you will never be saved. The gospel must be presented accurately. No gospel -- no salvation!
The Question of One's Own Salvation. When the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 3:5), the new believer knows that God has intervened in his or her life. Did you believe that Christ died for your sins, was buried and was raised the third day? What if you had only heard that Christ died and His resurrection was not mentioned. Did someone say that Christ died for your sins and that you had to work or persevere to receive salvation? Or was it "Christ died for you, receive Him today?" As a Christian I look back and see that Christ died for me, but the "me" is not a part of the gospel by which one is saved (cf. Rom. 5:8 in its context). Those who are unsure of their salvation must look back at the gospel to see whether they were given the faith to believe it or not.
It is not my purpose to cause doubt but rather to affirm the reality of one's faith and the means by which that faith is directed to the object, Jesus Christ. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved ... (Acts 16:31)." The Calvinist evangelist encourages people to affirm their election even though they believe that a person will never know that he or she is saved until a universal judgment. An Arminian evangelist causes doubt as to whether someone has lost salvation and only at the coming of the Lord will one really know whether they are saved or not. Both are working in their present tense salvation to earn future tense salvation hoping they have past tense salvation. It seems that they just don't know. Every believer can know that he or she has eternal life and God's salvation now (1 Jn. 5:12). A true believer has the potential for knowing intuitively and knowing experientially that he or she is saved.
The Question of a "Convert's" Salvation. If you didn't give the gospel accurately, those you have "led to the Lord" are not saved. In a few instances the Holy Spirit may take a fact of the gospel that someone has heard elsewhere and bring it to mind so that the person has an accurate set of facts to believe in Christ. If you leave out the resurrection, that person may have heard that Christ was raised the third day and the Spirit of God put it together and saved the person.
Too often the accepted proof of salvation is church membership, attendance and work. The Scriptures are very clear that there are members of local churches that are not saved. Careless membership interviews often contribute to this problem. Often it is the fact that the gospel by which one is saved has not been presented or that additions have been made to it.
A great difficulty for Christians who have "led someone to Christ" is knowing for certain that these people are really saved. Some may be church members and active in churches. Others seem to have lost interest and have gone their own way. It is necessary to look back to the time of their profession and to evaluate it with the gospel concerning Christ. Was it clearly presented? Did he or she respond to something other than the gospel? Did the Holy Spirit provide the gift of faith? Did God save them?
We attempt to remember the circumstances. Did we give a clear presentation of the facts of the gospel by which one is saved? Did we offer an element or two of the gospel and pepper it with another plan of salvation? Too often we can't remember what we said to the person when a profession of faith was made. Why? Because many give several plans of salvation and they do not know which one was given in a specific situation. Church member, how many plans of salvation does your pastor give? Is there a "repent and be saved" Sunday invitation, an "accept Christ as your Lord and Savior" Sunday, a "let Jesus into your heart" Sunday or "a pray for salvation" Sunday? It is amazing how rarely the gospel is presented from the pulpit in a "gospel preaching" church.
I know of churches where pastors do give the gospel accurately in a small percentage of their invitations. Is 25%, 35%, 50% or 75% enough? No! Why waste the time, breath and energy to present a "plan of salvation" that is not the one by which a person is saved? It would be far better to say nothing at all rather than contribute to the false expectations of the lost.
I was also a percentage player for a number of years. Hundreds of tracts that I distributed gave "plans of salvation" with a fragment or two of the gospel in them. Professions were like notches on my gun. I had professions without the gospel or any work of the Holy Spirit. I "desecrated" many pulpits with a plan of salvation without the complete gospel.
Only God knows if one who professed was really saved. Finally God made it clear that there was only one plan of salvation and one gospel by which one believes in Christ. Since then I have no question as to whether I have given the gospel to a person who makes a profession. I give it 100% of the time with no strings attached. At least I know that the person has heard the facts of the gospel -- Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
The Predictions of Conditions on Earth Until Christ's Coming to Earth at the End of the Age. Jesus was speaking to a large audience primarily of Jews by the seashore in Matthew 13. There He predicted that there would be a mixture of evil with good that would be indiscernible until the end of the age when He would return to earth. Satan, the evil one, would be sowing bad seeds among the good seeds. When they grow, they are indiscernible from one another until the harvest (wheat and darnel look alike until they head out and darnel produces empty heads) (Matt. 13:24-30). Christ identified the two types of seed as: good seed [equals mature sons of the kingdom] and tares [equals mature sons of the evil one] (13:38).
Whether tares are in churches or elsewhere in the world system, they look exactly like the real mature sons of the Kingdom. Look at Judas. He was not an open, repulsive, evil person. He was so trusted that they (including Jesus) made him the keeper of the money. In the Upper Room the disciples could not identify nor did they suspect any one of themselves (including Judas). "Is it I, Lord?" Judas was a mature son of the evil one and appeared as good and righteous as Peter, James or John. He was a typical tare.
We face the question of whether a person could be saved at all if no gospel is presented. It is not a question of a real or a false profession and the duplication of the real with the unreal. I believe that a tare who is a mature son or daughter of the wicked one can give a thrilling testimony to salvation and become a church member with ease. They cannot give an accurate presentation of the gospel. How many times have Christian young people who want to marry an unbeliever coached him or her concerning salvation so that the pastor will perform the ceremony? It is amazing how good a "forgetter" the unbeliever has even though he or she may have memorized 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. They can fool some but if one demands an accurate presentation of the gospel, they are unable to do it. The same problem exists when an unbelieving widowed deacon wants to marry a widowed believing lady in the church. He cannot give the gospel. They might look alike but the gospel shows them to be different.
Jesus also described the same individuals in the parable of the fish caught in one net (Matt. 13:47-50). The net contains fish, all kinds of fish. Only when they are separated at the end of the age [legal age -- 13:49-50] are they distinguished as good fish and rotten fish.
The Proof that There Are Church Members Who Profess to Be Believers Who Are Not. Several passages in Church revelation in the New Testament present the fact that there are tares in the church. The very church that was driven to its task (Matt. 28:19-20 -- "go" is a passive participle, "having been made to go," not an imperative) by persecution had tares. Most unbelievers would run from the threat of persecution. Yet there were mature sons of the evil one who toughed it out and remained in the persecuted church. This is a great illustration of the fortitude and "righteousness" of the tares as generated by the religious works of the flesh. Some tares will stand in adversity as well as real believers do.
The Wolves in the Ephesian Church. Paul met the elders (who were also bishops and pastor-teachers) of the Ephesian church at Miletus on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16). He was concerned about what was going to happen to the church that the Lord had led him to start. He knew that there would be problems with unbelievers who would be permitted to be in the church as well as problems with carnal believers. "For I know this, that after my departing grievous [burdensome, heavy handed] wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29)." How would they get into the church? The church let them in, the church that had been taught the whole counsel (or determinative will) of God (Acts 20:27). The wolves would look like sheep -- wolves in sheep's clothing who would wolf bite the sheep. Yet there would be true believers who would also have great problems. "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30)." These carnal believers would make their own disciples by their heresy (a religious work of the flesh) and zeal (another work of the flesh). Paul encouraged them to be on the watch (20:31). One way to watch was by protecting the church by making certain that one who entered knew the gospel concerning Christ. The fluffy, adorable pups would not be permitted to share in the assembly and to grow into adult wolves to destroy it.
Antichrists from within the Church. Scripture knows no person who is the Antichrist. John warned that "a quality of antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have risen ... (1 Jn. 2:18)." The prefix "anti" has two emphases in the New Testament: "against" or "in place of." Open opponents against Christ find it difficult to share with true Christians. Those who put something or someone else in place of Christ are far more subtle. They even attempt to identify themselves as children of God. John describes what can happen to them. "They went out from us, but they were not out of us; for if they had been out of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be manifest that were not at all out of us (1 Jn. 2:19)." They were in the church and in the company of believers but they were not believers. They were not active enemies of Christ but had replaced Christ in ways that were marginally acceptable. Yet they showed their true colors -- reality -- they were none of His.
The "antichrists" always oppose Bible exposition and Bible based theological, doctrinal preaching. The carnal Christian living in his or her sin nature reacts in the same manner. Carnal Christians have a strong case of nipple dependency (brefos, unweaned infant -- 1 Pe. 2:2) and vocabulary deficit disorder (nepios, inarticulate babbler -- 1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 5:13; Eph. 4:14). At least a part of those who resist solid Bible preaching and teaching are among those who are qualified as being "antichrists."
It may be that these are identified in Titus 1:15-16. "... Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. God they profess to know yet by their works deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate (lit. unapproved ones)."
The Problem of a Local Church Filled with Unsaved People. The words "lukewarm, wretched, miserable (needing mercy), poor, blind and naked (Rev. 3:16-17)" are all used to describe the condition of the church that met in Laodicea. Their condition was so bad that God says He will vomit them out of His mouth (cf. Gk. vs. 16). The door of the church is closed to Him even though He stands knocking at the church door. They had no place for Christ. They had passed as Christians but God knew their true condition. The reality of the fact was that they never were Christians. It was a church in which no one had believed the gospel. It was a church that professed allegiance to Christ and may have clung to the fact that Christ died. But the gospel concerning Christ had not been a part of their lives nor had the Holy Spirit given them the gift of faith. Unfortunately there are many churches with the same problem today. They are religious, professing to be Christian, yet have no saved people in their membership. They have pastors and people that have never truly believed in Christ through the facts of the gospel.
The Potential for Believing in Vain. There are people who have a kind of faith but it misses the object or target. It goes the wrong direction. "Unless you have believed in vain (1 Cor. 15:2)" indicates that some will misdirect their human faith. These are individuals who have a wrong promise or a wrong hope as a basis for their faith. Paul addresses a church that was comprised of people to which he had carefully given the gospel. He knew that he had given the gospel 100% of the time even though he was carnal much of the time. Yet he knew that some who professed may have missed Jesus Christ the target of true faith. If that was the case, they were not saved and needed salvation. They needed an accurate presentation of the gospel in God's plan for salvation and the God-given gift of faith [for more see Monograph 2 entitled "Unless You Have Believed in Vain"].
So You Don't Know If You Heard the Gospel and Were Saved at the Time of Your Profession of Faith?
If someone is certain that he or she did not believe the gospel by which one is saved when he or she professed faith in Christ, what should that person do? The following list will give some answers:
1. Admit That There Is Only One Plan of Salvation That Is God's Plan of Salvation. One believes in Christ through the facts of the gospel concerning Christ -- Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose the third day. One must make certain that nothing is omitted. One must remove any additions to the gospel that are not found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. These additions may include the work of making Christ Lord of your life for salvation, repentance, prayer for salvation, public confession, private confession, asking Jesus into the heart as well as many other common additions (most of which cause one to believe in vain).
2. Evaluate Your Relationship to Christ through the Facts of the Gospel. What really happened when you made your profession of faith? Did you hear and respond to the gospel concerning Christ as presented in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4? Was Christ the only object of faith? God doesn't care where you find the facts of the gospel in Scripture but they must be the facts that are presented in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 by means of which one is saved. If one bases his or her salvation on anything else or on passages that do not give the facts of the gospel concerning Christ, he or she is not saved! Several passages may be presented together but they must include the facts that Christ died, for your sins, was buried and rose the third day and that one must believe (have faith) in Christ through these facts.
3. Make Certain that You Believed with the God-Given Gift of Faith and Not Simply with Human Faith. There can be no question that God intervened when you professed salvation and that He gave you faith with which to believe. That faith is based on the promise of salvation and a hope that God would save you as He promised. There should be no doubt about the source of the faith. Satan may attempt to make the believer doubt his or her salvation but God's supernatural intervention with the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 3:5) makes a permanent impression on the believer. One needs to be reminded that the gift of faith is not given in your soul (the sphere of your emotions) but in your human spirit, in your mind (the sphere of your rationale or reason). You are saved in the realm of your human spirit (John 3:5). Feelings and tears do not indicate that one is given the gift of faith. It is given and immediately you know that your eternal future is assured without a question by Christ's work and resurrection. Instantly you know that Christ and Christ alone makes eternity with God certain. It may be that God has led you to read these pages because He is ready to give you the gift of faith to believe in Christ through the facts of the gospel. You can not pray for the gift of faith. God will not hear you in the biblical sense. The first communication He hears will be the thanksgiving of the new believer for his or her salvation. Believe and be saved -- He will save you!
4. Know that You Are Saved. "These things I wrote to you in order that you may be in a state of intuitively knowing that you continue to have a quality of eternal life, to the ones who are believing in the name [or character and Person] of the Son of God (1 John 5:13)." The indwelling presence of God the Son in the believer as eternal life is proof that a person is saved. "We intuitively know that we are in a state of being removed out of death into life, because we are loving the brothers ... (1 John 3:14)." A true believer has a love produced by the Spirit that he or she directs toward other believers. This gives one intuitive knowledge that he or she possesses eternal life.
A believer will know experientially that he or she is truly saved. "And by this we experientially are knowing that we are in a state of knowing Him, if we are keeping His commandments. The one who is saying, 'I am in the state of experientially knowing Him,' and is not keeping His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in this man; but whoever happens to be keeping His word, truly in this man is the love from God in a state of having been completed. By this we continually know that we continually are in Him (1 John 2:3-5)." A person will intuitively and experientially know for certain that God has saved him or her. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved ... (Acts 16:31)."
So You Don't Know That Someone You "Led to Christ" Heard the Gospel or You Know That You Didn't Give It to Them.
Too often Christians are "soul winners" and the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with professions that have been made. The gospel concerning Christ either is not presented or it is perverted. Honestly we often know for certain that these were mere professions and are unwilling to admit that these people really are not saved. So what does one do about this?
1. Affirm the Accuracy of the Gospel Concerning Christ. Public Christian speakers need to retract inaccurate plans of salvation from the pulpit or rostrum publicly. A clear public statement of the gospel must be given before the audiences and before God. One must be willing to acknowledge the fact that many they have "led to the Lord" are not saved because the gospel had no part of the plan of salvation given when the profession was made. Furthermore a "gospel" tract burning would be in order. If there is no gospel in the tract, burn it. If there is a partial gospel in it, burn it. If there is more than the gospel in it, burn it. Then find a simple gospel tract with the gospel in it and the fact that salvation is by God, by grace and through faith and use it.
2. Admit that the Gospel Was Not Presented. Spiritual pride prevents a person from admitting that someone that they "led to the Lord" was not really saved because the gospel had not been presented. One needs to be willing to take God at His Word and see the facts as He sees them. If the gospel was not given or it was diluted or polluted, admit it and get it right. It is difficult to go to the deacon that you "led to the Lord" and admit that you hadn't given him the gospel when he made his profession. Then it is necessary to give it to him accurately. This is hard on pride but necessary. Some Christians have used a plan of salvation for many years and have never given the gospel. Twenty years of a wrong plan of salvation are hard to face. Suddenly the statistics change. Of course one who is a tare will have no problem with an inaccurate plan of salvation. Some responses to my Gospel Checker letters have been filled with anger and hatred that anyone would question the writer's plans of salvation. No surprise!
3. Analyze What the Person Believed and What They Really Believed without Leading Questions. One needs to talk to the person and question him or her about a relationship to the gospel without asking leading questions [see Monograph 3 for help]. If the person did not believe the gospel with God-given faith, give them the gospel accurately.4. Anticipate the Work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn't a soul winner. He is the "spirit winner." He is the divine Person who gives the gift of faith with which one believes. A Spirit-filled believer will be aware of the leading of the Spirit to an unbeliever to whom He will give the gift of faith.
5. Approach Them with the Gospel Directly and Accurately. Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Present it as it is presented in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Use whatever other passages that accurately relate to that divine revelation. Carefully explain that you did not previously give them the gospel concerning Christ when they made a profession of faith. Remember the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Believe it! Present it! Trust the Spirit to use it! Now is the time to correct this eternally embarrassing situation. To God is the glory into the ages of the ages!