I once heard a preacher say that “80 to 90% of Christians are unacquainted with the gospel of grace.” I guess this estimate is not far off the mark as evidenced by the large numbers of believers who are still trying to earn what God has freely given them.
If you were to ask these people about grace they would declare, “Yes, I am saved by grace! I thank God for his grace!” But by their works they testify that God’s grace is not enough. Grace may have got them started, but now it’s up to them to finish. Having begun with the Spirit they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort (Gal 3:3). Instead of working out what it means to be saved, they are working hard to stay saved.
How does this happen?
Usually someone tells them that God won’t accept them or bless them or be pleased with them unless they perform for Jesus. Dead religious works are sold with respectable labels like responsibility, good works, mission, sowing, and investing. I am not against these things. But I am strongly opposed to the lie that says God’s favor depends on you doing them.
Do you know that you are saved by grace and kept by grace?
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him. (Col 2:6)
How did you receive him? By faith. How should you continue to live in him? By faith! It’s faith in God’s grace from start to finish.
Are you living by the faith of the Son of God? Or have you taken out a little works insurance? As Watchman Nee put it, the choice is between trying and trusting. You can try or you can trust but you can’t do both. Are you a tryer or a truster?
Let me give you a simple test to help you determine whether the gospel message you’re trusting in is the same gospel that Jesus revealed and Paul preached. Ask yourself these four questions. If your answers are all yes, then rejoice, for you are living on pure, undiluted grace!
1. Does this gospel cause me to fix my eyes exclusively on Jesus?
A true gospel preacher will always seek to reveal more and more of Jesus. It took me years to realize this. When I began preaching in the 1990s, I used to preach on the kingdom. I loved the kingdom and I still do. But I now realize that my love for the kingdom was really a love for the King. Now I just preach of this Great King who loves me and gave himself for me. Now I just preach Jesus.
Preachers, do you need a message on healing? Then preach Jesus! Do you need a series on overcoming, giving, wisdom, holiness, faith, warfare, marriage, family life, outreach, helping the poor, deliverance, Leviticus, the Tabernacle, etc? Then preach Jesus!
Whatever your need, your answer is found in Jesus and his finished work. That’s why Paul resolved to know nothing but “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Any message that doesn’t reveal Jesus will likely be powerless substitute, a flesh-trip, and a wasted opportunity.
Jesus is the supreme manifestation of the character and purpose of God. Any message that diminishes Jesus, insults the Spirit of grace. Jesus is peerless and nothing compares to him. He has become for us wisdom from God and I will boast of nothing else (1 Cor 1:30-31).
Here’s the test: A false gospel will emphasize what you’re doing (or not doing), while the true gospel will emphasize Christ’s finished work on the cross. A false gospel will make you introspective and anxious, while the true gospel will always make you Christ-conscious and grateful.
2. Does this gospel increase my dependence on Jesus?
Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Sadly, much is done apart from Jesus and most of it will amount to nothing! Instead of healing the sick, raising the dead and driving out demons – the very things Jesus said his followers would do – we’re doing other stuff. And because we’re so busy doing other stuff we’re worn out and missing opportunities to do the works and greater works of Jesus.
Let me put your mind at rest right now: I guarantee that in your own strength you cannot heal the sick and raise the dead. Don’t even try. But Christ in you can do these and greater things! Do you trust him?
Working out your salvation with fear and trembling describes the adventure of learning to do impossible things with Jesus.
Here’s the test: A false gospel promotes dead works done in your own name, but the true gospel will inspire you to take risks in his Name and help you bear fruit that lasts.
3. Does this gospel empower me to overcome sin?
There are two ways to deal with sin; (1) preach law or (2) reveal grace. The first approach will fail because the purpose of the law is to inflame sin (Rom 7:5). Any success with rule-keeping will only lead to bigger sins of pride and self-righteousness. The law is powerless to deal with sin because it leaves the heart untouched (Col 2:23). Worse, it releases condemnation (which some mistake for conviction) and ministers death, just as it was designed to do (2 Cor 3:7,9).
In contrast, a grace preacher will deal practically with sin by revealing your true identity in Christ. You are a new creation with a new nature. Your old sin software has been nailed to the cross and you are no longer sin’s slave (Rom 6:6,20). Appetites are dealt with by recognizing who you are in Christ and reckoning your old self as dead.
Here’s the test: A false gospel will keep you sin-conscious and bound, but the true gospel will empower you to sin no more.
4. Does this gospel release peace and joy?
The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). If the gospel you’re listening to doesn’t reveal Jesus and the gift of his righteousness, you will never experience the peace and joy that comes with it.
This test is actually about righteousness: Are you resting in his or are you trying to impress him with yours? A false gospel will seek to manufacture righteousness through works and holy living. By prescribing a course of action, it will instantly fail the above three tests. It will burden you with loads you cannot carry and expectations you cannot meet. Before you know it, you will be as stressed and joyless as Martha.
If you stopped doing the things you are doing for Jesus, would you feel guilty? What if you sinned, stopped giving, or skipped church? I’m not encouraging you to do any of these things – sinning is stupid. But someone who knows they are clothed with his righteousness will rarely battle guilt and condemnation. Even when they sin they will sense the Holy Spirit convicting them of their righteousness in Christ (Jn 16:10).
Here’s the test: Someone who’s bought into a false gospel will never know lasting peace. Even when they’ve done what’s expected there will always be a sense of “have I done enough?” But the revelation of God’s undeserved favor that comes from the true gospel brings true peace.
Paul began every one of his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father.” Worldly peace is temporary, but the peace of God – that sense that everything is coming together for good because you belong to Jesus and his favor rests on you – passes understanding (Php 4:7). It fortifies your heart and mind so that in all circumstances you find yourself overflowing with thankfulness (Col 2:7). No matter how severe your trial, you will be able to find rest – indeed, even joy – in his mighty, loving arms (Php 4:4).