Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Insulting God: The Pride Behind the Modern Gospel

(Part 3 of a Series)
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

For the past few entries this blog has been working toward considering the following premise:

We insult God when we expect unregenerate people to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.
This idea was simply mentioned in Part 1, and a little bit of groundwork for it was added in Part 2, where I made the case that we cannot, by any religious exercise, gain salvation for anyone, or confirm that salvation has occurred. I also argued that many evangelicals have fallen for a non-miraculous, works-based salvation without even realizing it.

I'd like to go on to address more directly the premise in the quote above, but before I do that it seems necessary to delve a little further into the dangerous heresy of Evangelical Sacramentalism. That's because we cannot comprehend the difference that salvation makes in a soul, and why we can't expect the unregenerate to live like the regenerate, until we understand what salvation is.

And what it isn't.

Why has the modern, watered-down gospel flourished?

How have we come so far from the faith of our fathers, without even being aware that we've strayed? Spurgeon would not recognize our modern "gospel presentations," nor would any of the Puritan Martin Luther's 1534 Bible.Luther's 1534 Bible
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fathers, or Luther, or the apostles for that matter.

Neither does Christ.

How is it that we have come to put our faith in a prayer, or in anything we can dredge up in our own souls in order to be saved? How have we convinced ourselves that the dead can choose to raise themselves to life?

It's simple, really. We hate feeling helpless, especially about vitally important things like salvation.

We hate believing that our own salvation doesn't rest in our own hands. Oh, if we're evangelical, we say we believe that we're saved by grace through faith, apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). But lurking in many an evangelical soul is the belief that we saved ourselves through our faith. It reveals itself in a subtle (or not so subtle) pride, a feeling of superiority over those who don't believe, a wondering "what's wrong with them, why can't they simply believe like I do?"

If the faith that we have is the kind of faith that anyone should be able to "just do," then our faith is merely human.

Nothing human can save us.

The fact is, we are saved by something (it is done to us), and this "something" is grace (God's favor, which He gives to us apart from any merit of our own) through faith (the ability to believe, which is in itself a gift from God). Any other view distorts faith into a "work" and fosters spiritual pride.

That's why, when Paul spoke to Titus about how to relate to the lost, he pointed out that we should "show all humility to all men." Why should we show this humility? "Because we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another." (Titus 3:2-3)

Why should we feel humbled when we look at unbelievers and know that we were once like them? Shouldn't we feel proud that we were smart and savvy enough to believe? Absolutely, if salvation is a work of the flesh or of the mind, and not a miraculous work of the Spirit. Paul's command to "show humility" can only be fulfilled by those who know, not just in their heads, but down to the depths of their being, that they were saved by grace, and that they can take no credit for it. I bless the Lord for the night that He miraculously opened my eyes my utter helplessness to save myself, my total lostness, and my need to depend completely on Him for my eternal soul's salvation. I have no doubt my salvation was a miracle of God. Do you know the same about yours?

Or are you counting on something purely human...some words repeated after someone else, perhaps? A decision to accept a "plan," or an "outline" that someone presented?

Of course there's nothing wrong with praying a prayer, or listening to an outline. But is it the prayer that you look to for confirmation and assurance? Were you saved by a plan, or even by a personal decision?

Or have you come "face to face" with the Living God?

Did He save you?

For many people, this kind of introspection is painful, even terrifying, because of what they don't find when they look within. I know. I used to be one of them.

Fear can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you do with it.

Pride jumps in at this point. In its more subtle form, it starts searching around for an inventory list, a proof of salvation based on things it has achieved. When it finds enough good works to satisfy itself, it uses its own perceived goodness to shove all potentially lifesaving doubts back down.

Humility, on the other hand, looks for the work of the Spirit and the changes He has brought about, and rests all of its confidence on what He has done as evidence for salvation.

In a less-subtle form, pride asks, "What do you mean, I can't make a certain decision or pray a certain prayer to be saved? You're saying it all depends on God, on a miraculous work of His Spirit? What gives Him the right to have my salvation depend on Him?"

At an even more Hellish level pride can hiss, "I want nothing to do with a God who could ever send me to Hell under any circumstances! That other guy, maybe, but not me!" If such a heart ever prayed a prayer of faith, it was faith in itself to perform the right actions which would put God in its debt, guaranteeing that God would give it the salvation it believes it deserves.

Humility, when it recognizes its need for salvation, bows in holy fear with an attitude of, "Lord, You would be perfectly just to send me to Hell. I deserve no less. If You were to do so, I would not curse You for it. You are holy and right and just. I cast myself utterly on Your mercy, trusting You to save me not because I could ever deserve it, but because You are a God of your Word, and You have promised to save those who put their trust in You. Thank You for putting the weight of my sins on Christ, and offering me His righteousness. Please save even me, Lord." (Now, be careful here...I'm not prescribing a specific prayer that saves anyone. It is the Spirit-wrought change in a heart, bringing it to this point of faith, that saves. No one is saved by saying such words with an unchanged, sin-deadened heart.) A truly humble, Spirit-led heart comes trembling, aware of its own guilt, aware that even its own coming gives it no merit. It comes with humble amazement that such a salvation could be given to one so undeserving. It knows that if God were to say "No," there would be no "Plan B." It's all up to God. Period.

That's not a saving act. That's saving faith, and it's a work of the Spirit.

The good news is, to such a heart God will not say "No," because such a heart has the thumbprint of the Holy Spirit pressed deeply into it.

God creates this humble faith, and God perfects it.

Is this the salvation you know? Is this the gospel you share?


LauraLee Shaw said...

Yes, this is my salvation. I just love your insights, Betsy. Beyond moved, let me tell you.

You said:
Paul's command to "show humility" can only be fulfilled by those who know, not just in their heads, but down to the depths of their being, that they were saved by grace, and that they can take no credit for it.

Wow. Amen.

Avalon said...

I love how I crumbled when that thumb pressed into me. And that's why I'm a whole new shape now. Brokenness. It's what we need, and no one can give it to us except for God. Your blog is so eye-opening, so good at revealing His truth. I love it!

Anonymous said...

I love this post. Your words are spot on. Thank you.

AnooCre8ion said...

Thank for you this reminder, that nothing I have ever done or could ever do, could ever make me worthy of His salvation.

It also helps me to remember that I didn't come to Jesus because I felt that it was time, I had to come when His Holy Spirit bid me come.


conarnold said...

It's so hard for many people (most of us in fact) to accept things on faith. We want to be in control and feel we need to do the right things to be saved. What a great blessing is the grace of God that saves us! Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

Tim Brown said...

Such a wonderful series.

For years, I have been one that struggles with his own redemption. "How Do I Know". And so often I've had to rest in the best evidence I have had which is that of "What has been happening in my life that makes no sense apart from God". Give up? No way. "To Whom shall I turn? You alone have the words of Eternal life!"

I have struggled with this and even have had to stand against those who would say "quit doubting God! You are saved because you have..." prayed a prayer, "confessed Christ as Lord" (said the words) or something else.

Through the past ten years of my profession of faith, I've had to fight against stuff like that because I know it's not Biblical.

If we are saved by praying a prayer, we are saying a work has saved us. Plain and simple.

But as you said, let's see what the pattern of our lives is.

And if I'm not converted, why is it I keep Seeking Him, especially when I'm fearful I'm not really saved?

I've heard it said that the warning passages in Hebrews are there, in part, to drive real Christians to deal with their doubts this way.

And sometimes, that has had to serve as my assurance.

I wish I had more, and had it more often but I'd rather have that than trust in a prayer!

Good series. I'm posting a reference to it at my blog!

Jennifer said...

Hi, Betsy. This series is fantastic!! In regard to Part 2 and 3, I would add to this the idea of not preaching sin as part of the pride behind the modern gospel. We are prideful when we are more concerned with what the other person will think of us, so we try to use a watered-down, modern gospel to protect ourselves from being branded a religious nutcase.

The same goes for not actually coming out and verbally sharing the gospel. Romans 10 tells us we must speak the gospel with words, otherwise, how will they hear? The modern gospel asserts that if we just smile and do good deeds, others will see the goodness in us and want to know what's different about us.

Nonsense. Any atheist can smile and throw a can of creamed corn into the Thanksgiving food drive. What makes my good deed any different from that? Why would someone think my good deed for the day would warrant a question such as, "Wow, what is the reason for your joy?"

Not to mention, whenever I was caught red-handed performing random acts of kindness, and someone would notice, did I ever take credit for it? You betcha. There were plenty of times I just sat there and allowed someone to sing my praises because I was so full of good works, and I let the opportunity to share the gospel slip through my fingers. I wanted to keep the glory for me.

The modern gospel encourages us to preach through good deeds instead of our words, and even when we do use our words, they are watered down to make us seem less this and more that. We need to take the focus off ourselves and place it onto Him. We must decrease, He must increase. Anything added to a God-centered gospel is not a God-centered gospel at all.

Keep fighting the good fight!

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