Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? by Walter Chantry“Our ears have grown accustomed to hearing men told to ‘accept Jesus as your personal Savior’, a form of words which is not found in Scripture. It has become an empty phrase. These may be precious words to the Christian – ‘personal Savior’ – but they are wholly inadequate to instruct a sinner in the way to eternal life.”
In Today’s Gospel, Walter Chantry examines the methods and message that is being delivered in today’s efforts to evangelize the lost. Some may say, “What does it matter, as long as people are coming to Christ?” But Chantry submits that it does matter, because if the message being preached or the methods being used are not Biblical, the result may be “converts” who continue to live carnal lives, who struggle with doubt and assurance of salvation, and whose faith withers away just as the seed that falls on the thorny or rocky ground. Or worse, these “converts” are sent away with a false sense of security after making a decision and repeating a formula prayer, when in fact they may not be regenerated at all. Chantry challenges all who share the Gospel, whether from a pulpit, on the mission field, or in one-on-one relationships, to consider if they are communicating the whole Gospel message.
Chantry believes that in today’s evangelism efforts, “Relevance, respectability, and especially unity have become the aims of God’s people.” Unity has become the emphasis at the price of minimizing and compromising truth. When the goal of the church is to be united in our efforts towards world evangelism, the Gospel message will be watered down, condensed to the “lowest common denominator”, and other important doctrines which may be thought to be divisive or offensive are left out. But aren’t we supposed to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Chantry reminds us that, “When a half-truth is presented as the whole truth, it becomes an untruth.”
Although we may be sincere in our desire to reach the lost for Christ, we do not honor God when we present a diluted or distorted version of the Gospel that Christ Himself presented. The truth cannot and should not be sacrificed for the sake of love and zeal. “Absence of evangelistic zeal is a dreadful predicament on one hand. But there is also the danger of zeal which is not according to knowledge.” While we must share the Gospel out of love for the lost, more important than this should be our love for God and our desire to glorify Him above anything else.
In his assessment of today’s methods of evangelism, it seemed obvious to me that, among other methods and “gimmicks” he had in mind the familiar booklet, “The Four Spiritual Laws”, which was published in 1952 by Campus Crusade for Christ. (I remember using it when I did door-to-door witnessing back in the early ‘80s). In order to give us a model to follow when witnessing to unbelievers, Chantry uses the familiar account of Christ’s dealing with the rich young ruler, who came and asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (see Mark 10:17-27). His short book goes through the important elements of sharing the gospel in a logical order:
- The character of God
- The law of God
- Repentance toward God
- Faith toward God’s Son
- Assurance of Acceptance with God, and lastly
- Dependence upon God
Chantry shows how Jesus went through these steps as he talked with the young nobleman.
The Character of God
In order to be convicted of sin, an unbeliever must first understand Who it is he has offended, so it’s crucial to show to the lost one who God is – His holy attributes and character. It is a mistake to assume that the unbeliever knows this. The god in the mind of most people in the modern world is a caricature of the true and living God – a god of their own imagination (ie. “the Big Man in the Sky,” our “Co-pilot,” a grandfather or Santa Claus figure, or a narcissistic tyrant). Jesus pointed to the character of God when He said to the young man, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”
The Law of God
The second thing they must understand is how they have offended God. For this reason the law of God must be presented, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). A person cannot truly see his sin unless he understands the law of God, and not just in a general way. We can tell them that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and most people have no trouble admitting that they aren’t perfect and have done things wrong. Then again, “No one is perfect, but I’m not as bad as most” (ever heard that?). But he must be confronted by the law in a specific way that pricks his own conscience, just as our Lord presented God’s law to the young nobleman in the story; He pointed out the very sin that stood between him and God.
Repentance toward God
Once the unbeliever understands who God is and what His demands are, he must be called to repentance – to change his mind about and turn his heart from his sin. This is the message of the gospel that we see modeled throughout the New Testament by Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and all the apostles (as well as the Old Testament prophets). It’s also the step that seems to be left out of many evangelistic messages. “Repent and believe,” has been replaced with, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
Confessing sins and asking forgiveness, if not accompanied by true repentance, is nothing more than remorse. It’s like the driver who is stopped by a police officer for speeding, apologizes and is slapped with a fine, only to continue his habit of driving over the speed limit. Preaching a Gospel devoid of a call to repentance has produced a creature which has come to be called “the carnal Christian,” a term that is found nowhere in Scripture.
Faith toward God’s Son
Chantry comments, “Repentance and Faith are Siamese twins. Where one is found, the other will not be absent. They are invariably joined in the true convert’s heart.” The evangelical invitation, “Accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior” is, again, language that is not found in the Bible. Jesus certainly does issue invitations: to come, to follow, to trust, to take up your cross, to leave the world behind. True faith is demonstrated by active obedience. However, Chantry observes,
In modern evangelism…more often than not, sermons imply that Jesus is a personal Savior to help people get out of trouble and danger…But there is silence about His being a Master to be followed, a Lord to be obeyed. In Scripture the demand for following as a disciple is made plain at the outset. The narrow gate is at the beginning of the narrow way to everlasting life. It is not an after-thought added for more enthusiastic believers…The sinner must know that Jesus will not be a Savior to any man who refuses to bow to Him as Lord.
The rich, young ruler wanted life; he may have been happy to “accept Jesus as his Savior.” What he was not willing to do was submit to Him as Lord and King.
Assurance of Acceptance with God
As the young nobleman walked away grieved, Jesus does a shocking thing – Nothing! He doesn’t call after him to come back, or try to plead or persuade him; He doesn’t say, “Wait, just pray this prayer after me, and you’ll be saved!” As Chantry puts it so well, “To impress hearts with the gravity of the decision before them, we would do well to say, ‘Sit down and consider,’ rather than, ‘Stand up and come forward.’” Jesus told the man what he needed to know and gave him no false assurances about his relationship with God. The scriptures don’t tell us any more about the young man after this conversation with Jesus. For all we know, the young man went away and thought about what Jesus said, and returned in repentance and faith at a later time. But at least he left knowing the truth about himself and what God required of him in order to receive the eternal life he came inquiring about.
Dependence upon God
What it really comes down to when we share the Gospel with an unbeliever is the work that the Holy Spirit will do. God calls us to preach to the lost, and we must do so faithfully, but the results are always in His hands. I can’t change a person’s heart; only God can do that, and that is what is necessary in order for an unbeliever to become a believer.
Our evangelism must be based upon a dependence on the Lord. Our hope of results must be in Him, not in man’s will or in any other faculty of our hearer. But it pleases God to raise dead sinners through the foolishness of Gospel preaching.
Compare the above with Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:20-24).
Churches, evangelists and mission workers are deceiving themselves if they are relying on persuasive speech, clever gimmicks, exciting programs, or “signs and wonders” to convert sinners. Preaching is the ordained way — God’s way – to present the Gospel to the world. The fact that salvation of the lost is not dependent on us but on God should be liberating. We must remember that it is impossible for anyone to believe, “but with God all things are possible!” Praise God that He is still in the business of saving sinners!
(Note: This title is on my list of non-fiction books I believe every Christian should read.)
- Sermons by Walt Chantry (www.chantry-sermons.com)
- The Rhetoric of the Soterian Gospel (tylorstandley.wordpress.com)
- Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Flaws? (www.billionbibles.org)
- The Invitation System by Iain Murray (rediscoveringthebible.com)
- Why We Don’t Use The Altar Call (www.victorybaptist.us)
- Dear Church, My Plea (marc5solas.com)
- Declaring War on the Sinner’s Prayer (www.youtube.com)