In the last few posts we have considered why God has put the church on earth, what He has called her to do, and how He expects her to accomplish that task. As we consider that we, as the church, are called to proclaim the gospel and to make disciples, it would be wise to pause and consider what the gospel is.
What is the Gospel?
Simply put, the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul lays out a basic gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
The gospel is the glad message that Jesus humbled Himself to live a sinless life as God in the flesh, and that He died to pay the penalty for sins, and then He rose from the dead securing the eternal life of those who believe in Him.
How is it that such a simple message has garnered millions of books, sermons, and songs throughout the past two thousand years? It is because it comes to us from an infinite God. Though He often tells us simple things, they abound with truth and require endless reflection.
In response to the fact that the gospel is endless in appreciation, the next five blogs will be dedicated to understanding a little more of what the gospel is all about. This week we want to focus on the fact that Jesus claims to be the only way to salvation.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Why Must there be Only One Way to Salvation?
We may be tempted to assume that because God desires that all sinners should be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), He would create an abundance of methods for salvation. This is what some people force themselves to think when trying to blend Christianity and false religions. This can even happen in people who will say that Christianity is different, but that those other beliefs aren’t necessarily wrong. However, God makes it clear that there is no other God but Him, and as Christ says in John 14 there is no other way.
Portions of the Sermon on the Mount recounted in Matthew 7 can help us in understanding why this path to God is so narrow. Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Jesus is recognizing that the way to Hell and destruction is wide and the way that leads to life is small. Here we need to pay attention to the subtle implication about human nature–we don’t think of these two paths as equal. Because of our depraved state apart from God, our hearts are prone to choose the wide path. Unregenerate people see this path as superior to the other and disregard their destination. Understanding this helps us to begin to understand why God would set this system up in this way. He makes salvation something that man would not naturally choose.
In the following verses Jesus warns His disciples about false teachers who look like they are on the narrow path, but are in fact trying to draw people into misunderstandings and lies. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20) Though these false teachers at first appear like the real deal, when the results of their labor are examined, their true identities are revealed. Why can’t a thorn bush produce figs? Because, a thorn bush can only produce thorns. It seems so elementary, but don’t miss out on this incredible truth displayed again. The natural person, apart from God, cannot produce Godly fruit. The unsaved person can only produce depraved fruit. No matter how nice it looks, it will be revealed to be hollow and nothing compared to the work of God. We have seen so far that man cannot in his natural, depraved state choose the path of God nor can he produce the fruits of God.
Sadly, people might even deceive themselves into thinking that they are servants of God, when they are only imposters. Jesus warns us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
The last picture Jesus shares helps us understand why this is. He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27) Here Jesus explains how it is that someone can enter the narrow way and lead a faithful life. They must build their life, essentially put their faith in, the person of Jesus Christ. If we build our lives on ourselves or even other people, no matter how great, they will not stand the final test.
The whole point of Jesus being the only way to salvation is so that we cannot boast in doing it ourselves. Because Jesus is the only way and the foundation of faith, He gets all the credit and glory.
What is the Result of Having Only One Way?
In Ephesians 2:1-10 Paul sums up this idea that we were dead in sin until God breathed life into us so that He is glorified.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
You might still be left with the question of why God has designed salvation this way. I hope I have demonstrated that it is so that we are humbled in the process so our only boast is in Jesus. Paul talks about how salvation, and even the fact that there are many on the wide path, is to bring glory to God in Romans 9:22-24:
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
More than Knowledge
It is relatively easy to read Scripture and reflect on what it says or even to say that it makes sense in our heads, but it is much better and harder to let these truths sink into the heart. Only God softens hearts and makes them able to receive truth. If you have read these reflections on salvation and the gospel and are stirred, praise God. If you have read this and do not feel the joy that the gospel brings, ask that God would soften your heart and that as we learn together in the next posts you would grow closer to Him.
All Scripture Quoted is from the ESV.