Much modern preaching tends, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, to say to men and women, “Peace, peace” where there is, in fact, “no peace.” The Gospel, on the other hand, to use the words of the prophet Joel, places “multitudes in the valley of decision.” The Gospel places you and me crossroads between faith and unbelief. It is a crossroads at which you must make a decision – either to trust Jesus Christ as Saviour, or to trust in your own selves, your religion, your good works. Which will it be – Christ or man-centred religion?
When Jesus Christ preached the Word of God, His preaching had one of two effects on His hearers – either they believed and were saved, or they were antagonized, and they objected to Him, threatening Him, taunting Him and persecuting Him.
When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, simply and honestly, it is never comfortable to listen to. The Gospel never leaves people the way they were. Either, it thrills them, or it infuriates them. The Gospel places every one of us at the crossroads. Will it be faith in Jesus Christ and salvation, or unbelief (even religious unbelief) and condemnation?
“God sent His Son not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). These great Gospel words are followed by an urgent call to faith – “He who believes in Him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
Jesus says to each of us: “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
To all of us, Jesus asks very serious and insistent questions: What about your religion? What about your church membership and church attendance? Can it be described in terms of continuing in the Lord’s Word? Can it be described as a life of true discipleship? Can it be described as knowing the truth and being set free by the truth of the Gospel?
Perhaps, you are the type of person who says to yourself, “The Gospel of Christ is all right as long as it’s concerned with generalities, and doesn’t get too personal in its challenge.”
This type of person accepts Jesus as the great example and teacher, and even acknowledges that He is the Son of God. When, however, he hears the personal challenge of the Gospel, he starts to back away.
I wonder if this is an apt description of you. You are a religious person. You attend Church regularly, but you don’t like to hear about the need to be converted, the need to be born again.
Is it because we don’t like to hear that we are lost sinners for whom there is no hope apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour?
When Jesus says, “Unless you are converted, you shall perish”, we tend to say to ourselves, “I’m really quite a good person. Why all this talk about conversion?”
When Jesus says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God”, we tend to react hastily, “I’ve been a religious person all my life. Why all this talk about being born again?”
What we tend to forget is this: We really are sinners whose only hope of being accepted by God is based on the death of Jesus Christ. If you look at your life in the light of Christ’s death for you, you can come to no other conclusion than this: If Jesus Christ needed to die on the Cross for me, I must be a great sinner with a very great need of a great Saviour. Alongside the Saviour and His death upon the cross for our sins, there is no room at all for the claim that God will accept us on the basis of our religion and good works.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
The freedom which Jesus offers to you and me is grounded in a knowledge of the truth about ourselves, that we are sinners, who can do nothing to save ourselves. It is based on the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is our only Saviour.
This knowledge of the truth, and this experience of being set free by the truth, is very far removed from the religion of a great many Church members, who attend Church regularly. Many have a form of religion, which is sheer slavery – a slavery to custom and tradition. Such people are religious because they are afraid not to be religious. They speak of their childhood days in this way – “When we were young, we were made to go to Church.” They are religious people, simply because they have never known anything else. That’s the way they were brought up. It’s their custom and tradition. It’s what they were taught by their parents and grandparents.
This is not the freedom which Christ promises. It is nothing more than a shallow and superficial belief – a second-hand faith, which is bound by custom, tradition and fear. There is no comparison between this kind of religious bondage and the knowledge of the truth, which Christ gives and which sets the believer free.
When the believer has come to know the truth of the gospel, he is able to say with real conviction: “I know this to be the truth of God. I know it to be true because it has changed my life.”
What is it that the believer confesses to be the truth of God? It is the Gospel. This is what changes our lives – the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Saviour who invites you to receive forgiveness for all of your past sins, the Saviour who says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if you open the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). He says, “I will make you a new person. I will empower you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is the Saviour, who invites us to receive His free gift – the gift of eternal life. We receive this wonderful gift through faith in Jesus, our Saviour.
How are the blessing of God’s salvation to become ours? Is it, through self-centred religion, in which you are so confident that your good works will be good enough? No! We receive God’s wonderful gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, our Saviour.
Trust in Christ. Believe that He died for you. Believe that He has taken your sins upon Himself so that all of your sins might be forgiven. Believe that Jesus is the risen Lord, the living Saviour. Believe that He gives you His great gift of eternal life. Believe that He will keep you in the way of faith, the way that leads to His heavenly and eternal glory.