“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Phil 2:15)
Presenting the Gospel — Where to Start
The story goes that when Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, decided to come up with a simple plan of salvation that the average believer could share with others, he was torn between two options. Should he emphasize the love of God or his judgment? He ultimately came down on the side of love. So that famous little booklet, The Four Spiritual Laws, was born. Little did he realize what a profound impact that booklet would have on evangelism and the church.
Others saw the effectiveness of this tool and came up with their own versions. Dr. D. James Kennedy thought evangelists should have some training, so he instituted an evangelism training program called Evangelism Explosion. The famous evangelist Billy Graham had already developed a very successful formula for mass evangelism. He opened up phone banks staffed by church members who would offer counsel and lead callers in a simple prayer of salvation and then send them devotional materials.
Focusing on the Blessings of Belief
All of these evangelistic methods begin with the blessings of belief. There was little mention if any of the holiness of God or his justice or wrath against sin, the wrath that cost him the life of his only Son. Seekers were not told of the gravity of their sins or the need for genuine remorse. They were not encouraged to repent of their waywardness. All they had to do was offer up a simple prayer asking for a generic forgiveness. They certainly didn’t wail and weep with regret the way sinners who heard Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” did. Nor did they pound their chests and say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” as did the publican whom Jesus commended.
Hundreds and thousands of these converts now populate American churches. For them, salvation is a matter of praying a simple prayer and belief is something that is strictly personal — just between them and God. Bible study is encouraged, but it is not a prerequisite for genuine faith. Obedience to Bible teaching is a gauge of spiritual maturity but not a sign of authentic conversion. Some teachings are ‘salvation issues‘ and others are simply guidelines that will not affect a person’s eternal destiny. The important thing is to get the ‘salvation issues‘ right.
A corollary to this belief is the attitude that one person cannot judge the authenticity of another’s faith because it is entirely a matter of conscience. So the church tolerates a variety of behaviors that the apostles associated with an unbelieving heart. For instance, the apostle John says, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). The apostle Paul says, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8-9). They expected authentic belief to be accompanied by obedience to the Word of God.
A Cavalier Approach to God’s Word
The church’s approach to the Word of God has become so cavalier these days that many Christians would take offense at the notion that God would send anyone to hell. This soft gospel fosters an easy-believism that downplays the gravity of sin and the fatal consequences of unbelief. By extension, it implies that it was a tragic waste of life for God the Father to send his only Son to the cross for something so trivial. After all, if sin were as serious a matter for the sinner as it obviously is for God, he should be gripped by terrible remorse. When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn” he was talking about grieving over sinfulness (Mt 5:4). But modern evangelistic methods very rarely produce that kind of contrition.
So are these conversions genuine? Judging by the quality of church life, many are not. The church is plagued by the same problems that trouble the rest of society — divorce, addictions of all kinds, cheating, lying, stealing, you name it. That is why most churches screen their staffs to keep pedophiles out of ministry positions. It is also why a record number of pastors struggle with online pornography. And, sadly, it is why the world views the church as a bunch of hypocrites.
Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that these kinds of behaviors did not belong in the church, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11). Those who belonged to the church in Paul’s day had put aside reprobate behaviors. But seeker friendly services that appeal to American consumers fail to discourage the very behaviors that Paul condemned.
All this goes back to the idea that the Christian faith is all about having my problems fixed and getting all my needs met by a loving, non-judgmental God who wants nothing more than to save me from my sin and send me on my way to heaven. But the Bible teaches that we are saved, not primarily for our own benefit, but for the benefit of Jesus Christ. Although salvation holds unimaginable blessings for the believer, it is not primarily for his sake that Jesus suffered and died on the cross. His primary purpose was to redeem a bride for Himself that he could cherish throughout eternity, a bride that would give Him glory and serve and love Him forever.
Preparing For the Groom
John the Baptist said, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-30). John described himself as the friend who announces the bridegroom’s arrival. The friend of the bridegroom sets things in order for the wedding ceremony. He makes the preparations. So John was preparing the bride for the groom by calling her to repentance.
Levi prepared a great feast in Jesus’ honor for all of his tax collector friends out of joy that Jesus had called him. There were some Scribes and Pharisees there who did not take kindly to all the celebration. They thought the guests should be fasting instead of having a good time. Here is how Jesus responded to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (Mt 9:14-15)
You see, Jesus is not just a Savior to the believer, but also a husband. As the betrothed of Christ, the believer is called to be holy and blameless so he can appear faultless and without blemish when he is presented to the groom at the wedding feast. This theme is repeated throughout scripture. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.“ Philipians 2:15 says, “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Ephesians 1:4 repeats the thought, “...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
A Spotless Bride Glorifies the Groom
What does it mean to be “holy and blameless?” Does it mean that our standard is perfection? No, blameless means that we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, careful to obey his commandments and remain true to him until the end. It means we do not forsake him, but abide in him. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4). It means that the things of this world do not steal our affections away from our love for Jesus Christ. It means we train our eyes on things above where moth and rust do not corrupt or thieves break in and steal (Mt 6:20). It means that the blessings we seek are eternal and not temporal (Eph 1:3). It means that we are diligent to study and obey God’s Word, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable obedience in our lives.
So then, as the Bride of Christ, what is the purpose for which we were saved? It is to glorify Jesus Christ throughout eternity. We can glorify Christ in a way no other creature can. Why? Because Christ has manifested the fullness of his grace through an act of love on our behalf that far exceeds any love anyone has ever shown another. He did this when He laid down his life for a people who were dead in their trespasses and sins, alienated from God, hostile to him, and completely unable to love him back. As Paul says to the Romans, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). He adds, “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” (Eph 2:4-7).
Jesus is Worthy of Praise
For this great sacrifice of love, Jesus is worthy of the eternal praises of his bride and of the entire heavenly host. He is the only one worthy to open the scroll, the title deed to the kingdom of God:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10).
The most amazing thing about all this is that, as the Son’s bride, sinners like you and me get caught up in the intimate love relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. At Calvary, Jesus paid the bridal price to purchase us from the Father who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3). In John 17 Jesus says:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me... O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:20-26).
Here is what Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sunnyvale, CA, has to say about that, “We are being saved, beloved, because we are caught up in a glorious, divine expression of love between the Father and Son… God is merciful to us, not because of some value which we possess, but because he so values his Son as to give his Son a redeemed humanity who will adore him forever for saving them, adding a dimension of adoration and praise that angels can’t give…“1
A Precious Gift From Father to Son
My wife has a treasure trove of items that belonged to her father. They are worthless to me because they have no meaning. Some I consider trinkets that just lie around the house collecting dust and taking up space. She rarely does anything with them, and on a number of occasions I have suggested we get rid of them rather than store them forever. But she steadfastly resists my suggestions because these items remind her of the precious relationship she had with her father. Though they are meaningless to me and a nuisance, they hold great value for her. That is why we will have them till the day we die and pass them along to our children. That is precisely why we have such value in Jesus Christ. It is not because we are anything special, but because we are a gift from the Father to the Son, one that He treasures deeply and will never cast out. We are precious because of the immeasurable price Christ paid for us. Our purpose is to return the praise and honor due to Christ for redeeming us.
- MacArthur, John; “The Doctrine of Election, Part 3“