It is always an interesting thought to examine one’s self and wonder to what extent the things I know or believe are false? The rate at which scientific laws are defined and broken, as archaeologists uncover new writings or ruins, or technology increases and new barriers are broken, we – in the 21st century – have almost become accustomed to new revelations and the debunking of long-held beliefs. We call it advancement, and we idolize the people who make those advancements. There is a level of excitement to wonder what change will be next, what theory will be broken or proved, what great archaeological find will finally settle this issue or that…
There are many reactions to these changes in our understanding. Some people reject them altogether. They are established in their worldview and consider what they have always known and believed to be unalterable. These are the type who will learn no new technology, who will reject change and who are content to reject advancement. There are others who will adapt out of necessity – they could care less how something works or why, but will conform where necessary and reap the benefits of advancement or revelations. There are those who eagerly learn and listen, and there are also those who question everything and actually do the discovering and developing. These are never satisfied, they must learn more, they must prove more.
But how does this apply to faith? It is a strange phenomenon, indeed, that no person intentionally believes something which is false, but yet many of us are excited to see what science, history or technology will reveal to us next. No one intentionally chooses a religion which he believes to be false. No one chooses a worldview or life philosophy in which he can see logical flaws and inconsistencies. But yet, how willing are you to be challenged and to grow in what you believe and how you make decisions?
Paul makes an outstanding statement regarding the Gospel which he preached:
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
– Gal 1.6-9
Paul argues, through the first two chapters of the book of Galatians, that if anyone believes any alteration on the Gospel which He preached and which the apostles preached, such a one is damned. His exact argument, in fact is that if one believes that Jesus came to the Earth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for his sins, and raised again to conquer death – and that he are saved by this work – but yet he says one must be circumcised in order to receive this salvation, such a one is not saved. He will go to Hell when he dies. Because it is adding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and by adding a requirement of action the Gospel is no longer free, it is now an earned reward, a merited wage. And if the Gospel is not free, it is not the Gospel.
We are fortunate in many ways for living in the 21st century. For two thousand years people have been trying to discredit the Bible and prove it false. But this, even with our technology and science, has never been done. People have been searching for Jesus’ body, but has never been found. People have been trying to use science to discredit the Bible’s reliability, but archaeology and research only continues to find the cities and people referenced in the Bible’s oldest of stories. And we also have nearly two thousand years of scholars’ and theologians’ studies and writings to help us understand and cross reference Scriptures and understand the full picture of the Bible. We are truly blessed.
But with all of these resources at our fingertips, how well do we personally know what we believe? How much energy to we spend learning and examining that on which we base our eternity? Paul expects that we learn the Gospel so deeply, so well, that there is no doubt within our minds and that we can be confident to not add to or distort its glorious truth. He expects it to the measure that he would define his efforts as “in vain” if believers only believe to a point and can be swayed from the simple truth by adding to it.
God has given us the Bible to know Him, to find salvation, and to understand His truths. He has not revealed everything in the Bible, but everything in the Bible He has revealed for us to know. And the consequence of adding to it or taking away from it is eternal.
So where is the balance? The whole of the Scripture is massive. The doctrines contained therein are deep. It takes years of careful study for someone to grasp many of the truths and depths, and to be able to defend them Biblically. But yet the Gospel and salvation is simple. It is extremely difficult to die to one’s self, but the truth and concept of the Gospel is so simple a child can understand it. It is by grace alone through faith alone (Eph 2.8-9). I can do nothing to earn or merit my salvation. How, then, do we cling to the Gospel without variation and yet grow, learn and be open?
Missionaries often take this position: When a person comes to faith, we cannot expect him to know the teachings of Scripture. The discipleship process begins immediately to obey the Great Commission: “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.20). The sanctification process – the continual changing to be more like Jesus – is a lifelong process of dying to our sin. So if we are continually growing and changing, how can we be rigid and unwavering in our belief? We submit to God through Scripture as our authority. To put it simply: If a person claims Jesus as Lord, then whenever Scripture reveals a truth, a sin or an expectation, we submit to it.
If someone comes to Jesus for salvation, and yet when he reads about sins in his life which God commands us to not do – and continues to do them without regard for God and His commandments, then this person is not saved. He has not made Jesus the Lord of His life. He submits to no one. But the person who comes to genuine faith, when he reads of the sins that are hated by God, he will desire to change because he does not want to grieve God, and he wants to obey Jesus.
If someone calls himself a Christian but then hears a doctrine out of Scripture and proclaims, “That’s not the God I serve”, this is not a true Christian. A true Christian understands that he cannot define who God is, but God defines who He is, and we must seek to know Him, understand Him and love Him. A true Christian sees the difficult passages of Scripture and cries out, “God, I don’t understand. Help me understand.” Thus we are continually changing, continually being made more like Jesus, and that all by the standard of Scripture.
When we first come to God for salvation we must understand, however, that there is nothing we can do to earn it. And if we add any stipulation to the Gospel, we have robbed Jesus of His glory and have begun believing a false gospel. Jesus alone can save. Jesus + anything = damnation. Because Jesus will not share His glory with anyone or anything. Therefore, Jesus + circumcision = damnation, according to Paul. Jesus + good works = damnation. Jesus + baptism = damnation. Jesus + asceticism = damnation. We will do nothing that adds to the Gospel and what Jesus did for us. We will only honor our salvation and what Jesus did for us by obeying and serving Him.
Therefore, let us be mold-able and teachable. Let us look honestly into the mirror of Scripture and begin removing the sins and worldliness from our lives. But let us also stand unashamedly and unwaveringly on the simple truths of the Gospel and not allow it to be changed or thwarted. Let us proclaim Jesus as salvation, and add nothing to Him. Let us dig in, let us know Him, let us love Him, let us rejoice in His salvation today, and honor Him through our actions because of that love.