I went to a concert recently. I was excited about this concert. It was a few months away and I went online and ordered my ticket well in advance. I read all of the agreements, checked all the right boxes and I was able to secure my ticket. I made sure to keep that ticket safe. I tucked it away. I didn’t need it until that night but I didn’t want to lose it. I knew that if I didn’t have that ticket I would not get to enjoy the music that I was going to hear that night. Every once in a while I would pull my ticket out and look at it because I was excited about what was to come. Then I would put it right back so I wouldn’t lose it for when I needed it.
Before I left the house on the night of the concert I made sure I had my ticket. I drove to the concert and checked my pocket again just to make sure I hadn’t lost it along the way. As I walked up to the entrance I got my ticket out and had it scanned. I was in. Hallelujah! This is what I had been waiting for.
Many people think the gospel is a ticket to Heaven. At some point in their lives they prayed a prayer and agreed to some truths about Jesus, checked all the boxes and got their ticket. They heard that Jesus died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, was raised to life and then ascended to Heaven to prepare a place for us. They were told that if they believed these things they would get a ticket to Heaven. The gospel that they believed then got tucked away in a drawer. About once a month they take it out and look at it and get excited about Heaven. Then they put it away until they get a little tired of waiting for Heaven and dream of the day when it will be here.
We lack spiritual power because we misunderstand the gospel.
To some people the gospel is a series of words that they agree to that will grant them entrance into heaven once they die. If they are really committed to the gospel they will memorize the words and tell them to other people so that they will agree that they are true and have a ticket to Heaven. The gospel is more than words that we agree to and believe.
We have been lulled to sleep by the “sinners prayer.” We have been told that all you need to do is pray this prayer and you are in – no more worries. Nowhere in the Bible can you find “the sinners prayer.” Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus offer a prayer as a ticket to Heaven. To the rich young ruler Jesus said “sell all you have and come follow me.” That does not sound like a ticket to Heaven, it sounds like an invitation to a whole new life and a whole new leader.
Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for make will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). That doesn’t sound like a ticket to Heaven. It sounds like an invitation to leave behind the life that you once knew to embrace a greater life in Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe the gospel. I believe that Jesus lived a sinless life, died a horrible death on a Roman cross, was buried in a tomb and rose again on the third day. I believe that we are saved by grace through faith alone. I believe that salvation is a work of God. I believe that I cannot earn my way to Heaven and that I do not deserve Heaven. I believe that I am forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I believe that my salvation in Christ is secure. I hope you believe those things too. That is the gospel. That is the good news.
But the gospel is more than words. It is more than just a set of doctrines about God that we need to agree to so that we can have eternal life. The gospel is power.
Look at how the Bible describes the gospel.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
When Paul preached the gospel he did not want his listeners to grasp onto only words, he wanted the power of God to get a grasp on them. The words were the vehicles that communicated the truth and that truth holds the very power of God.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:2-5
A.W. Tozer had this to say about the gospel and the power it holds.
“Have you wondered at times why those churches that drill their young people from childhood in the catechism and teach them the doctrines so that they are positively instructed in the word of truth, somehow fail to get them through to the new birth? I think it is a fine thing for young people to know doctrine. But have you noticed that there are whole generations of so-called Christians who are drilled in the catechism, who know the doctrine, who can recite the gospel as well as the law and still never manage to break through to the new birth? They never come through to that shining wonder of the inward renewal. The reason is, they are taught that the power lies in the words, and if you get the words right, you are all right. Whereas, Paul says, the kingdom of God does not lie in words at all. The kingdom of God lies in the power that indwells those words. You cannot have the power without the words, but you can have the words without the power, and many people do.”
Many people hold to religion but fail to live renewed lives. They have agreed to words and doctrines but have not submitted themselves to the power in those words. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 describes these people.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
These verses describe people who claim to hold religious doctrines yet are unchanged by those doctrines they say they believe. To truly know the gospel is to be changed by the power in those words. The power in the gospel is Christ. To receive and believe those words is not to simply agree that they are true but it is to submit your life to those truths and to submit your life to the greater power who inhabits those words. His name is Jesus.
He did not die on the cross and rise again so you could continue to live in sin. He died so that you could be freed from sin. He died so that you could be freed from the power and domain of darkness and be drawn into His kingdom.
A truly saved life is a transformed life. If you just believe the words and are not being transformed by the power of the gospel you need to evaluate whether or not you can actually call yourself a Christian. Don’t say you love Jesus and neglect His commandments. We say we love Jesus but Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You can’t say you love Jesus and live any way you want. You must live a life submitted to the leadership of Jesus. His invitation is always to a life of following after Him.
On our own the Christian life is impossible. You cannot conquer sin on your own. You can modify your behavior but you can’t change your heart. Only God can do that. God is not into behavior modification. He is into heart transformation.
I want to leave you with a couple of questions.
- Have you believed the words of the gospel but failed to be transformed by the gospel?
- Is the gospel a comforting truth that you believed to become a Christian but not a necessary truth that shapes your daily life?
Think about these things. Really think about them. Pray. Talk with trusted people and ask them if they see transformation in you. Next week I will write about how we can, in practical ways submit ourselves to the power of the gospel and be transformed by the power of Christ in us.