3. Elements of the Gospel MessageRelated Media
What are the elements of the gospel message? It must include both the information of the gospel and an invitation to respond to it. The fundamental aspects of these are represented below:
- Every person is a sinner, who has failed to live up to God’s holy standards. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
- Every person is under God’s judgment for his or her sins and, apart from salvation, will spend eternity separated from God’s blessing and grace in a place of torment called hell. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death…” Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.”
- Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty of every person’s sin and rose from the dead, as God accepted his payment. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 10:9 says, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- Every person must respond to the message with repentance for their sins and faith in Christ, so that they will be saved. Acts 20:21 says, “testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Sometimes Scripture only mentions our need for faith or belief to be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” But also, Scripture at times only mentions our need to repent in order to be saved. In Luke 24:46-47, Christ said this to his disciples after his resurrection,
… “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Likewise, after Pentecost the apostles taught this in Acts: “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). “Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (3:19-20a).
Both repentance and faith are needed for salvation; they are like two sides of the same coin. In order for a person to trust in Christ (faith), they must first commit to turn from their sin (repentance). It’s similar to a marriage where two people commit to each other for life. When they commit to each other, they are committing to each other alone and therefore turning away from other potential marriage partners. In that commitment, there is a form of repentance—a turning away from others so each person in the union can love the other without distraction. This is what happens when someone is truly converted and experiences salvation. They repent of their sins, including idols, and put their faith in Christ.
What exactly does repentance entail? The primary Greek word used in the New Testament for repentance is metanoia, which means “to change one’s mind.”1 It is an intellectual act (similar to faith), which includes one’s mind, emotions, and will. When there is repentance, it includes (1) knowledge from God’s Word that our sins are wrong and worthy of judgment. In describing the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). (2) Repentance includes sorrow or remorse for sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, Paul said:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
(3) Repentance includes a commitment to turn away from sin. Hebrews 6:1 says, “Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God.” Repentance “from” dead works emphasizes that saving repentance is not just a change of mind about who Christ is but a commitment to turn away from sin. With that said, though biblical repentance includes a commitment to turn away from sin, it is not equivalent to the act of doing so.2 This would be the fruit of repentance. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist challenged the Jews to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” And he said, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:10). (4) Therefore, true saving repentance will eventually result in changed actions. For this reason, a good definition of biblical repentance is a change of mind which always results in a change of action.
What exactly does faith entail? It has been commonly said that faith has three elements. (1) To have faith, there must be knowledge. People must know and understand the doctrinal elements of the gospel—that they are sinners under God’s wrath and that Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead, so they could have eternal life. However, it must be understood that knowledge alone does not save. (2) To have faith, there must be assent. One must believe the gospel as true. But, knowledge of and assent to the gospel alone won’t save anyone. Even the demons have knowledge and belief in the gospel (Jam 2:19). They know it is true. (3) Finally, there must be trust in the gospel—a reliance and dependence on Christ, apart from anything else, for salvation. To have true faith, there must be knowledge, assent, and trust.
Repentance and faith are intellectual acts, which include the will. To be saved, one must resolve to turn from sin and commit, in faith, to following Christ. Conversion happens when true faith and repentance are present in response to hearing the gospel. Though repentance and faith are not works, for no one can be saved by works (Eph 2:8-9), righteous works will always follow as a proof of salvation. In Acts 26:20, Paul said to the Gentiles, “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” Also, James taught that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26). Furthermore, faith and repentance will always continue in the life of those who are truly saved. They will manifest in godly works like continuing to repent of sins and trust in Christ, despite trials, temptations, and tests.
Free Grace Theology Versus Lordship Salvation
With that said, some take a different view on repentance and faith. They would say repentance simply means to change one’s mind about who Christ is, and that it would not necessarily include a commitment to turn away from sin. In addition, a person can be truly saved and never demonstrate fruits of repentance, such as hating sin and seeking to turn away from it. They could live as carnal or worldly Christians throughout their lives, without growing at all. Likewise, faith would not necessarily include a commitment to follow Christ as Lord. For them, intellectual belief in the facts of the gospel is enough to save. One proponent of this view said this in describing saving faith: “Do you believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? If you do, then you know what faith is from a Biblical perspective.”3 Some who take this position would go as far as teaching that one can take Christ as Savior and not necessarily as Lord. For them, lordship is the ideal next step after one’s salvation, but not a necessary step for a person to truly be saved. When Christ gave very demanding statements about the cost of discipleship, such as hating one’s family and even one’s own life, being willing to give up everything and take up one’s cross (cf. Lk 14:26-33), advocates of this view would say these are not referring to salvation. For them, being a disciple is a step that one makes after becoming a Christian. This position is often called Free Grace Theology. Opponents of it call it “Easy Believism.”
The position advocated in this writing is often called Lordship Salvation, which is the primary view held historically by the church.4 The apostle James taught that intellectual faith by itself is not enough to save, as even the demons believe in God and shudder (Jam 2:19). Also, Scripture teaches that there will always be good fruit in the life of somebody who is truly saved. The fruit is not perfect, but it will be present and progressive, since whoever is in Christ is a new creation—old things have passed away and the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). Faith that doesn’t produce good works is dead faith (cf. James 2:14-26, Eph 2:10). In view of this, John the Baptist said, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:10). Furthermore, as far as the belief that discipleship is a second, optional step after salvation, every follower of Christ in the New Testament was immediately considered a disciple upon conversion. When Christ called people to follow him and gave them strenuous requirements, these requirements refer to true repentance—committing to turn away from sin, including ruling one’s own life—and true faith—believing in, trusting in, and following Christ as Lord. Unfortunately, there will be many who call Jesus, “Lord,” in the last days but are ultimately rejected because there was no genuine repentance and faith in their lives. In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
Sadly, in part because there is so much confusion over the gospel and its elements, particularly faith and repentance, the church is heaping up many unconverted believers—those who call Christ, “Lord,” but are not truly living for him.
- What stood out most to you in the reading and why?
- What are essential elements of the gospel message?
- What is saving faith and what are elements of it?
- What is repentance, in regard to salvation, and what are elements of it?
- What is the difference between free grace theology and lordship salvation? Which view do you think is most biblical and why?
- Why is there so much confusion in the church over the gospel message?
- What questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Akin, Daniel L. A Theology for the Church (Kindle Locations 20953-20954). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 713). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.