The problem started back with Martin Luther and the Reformation. He was responding to the works approach to salvation being promoted by the Catholic Church, which went so far as selling indulgences to spring people from purgatory. That represented pretty blatant abuse of Scripture and ecclesiastical authority. In studying the book of Romans, Luther came to realize that people cannot buy or work their way into heaven, but rather that Jesus had paid the price for our salvation, and that He bestowed it on us by grace through faith.
Across the centuries, God’s people who have been committed to the authority of Scripture have embraced this truth, especially being committed to the teachings of the Apostle Paul and verses in the Gospel of John that convey this message, e.g. John 3:16.
As a result, they present the gospel in terms of receiving a gift. This metaphor leads to the question of what the person must do to receive the gift. One standard answer is that we need to do nothing, that Christ has already done everything, and therefore that we just merely need to receive the gift. Often it is conveyed that this receiving of the gift might be done by praying a prayer in which we thank Jesus for His gift of eternal life and convey to Him that we are receiving Him, God’s gift to us, as our Savior.
It is believed that this person who has received the gift, prayed this prayer sincerely, has their sins forgiven and is on the way to heaven. As a result of this new relationship with Christ it is believed that the person receiving this gift will experience a change in lifestyle, turning from past sinful patterns of behavior and adopting new more Christ-like ones. However, it is emphasized that this lifestyle change has nothing to do with their salvation, which is totally a gift of God’s grace. God does not require us to perform. We do so out of love because we have been blessed with the gift of salvation.
Recently I have been studying the Olivet Discourse, a teaching of Christ recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew, the largest segment this discourse is found in Matthew 24:37-25:30, which includes five narratives giving five warnings to those of us living at the end of the church age to be ready for Christ’s return.
According to the gospel message as framed above, being ready for the return of Christ only requires having received the free gift of salvation. However, these warnings of Jesus don’t say or even hint that preparation for His return and entrance into heaven is comprised of receiving a gift.
What Jesus does say is quite shocking to most evangelicals, so much so that they disregard these teachings of Christ, either pretending that they are not there or claiming that they do not apply to us. For example, in Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells a story in which He distributes to some five talents, to others two talents, and to one man one talent, to each according to his ability. He goes on a journey, expecting each one to use these talents to earn profit for Him.
The ones receiving five and two talents both do that and as a result receive the Lord’s praise and reward. The one receiving one talent rather than using it to earn profit, buries it in the ground. After Jesus has some discussion with this man regarding his indolence, He pronounces judgment on him as follows, “”Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30 NASB) This story does not in any way convey that this person was cast into hell because he failed to receive God’s gift or even because he committed some grievous sin. He was cast into hell for failing to produce profit for Jesus.
I plan to continue with this discussion next week. However, let me leave you with this question. In light of the fact that Jesus unquestionably said this, will you disregard Him or take His teaching seriously?Most