Part 4: Response
Welcome to our fourth week in our 5-week series called “What is the Gospel?”
The word gospel means good news, and in these weeks we’ve been on a journey as a church to refocus our understanding on the good news is at the very heart of who we are as followers of Jesus.
One of the big ideas in this series is that the gospel message has four major building blocks or components, and we’ve been taking one week on each of those building blocks to try to understand them better.
So the first week in the series we looked at the first building block of the gospel message, which is God. And we asked the question, what do we need to know about God to understand the gospel? And we saw the answer from the Bible is that God is the Creator, God is the King, God is greater than us, and that therefore God deserves our honour and thanks and worship.
The second week we looked at the second building block of the gospel message, which is us and our problem. We saw from Scripture that each and every person knows the truth about God from this world that God has made, but that we have all chosen to rebel against God and worship and serve other things instead of Him. And because of that we all deserve and will receive God’s just judgement.
Last week we considered the third building block of the gospel, which is Jesus. God sent His son Jesus, who willingly came to save us by dying on the cross for our sins. And we saw that on the cross, Jesus took our place. He became our substitute. And as He died in our place he turned aside the wrath of God, set us free from the penalty of our sin, and made us righteous and accepted in God’s eyes.
And now we can know God and have peace with Him. 1 Peter 3:18 sums this up well when it says that "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
So now today we come to this final and very important building block in the gospel message, which is our response.
How do we need to respond to what God has done for us in Jesus?
And it’s so important that we talk about this because our response to the gospel really matters. In fact, as we’ll see today, the gospel stops being good news if we don’t respond to it at all or respond in the wrong way.
If you want an recent example of how important our response is, just think about the lady from Newfoundland who rolled up the rim recently to discover she had won a $100 gift card. So she ripped that part of the rim off the cup and mailed it in.
Turns out that official contest rules say that you need to have the full cup to claim a prize, especially a big prize like that.
So she received the good news that a $100 gift card was available to her. But she responded the wrong way by ripping their cup up. And no, no prize.
So in order for the gospel to be good news to us, we need to understand how God expects us to respond to it. And to do that, to understand what our response needs to be, we’re going to go back and look at this passage that we looked at last week, which I just read for us, and we’re going to highlight some of the material we skipped over last week, and see what it says about our response to the news about what Jesus has done.
As I read the passage I’m going to draw attention to four small phrases, and it might be a good idea if you have a pen to underline or circle them in your bulletin, because we’ll be referring back to them throughout the rest of the message.
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26).
Did you catch that? What does this passage tell us our response to the gospel needs to be? Faith. Or, believing. In the original language those words are interchangeable.
Our response to what God has done for us in Jesus is faith. And that’s our fourth building block. This is the response that makes the gospel good news. Faith.
Now it’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to really understand what faith is according to God’s word. So for the rest of our time this morning we’re going to look deeper into this passage so we can understand the nature of saving faith a little bit better.
And what we’ll see is that this passage gives us three very important truths about saving faith:
- Faith is not optional, but instead, faith is necessary for salvation.
- Faith is not a just a general belief in God, but instead, faith is a specific belief in Jesus Christ.
- Faith is not something we do in order to be saved, but instead, faith is believing in what Jesus did to save us.
Faith Is not Optional, but Is Necessary for Salvation.
So that’s where we’re headed. Let’s start by considering that first point, that faith is not optional, but instead, faith is necessary for salvation. And I hope it’s clear to you where I’m getting this from in the passage.
Verse 22 says that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ for who? “All who believe.” Not everybody indiscriminately. Only those who believe.
Verse 25 tells us that the propitiation in Jesus’ blood isn’t something that everybody automatically benefits from, but instead that it needs to be received by faith. And verse 26 tells us that God justifies “the one who has faith in Jesus.”
This passage and the rest of Scripture are very clear that the gospel is good news only to those who believe it.
So that’s our first point: faith is not optional, but instead, faith is necessary for salvation.
Faith Is Not Just a General Belief in God
The second thing we see from this passage is that faith is not just a general belief in God.
A lot of people have a general belief in some kind of a god or a higher power. But that’s not the same thing as genuine saving faith. This passage shows us that saving faith is specifically focused on the person of Jesus Christ.
Consider again how verse 22 talks about “faith in Jesus Christ.” And we see that again at the end of verse 26, that God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. So saving faith is not just a general belief in God, but a specific belief in the person of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is only good news to those who believe in Jesus. And this is one of the major reasons why we as a church care so deeply about missions and evangelism. Because people need to believe in Jesus. And like Romans chapter 10 says, in order to believe in Jesus they need to hear about him. And that means other people need to tell them about Jesus. And that’s where we come in.
So this is the second important truth about faith from this passage. Faith is not a just a general belief in God, but instead, faith is a specific belief in Jesus Christ.
Faith Is Not Something We "Do" in Order to Be Saved
The third and very important point that we need to understand is that faith is not something we do. Faith is not a work or an action. Like we’ve already seen, faith just means believing. And this is our third point. Faith is not something we do in order to be saved, but instead, faith is believing in what Jesus did to save us.
We’ve seen in this series very clearly that there is nothing we can do to save or rescue ourselves from the power and the penalty of sin. Someone else, Jesus, had to come and do the work of saving us. Nobody else but Jesus could justify us and redeem us and turn God’s wrath aside from us.
And when Jesus finished His work on the cross, what did He say? “It is finished.” Finished. There’s nothing we can add to what he did. There’s nothing more for us to do. There’s nothing for us to contribute to our salvation.
All that we do, if I can use that word, is believe in the one who has done everything for us.
And if you were to keep reading into Romans chapter 4 you’d see this truth come out in an even clearer way. Romans 4:4-5 says: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”
You see there that faith and work are presented as opposites. The one who is saved by God is the one who does not work but believes in God who justifies the ungodly.
How does that truth land on your ears today? How does your heart respond to the fact that Jesus paid it all, and that you don’t have anything left to pay? That your salvation is really a free gift that you do nothing except receive?
I’m asking these questions is because Christians throughout history have always struggled to rest in the pure simplicity of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. All of us wrestle with a sinful impulse to want to do something, to want to contribute something to our salvation, to take some credit for ourselves.
And even today, in evangelical churches like ours, it’s very easy for people to say they believe in salvation through faith, but practically to redefine faith in such a way that it ends up sounding more like a work, an action we perform.
So for example, have you ever heard it said that in order for someone to be saved, they need to make a decision for Jesus? Or, that they need to choose to follow Jesus? Or that they need to commit or dedicate their whole lives to Jesus?
I’m sure you’ve been in meetings where people were told that if they want to receive Christ they need to put up their hand or get up and walk down to the front of the room.
Or maybe you’ve heard the sinner’s prayer used that way. If you want to be saved, then pray this prayer, and then you will be saved.
I remember hearing a friend talk about someone in their church who had had come up to them and said that they weren’t sure they were a Christian. So what they told that person to do was to pray the sinner’s prayer, while they listened to make sure they really did it. And then they wrote down in a Bible or something that they had done that with this other person witnessing it. And that was how they found assurance of salvation: I prayed this prayer on this day.
Each of these things that I’ve just mentioned are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves. Some of them, like the idea of committing our lives to Jesus, are really good and things that we need to do.
But they’re not faith. They are all things that we do. And they can subtly lead people to believe that they are saved because of an action that they performed. A choice they made. A prayer they prayed.
According to the Bible, faith does not refer to an action we perform in order to be saved. Faith is believing in Jesus and believing that He has done everything in order to save us.
One of the best descriptions of faith in this regard is summed up so perfectly in the words to the hymn “Rock of Ages” that we sung a couple of weeks ago.
Not the labor of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin couldn’t to atone; thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hands in bring, simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the foundation fly; wash me, Saviour, or I die."
That’s faith. Faith is fixed and focused on Jesus and His work. That’s where our confidence, that’s where our assurance, that’s where our hope comes from. Nothing we’ve done. Everything that Jesus has done.
But What About…?
Now I expect, and in fact I hope, that there’s a few of you struggling with what I’ve just said. Because it might sound like I’m saying that people can just believe in Jesus and get saved and they don’t need to follow Jesus or experience any change in their life. They can just keep on living for themselves, doing whatever they want, and they’re fine.
And doesn’t the Bible say we need to repent of our sins? Didn’t Jesus say we need to take up our crosses and follow Him?
If you are asking those kinds of questions right now, those are good questions and good concerns.
So what’s the answer to those questions? How do we reconcile what Scripture says about grace alone through faith alone with what it says about repentance and discipleship and conversion?
And I want to suggest that the solution is quite simple- so simple that it’s easy to miss it. And it’s staring us in the face right here in our passage today.
Think back to our second point this morning, where we saw that faith is a specific belief in who? Jesus. Remember verse 22? “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Or verse 26. “Faith in Jesus.”
Faith, according to Scripture, is believing in a person, the person of Jesus.
So let’s ask the question. Who is that person? Who is Jesus? He is the son of God who died on the cross for our sins like this passage tells us. But that is not all who Jesus is. Jesus is also the Lord who has all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is the Son of David who rules as king at God’s right hand.
And when we have faith in Jesus, we have faith in this Jesus. The whole Jesus. The king Jesus. Because there is no other Jesus to believe in.
Only One Jesus
So if someone were to say, “I believe that Jesus died for me. But I’m not quite ready to repent of my sin and follow Jesus as my Lord,” my response would be that they don’t actually believe in Jesus.
It’s like if I was up here telling you how much I loved my wife Aimee. But then I started to say things like, “She has such nice red hair and she’s an amazing professional hockey player and she takes such good care of our 5 kids.”
You would come to the conclusion that I have no idea who my wife really is, and have just invented a figment of my own imagination that happens to have the same name as the real Aimee.
Please understand: a person named Jesus who saves us and then lets us keep doing whatever we want after that doesn’t actually exist.
The real Jesus is the Lord Jesus. He died to save us. And He rose again as the king with all authority in heaven and in earth. And every knee, including ours, must bow before Him. We either believe in this Jesus or we don’t.
And if we do believe in this Jesus, then we will repent of our sins and obey Him and be committed to Him and follow Him and submit to His word.
And all of those things- repentance and commitment and obedience to Jesus as Lord- they are all necessary proof that our faith in Jesus is genuine and real. They are the evidence of genuine faith. If we don’t have them, we must question whether we really have faith in the first place.
But at the same time we need to stress that we are not saved through obeying Jesus or following Jesus. We’re saved through faith in Jesus who saved us.
Illustration of a House
Let me share with you two illustrations to try and show you this. Imagine someone walked up to you today and offered you a brand new home to live in, a home that was huge and beautiful and fully furnished and everything you’ve ever dreamed of.
And you said, “What do I need to do to get this house?” And they said, “You don’t need to do anything. It’s 100% a pure gift. Here’s the key.”
So you reach out and take the key. You receive the free gift. You did nothing to make it happen. You just believed what they said and received it.
But in that moment you also realize that this gift will change everything. You’re going to need to move. You have to decide what to do with all of your old stuff. There’s a lot of changes that come into your life as a result of accepting that gift.
But the gift is still a gift. And moving and selling your old stuff didn’t earn you that gift. That was just the necessary response to the gift. All you had to do to receive the gift was believe and open your hand and receive it.
So I want to end here today by making this really personal to you and I. I want to ask us two big questions this morning.
The first question is, do you believe in Jesus? Are you trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? Or are you trusting in things that you’ve done?
A good question to help us understand our own hearts on this matter is this: if you were to die right at this moment, why should God let you into heaven?
How do you answer that question? Do you answer it by saying, “I prayed this prayer on such and such a date,” or “I have gone to church for all these years.” Or do you answer it by saying, “Jesus died for me on the cross. And that’s the only reason God should let me into heaven. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
Please, if there’s any doubt in your heart how you would answer that question, please ask God today to make your faith be planted firmly in Jesus and Jesus alone.
Now the second big question I want to ask us today is, do you believe in Jesus? But here’s what I’m saying by this. Do you believe in the real Jesus, the Jesus who is saviour and king?
Have you proven your faith in Jesus by turning from your sin and submitting to the word of God and living under the authority of Jesus as king over your life?
I want to get very specific here for a moment. I’m okay if this makes you feel uncomfortable. Because I’m going to talk about baptism.
Please understand I don’t have anyone specific in mind here. If you’re not a member, I have no clue whether or not you’ve been baptized.
But the reason I’m talking about baptism is not just that we are a baptist church, but it’s that when we think about obeying Jesus as our king, baptism should be the very first thing that comes to mind. Because that’s the first thing that Jesus told people to do.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20)
Here in North America baptism has seemed to slip way down the list of priorities for many people. And when people think about obeying Jesus they think about all sorts of things long before we think about being baptized.
And I don’t want to be too hard on you this morning, because maybe that’s the example that’s been set for you. Maybe nobody has ever told you that Jesus has commanded you to prove your faith by being baptized as soon as you can. Maybe you’ve never been told that if you choose to not be baptized, you are choosing to live in active disobedience to the King of Heaven and Earth.
So again, I don’t know if this is convicting any of you this morning. But if it is, then I’d encourage you to prove your faith in Jesus this week and send me an email. It’s there in the bulletin. And say, “I want to be baptized.”
Baptism doesn’t save anybody. But baptism is a part of the proof that you have believed in the one who has saved you.
Maybe for you it’s not baptism, but it’s some other area in your life where you need to prove your faith in Jesus by choosing to obey and submit to Him. Whatever it is, ask God to help you do that this week.
We’re going to end here by singing a song that celebrates what Jesus has done for us. And this song also talks about our response to Jesus- how when Jesus came and caused us to believe in Him, we rose and went forth and followed Him.
All of this comes from His amazing love. Let’s celebrate that together now.