Stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion in the church of San Andres de Texeido, Spain (Photo by jorisvo)
Is there another gospel? What is the difference between a works-based gospel and a faith-based gospel? And, which of the two is the true gospel of Jesus Christ?
Coming off the heels of the joint declaration signed by representatives of the Catholic west and the Orthodox east a week ago, we find that some tenets of Christianity were addressed, while an all-important and essential doctrine was omitted.
The declaration correctly affirms the principle of Divine Sonship (section 4), the Trinity (section 5), Jesus as Savior of the world and God as Creator of the world (section 11), and the Dual Nature of Christ (section 23 & 29). It also takes a stand on current social and moral issues of the day pertaining to the life of the unborn (section 21), marriage between a man and a woman (section 20), and the persecution of Christians (section 8) to name a few.
However, the declaration falls short of describing the true gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is the good news by which a sinner is saved and justified before a holy Creator-God without having to keep the law (Romans 3:28, Galatians 5:4). Traditionally, both Catholic and Orthodox promote a faith plus works gospel. Unfortunately, this is a false and damnable gospel (Galatians 1:8) which cannot save sinners because it relies on human effort in addition to, or as a substitute for the already finished and impeccable work of Christ on the cross (John 19:30, Romans 4:25). Faith plus human effort also conflicts with the doctrine of justification by faith alone upheld by mainline Protestantism (i.e., Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians).
As we shall see, the Bible clearly teaches that a sinner is justified by faith alone through grace that is bestowed upon them by God. Faith is itself a gift from God so that, as the apostle Paul said, “no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9, Romans 5:16).
Let us begin with an illustration. Suppose you are looking for a home to purchase. You find two houses for the same price. One however, needs work before you can move in. The other requires no work and is move-in ready. Which one would you buy? Recall that both houses are priced the same. Practically speaking, most would select the house that needed the least amount of work.
Let us take this a step further. After you have notified your agent and expressed your desire to purchase the move-in ready house, you are told that the house has already been payed for. In effect, you are getting a move-in ready house for free. Someone has gifted it to you! All you have to do is agree to the terms and the deal is done. We shall talk about these terms a little later.
What does this all mean? In the illustration above, you are the house. God wants to move in (John 14:23). But before he can, some work must be done. Namely, the work of atonement for sin (Hebrews 10:4-5, Romans 3:25, 1 John 4:10). We cannot complete this special and imperative task by ourselves because we are sinners. A sinner cannot atone for or repair their own sin, the same way a Cardiothoracic Surgeon can never repair their own heart by performing a triple bypass on him or herself. The only person who can repair the sinner is God's only Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:29). This is exactly what Christ did 1,986 years ago: he repaired and purchased the sinner for his Father-God! Adding human effort to Christ's perfect work of righteousness constitutes a false gospel.
Additionally, God cannot move into a broken-down house, even if it is for free, because it is against his perfect and holy nature (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). God's willingness to move into a broken-down house and cohabitate with a sinner is justified only by the perfect work of Christ. God applies the perfect righteousness of his Son to the broken-down sinner (Romans 5:17). Jesus Christ alone completed the work necessary to make sinners a suitable home for God to reside in (Romans 5:18). So then, the only acceptable sinner in the sight of God is the one whose sin is covered by the pure blood of Christ (Romans 5:9).
We cannot make up for our own sins by keeping the law or commandments because even our best work is, as the prophet Isaiah said, like "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6) in the eyes of an eternally holy Creator.
Now that we have seen how faith alone in Christ justifies a sinner, let us talk about those terms we mentioned earlier...
The apostle Paul plainly gives us the terms by which a sinner obtains Christ’s perfect righteousness and is thereby saved and justified:
But what does it [the righteousness that is by faith] say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Paul to the Christians residing in the city of Rome in Romans 10:8-10 (circa 56 AD)
The terms that Paul describes above are very simple and to the point. When the grace of God is bestowed upon the sinner and the knowledge of Christ is revealed, one should immediately cry out, "Jesus is Lord." At this point, the good work that Christ completed is transferred onto the sinner free of charge. Jesus payed the full purchase price of the sinner (1 Corinthians 6:20). God gets a free house, and the sinner is reconciled to their holy Creator. You do not have to do anything to compensate Christ for completing the work of salvation for you. This is because we are sinners by nature and cannot do anything to pacify God's holy wrath against our sin.
Sabz, S. (2016, February 20). Gospel in the house. Retrieved from http://scienceandbibleresearch.com/gospel-in-the-house.html