We expect the members in our church to be able to articulate the Gospel. In fact, many times we use this to “verify” that someone is really a Christian. If someone claims to be a Christian but they can’t verbalize the essential truths of the Gospel message, does that mean that they aren’t saved? What if they affirm their understanding of the truth when asked if they believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sin? What if they affirm (when asked) that they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation and that they have committed themselves to live in obedience to His Word? Does that affirmation confirm their salvation?
And – what about life change? Is their “profession of faith” all that matters? Does a person prove that they are a Christian simply by their accurate articulation of the Gospel? Or do you actually demonstrate your faith in Jesus (i.e., your salvation) by your incarnation of the Gospel? (Jesus said – “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” Jn 15:8
If we reduce Christianity to believing (articulating our belief) in the right things, don’t we fail to embrace the necessity of repentance and obedience in working out our salvation? For me, it’s all about following Jesus. He is the only way. If someone says they believe in Jesus but they aren’t following Jesus – their belief is useless. It won’t save them.
Another thing Jesus says about what we articulate about our relationship with Him: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Mt 7:2
When I read Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16), and then I read what Jesus says next, it’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t tell Peter that based on his confession he’ll be in heaven for eternity. In fact, just a few verses later Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on man’s interests instead of God’s interests (v 23). And in the verses that follow, Jesus makes it clear what following Him looks like – deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow.
Yet, we teach people how to articulate belief in the work of Christ on the cross as evidence of their salvation more than we teach how to radically follow Jesus as the proof of their relationship with Jesus. That’s what Jesus says will profit a man.
Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to share the story of the cross as well as their own story of surrendering to Jesus as Lord. But we know someone is a Christian by how they incarnate the Gospel more than by how they articulate the Gospel.
Isn’t incarnating the Gospel critical to fulfilling Jesus’ mission to save sinners? Isn’t that what it means to be missional