The Gospel is offensive in many ways. It declares that:
- We are all sinners who need a Savior.
- We are unable and unwilling to be good enough for God.
- There is only one means of salvation: Accepting the free gift of God through the work of the Savior on the Cross.
- Those who refuse this salvation will endure eternal consequences.
There is no way to soften these offensive aspects of the Gospel. Consequently, when the sinner comes to the Savior, it must be because He has drawn them (John 6:44). We refuse to approach the Light on our own (John 3:19-20). However, I think that we add to the offensive aspects of the Gospel through our sometimes mistaken and offensive theologies.
For example, one atheist wrote according to this mistaken notion:
- All you need is a little moral training by a competent adult [in order to be a moral person]. Under the Protestant interpretation of Christianity that you subscribe to, god judges us not by whether we lived a good and moral life, or whether we were evil. Going to heaven or hell is determined by one thing and one thing only, that is whether we accept Jesus as our personal savior. So that means I can kill and steal and rape all I want, and if I sincerely repent and trust in Jesus, I go to heaven.
He did get some aspects of the Gospel correct. Anyone can “repent and trust in Jesus” on their deathbed and be completely forgiven of their sins (1 John 1:9-10). If this wasn’t true, then none of us would have a chance at heaven. The notion that we can be good enough for God or earn anything from God, the Creator of the entire universe, is utterly ludicrous (Rom. 11:35). Instead, we stand before Him as sinners lacking in any merit or any goodness, by which we can say, “God, I deserve you mercy!”
However, my atheist friend’s understanding of the Christian faith has been influenced by an unfortunate teaching that has crept into the church – that there is no fast connection between faith in Jesus and following Jesus. According to this teaching, faith is just a matter of mental assent to a set of doctrinal truths and does include any notion of repentance or commitment. Consequently, one can profess a faith in Jesus without any intention of turning from sin, and he can still be confident about his salvation.
This unfortunate misunderstanding of Scripture has enabled atheists and other Gospel-despisers to heap unjustified contempt on the Christian faith, making it look immoral and ridiculous.
Instead, Jesus insists on both: faith and the holy fruits of a true faith:
- For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephes. 1:4)
- For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
- "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)
If we truly believe in Him, we will follow Him. This is a natural consequence of faith. If I trust in my doctor, I’ll do as he says. If I don’t, I might not. It’s no different if our trust is in Christ.
This doesn’t diminish the fact that salvation is a free gift. However, it is an acknowledgement that this gift is a seed, which germinates into something more than a seed. It is not the gift of a dead seed but a living and growing seed. As a result, a real and living faith cannot be separated from the inevitable fruits of that faith. Similarly, we cannot separate an apple tree from its apples. They are distinct, yet inseparable.
In contrast to this, the non-Christian must seek some form of moral self-vindication. He must convince himself that he is a good and worthy person. After all, we all need to believe that we have worth and significance. Therefore, the non-Christian, by rejecting the God of the Bible, is captive to the life-controlling obsession to convince himself and the world that he is worthy. (In a variation of this theme, some reject the concept of value and worth, while others pay the debt that conscience demands through various forms of self-sacrifice.)
The atheist insists that “I can be good without God). Although, this might be true in the short-run, without an adequate rationale for goodness, moral behavior will inevitably deteriorate over the years.
More seriously, the belief in our own goodness can only be obtained by the denial of everything that our conscience is telling us about ourselves – that we are sinners who need the Savior! Denial will inevitably alienate us from both ourselves and others. To silence the voice of the conscience is to silence our one Hope.