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Does your Gospel presentation need a Reformation?

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

500 years ago today Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door and sent a shock wave around the world. I think it’s time for a new Reformation…or at least time to get back to the heart of the orignal one!

October 31, 2017 marks the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, the theological battle between the Roman Catholic church and those Protestants who protested their teachings. But I think the Protestants need a reformation today, a “re-reformation” if you will…and so do many of our Gospel presentations.


Many churches have strayed from one of the key pillars of the original Reformation, “Sola Fide” (“faith alone” as the sole prerequisite for salvation.) Many have unwittingly replaced faith alone in Christ alone for salvation with the leaven of a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps humanistic approach to salvation. 

Think of some of the gospel presentations you’ve heard given in church. You’ve probably heard phrases like this….

  • Just say this prayer and you’ll be saved“…sorry Charlie. But there are going to be a lot of people who end up in the Lake of Fire who said “the sinner’s prayer” but never put their faith alone in Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. You’ll never find one case where Jesus or any of the disciples led anyone through a prayer for salvation. Having said that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having a new believer articulate their newfound faith in God in the form of a prayer (I do it myself). The problem is when a person thinks that saying the right words will save them. No, only Jesus can save them through faith and faith alone.
  • Fully surrender yourself to Jesus and you will be saved“…Nope. Can’t be done. A lost man cannot commit to anything. Why? Because he is spiritually incapable of following through on any commitment. And as soon as you start depending on your own “commitment”, “submission” or “surrender” then you are forsaking the gospel of grace. When we ask someone to “surrender all” to follow Jesus we are actually turning our backs on Jesus and insulting his free gift of grace in the same way that we would insult somebody who was taking us out to dinner and we chose to pay the tab instead. Why do you think Paul was so hard on the Galatians? He said that as soon as you start trusting in yourself and your own ability to commit/surrender/submit to God by keeping the law rather than trusting in Christ alone (sola fide) then you are “deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ” (Galatians 1:6.) Let’s not desert Jesus or his scandalous message of grace. Let’s embrace him and his message by faith alone. And then, once we’ve received it, let’s surrender fully to him out of utter gratefulness for his free gift of grace!
  • Turn from all your sin and you will be saved” Oops. Those who preach this as a condition of salvation forget one little thing in their salvation formula…Jesus. How can we turn from one sin (let alone all our sin) until Jesus is working from the inside out? The Greek word for repentance in the New Testament simply means “a change of mind”. When used in the context of salvation it is used to describe a person changing their mind about who Jesus is (Acts 2:38) and what they are trusting in for the salvation of their souls. Did you know that the only book of the Bible written to a totally unsaved audience, the book of John, doesn’t use the word “repent” once? Instead it uses the word “believe” almost one hundred times! Does that mean “repent” is a bad word? NO! NO! NO! Repent is a great word. And repentance is necessary for salvation. But the word repent is interchangeable with faith throughout the New Testament. When you repent about what or who you are trusting in, you are believing. And when you believe in Jesus, you are changing your mind about who or what you are trusting in. But to say that repentance is turning from sin and a separate act of faith implies that the book of John and Jesus himself preached an incomplete gospel. That’s a dangerous if not damnable implication.

The last two Mormon missionaries who came to my door reminded me that they “had the same view of salvation as most Protestant churches.” I begged to differ. They said something like, “Oh yeah, you guys believe that to be saved you need to repent from your sins and completely surrender your life to Jesus to be saved and that’s what we believe.

I guess they were right. Many Protestant churches preach the same thing.

But I have a really big problem with a gospel presentation that a Mormon has no problem with? Don’t you? I mean if Satan is giving your gospel presentation a standing O you may want to reconisder.

Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace that we receive through faith alone in Jesus. Once we are saved we don’t “make Jesus Lord” of our lives. He is Lord! As we submit to him we are blessed and conformed to the image of Christ. If we resist we are disciplined until we submit. If we continue to resist then one of two things is true: we were never truly saved or we’re in for a divine come-to-Jesus-meeting of Biblical proportions (Hebrews 10:26-32.) Once we repent (i.e. change our minds and believe in Jesus) he begins a work of sanctification and starts turning us from our sin…and he doesn’t fully complete this work until we are dead.

We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. We are saved by God’s grace, not our works. We are saved by what Jesus did, not by anything we have done. 

This is the message of grace! This is the good news of Jesus! This is the Gospel that rocked the world 500 years ago and needs to revolutionize the church once again today! 

The original Reformation began when a young, rogue monk, named Martin Luther, nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door. Well, I’m no Martin Luther, but I hope the Spirit of God nails this message to your heart today!

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