The following is a lightly edited transcript.
We’re going to talk about the gospel, and I’ve been asked to reflect on the statement “God is the gospel.” I will do that in part, but I’ve had other thoughts recently I want to be sure to say.
Three Issues for This Message
I have three things that I’m responding to in this message. The first one does relate to “God is the gospel.”
Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
To me, that is the most ultimate statement of the goal of the gospel in the Bible. Christ suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous, not just to forgive us, not just to justify us, not just to get us out of hell, not just to get us to heaven, but, ultimately, finally, decisively, most wonderfully, most satisfyingly, to bring us to himself. That’s the gospel.
If you take that away, there is no gospel. I don’t care what else happens. You may justify it all day long, and if it doesn’t get you to God, there’s no gospel. You can be forgiven, but if it doesn’t get you to God, that’s no gospel. You can get out of hell, but if it doesn’t get you to God, that’s no gospel. The implications of that for children’s ministry (and adult ministry and every other ministry) are huge. So think that one through. That’s the first thing I’m responding to 1 Peter 3:18.
Here’s the second thing: I’m responding to Spurgeon and trying to understand him and come to terms with this very troubling and, I think, true sentence. But I’ll read the paragraph. This is from Lectures to My Students, a required text for the few guys that I teach preaching to each year. And this is not just for pastors. It’s mainly for pastors, but there are essays in here that everybody should read.
Justification by faith must never be obscured, and yet all are not clear upon it. I once heard a sermon upon, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy,” of which the English was, “Be good, very good, and though you will have to suffer in consequence, God will reward you in the end.” The preacher, no doubt, believed in justification by faith, but he very distinctly preached the opposite doctrine. Many do this when addressing children, and I notice that they generally speak to the little ones about loving Jesus, and not upon believing in him.
That socked me up the side of the head. Because I have spoken that way often. I have five children and fear I did not do it as well as I should. Let me read it again:
This must leave a mischievous impression upon youthful minds and take them off from the true way of peace. (Volume 2, 270–271)
I want to respond to that. I’ve been thinking about it for years, trying to discern: Is that true? How should we speak of loving Jesus? And when and how does it relate to trusting Jesus? And why is this troubling to Spurgeon? And should it be troubling to you?
Third, I am responding to nominalism in the churches— that is, the presence of professing believers who seem not to have anything of the spirit of Paul when he said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). You look at their lives, you hear them talk, you listen to them pray, and you wonder: What do they mean when they say, “I believe in Jesus”? It doesn’t seem like they mean something that would issue in: “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of just knowing him.” That just doesn’t seem to ooze out of them at all. I just think the church has a lot of those people. And I’m troubled by it and I want to respond to it in this message.
So those are the three things: (1) 1 Peter 3:18, a verse about God being the gospel; (2) Spurgeon’s complaint that we shouldn’t teach children to love Jesus but trust him; and (3) the problem of nominalism. I’m moved to try to shape this message in response to those things.
Four Pieces to a Testimony
The way I’m going to go about it is determined by my little girl Talitha’s place in history at this very moment. She’s eleven and having walked with me through the course that David taught in preparation for baptism a month ago, she will now, Saturday morning, at nine o’clock, in the northwest conference room with one elder and one of the women in the church give her interview to see if she’s ready to be baptized in May.
And so for these past eight weeks or so, she and I have talked a lot about the meaning of baptism and, more particularly, the meaning of the gospel, and how she has become a beneficiary of it. And I said it that way carefully because we’ve noticed at Bethlehem — and we’re working to try to bring people along — that when we ask people to give their testimony, generally, what they talk about is what happened to them in their life to bring them to faith. And unless we encourage them, they don’t tend to talk about how they got saved two thousand years ago. So when anybody asks you, “How did you get saved?” Your first thought should be to tell them how you got saved two thousand years ago. Because if that hadn’t happened, there’s no salvation.
So the way we worked on her testimony was, I said, “Now Talitha what we need to do is, first of all, just nail, in the first half of your testimony, what God did to save you before you were born.” And we needed a little outline that is memorable, and so we used this one, and I’m going to structure my message around it: God, sin, Christ, faith. That’s the outline. So she’s got that in her head: (1) God, (2) sin, (3) Christ, (4) faith. Now that doesn’t mean anything. Words don’t mean anything. That could mean: I hate God, there’s no sin, Christ is man, and faith is useless. So the words don’t mean anything. Propositions carry truth. Words do not carry truth. Propositions carry truth. We should teach children that single-word answers are not generally illuminating without a very clear context. So that’s where we’re going.
Wayne Grudem has written a very big book on systematic theology, with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages describing the nature of God. And so you have to decide what you’re going to focus on in talking about what you need to know about God for the gospel, which comes in step three, with Christ, to make any sense. And the way we’ve chosen to do it is to say that God created all things for his glory.
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7)
And I said, “Now what does that mean Talitha? What does ‘created for my glory mean’?” And she said a pretty good sentence. It went something like, “We were made so that he would look great in the way we live.” That’s perfect. I couldn’t improve much on that: so that he would look great. We exist to make God look as he really is — namely, great.
Now I didn’t stress this with her, but I’m going to stress it with you because it relates to the issue of “God is the gospel” later. In order to make God look great, we must not only do what he says, but we must delight in him in doing what he says. We use the phrase at Bethlehem: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. In Ephesians 1:6, the ultimate goal of the gospel is unto the praise of his glorious grace.
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace. (Ephesians 1:4–6)
Praise is not something you can do begrudgingly. That’s an oxymoron. Begrudging praise is not praise. In other words, when Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me,” he meant that the words, “I praise you,” mean nothing if the heart is not delighting in the praiseworthiness of God (Matthew 15:8–9). Therefore, when we say that God created us for his glory, to be praised, to be made to look great, we must include: God made us to be happy in him above all things.
When Paul said, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus,” he was giving expression to an essential component of his reason for being. Do not teach your children that they’re created to do stuff alone. This is part of what Spurgeon had in mind. They’re created to have a heart that values God above all, which means they must be born again. But I’m getting ahead of myself. All I’m doing now is clarifying God. God created us. He is infinitely glorious, beautiful, wonderful, satisfying — you can pick a lot of words but find ones that kids can resonate with.
It says in the Westminster Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Now what is the meaning of and? That’s a question that’s crucial. What is the meaning of and? Is it like: “And here’s a footnote that’s not as important as the main thing”? I’ve got an excerpt here from B.B. Warfield, the old Princeton theologian from a century ago, commenting on the first question in the catechism:
The Reformed conception is not fully or fairly stated if it is so stated that it may seem to be satisfied with conceiving of man merely as the object on which God manifests his glory. It conceives, rather, man also as the subject in which the gloriousness of God is perceived and delighted in. No man is truly Reformed in his thought, unless he conceives of men, not merely as destined to be the instrument of divine glory, but also destined to reflect the glory of God in his own consciousness.
Now think through what that means: you are destined not only to be the objective instrument by which God glorifies himself, you are destined to be a subject with something going on inside here subjectively. And what he says that is is reflecting the glory of God in your own consciousness — namely, the consciousness that God is valuable, God is delightful, God is glorious, God is all-satisfying.
So on this issue of God, we must make clear that he is infinitely glorious, all-beautiful, all-wonderful, all-satisfying, and that he is shown to be that in the world, both by knowing him for what he is (that’s why we teach doctrine to children), and by delighting in him, being satisfied in him, cherishing him, treasuring him. Find your words that work, but they are heart words. And he does not get glory off of us if we only know him without enjoying him.
All of that I think is pretty much needed to make this next step in the testimony intelligible. Because the next step is sin — God, sin, Christ, faith. “So Talitha, what is sin?” There are many right answers to that statement, some of them more penetrating and helpful than others. But the reason you start with God is because it will determine your definition.
If you define God differently than the way I did, if you introduced him differently than the way I did — like, if you said, “God is absolute authority and requires of humans total and perfect obedience,” which would be an absolutely true statement, then the way you’d probably define sin is: failing to do what he says. How helpful would that be? Well helpful, but on the way to legalism probably. The structure that you build for the gospel — the structure of God, the structure of sin, Christ, faith — all will govern the kind of Christian that you produce: little Christian, big Christian; and big Christians come from little Christians.
So I began by saying, “He made us out of his own glorious self to make that self known, displayed, and especially through it’s being seen and savored — enjoyed, delighting in, being satisfied in it.” That’s what you’re made for. “So what would sin be, Talitha?” Answer: Not doing that. Preferring the glory of created things over the glory of God is the essence of our depravity. Preferring — a kid can understand the word preferring: finding more satisfaction in, treasuring more highly, valuing above. “So where is God, Talitha?” In your heart.
Let’s go to Romans 1:19–23. Paul’s talking to people outside the gospel. People who don’t have any access to redemptive history.
What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.
There it is. That’s the essence of sin. The essence of sin is to know God and exchange him for images — especially the one in the mirror. “I’m here to exalt somebody, and it will be me, thank you.” And it takes forms of money and work and food and family. Just choose your idol. Most of them are innocent. And we can contemplate the value of God’s glory, and then we prefer the glory of another. Take money, for example: “The stock market broke through thirteen thousand. Check the portfolio. I am happy today — more over that than what I read from Colossians 1.”
“The essence of sin, Talitha, is preferring anything over God.” That’s the essence of sin. Nothing dishonors a value more than valuing something else more than the value. God is infinitely valuable. Therefore there is no greater sin than valuing anything above God. And it deserves omnipotent wrath against little girls and boys and grown men and women.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
What truth? That God is God, and to be preferred — and not exchanged — above all. So now we know what sin is: the preference of the glory of the created thing over God. And we know it’s penalty: wrath. Or Talitha would quote Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” And I asked her, “What kind of death?” Because the contrast is: “The free gift of God is eternal life,” and therefore, the contrast for “the wages of sin is death” would be the corresponding kind of death — namely, eternal death. “What’s that, Talitha?” “Hell, Daddy.” My little girl is very afraid of hell. And that’s a very good thing. It can lead to superficiality of profession, but you don’t hide truth because of its potential dangers. We ought to be scared of hell for more than one reason.
So there’s God and sin. “Now Talitha, what’s the remedy? How many people have done this? Can you think of a verse that tells us how many people have done this?” And you know where she’s going to go: Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s why we start with the glory of God. Because the definition of sin that everybody ought to go to in defining who we are as humans is that we’ve all fallen short. The Greek word behind “fall short” is hustereō. That word generally means “lack”. Now what does that mean? “We have all sinned and lack the glory of God.” Do you know why we lack it? Because we exchange it at the pawn shop, and we don’t have it anymore. It’s not our treasure. We don’t delight in it. We delight in our portfolio or our kids or food or success at work or preaching — not God.
So now sin is clear and everybody’s under the wrath of God where we deservedly should be, and we’re undone. And now we’re ready for the gospel. And if you don’t set it up with God and sin, I don’t know how the gospel will ever land with the kind of force that it should land.
So how shall it be remedied? Should we say, “Okay, the mistake you’ve made, Talitha, is, you’ve preferred other things, till you were eight, to God. He had a very small place, and then God did something. So now you love him. You prefer him. So prefer God. Prefer God, and that’s what he made you for, and then he will approve.” Is that the gospel? And you all know that’s the furthest thing from the gospel: “Start loving Jesus. Start loving Jesus. He made you to love him, he made you to prefer him, he made you to esteem him, he made you to show him great, he made you to enjoy him. So start doing that and he’ll look with favor on you, and he’ll let bygones be bygones. He might even forgive you. He will forgive you.” That’s not the gospel.
And there are two reasons why it’s not the gospel and why certain historical objective things had to happen, which are essential to the gospel — namely, Christ entering the world, living a perfect life, dying in our place, rising again. Why did that have to happen for there to be gospel? And there are two reasons
One is that Talitha’s main problem, and my main problem, is not our subjective disposition towards God, but his subjective disposition toward me — namely, he is mega angry. And I’m on my way to hell under his just condemnation and wrath. He is angry at us. And wrath is pouring out all the way through Romans 1 as he gives up people to the depravity of their own minds. I can’t just start doing better. God’s just and holy wrath has passed a sentence over me: condemned.
Then I will bear a just sentence of everlasting recompense to rectify the dishonor that I have done to God through my eight years of dishonoring him — 38 years or 58 years or all our accumulated half-hearted service. So the first reason why you can’t just say, “Do better,” is that God’s the one is the problem here most profoundly. That’s got to be changed, and I can’t change it; he has to change it. That’s the first reason.
The second reason is that when he undertakes to change it by sending his Son to the world to bear his wrath, to provide my righteousness, to defeat death, to escape hell — all of that amazing redemptive work in Jesus Christ two thousand years ago — is not just designed to get me back on the road of glorifying him; it is the apex of the display of his glory. The very thing that I need most to see and savor and honor forever is not completed with creation or providence or the history of redemption until Christ is crucified and raised from the dead.
Have you ever thought that when you read Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 15:3–4, the songs that they are singing in heaven for eternity are, “Worthy are you to take the scroll . . . for you were slain”? Have you ever thought of the implications of that? It means we will sing of murder forever. We will sing of the slit throat of the Lamb forever. Indeed, it will be the most preeminent ground of our praise of the grace of the glory of God. We will never ever forget the slaughter of Good Friday. Suffering will be the center of everlasting cosmic worship. Which means for questioning, Why can’t she just turn over a new leaf here? one is because God’s wrath has got to be dealt with, and the other is because he’s not done revealing the very glory that she must be saved in order to see — namely, Christ crucified.
Five Elements of the Gospel
So we must ask, then, what is the remedy? And the answer is the gospel. And I want to make sure that I give an outline, which perhaps others will fill in, of: What do you mean by gospel? What are the pieces? I’ve done God, I’ve done sin, and now I’m coming to Christ and the gospel. Christ provides the foundation of this good news. What is the gospel?
I’m going to give you five elements of it, and if you take any one of them away, the whole mighty tower of granite collapses if you pull out any one of these stones.
1. The gospel is an event.
First, it’s an event. The gospel is an event. First Corinthians 15:3: “I delivered you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins . . . was buried . . . that he was raised.” This is an event. If he did not factually, historically die and rise, there is no gospel.
2. The gospel achieved at least seven benefits.
Second, he achieved something when he died. First is the event, then the achievement of the gospel. And I’ll just list these off quickly so that you can feel the force of them. Oh, how they deserve to be unpacked. Maybe the other speakers will unpack them. I’ll just name them. Here’s what he achieved. Now this is what the folks at Bethlehem who are giving testimonies about their faith and readiness for baptism need to get more clear. So my little girl needs to get more clear, all the kids need to get more clear, I need to get more clear that when you give a testimony, you testify to how God saved you before you were born. That’s what I’m talking about here: the achievement that happened when he died and rose two thousand years ago. Because you had zero to do with that — nothing.
1. Christ absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)
So when he hung on that tree, he became a curse for all those who would be trusting in him effectively. The wrath of God is absorbed completely for them.
2. Christ bore our sins and purchased our forgiveness.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24)
Forgiveness comes later. The purchase and decisive payment for the forgiveness was finished two thousand years ago. That’s what he meant when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Righteousness fulfilled, wrath absorbed, sins paid for — it is finished.
3. Christ provided a perfect righteousness for us that becomes ours by faith.
The righteousness that you and I need to stand before our Holy God, it was completed when Jesus died and rose from the dead.
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)
That obedience is the obedience of Romans 5:19:
By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
That was finished. Jesus doesn’t need to finish that. It’s finished. The righteousness I need is complete in him.
4. Christ defeated death decisively when he died.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same [nature], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. (Hebrews 2:14)
When Christ died, my death happened.
5. Christ disarmed Satan.
God made [us] alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14)
So the decisive death blow was delivered and the one damning weapon that Satan has was taken out of his hand. You understand that, I hope. Satan can beat up the children of God today, but he can’t damn them. Why can’t he damn you? Because when he goes before the court to accuse you (that’s what his name means: Satan means “accuser”), his one brief is out of his folder. He’s looking around, where is it? Where is the brief that says, “They have sins that must be punished”? And it’s gone. He’s looking around. His one decisive accusation that can bring us to hell is gone.
Do you know where it is? It’s nailed to the cross. So the one weapon that he has in his hands — namely, unforgiven sin — is taken out of his hand. And the death blow was struck. He will be thrown into the lake of fire someday. And God is in you, and “he who is in you is stronger than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). That was decisively done two thousand years before you ever had a testimony to give.
6. Christ purchased perfect healing and holiness for his people.
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Some of the healing comes now, most of the healing comes later, because we die now and we will be raised later with new bodies. But that was bought for us at the cross. And so the gospel is the good news that this body in which I dwell will be replaced by another body because it was bought by the blood of Jesus before I ever existed.
7. Christ secured for us eternal fellowship with him.
Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
Now those are the achievements of the gospel. So Talitha on Saturday morning will not give that list. She’ll give one or two of them. I don’t know which ones she’ll choose: eternal life, maybe, or forgiveness of sins, probably, by saying, “He died in my place. He became my substitute. I have already died in him. I don’t have to be punished for my sins. Jesus bore my punishment.” I think that’s the way she’ll probably talk on Saturday morning. Because that’s intelligible. But you don’t have to say them all. You don’t even have to know them all.
But we’re here to grow up into the fullness of the gospel. And those are seven of the things that he achieved in the gospel for us.
3. The gospel is a free offer to be received by faith alone, not works.
If there’s an event, if there’s an achievement, and it is offered to works, there’s no gospel.
We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)
If you take that away, the achievement cannot be had. The event was pointless. We nullify the cross if we make our justification by works. And so faith becomes crucial. I’ll come back to that in closing in just a moment.
4. The gospel must be applied
The fourth thing is the application of the achievement to us. Now here, people usually pick up and tell the story. God did something through a parent, through a Billy Graham crusade, through a radio program, through reading the Bible, through a tract, through a youth meeting, a camp. He did something, he used people, and I was awakened to see him as he really is and repent for my sins and cleave to him — faith. And when that happened, my sins were forgiven. I was counted righteous in Christ. I was given the gift of eternal life. The Holy Spirit came into my life. I was given title to heaven and escape from hell. All of that happened when I believed, as the application of the achievement where it was decisively purchased for me. And it all happens through faith alone.
So justification, forgiveness, eternal life, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, title to heaven, those didn’t happen at the cross. They were purchased at the cross. They happen through faith, justified through faith, forgiven through faith, granted eternal life to those who believe. So this is really crucial. You just shouldn’t start here, but this is really, really crucial that the Holy Spirit open us to believe.
5. God is the gospel.
Most gospel preaching and gospel teaching stops at number four. And I just want to plead that you not stop at application. I want you to say that God is the gospel finally, because all of these could be true, and people, amazingly, may not embrace God as the gospel.
I have one more step briefly: faith. Unless you know these kinds of things, especially the gospel, you won’t know what faith really is. And if you don’t know what faith really is, you’re really going to stumble over Spurgeon’s warning. So here we are ready to close, and I hope to bring some clarity to the nature of saving faith and how it relates to that issue of what you say to a child.
Let me give you two dimensions of saving faith, which correspond to the two reasons why you couldn’t just say to Talitha, “Shape up. Turn over a new leaf,” but you had to have Christ come into the world to satisfy the wrath of God and the justice of God and the righteousness of God, and you had to have Christ come into the world to complete the display of the glory, which will be our treasure forever. There’s an aspect of faith that corresponds to those two dimensions of seeing Christ’s work.
First, faith is essentially a receiving of what another has done; it is not essentially a doing. Human beings young and old find this difficult because it is so counter to the fallen heart and so humiliating to say that what you must do to be saved is technically nothing. Of course, that’s dangerous to say it that way because the word do is ambiguous. What I mean is: To be saved, you don’t do; you receive the doer. You receive the doer. Now let me read you a couple of quotes. This is J. Gresham Machen in What Is Faith? He’s addressing the Spurgeon issue.
The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man . . . is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in slightest measure, but that God saves us.
In other words, God chose faith and nothing else as the means by which we appropriate what was achieved for us because faith — more clearly than love, more clearly than every other good thing in us — communicates: Another did this; I receive. Another died my death; I receive. Another lived my righteousness; I receive. Another paid my debt; I receive. Faith alone makes that crystal clear, and children must be taught this. They must be helped to see another died their death, another provided their righteousness, another paid their debt. “Now what must I do then, Daddy?” “Receive him. Receive him. Welcome him.” That’s huge. And it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit and that they would understand it at that moment becomes absolutely essential.
Now, before I give you the second part of what faith means, which explains why that part doesn’t lead to nominalism or antinomianism, I need to say a word about nominalism. This second thing that faith is corresponds to the completion of the glory of God at the cross. The apex of the display of the historical revelation of the glory of God — the apex — is Christ crucified and risen. Therefore, it had to happen so that we would see what Paul calls “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So Christ will get the supreme praise as the supreme display of God’s glory in grace. And if it is the supreme display of the glory of God, it must be received as such.
Many people, I fear, receive Christ in a way that requires no new birth. They do not receive him as supremely valuable. They do not receive him as the greatest display of the most beautiful being in the universe. They do not receive him as the magnificent display of the all-satisfying God. How do they receive him?
- They receive him as sin-forgiver because they really love being guilt free.
- They receive him as rescuer from hell because they love being pain free.
- They receive him as healer because they love being disease free.
- They receive him as protector because they love being safe.
- They receive him as prosperity-giver because they love being wealthy.
- They receive him as Creator because it can’t do any harm, and a personal universe might be better than an impersonal one.
- They receive him as Lord of history because, while it might run the risk of intruding upon my autonomy, it’s good to have order and purpose in the world.
But they do not receive him as supremely and personally valuable for who he is: the most wonderful, beautiful, glorious, all-satisfying person in the universe. They don’t receive him as a prize. They don’t receive him as a treasure. They don’t cherish him. They don’t delight in him. The first point was that faith is a receiving of another who did everything that had to be done as the ground of my acceptance with God.
And now I’m simply adding this: when we receive him, we receive him as supremely valuable. Because that’s the only way he will be glorified in our faith. The faith of a nominal Christian requires no inward change, because without regeneration, without new birth, everybody loves being guilt free, pain free, disease free, safe, and wealthy. You don’t have to be born again in order to receive Jesus as a ticket. “You mean, if I receive him, I’ll be disease free and wealthy, get out of hell, have no more feelings of guilt? Cool. I’ll take him.” And you put him in your pocket and sit on him the rest of your life while you love everything else.
Now we’re at Spurgeon. I think Spurgeon’s right, that we should emphasize the words trust and receive and believe. Those are biblical, dominating words when it comes to being saved, receiving the gospel, having Christ count for me. But now I’m going beyond Spurgeon to try to help make sense out of the love piece. I think the way to get at the love piece is by saying, “Talitha, receiving Jesus means, as you say, asking him to come into your heart.” It seems like this is the most common evangelical way of talking about it: “I pray that Jesus would come into my heart.”
“And the question, Talitha is: Did you receive him? Do you believe in him? Do you trust him for who he really is — namely, the most valuable, the most precious, the most wonderful, the most amazing, the most satisfying person that ever was, ever will be, such that he is better than all your dolls, all your friends at Hope Academy, better than Daddy, better than Mommy, better than pizza? Is that the way you receive him?”
I close with this qualification and then closing exhortation. I do not mean that our hearts must be subjectively in perfect correspondence to the infinite value of God. If that were the case, then none of us would be saved. What I mean is: To be saved is to taste this. Taste and see that the Lord is supremely good. Taste this. “You’ve tasted it, do you see this?” “Yes, I see it. I see through a glass darkly, but I see it.” “Do you want this?” “I want this.” “Do you count him as supremely valuable?” “I do.” “Do you set your face against all other values to fight to bring your heart into conformity to him as your supreme value?” “I do.” “You’re a new person. Join us in the battle.”
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
I do not mean that anybody in this room, especially me, has arrived at delighting in God, being satisfied in God, treasuring God, cherishing God at the level he deserves. Which is why I think the stress has to fall on that front end of faith. It’s a receiving of one who loved him perfectly, cherished him. Jesus Christ loved God perfectly, cherished God perfectly, obeyed God perfectly, worshiped God perfectly, treasured God perfectly, was perfectly satisfied in God, so that when God demands perfection from me, I say, “I’m in him. I’m in him because I have received him, and by union with him, I’m in him, and all of his perfections are mine, including the perfections of my being satisfied in God.” But I’m not going to let up on saying that when you receive him savingly, you receive him for who he is.
So when we teach children, we teach them facts about the gospel, we teach them achievement of Christ in the facts of the gospel, and we teach them that in order to benefit from those, they must be united to Christ, and the way you’re united with Christ is by receiving him. And then say, “And receive him for who he really is: more valuable than your dolls, more valuable than your favorite food, your best friend, your mommy and daddy, so that if they all faded away — Mommy and Daddy die, you get sick and lose your appetite, your friends make fun of you at school — you will be in possession of the most valuable person and the most all-satisfying reality in the universe.”
Some of your kids are going to die. They’re going to die at six, eight, twelve, fifteen. Teach them how to die while they’re living.