This February will be 40 years of ministry at Grace Community Church, 40 years, that’s pretty amazing. I appreciate that. You should be applauding the people who have endured all of this for all these years. But what a great priviledge and what a joy. And one of the highlights, of course, of my life over many years now has been a friendship with R. C., and the opportunity to minister in Ligonier Conferences. Many places, including the national conference, and being here with you. I’m just honored to be a part of this great event.
Now I know you’ve heard a lot and you have a lot more to hear today. I want to just kind of begin our morning, maybe as we just sort of spiritually wake up, with a bit of a Bible study; that’s my favorite thing to do. So if you can just take the sermon idea out of this and just look at our time together as if we were gathered in a somewhat informal place, and were just going to look together at the Scripture, and I want to point you in the direction of the Scripture around the theme of the exclusivity of the gospel.
One of the strange realities in my life that I never really anticipated is that I have spent so many years, preached so many messages, written so many books, trying, in a sense, to hang onto the gospel while it’s under attack from so called evangelicals. When I was in seminary, you know, we were kind of prepared to battle with liberalism, and we were prepared to defend the inerrancy of Scripture. We were prepared to be able to defend the true ministry of the Holy Spirit and get the right paradigm of sanctification, and deal with the sort of initial movement of what we now call the charismatic movement. We were learning how to address issues of liberalism and counter-Catholicism and deal the cults. But the gospel seemed to be sort of a settled issue in the evangelical world.
Certainly, that is no longer the case, and the word “evangelical” has reached proportions now where it really doesn’t mean anything, because it’s so ambiguous. But if you look at surveys that are done by these various groups that do that, you will find that somewhere between 45 percent and 65 percent of so called evangelical Christians are convinced that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. This goes counter to our tradition, our theology and Scripture as you know. But here we are as evangelical Christians defending the exclusivity of Christ; and this is a movement that’s not diminishing, it is a movement that is escalating in a post-modern world where tolerance dominate everything and everybody has a right to his own opinion; there’s no universal truth and no absolutes. This kind of fits perfect. So I think we need to be able to deal with this. There are so many attacks on the gospel.
As I look back over the books through the years, I wrote The Gospel According to Jesus, followed up The Gospel According to the Apostles. Follow that up with Hard to Believe. Follow that up with The Truth War, threw in Ashamed of the Gospel – half a dozen books dealing with the gospel. To say nothing of the fact that there have been hundreds and hundreds of other books written endeavoring to clarify the gospel and to demand adherence to the gospel if you’re going to call yourself a Christian. But there is a widespread ambiguity about the gospel, and there are some very popular prominent evangelical leaders who are apostles of this ambiguity, who are content to leave the precision out and have a kind of gospel that is like soft clay that you can sort of shape into any form that satisfies you.
Now we can get some things wrong without severe eternal consequences; we can’t get this wrong without severe eternal consequences. The heart of our faith, of course, is the gospel of salvation, and we must understand the gospel as the gospel truly is in its saving reality and its saving power. True Christians have always believed and taught that you can’t be saved from eternal hell unless you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and believe that gospel. You cannot be saved. That is what believers in Scripture have always affirmed, always proclaimed, always embraced.
Look at Romans 10, if you will, and let’s kind of start there. And I want to do this in sort of a backward fashion, if I can, as we look at the Scripture. Rather than affirming the exclusivity of Christ, which we certainly can do on a positive note, I want to show you what the Scripture says about any other attempt to be saved; so looking at more on the negative backside of it. But a good place to start is in Romans 10, because Paul begins by saying, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” And, of course, he’s talking about Israel. “My prayer is that Israel would be saved,” – which assumes that they are not.
Now these are not pagans, these are the people who had the Old Testament, believed the Old Testament, believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, believed in the God who created, the God who gave His law, the God who is the redeemer of Israel. This is the nation of people who had the Old Testament, the only existing revelation from God, written down and passed down, and they, with that revelation and with their faith in the true and living God of the Old Testament, the true God, were not saved. They were not saved. You will hear today, if you listen to people like John Hagee, others, that Jews don’t need to believe in Jesus, they have another path to salvation. Not according to the New Testament, not according to Jesus who continually pronounced judgment on them.
Even as He walked to the cross on the road to the cross while the professional mourning women were weeping over Him doing their duty, He turned to them and said, “Don’t weep for Me, weep for yourselves.” It was crystal clear that Jesus saw the whole nation of Israel as apostate, and they believed in the Old Testament, and they believed in the God of the Old Testament as revealed in Scripture. But that’s not enough. They had misrepresented the Old Testament and come up with a system of salvation by works, as we all know.
Saving faith is something more than believing certain things which are true. The problem is as you flow down in this text and you do a little bit of pathological study of a non-saving faith – it’s something that I mentioned to you last night – they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. It doesn’t do anybody any good to have a zeal for God if it’s not correct, if it’s not precise.
I was really amazed when I watched the Rick Warren interview with Obama and McCain, and Rick Warren said to McCain, “You say you are a Christian. What is your Christianity mean to you?” and he said, “It means I’m saved and I’m forgiven.” What does that mean? By what? By whom? From what? To what?
In another interview – and this is very popular – I’ve heard people say, very prominent, public people, “Well, my faith is a very private thing.” Let me tell you something; if your faith is a private thing, it’s not the Christian faith, and it’s not a saving faith. Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men, I’ll confess you before My Father who is in heaven.”
The right answer to the question, “What does your Christianity mean to you?” is, “It means to me that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord. He is my Lord and my Savior, and there is no other lord, and there is no other savior.” That’s the right answer.
What was even more disturbing to me was the comment of Pastor Warren who said, “Oh, that was a gimme.” Like, “That was so simple, you got it right, we don’t need to carry that any further.” Now I don’t know what he believes, but I know that that is the kind of comfortable ambiguity that has now captivated supposed Christianity today, where you basically don’t have to commit to anything because you might be intruding on someone’s sensibilities because they might disagree with you.
They had a zeal for God and they were the chosen people, but it was not in accordance with knowledge. And what was wrong with their knowledge? Verse 3: “Not knowing about God’s righteousness.”
They didn’t understand how righteous God was – and I pointed that out last night – and so they went to seek their own righteousness. In other words, they thought God was less righteous than He was, and therefore they were able to be righteous enough to please God. So they didn’t understand the full essence of the righteousness of God. They didn’t understand their own sin and inability. They didn’t, therefore, subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
They didn’t really come under the threat of divine righteousness in a beatitude attitude, the attitude of the publican, Luke 18, pounding his breast in horror over his own wretchedness and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” They thought they were good. They thought they were so good that God was low enough to accept that goodness.
They had a warped view of salvation. You understand that? They had a warped view of salvation, a warped view of God’s righteousness essential to understanding salvation, a warped view of their own unrighteousness, thinking that they could attain to salvation by their own effort. They had a misunderstanding of the cross of Christ. They didn’t understand that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, that the only way that we will ever be righteous is through the one who satisfied the law perfectly. So they got their theology wrong, they got their hamartiology wrong, and they got their Christology wrong, and their soteriology wrong. And they also didn’t understand that this righteousness is available to verse 4, “to everyone who” – what – “believes,” that it’s not by works, it’s by faith.
So here is this sad statement by Paul that with all of the revelation that they had with all the truth that they had concerning the one true and living God – and they were monotheists – they were not saved. Their lostness was so wrenching to the heart of Paul that in the earlier chapter at the beginning of the 9th chapter he says, “I wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh.” He agonized over the lostness of Israel.
Now if you follow the flow here, we learn a little later in the 10th chapter, verse 13, that, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
In other words, you can’t be saved unless you believe. You can’t believe the right thing unless you’ve heard it. You can’t hear it if somebody doesn’t tell it to you. And that is why those who preach are so beautiful: “How beautiful are the feet of those bring glad tidings of good things,” because you can’t be saved until the message arrives that you must believe.
So verse 17, you know the verse, “So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” And, Chris, you said that this morning; the gospel is outside of us, it is not intuitive to us. It is something we have to hear, and somebody has to be the spokesman for that hearing.
When you look at the history of the gospel faithful church, you go back and you see the uncountable amounts of money, the millions of believers through the centuries who have spent their resources, who have sacrificed their lives to take the one and only message of salvation concerning Christ to the edges of the earth; many of them martyred, many of them burned at the stake. And just a couple of decades, bloody Mary burned at the stake 283 Christians, because they would not agree that the actual body and blood of Jesus was in the host and the cup, and they burned them at the stake.
You think this contemporary evangelical world would want to give its life for that? You think people would be burned at the stake to hold onto the fact that transubstantiation is a fantasy and a misrepresentation of the truth? The mentality today of this sort of post-modern kind of emerging, ambiguous evangelism is a salt on the integrity and the sacrifice of believers through the ages who were wiling to die for the precision of the truth.
You think about all the translation work that’s gone on, all the printing, all the preaching, teaching, evangelizing that’s been the church’s mission since its birth at Pentecost, an unrelenting effort to use every means available to take the gospel to every creature as we have been mandated in the Great Commission. Was this waste? Was this folly? Was this useless? Was this redundant, unnecessary?
Here we are at the start of this new millennium, and we have now greater means that in the history of the world to spread the gospel, don’t we, greater means: radio, television, tapes, iPods, CDs, DVDs – on and on and on it goes – mass printing, mass distribution. We can get it everywhere and get it there fast. And at just the time when we have the means, the likes of which the church has never known, to spread the gospel all over the world, we have no interest in doing that, because we think people probably are going to be okay even without the gospel. This is really an embarrassing thing, very embarrassing. The church has taken the shallow approach, motivated by shallow understanding, and in many cases a synthetic gospel is being propagated that doesn’t have the power to save because it’s not the truth.
Now all of that indifference toward precision and clarity in proclaiming the gospel has basically kind of come out of some theological views, or it’s defended by some. Let me give you a couple of them.
Natural theology. There’s a big movement in what is called natural theology. That is man has innately, intuitively inside of him the natural reasoning powers to come to God and be saved without the Scripture, that’s right, without the Scripture and without the gospel. Advocates say that man can discover the existence and the nature and the attributes of God – in Romans 1, and that is true – and human reason will lead you back to God, because human reason functions on a cause and effect structure, and cause and effect eventually leads you back to the primary cause.
You can know a lot about God. You can know something about His power by looking at the world in its macro and its micro sense. It is true, and so they go further and say, “Man thus becomes capable of knowing enough of the truth of God to satisfy God without the necessity of divine revelation.” He sort of finds his way to God. It’s nice if he has the Bible; it’s nice if he has the gospel; it’s not necessary.
Here’s a news report from the Vatican, Vatican City, from the Los Angeles Times tempering a controversial Vatican declaration on salvation, the pope said this week that, “All who live a just life will be saved, even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.” Well, you’re saying, “Oh, but the Roman Catholic Church has always believed that.”
The pontiff addressing 30,000 pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square asserted the second Vatican council’s liberal interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on salvation, quote the pope: “The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the beatitudes – the poor in spirit, the pure of heart – those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life will enter God’s kingdom.”
The pope appeared to take a far more inclusive approach to salvation than the declaration of Dominus Iesus September 5th by the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy. “The declaration causes dismay among non-Catholics involved in interfaith dialog by asserting that their rituals insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors constitute an obstacle to salvation.” So that the idea is this: false religion may be a barrier to salvation, but people apart from the Bible and the gospel can be saved if they can work their way around the barrier.
By the way, the Roman Catholic Church basically was led into that by the heretical Thomas Aquinas who adopted Aristotelian kind of philosophy. Officially adopted as the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican I; present, of course, in the new Catholic catechism. The biblical teaching that salvation only comes in response to faith in Christ is rejected as unreasonable and cruel. People are saved if they live good lives and are sincere in their beliefs whatever they are. Well, so much for the Catholics.
Here is an interview between Billy Graham, the beloved Billy Graham and Robert Schuller. This interview was recorded on tape and video.
Dr. Graham: “Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there’s the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the world to Christ at any time.”
He says further: “God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name, and that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the nonbelieving world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.”
To which Dr. Schuller replied: “What I hear you saying is that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?”
Dr. Graham: “Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations. They have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there is a God, and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surround community in which they live.”
Dr. Schuller: “This is fantastic. I’m so thrilled to hear you say this: there’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” Dr. Graham: “There is, there definitely is.” That was on the Hour of Power, by the way. It’s kind of a shocking thing, isn’t it, when the proclaimed leading evangelist in the world believes that you don’t need the Bible or Jesus to get to heaven.
Another expression that is used different from the natural theology, but corollary to it is you’ll hear people write and speak about a wider mercy. There are theologians that insist that the historical New Testament view is too narrow, developing this natural theology that there’s something innately in man that can get him to God to satisfy God; which again is the same problem you had in Romans 10, right, because even the Jews who had the Scripture didn’t get salvation apart from Christ. How could people who not only didn’t know Christ, but didn’t have the Scripture receive salvation? That’s the problem with this natural theology, wider mercy says. But you have to understand that God is more tolerant.
Clark Pinnock writes, “When we approach the man of faith other than our own, it will be in a spirit of expectancy to find out how God has been speaking to him, and what new understanding of the grace and love of God we may ourselves discover in this encounter. Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, because the place we are approaching is holy, else we find ourselves treading on men’s dreams. More, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”
And he adds, “God has more going on by way of redemption than what happened in first-century Palestine.” This depreciates the Trinity, depreciates the incarnation, depreciates the work in atonement of Christ, denies the uniqueness of the Bible, denies the necessity of gospel truth, substitutes the same old philosophical junk about the universal logos at work in all religious systems.
You say, “Well, how can people believe this?” Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.’ Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by hearing the word of Christ. For there is no salvation in any other, for there’s none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12 – “How can people say this?”
This is a twist on Scripture. But these kinds of writers, including many more prominent ones today than, say, Pinnock whose heyday was a little in the past, say that the basis of salvation is not knowing Christ for most of the world.
Raymond Panican writes, “The good and bona fide Hindu is saved by Christ and not by Hinduism, but it is through the sacraments of Hinduism, through the message of morality and the good life, through the mysticism that comes down to him through Hinduism that Christ saves the Hindu.” That’s in a book he wrote called The Unknown Christ of Hinduism.
There was a book that came out a few years ago written by Tony Evans called Totally Saved. In that book he said that God saves people around the world without the Bible, without the gospel, by transdispensationalizing them – it’s according to the word – by transdispensationalizing them; that is in God’s mind, He just shifts them out of this age into a pre-cross age, or even a pre-law age. In other words, he wants to save them so much he’ll, in his own mind, stick them in any economy in the past that doesn’t require the Scripture or Christ.
Now enough of that. What does the Bible say about this? Well, there are a lot of passages that we could look at, but I think probably most helpful to start by going to Romans 1. Back to Romans 1. It is true that God reveals Himself in creation, that’s in Romans 1. It is true that God reveals Himself in conscience and moral law written in the human heart, that’s in Romans 2. But that does not mean that man on his own based on that natural revelation can be saved. The knowledge that man has of God manifests in the creation and revealed in the moral law that is behind the function of his conscience is not enough to save, it is only enough to damn.
Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The sinner in his natural condition is dead in trespasses and sins; and dead means dead, he can’t respond. He is blind, ignorant, double-blinded by Satan, according to 2 Corinthians 4, so that the glorious light of the gospel can’t penetrate the darkness. And so when this sinner by his reason concludes there is a first cause, there is a God, a powerful God, a mighty God, and when in his own mind he recognizes there are certain moral rights and wrongs, this in itself will reveal to him that there is a God, and that that God is a law-giving God.
But what does man do with that truth? Does he innately have the capability to move from that to salvation? No, he suppresses it, he suppresses it in unrighteousness, because he is, in his nature, wicked, corrupt, sinful, and incapable of any true righteousness.
Yes, “That” – verse 19 – “which is known about God is evident with them. God made it evident to them. His invisible attributes, His eternal power, His divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they can be saved.” Is that what it says? “So that they are” – what – “without excuse.” It’s enough information to damn you, but it’s not enough to save you.
Verse 21: “Even though they know of God,” – they know the reality of God, there is no sanity in saying there is no God. You’re left with the equation nobody times nothing equals everything. That’s intellectual insanity. So you ultimately come back to God. “Even though they knew God,” – that there is a God who is powerful and who is a law-giving God – “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. They became empty in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Whatever faint glimmer of light appeared on the path or reason and conscience went black.
At the heart of the whole system of Calvinism, at the heart of the whole biblical understanding of salvation is this great recognition. This is the most important doctrine, I think, of all. If you get this one wrong you’re going to mess up everything that comes afterwards: man is utterly unable to believe in the truth by himself, that’s the issue. People always get stuck on the sovereignty of God in salvation. You’d better get before that the right kind of understanding of the sinfulness of man, and then you will understand that the only way that man could ever be saved would be if God blasted into his life and gave light and life to the dead and the dark.
So what happens is, “They dishonor God. They’re not thankful. They become empty in their speculations. There’s complete darkness in their heart. And, of course, they profess to be wise, they become fools. They exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image,” – and he goes on to talk about idolatry.
So what is this God has placed in man? Evidence from reason that He exists, evidence from moral law and conscience that He exists. And what do sinful men do with that? The only thing that sinful men can do with that: pervert it, shut it down, blow out the faint flickering light of reality so that they are not able to be saved, they are just able to be justifiably condemned. And they make their choice; and where do they end up? Verse 24: “They wind of in sexual lusts, dishonoring their bodies.”
Now just to give you kind of an overview of this text; this is the story of human history over, and over, and over, and over. This is everybody’s history, every group of people; this is how they all respond, like Acts 14, “God has allowed the nations to go their own way.” Just this is all throughout history cycling, cycling. It’s the same old story; all men have reason to take them to the knowledge of God, conscience to take them to the fact that God is a law-giver and they have a certain accountability; but they suppress it, they override it, they corrupt it, they pervert it, they don’t follow it, because they’re incapable of that. And instead they wind up in sexual lusts, verse 24.
Verse 25: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie; worshiped, served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” They reject the light of truth and they believe a lie, because that’s all they’re capable of really.
“For this reason further” – verse 26 – “they fall into not only sexual sin, but homosexuality.” It goes on to describe this homosexuality in these two verses, leading with women. And that’s the worst. Women tend to be reluctant lesbians because they’re instinctively mothers and wives. And so the fact that they’re listed first means that this is a severe overturning of normal instincts. And then, of course, he follows up with, “They don’t want to acknowledge God,” – verse 28 – “God just let them go.”
So what do you get with an unaided pagan? You’re going to end up with immorality: homosexuality, depraved mind, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents – and it goes on. The point is, this is where your natural theology leads you, unaided by God. They suppress what is true. They don’t follow it to more and more enlightenment on their own strength and by their own ability.
Another passage is 1 Corinthians, chapter 1. And I could say more about that one, that’s one of my favorites. That’s what your pastor always says when he’s just run out of material. Brethren, we could go on and on; he hasn’t got another thought or another note. How do I know that? I’m not telling.
Now to compound the problem, man by his own intuition cannot find God, will not find God; he will rather end up perverted. Verse 18 of 1 Corinthians 1: “The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness.” Even when he is presented with the gospel of the cross, it is to him foolishness. “So man unaided in his natural condition without the gospel” – Romans 1 – “is not going to come to the truth of God. Man in his natural condition, given the gospel, is not going to believe it. It will be foolishness to him.”
On the other hand, “But to us who are being saved,” – I love that phrase. We are passive in a sense in this, aren’t we. “To us who are being saved” – by whom – “by God.” To us who are under divine compulsion, this gospel becomes the power of God to salvation. You can’t get saved by your own powers.
Verse 19: “It is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?”
Bring them on. Bring on the finest minds, the most articulate communicators, the best debaters. Give me the elite and I will show you a group of fools, because the best that they can attain – who are these? Well, let’s just assume they are the great philosophers whose names we all know. And where did it lead them?
If you haven’t read Paul Johnson’s book The Intellectuals you ought to get it and read it. Understand that Western civilization as we know it was shaped. It’s a series of stories about certain individuals like Rousseau and Kant and others who affected Western culture; and what strikes you is how brilliant they were and how vile they were sexually. Bring all the great minds, line them up, and they will not attain to the truth that saves.
Verse 21, one of the most important verses in this section, “Since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God.” Philosophy is the love of wisdom. But you can’t get to God by your own wisdom, it can’t save. Only the message of the cross saves, and the message of the cross is perceived as foolish. It was a stumbling block to the Jews to think of a dead Messiah, a dead Son of God killed by God. That was absolute ridiculous folly and a stumbling block, but it was foolishness to the Gentiles as well.
What characterized a god was immortality. Jesus couldn’t be a god. That’s why if you were to go to Circus Maximus even today and look at one of the little stone etchings that is still there in its faded form, you will see that in a guard house in the past they carved a picture of a crucified donkey – body of a man and the head of a donkey – and a man below, representing a Christian, bowing down. And then the words “Alexamenos worships his god,” – a crucified jackass. That’s what the elite of the Greek world thought of the gospel. It was foolish.
So you can’t get there with just the knowledge of God that comes through natural revelation, as Romans 1 says. You can’t get there, even if the preaching of the cross comes to you, because it will be to you a stumbling block and foolish. So there isn’t any path that the natural man in his unaided condition is going to find to get him to God. Can’t happen.
The only people who believe – boy, this is so powerful – verse 23 of 1 Corinthians: “We preach Christ crucified. Doesn’t work with the Jews, it’s a stumbling block. Doesn’t work with the Gentiles, it’s foolishness.” With whom does it work? Verse 24, “To those who are” – what – “the called, the called.”
And who are the called? Verse 27: “But God has” – what’s the next word – “chosen.” And then it says it again: “God has chosen.” And then it says it again in verse 28: “God has chosen.”
The only people who can believe are the ones to whom God has given an effectual call, because they were His chosen. Why is it this way? Verse 29: “So that no man should” – what – “boast.”
I love verse 30: “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that great? “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”
So if you’re going to boast, boast where? In the Lord; give Him the glory. These passages point to us the very clear truth, point the clear truth to us that the unaided natural man cannot do anything to discern and then attain salvation. There is no salvation apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. But even the gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness to the natural man.
So chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians: “When I came to you, brethren,” – he didn’t come with superiority of speech and of wisdom – “proclaiming to you the testimony of God. I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and fear, much trembling. My message, my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
He says, “I preached Christ” – verse 5 – “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” It is God’s power moving in and penetrating the heart with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “That’s the message.”
It is a wisdom none of the rulers of this age know, it is a wisdom that only comes from God. No person by natural reason or religious intuition can come to know the truth of God. No person on his own can even believe the gospel. It will be a stumbling block. It will be foolishness, unless he is called and chosen, and regenerated.
Go to a few verses down in chapter 2, verse 14: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. He cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised,” – and he’s spiritually dead, I might add. The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him. Here’s the key phrase: “He cannot understand them.” You must come to gospel to be saved, but you can’t on your own, it is a work of God, it is a work of God.
If you will look with me at Acts 17, we’ll continue our little Bible study here – and I’ve got a couple more passages if I have a minute or two. And let’s be explicit about this. Paul comes up in the midst of the Areopagus – and this is a place where all the philosophers and leaders of the city gather together – and said, “Men of Athens, I observe you’re very religious in all respects, which I might add is useless to you. I was passing through examining the objects of your worship, found an altar with the inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.”
And he goes on to define, “This God who” – as in Romans 1 – “is not far away, and His existence can be discerned. For in Him” – verse 28 – “we live and move and exist. Even some of your poets recognize this, that there is a God who has created us.”
But it comes down to verse 30: “Now therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” He says, “Now God says the only way to access salvation and HIs kingdom is to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the resurrection.” God commands all men everywhere to repent and embrace the gospel.
Now turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 10 – maybe squeeze in a couple other passages that deal with it. You remember in the Corinthian church there were perhaps many people there who would come to worship on the Lord’s Day and partake in the Lord’s Table, and then they would go another day in the week to an idol feast in one of their idol temples they formerly frequented. And in verse 19, Paul speaking on this subject says, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.”
This is a sweeping statement. If you don’t make a true sacrifice to God, you have made a sacrifice to demons. If you worship any other than the true God and the true Christ, you are a demon worshiper. This is the very opposite of this natural theology, this wider mercy concept that somehow these Hindus and Buddhists and people in other places through their intuition, and their understanding, and their natural reason, and their spiritual inclinations are finding their way to God. That is the opposite of the truth; they are demon worshipers.
Oh, they may not identify them as demons. I don’t think false religions, none of them identify themselves as worshiping demons. If you’re a Muslim and you’re worshiping Allah, you’re worshiping demons, demons, demon deceivers and impersonators of the true God. Demons are behind all false religion and they work in all false systems. The father of lies, Satan; and he’s an angel of light, right, and his ministers are angels of light disguising themselves as bearers of the truth.
Second Corinthians 3 to 5 says that these demons erect fortifications, false ideologies that become the prisons and the tombs of the people who believe them, and that our job, using not carnal weapons, but weapons that are mighty unto God – meaning divine truth. Our job is to smash the fortresses down and rescue these people, and lead every thought captive to whom? Christ. If you’re caught in a fortress of Satan, it is a damning fortress. The same word for fortress is the word for prison. The same word for fortress and prison is the word for tomb. Your fortress, your ideological fortress becomes your prison and ends up as your tomb, unless you are rescued and brought captive to Christ.
All false religion is demonic, and people are not, through the means of false religion, ascending to God, they are descending to demons. The Old Testaments speaks about this. Deuteronomy 32:17, Moses wrote of those who sacrifice to demons who were not God. You can also see that in Psalm 106, verse 27.
Deuteronomy 32:21, God said, “Israel made me jealous with what is not God; they provoked Me to anger with their idols, because they were worshiping Satan and the kingdom of Satan.” So when you think of a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Mormon, or a Hindu, or Jews, don’t think of them as making the best effort they can to worship the true God, they’re demon worshipers. God is not in those idols, Satan is in those idols, and that’s the perception we must have.
Well, maybe that’s enough, although there are quite a number of other things that could be said. Let me just close with 2 Thessalonians 1, because in this passage we have a statement about judgment. Verse 7 talks about the return of Christ; just pick it up in the middle.
Second Thessalonians 1:7, “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,” who is He going to judge? Verse 8: “He’s going to deal out retribution to those who do not know God, kai, even to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus; and these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.” That’s just unmistakable. If you don’t know the true God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will feel the fury of God. So natural theology is sufficient to tie you to demons and damn you, not sufficient to save.
I suppose I would have to say it is one of the greatest, if not the single greatest grief to my own heart, that we have just chopped the legs out from under missionary endeavor with this kind of heretical theology at a time when we have the resources financially, when we have the means technologically, when we have the opportunity, transportation, when we have a global village so adaptation is easier than it’s ever been. We found a way out by saying they’re okay the way they are. In fact, some have gone so far as to say, “Don’t take them the gospel, because if you do and they reject it, they might be in trouble.” If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
Father, we thank You for Your truth; we thank You for the clarity of it. We are so grieved when Your name is dishonored. When false religions come along and are clearly false, and anti-Scripture, we grieve for the people that are lost there. But it seems too so much worse when people undermine the gospel and call it Christianity, bringing such dishonor on Your name.
May it be, Lord, that we are faithful to the truth of Scripture, faithful to the gospel. And would You, Lord, raise up a great force of people, who being faithful to that gospel, can be mightily used to bring that message which alone can save to the ends of the earth? And we pray this believing that You want Christ to be exalted, and we ask You to exalt Him among the nations. Give the church a heart to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, because men will perish without it; and make us a part of that, starting where we are. We thank You for this priviledge, in Your Son’s name. Amen.