What REALLY Needs to be Included in the Gospel Message
“At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
That question is still being asked today, some two thousand years later. In the case of the Philippian jailer, Paul and Silas were quick to respond. “”Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ,” they said, “and you will be saved – you and your household”.
Much of the New Testament is spent expounding upon and developing the full weight of the word, so it would seem a good thing to stop and make sure we understand it. After all, if a person’s eternal destiny hinges on believing in the Lord, Jesus Christ, common sense seems to dictate that you’d better have the same definition of “believe” that the Bible does, which means the focal point of that belief is Jesus Christ. Recently, after a friend and I had concluded a discussion with a Christian woman, he said to me, “For a minute there, I thought she was just believing in believing (for salvation).” Indeed, there are many people who claim to be Christians, but who don’t know the first thing about the object of our faith: “The Lord, Jesus Christ.”
That sort of error is beyond tragic, but it does happen. With that in mind, what exactly does one have to believe—about Jesus Christ—in order to be saved? The rest of this article will seek to answer that question, acknowledging, however, that some will say that there are too many points, while others will want more.
The first and perhaps most important element to believing in the Lord, Jesus Christ is to acknowledge that Jesus is God. In John 10:30, Jesus told the Pharisees, “I and the Father are one.” And in John 14:9, Jesus laments that Philip doesn’t recognize that fact: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Perhaps the next thing to know is that believing, in many ways, is the same as “faith,” because believing in Jesus is the same as having faith in Him. Hebrews says that, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
But, if I say I have faith in Jesus, what does that really mean? If you’ve got it right, it means that, by God’s grace, you know in your heart that, spiritually speaking, you are totally bankrupt before God, unable to do anything in your own strength that could (or would) please Him. And that the reason you cannot please God on your own is because of the sin that has been a part of you since your birth. It means you acknowledge, therefore, that when Jesus went to the cross, He carried with Him your sin. And that the Father’s wrath was poured out on Jesus instead of you, and that when He died on that cross, He died a death that was rightfully yours; it was the penalty that you should have received, but because of His great love for you, He suffered and died in your place.
Saying you have faith in Jesus means that you believe God raised this same Jesus from the grave as an indication that He (the Father) accepted Jesus’ death as a substitution for you. And it means this, as well: that you are aware that at the very moment you believed these things, your “account” with God was suddenly credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So that when God looks at you, what He sees is the righteousness of his own, perfect Son. 2 Corinthians 5:12 says, “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.
There’s one more thing—one more truth—that should be included in this list, but before we get to it, we need to pause and reflect on all that we have discussed. The doctrinal definition for the point we just covered—that of a believer being credited with the righteousness of Christ, is called “imputation.” You will hear theologians discussing “the imputed righteousness of Christ,” and it’s something that should cause us to rejoice.
Isn’t it interesting that salvation begins with an acknowledgement on our part that we are completely lost? When Isaiah saw a vision of Jesus Christ, his first words were, “Woe is me! For I am lost;” And that’s where we all find ourselves, when God makes Himself known to us. But that’s also where God comes to meet us. “I dwell in the high and holy place,” He says, “and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.”
God takes us from being hopelessly lost sinners facing His eternal wrath, to possessors of His perfect righteousness, to a place where we call Him, “Father.”
The last truth to be mentioned is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. It’s a part of believing, because Jesus told his disciples that, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
What does it mean to believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ? It means that all these truths, all these blessings, should result in a desire to give honor and glory and praise to the Most High. It means that we should have a heart for the hungry and the hurting, and also for the wicked and the unrighteous. It means we should desire his Word and His guidance every day of our lives, and His presence for all eternity.