Our pastor has done some daring things in his preaching to his Sunday morning congregation over the last three or four years or so, like unfolding Deuteronomy, verse by verse, and wading through that sea of “begots” in 1 Chronicles to get to the core issues found there. Then we checked into the on-again, off-again obedience and disobedience of the Israelites in the book of Judges. Surprisingly, perhaps, the gospel was evident through all of these, foreshadowed by the sacrifices and the repeated acts of redemption that God in his mercy afforded the Israelites despite their waywardness.
Just recently he began exploring 1 Corinthians in the same manner, verse by verse. Now, therein lies some course stuff for common folks in “down home” America, and it’s due to get heavier. (We are in chapter 5 at this writing.)
In these first few chapters I lost count of the number of times the word “gospel” has been mentioned in his sermons. Sorting out who was following who and re-aligning them with Christ as the One to follow, then announcing that he was “determined not to know anything among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” seemed to be the apostle’s declaration of “simplicity in Christ.”
At the beginning of his second letter to them, Paul wrote this: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward” (2 Corinthians 1:12), thus emphasizing again his desire not to get too elaborate and detailed in proclaiming the gospel. He says they came with “simplicity and godly sincerity” to tell them of Christ.
As he nears the end of his communication, Paul again expresses his concern for the purity of the gospel and reveals the source of the “fleshly wisdom” that would oppose the simplicity of the gospel and of Christ: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
When Paul declared, “I determined not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and brought the crucifixion to center stage in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, he was being moved by the Holy Spirit to express God’s highest priority. It was, and is, that “no other foundation can be laid than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). And on this foundation, without any works of the flesh whatsoever rests man’s hope of redemption.
John declared in John 1:11-13:“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Redemption is totally the work of God in the life of one who has realized he is a sinner against God and receives Christ into his life. Jesus further elaborates on this in chapter three when He declares to Nicodemus, “You must be born again!”
Note in that verse 13 the authority to be called a child of God is not by family identity (of blood), nor by personal efforts (the will of the flesh), nor by someone else’s efforts (confirmation or baptism), but by being born of God from above, a totally spiritual action by God.
Yet we see how “fleshly wisdom” and the subtle work of Satan to defraud the gospel of its simplicity and to weaken its effectiveness have brought those added “necessaries” to the gospel. Such things as baptism, church membership (“in our church”), taking of communion, which day to worship God—or anything that is considered necessary for one to maintain his salvation.
Paul wrote in Colossians 2:9-10:
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
And, having that completeness in Christ, he says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
There are some interesting accounts recorded in the Bible where, seemingly, little is required for a confirmation from the Lord that the person’s salvation is established. Yet, an eternal destiny hangs in the balance.
Probably the one most well-known is the account of the thief on the cross alongside of Jesus. In Luke’s account: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43).
The responsive thief did three things: 1) He admitted his own guilt, deserving the punishment; 2) He recognized Jesus as One greater than His situation; 3) He appealed to Him for favor and mercy. And the Lord responded with the promise, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” He admitted his sinfulness and turned to the Lord in submission.
Luke writes of a man who lived in Jericho named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, and he wanted to see who He was. Being of short stature and not able to see over the crowd, the account tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully” (Luke 19:4-6).
But the people complained that Jesus was going to be a guest in the house of a known sinner! Luke goes on to say:
“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:8-10).
This incident tells of a man who gladly welcomed Jesus into his house (life), called Him Lord, then repented, and Jesus announced that salvation had come to him that day. Three things happened: Recognition, repentance, and regeneration.
Another account that is striking in the contrasting attitude described in the story: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10.14).
If “justified” means what I think it does—made right before God—then that humble tax collector found the simple pathway to salvation.
In Romans 10:9-10 Paul writes, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
It is a classic directive to obtain salvation, but later on, verse 13, he pens this:
“For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
It is a quote from the Old Testament, Joel 2:32, and like another Old Testament quote, “The just shall live by faith,” which Paul also repeats again in Romans 1:17, we can see a surprisingly simple link between the two sections of the Bible. Could it be summed up this way—turn from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ with your whole heart, and you will be saved!
I submit that it is not likely that many people would have in their understanding, or even knowledge of those details in Romans 10:9-10 (above) at their first encounter with Jesus Christ. I certainly did not, but I was made aware of my own personal sinfulness before Him, and my need to appeal to Him for forgiveness. In that setting, “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” was all that was needed to be born-again.