I received this circular from a Christian bookseller some time ago. It is reproduced below, along with my reply. I wrote it soon after I had escaped from an abusive church which had retained a hold over me for 23 years. But the time I refer to in the letter was while my family and I were still very much caught up in this church/cult. I was struggling with some of the teaching I was receiving, because the leadership, in order to make scripture fit their doctrine, was saying that when John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world, it couldn’t mean he loved the whole world of humanity, it means the whole world of the elect. Therefore, whenever we told anybody the gospel, we couldn’t say “God loves you”, because he doesn’t love them if they’re not elect; and we don’t know who the elect are. Consequently, I became confused as to what I could tell an unsaved sinner concerning the gospel.
Request from Bookseller
Any thoughts on how best to answer this query from a current reformed pastor:
With regard to salvation, I wonder if anyone hearing the teaching would think they have to wait for something to happen before they can be saved? If it has to be something where a person goes on a long time, or if they can believe on the Lord and be saved, without doing things such as striving to enter in at the strait gate (which I know is a command of Christ’s) and really seeking before you know you’ve been saved? Is that necessary, or is it that some people would come to Christ without having to go through things such as the teaching says? By the way, I know the Bible talks of striving to enter in at the strait gate and to seek God with all our hearts – if we do so we are told we will find him. I don’t want to go against the Word of God in expressing concern. But does the teaching take people away from simply just trusting in Christ? Does it put them on a course to expect God to come to them in power; but what if they don’t have such an experience as they think is such? What if they’re just supposed to simply believe? What are your thoughts on this?
Your correspondent expresses legitimate concern over some of what we, as Reformed Christians, believe about the gospel and salvation. I remember when my children were small, and we used to read the bible and discuss it with them every night. I would talk often about how important it was to be saved and to have new heart. My middle son stumped me one night when he asked how he could get a new heart. I didn’t really know what to say, except that he had to ask God to give him one. This is true, of course, but I realised then that I had lost sight of the simplicity of the gospel. I had been so concerned about right doctrine that I had forgotten how to deal with the most fundamental of all issues – how can I be saved?
Eventually I found a sermon by Spurgeon entitled “The Warrant of Faith” – (No. 531 – you can find it on the internet) and he put me on the right track. He showed me how the command of God is to come to Christ. We don’t have to strive or seek with all our hearts – we just come to Christ. He showed how books such as “Alarm to the Unconverted” by Joseph Alleine, valuable as they are, can give a wrong idea and hinder the gospel by saying we have to preach law so that we can preach grace; that the sinner has to be convicted of sin before he can come to Christ. Jesus says “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37); and that’s it.
Of course, it’s true that we strive to enter in at the strait gate, and we do have to seek God with all our hearts; and who else would come except those who are convicted of sin and want to be free of it. It is God who draws people to Christ (Jn 6:44; 12:32); in doing so, he convicts of sin and the need of salvation. We then begin to seek how we can be delivered, and we strive to enter in at the strait gate. And as we are in this condition, he directs us to Christ as the answer. But in the end, these are not what we are commanded to do in order to be saved – God tells us to come to Christ because he is the One through whom we are saved and have peace with God. Consider Matthew 11:28-30 and John 6: 29, 35; see how Jesus spoke to the woman of Samaria in John chapter 4, where he drew her gradually to himself by revealing himself to her and showing that it is he who gives living water. He didn’t direct her to seek or strive – he directed her to believe. Then, when she had told others in Samaria, they came to him and believed to salvation. If we look at these things, seeking and striving, as something we have to do, then we are trying to be saved by works.
Again, in John 5:24, I read how Jesus calls the people to believe. And in v. 40 he rebukes them for not coming to him. Then, in John 6:28-29, in answer to their question, he said “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent”.
I’m sure these things are obvious to you, but, as I said, I’d lost sight of them until Spurgeon reminded me of how to look. And what I’ve written here is demonstrated in my own conversion. The person who told me the gospel was somebody I knew, and he simply told me essentially that Jesus is the Son of God, that he loved me, and that he died for me. He didn’t try to convict me of sin by preaching law so that he could then tell me the gospel; he just presented Christ to me, and I believed everything he told me, and I received him there and then. I had become a new creature, I had received a new heart, because I came to Christ just as I was.
I hope this may help.
(Note – this sermon “The Warrant of Faith” (no. 531) can be found on this web site under the heading “Choice Selections from Christian Authors”).