by Phil Enlow

In 2 Cor. 11:2-4 we find Paul the apostle greatly concerned for the Corinthian believers. He had poured out his life to bring them the true gospel and to establish them firmly in Christ. But Satan wasn’t about to give up on these believers. He sent and inspired religious teachers to undermine what the Lord through Paul had accomplished.

And so Paul wrote, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

Satan has filled the world with such teachers and God’s people need to know how to recognize the difference. Not every “Jesus” is the real Jesus, the One Paul preached. Not every spirit is of God. Not every gospel is the genuine “good news” that Jesus commanded his disciples to preach among the nations.

We have already pointed out the simplicity of the message God had sent him to proclaim. He expressed the essence of his message as “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Cor. 2:2. The person and work of Christ was Paul’s whole message.

With regard to Christ’s person we have pointed to what Paul said in 2 Cor. 4:5 — “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Any “gospel” that does not bring people under the lordship of Christ is no gospel at all. At best it puts them on the broad road that leads to destruction. Matt. 7:13.

God’s Purpose, Not Ours

We highlighted the fact that the gospel concerns God’s purpose and not man’s needs and desires. God made us in His image to live in an unbroken relationship based on divine love. But sin entered and the human race fell under the curse of death. Therefore God’s purpose in salvation is to call out a people from this broken world in order ultimately to fulfill His original purpose. In the end God will dwell with men and they will be His people. Rev. 21:3.

The true gospel reveals God’s provision for lost men and women in order to bring about His ultimate intention. It is Christ-centered. One of the chief marks of deception is when the “gospel” that is preached becomes man-centered instead.

By nature man is focused on this world and this life. His goals and purposes are self-centered. Knowing this, Satan has inspired a great variety of religion that caters to man’s natural desires in one way or another.

In John 16:8-11 Jesus spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit in these words: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Wherever the true gospel is going forth, the Holy Spirit will be carrying out His work. There will be genuine conviction of sin and hearts will be brought to a place of shame and need before a holy God. Their hearts will be plowed and made ready for the seed of God’s word that alone brings eternal life. James 1:18. 1 Peter 1:23-25. There is love, but there is no appeal to the flesh, no flattery in the gospel. It shines an uncompromising light on man’s true condition.

It seems that in our day “old-fashioned” truths like man’s utter sinfulness and the necessity of the cross and the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin have fallen out of fashion in many places. Other more attractive emphases have taken their place, teachings more apt to attract a crowd. Becoming more “seeker-friendly” is the watchword. Get people in and involved and somewhere along the line get them “saved.”

None of that for Paul. Wherever he went he told men the truth about their need and about judgment to come unless they repented. He lifted up God’s only provision for their need, not a religion but a Person: Jesus Christ. Christ was presented as the sacrifice who willingly bore the sins of lost men. He was also presented as the very means of their becoming fully saved and made ready for an eternal future with a holy God. All of this was done with the anointing of God’s Spirit and the result was that men were genuinely born of that Spirit and made new creatures in Christ.

Listen to Paul’s words regarding God and His provision in 1 Cor. 1:30 — “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” He expressed the same thing in Col. 1:27 as, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Man’s Condition

As we have said, man in his sin-darkened condition is totally self-centered, totally focused on his own desires and purposes. He cares nothing for the will of God. Of everything, he asks, “What’s in it for me?” He is a willing citizen of this present world – not just the planet we live on – but a spiritual order of things dominated by the darkness of sin and rebellion against our Creator.

This spiritual order is characterized by the things John the apostle describes in 1 John 2:16: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” These things come not from God but are rather an abomination to Him. He has decreed that the world – and its desires – will pass away; only the man who does the will of God will live forever. 1 John 2:17.

Because of sin men live under the shadow of death. No matter what they do in this life death wins in the end. And yet man in his blindness, if left to himself, would live and die and never once think about God. Every natural inclination of his heart is to greedily cling to the very sin that binds him in chains of darkness. He is a slave, a prisoner, unwilling and unable to break free.

It is the mercy of God when He intervenes to cause men even to be aware that He is. And yet the sinfulness of sin is revealed in the fact that most men will readily choose darkness even when confronted with light. Jesus brought the light of God’s life into the arena of men in a unique way yet he was despised and rejected by most men. They loved their sin and hated Jesus for exposing the darkness that was in them. And the worst offenders were the religious folks! How can anything called the gospel not confront man’s need in a truthful way?

Before he met Jesus in blinding revelation on the road to Damascus, Saul the Jew was a very religious man. In the eyes of men – and in his own eyes – he was moral, righteous, and upright. It would be easy to see such a man and suppose that all he needs is a little “tune-up,” a little “course correction,” a little more information. But Paul didn’t need a mere “tune-up”; he needed a new engine! And he was headed 180 degrees in the wrong direction! What he considered to be truth was in fact a carefully contrived counterfeit designed to seal him in darkness and send him to hell.

Before he met Jesus, Saul was self-righteous and spiritually confident. In the light of God’s glory that shown out from Jesus, Saul’s opinion of himself changed. In a moment of time he went from being a self-righteous Pharisee to being the very worst of sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15. That is a pretty radical change!

How many people in our day join churches and profess to follow Jesus without ever becoming aware of just how desperately they need a Savior? If a religious man like Saul needed a radical revolution in his heart how much more do we?

Man’s Helplessness

God’s word reveals that not only is our need great and our condition dire, we are helpless to do anything about it. There is no religion we can practice, no work we can perform, no human effort of any kind that will change our circumstances in the slightest. Our bondage to sin and our guilt are so great that our only hope is that mercy will be granted and someone else will do what is necessary to deliver us.

Yet man in his blind pride highly resents any suggestion that he is a helpless undeserving sinner. He compares himself with others and vainly imagines that he is better than most and worthy of God’s favor. He may well be a candidate for a form of religion that caters to his natural desires in some way yet angrily reject God’s mercy that would show him his true need.

More Than Doctrine

There is one aspect of truth that needs to be emphasized at this point and that is this: we need more than even the correct doctrine concerning man and his need of salvation if God’s work is to be accomplished. Sadly it is possible to convert people to the doctrine of human depravity and need and yet leave them lost and in their sins.

Paul rightly summed up his message as “Jesus Christ and him crucified” yet he did not stop there. He went on to say, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Cor. 2:4-5.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is more than mere words, no matter how correct those words may be. As Paul said, Romans 1:16, “...it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The gospel involves words but those words accomplish nothing if they are not a vehicle for God’s Spirit to directly confront the hearers. Jesus said of his words that they were “spirit” and “life.” John 6:63. Words that do not have spirit and life are just ...

Dead Words

Suppose you were trying to form a basketball team. You imagine the kind of player you want to play the position of center. He ought to be at least 6’10” and weigh at least 275 pounds. Someone says, “I know just the man!” He leaves and later returns with a large box. He opens the box and displays a large man, saying, “I found exactly what you are looking for, a man who is 6’10” and weighs 275 pounds.” You say, “Well, he is the correct size all right. There’s just one problem: he’s dead!”

The example is ridiculous of course yet there is a lot of religion that is no more effective in terms of eternal things than that dead basketball player. They have some truth, handed down from generation to generation, but it is dead in terms of spiritual power. The words may convert some minds but the Spirit of God is absent and the hearers never actually come face to face with God.

God’s Words

God’s words are powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

God created all that is by merely speaking. Our words may convey information but God’s words convey real power as well, enough to create galaxies of stars when it pleases Him. The preaching of the gospel is actually intended to be creative as well since one transformed by it is a “new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. When a sinner is truly born again it is as much an act of divine creation as it is when God creates stars.

In 2 Peter 3:5-7 we find Peter speaking of scoffers at the end of the age: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Human Instruments

Those called of God to preach the gospel do not merely relay information. That is, God does not simply give them facts to pass on to the minds of their hearers. Rather they are human instruments through which God Himself speaks. It is the very Spirit of God that goes out through the words and engages the hearts of the hearers. That is the purpose of the anointing. The anointing transforms mere religious speech into an expression of God Himself capable of imparting life.

Paul understood the difference. Before stating the central principle of having no other message than Jesus Christ and him crucified he first said, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1. He was rightly concerned that he not merely persuade men using human ability but that he rather bring men into direct contact with God in life and power. Paul spoke – but he relied on God’s anointing to do the actual work in his hearers.

Religion is full of gifted orators, charismatic personalities, keen intellects, men with natural ability to influence others. But to the extent that ministry is an expression of these human qualities it is worthless to the kingdom of God. Even if the doctrine itself is pure what good is it if it is dead?

Worse than that is when the devil gets involved. He is a great employer of religious men who operate apart from God’s Spirit and calling. That is why Paul warned of “another spirit.” Just because some kind of spiritual power seems to be in operation does not at all guarantee that the power is of God.

Spirit and Truth

In John 4:24 Jesus said to the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Where God is at work there will always be both spirit and truth. Either without the other leaves much room for deception.

It is our job to proclaim the message. It is The Holy Spirit’s job to drive that message home to hearts. Earlier we pointed out what Jesus said in John 16:8 – “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”

A true knowledge of these things comes only by divine revelation to the heart. It cannot be conveyed by mere words no matter how intellectually brilliant or emotionally charged they may be. Only the Spirit of God can so convince a man deep on the inside of these truths that godly sorrow for sin, true repentance and faith become possible – and then only by God’s grace.

Something Drastic Needed

Let’s summarize again briefly what the gospel is intended to address. Mankind is hopelessly enslaved by the power of sin and death in a world ruled by wicked spirits of darkness under the leadership of Lucifer. He lives and dies serving “self.” God has given him laws to show what righteousness is but those laws also serve to show man what a sinner he is since he has no power or true desire to obey them. If God’s original purpose to have a people with whom He can live in harmony and love is to be fulfilled something drastic needs to be done.

But by whom? Man can do nothing to remedy his situation. Thus the gospel reveals, not what WE must do to make ourselves acceptable to God but rather what GOD has done in sending His Son to earth to die on the cross.

The law of God demands that every sinner die. Jesus assumed our guilt and shame and willingly received in himself the full penalty of God’s broken law. Justice has been fully upheld. Because of what Jesus did God can remain just and yet cleanse from the guilt of sin, declaring sinners righteous. Romans 3:21-26.

Obtaining The Blessing

But who are those who enter into this blessed state of being accepted by God as righteous? Can a man pray a simple “formula” prayer and be saved? Is it a matter of simply praying the right words? Can a man somehow obtain this blessing yet reserve the right to continue serving self and sin? Can he remain lord of his own life and yet “accept” Jesus? Will Jesus share the throne of the heart with “self”?

Of course the answer to these questions is a resounding “no”! And yet the honest answer in many places in our day would have to be “yes.” “That’s all there is to it. Just pray a little prayer accepting Jesus. It’s simple.”

Well it is true that the gospel is indeed simple – but it is not EASY. It is not easy because it demands that we bow in surrender to the Lordship of Christ, assuming our rightful place as penitent sinners in need of mercy. As we have said, only the active work of the Holy Spirit can accomplish this.

If this is somehow bypassed – and it is in many places in our day – then deception has taken root. The Jesus who offers salvation without surrender is not the Jesus Paul preached. It is another Jesus who preaches the wide gate that many enter only to be destroyed in the end.

If Satan is to deceive he must – for many at least – seem to uphold the truth of man’s need of salvation and yet carefully avoid the kind of encounter with God that produces new creatures in Christ. If he can convince men that they are saved when they are not then he is free to build great religious movements that deceive many.

Truly Born Again: What Now?

Assuming, then, that men have indeed experienced the miracle of the new birth, what then? What is this thing called the Christian life about? We know what men seek in this world but what is it that God seeks? What is His purpose in calling us to continue living in such a broken world? And how is that purpose to be fulfilled?

Surely one of the favorite scriptures of believers down through the ages has been Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This wonderful verse reminds us that everything that happens to God’s people is a part of a divine plan, a plan that is meaningful, directed to a purpose, and that God’s purpose for us results in our good.

But what is that purpose? Verse 29 continues the thought: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Here we see God’s purpose to produce a great family of “sons,” each of them having been made like Jesus. That would, of course, make Jesus the firstborn, the pattern. The focus of God’s purpose therefore is the character of His children.

God’s Work

But we also see that God’s purpose is fulfilled by the power and effort of God Himself. Verse 30 continues, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Who did all this? HE did. It can happen no other way. Every aspect of salvation is supernatural from beginning to end.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” This scripture reveals both God’s role and ours in the process. We have our part but that part is one of cooperation with something God does.

In the first place we are to “work out” our salvation. If we are to “work out” our salvation it must be “in” in the first place! That is, God must first do His supernatural work in us before there is something within that can even be worked out.

Both the ability and even the desire for everything that fulfills God’s purpose in us comes from Him alone. We are as helpless in ourselves to live for God as we are to save ourselves in the first place. That’s why it is called salvation!

Created to Be Like God

Paul expresses the same truth in Ephesians 4:22-24 in these words: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” We see our responsibility yet the “new self” we are to “put on” is created. That sounds pretty supernatural to me!

Notice the language in that scripture: “created to be like God.” What an amazing thought! How utterly beyond our ability such a thing is. Here we see another expression of the fact that salvation is an act of creation. Can you create yourself? Does anyone have the power to produce what God is after by any kind of human effort?

But exactly how does this relate to Paul’s message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified”? Look back again at 1 Corinthians 1:30. There we read, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

The Centrality of Christ

The first “him” is God Himself. It is a result of His work that we are “in Christ Jesus” at all. Yet look at all that Christ Jesus has “become” for us: wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption.” That is a pretty good description of everything involved in fulfilling His purpose in making us like Christ!

Read the writings of Paul and you will see everywhere just how central the person and work of Christ is to living for God and becoming what He has planned. In salvation not only are my sins borne by Christ but I receive His righteousness as my own. I am accepted by God just as much as He is! 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 1:3-8. God fully accepts His Son and since I am IN Him that includes me as well! To put it crudely, if you give someone a box they receive not only the box but also whatever is in it.

How can I put off my old self? Romans 6 tells us that when Christ died, we died. His death becomes our death when we are united to him in salvation. Whether I understand it fully or not I have the right to “reckon” or count myself to have died based on the fact of what God has done for me when Jesus died.

In the same way those united with Christ were there in him when He rose from the dead to a new life. The life He had in his resurrection is the very same life we receive when we are born of God. What Christ accomplished in his death, burial, and resurrection is the very foundation for living for God.

More than that we pointed out earlier that our hope of glory is Christ in us (Colossians 1:27). He does not merely tell us how to live but He comes in by the Spirit to indwell us and live out his life in us. As A.B. Simpson wrote in his hymn long ago, “He Who overcame on Calvary overcomes again in you and me. Hallelujah, Jesus gives the victory.”

As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The Greek says the faith of the Son of God. When Christ comes in He brings his faith with him!

Christ is the center of everything. No wonder Paul summarized his message as he did. It is fine to teach God’s wisdom regarding relationships, overcoming sin, giving, ministry, etc. but if any of these things are divorced from the supernatural foundation of Christ in us then they become mere principles, rules to live by, dependent upon human ability, mere religion. What is left is a “form of godliness” that denies its power (2 Timothy 3:5). That sounds like a pretty good way to describe deception. It may look good but it isn’t real.

A Matter of Family

One of the clearest passages in the scriptures that shows just how connected every aspect of salvation is to the person and work of Christ is in Romans 5. Paul makes a comparison between Adam and Christ showing that what each did was passed to his descendants.

For example in verse 19 Paul writes, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” How did we become sinners? Adam disobeyed and he became the father of a family of sinners, all mankind. What he did has passed down to us all and our actions prove it.

In the same way those born into Christ’s family inherit the result of his obedience and partake of his righteousness. As Paul said in verse 17, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

What Jesus did on our behalf is the fountain and source of everything God has for us. What else is there to preach? Of course there is a need for teaching on the various aspects of the outworking of our salvation as it applies to living here but it all flows from him. That is why Colossians 2:10 tells us that we are “complete in him” (KJV).

That is why Paul speaks as he does in the beginning of chapter 3 (verses 1-3): “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Anything short of this misses the mark and reflects the effort of the enemy to deceive. May God grant grace that His message may be boldly proclaimed, that Christ and Christ alone may be lifted up as the only hope of man. May we humbly submit to our Heavenly Father, the Master Craftsman, as He patiently and surely takes that which was ruined by sin and transforms into something eternal and beautiful. To Him be glory and praise forever and ever!

To be continued

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