Posted by: Bro. Lawrence D. | September 3, 2008

Agonizing Over An Unclear Gospel Message

Forgive me if this is all over the place. And forgive me for taking so long to post new articles.

Okay, here’s the text:

Matthew 23:13 (NASB) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

In all sincerity I believe that whenever we present an inaccurate or unclear gospel message, we come very close to being guilty of the very thing Christ is condemning the Pharisees for in this verse. This also holds true whenever we include things in our gospel presentation as necessary for salvation and then fail to present the means by which these necessities are fulfilled. I call it “Closing the narrow door” or “Salvation: The Constantly Moving Target”. What am I referencing specifically? Well…

I consider myself a proponent of “Lordship Salvation”. This teaching was made most popular by Pastor John F. MacArthur. By his own admission, Pastor MacArthur developed this as a reaction against what is infamously called “easy believeism”. But what I find most disturbing is the utter mechanical nature of his exposition of the teaching itself. I listened to his radio program from last week on my Ipod at work. There was some serious meat in it and it was very convicting. Truly I was searching my own heart before the Lord as to the state of my soul. The questions of whether or not a person has experienced “true faith” and “true repentance” were expressed most powerfully. There’s no escaping how important it is for an individual to experience both. For Pastor MacArthur’s proclamation of that fact I am most grateful. However,

The final sermon was entitled “The Sovereignty of God in Salvation”. Here is where things took a troubling turn for me. You better believe that I believe 100% in the sovereignty of God in salvation. I am completely monergistic. I believe that every requirement for salvation is enacted by God in an individual that He has sovereignly selected for that salvation. The faith, the repentance, the sanctification. Everything! Read Romans 8:29-30 and tell me that’s not true. There are so many scriptures that speak to this fact that it doesn’t even seem arguable to me, although I know many still do. So what’s the problem?

MacArthur spent a great deal of time stating the requirements for salvation, only to  end up telling us that there was nothing we could do about it. Earlier in the series he had already invalidated the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” and the “altar call”. These acts in themselves were no guarantee of an entrance into the Body of Christ. They weren’t even made to seem as possible evidence of an individuals true committment to Christ. So what if an individual, convicted by what they heard MacArthur saying, desired to be saved? He gave no answer. Even worse…

 What if an individual had been born again the night before at a church that practiced these methods?  What if this person had had it suggested to them that they listen to MacArthur’s program? What would they be thinking? He had already said that these acts (prayers/altar calls) meant basically nothing if they were not met with what we might call “discernable change in behavior”. But this person is new to the faith!

And what about the 6 month old Christian? 1 year old? 10 year old? With MacArthur’s emphasis on behavioral evidence, what is the struggling Christian supposed to think? When he/she considers their constant battle with sin, how are they supposed to have any confidence that they are secure? And MacArthur offered no answers. Sure he gave lip service to the fact that we can’t be perfect and that we are going to make mistakes. But he definitely put a dividing line between these “mistakes” and what he called “gross sins”. “No Christian” as he put it would be in an ongoing battle with these gross sins. (I hope I’m not putting words in his mouth here, therefore, I encourage you to listen to the programs themselves for clarification. Try for the audios) But look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Galatians,  Ephesians, etc. He was responding to problems that existed in churches that he founded! Also look at the letters to the churches in Revelations and tell me they had no problems with sinful behavior.

One of the conclusion that I came away from his message was that it was possible for an individual to desire to be saved and not be able to. How? Well, I know that no one has this desire on his/her own. But again, after laying down the requirements and then saying that it was all of God, MacArthur left no access open to get to the very God that an individual so desperately needs. He told us the what, when, where, why, and who but not the HOW!

And even in regards to the why, he said that “fear of hell” was the wrong motivation. What?! Jesus said in Matt 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” If you back up to verse 5, you will see that he is instructing the 12! If Jesus taught the disciples to fear hell (I’ll listen to the argument that He said it specifically for Judas’ sake), how much more should an unbeliever fear hell and run to Christ?! Don’t we always remind people that Jesus talked more about hell than heaven when we want to encourage them to proclaim the truth about it?

Let’s be clear, I’m not accusing Pastor MacArthur of being a Pharisee. I only desire that we be very careful that we don’t shut off the kingdom of God from those who are entering by not being clear on what one must do to be saved. Don’t close an already narrow gate and please don’t make salvation a moving target.


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