Jesus did not come into the world to save good people; he came to save sinners. “Good people” were lost then, as they are today, as long as they trusted in their own “goodness.”

Our Lord’s running controversy with the Pharisees stemmed from this fatal mistake on their part. The Apostle Paul wrote of all unbelieving Jews, including the Pharisees: “Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified” (Rom. 10:3, 4).

Is this not still a major problem today? Are there not many millions who have little or no notion of God’s plan of salvation and who believe that in some way they are earning their claim to heaven?

I feel strongly that one of the great weaknesses of the Church is preaching that obscures the clear teachings of Scripture about sin and salvation. With many ministers this began in seminaries where intellectual attainments have taken precedence over the Bible, to the point where men sit in judgment on the Word instead of allowing it to sit in judgment on them. I have talked with seminary students who scoff at the idea that the Bible is man’s infallible rule of faith and practice, and who take the position that in the world of our time we are witnessing God’s more recent and binding revelation.

Out of this view of God and the Scriptures has grown a new concept of the Church and the Christian message, one that is essentially humanistic and altogether of this world. According to this concept, the “lostness” of unrepentant sinners is wholly the result of the maladjustments and inequities of the social order; therefore, it is the social order that must be attacked, not sin at the personal level.

Is there not grave danger that the Church will work to cleanse “the outside of the cup and plate” of society while the inside—the hearts of men—remains filled with all manner of evil?

There is a bit of the Pharisee in all of us. How we love to parade our own “righteousness” for men to see, and how willing we are to distort Christianity to suit our own private interpretations! For these sins of spiritual pride and blindness we need to pray for forgiveness and deliverance.

Once the authority of the Scriptures is jettisoned we find all issues confused by the conflicting opinions of men. If it is assumed that men are saved by Christ’s death regardless of their own faith, then their environment becomes the chief object of the witness and work, and with devastating results. The focus is shifted from man’s personal responsibility to a holy God to the corporate sins of society and their effect on humanity as a whole. And out of this there has emerged the idea that revolution, not regeneration, is the answer to the world’s problems.

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As a result, that with which we are now faced is “another gospel,” not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the difference can be clearly seen when one considers the clear teachings of Scripture.

In the Bible we learn that sin is a revolt against God, an innate characteristic of man that is reflected in every part of his personality—disobedience to God in thought, word, and deed. We learn also the consequences of unforgiven sin—separation from God now and for eternity.

The enormity of sin and its effect on man is the only explanation for the loving act of God and his Son, and the blessed and continuing work of the Holy Spirit.

As the true Gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit impresses on men’s hearts a sense of the burden of sin, a realization of its nature and the resulting estrangement from God. This is a burden no man can remove; but many of us can attest to the sense of relief and joy when we know that forgiveness is ours.

Many years ago while I was a medical missionary in China I saw a man with an enormous tumor on his back that weighed him down day and night. The operation to remove the tumor was not particularly difficult, but his joy over his release was almost unbounded. How much greater the joy when sins are forgiven! David knew this when he wrote “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered.… Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Ps. 32:1, 11).

Why is there so little of this joy in the Church today? Because the fact and consequences of sin are played down, and because there is so little repentance and confession of sin. Is not the Church in fact perpetuating the deadly myth that men can and must save themselves by their own efforts and achievements?

Why are such words as confession, repentance, judgment, and salvation so rarely heard today? Is it not because of a deadly sophistication that causes men to feel themselves above and beyond such things? Surely our Lord’s words to the Laodicean church apply today: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). The message of forgiveness from personal sin through acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour has been neglected in favor of a new “gospel” of good works.

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Let me repeat: The Bible teaches man’s need of a Saviour, the burden of sin, the fact of guilt before a holy God, the lostness of the unrepentant sinner, the necessity for repentance and confession of sin, and the certainty of forgiveness and newness of life in Christ. You be the judge as to how far short we fall of preaching, teaching, and believing the whole counsel of God in these matters.

Jesus came to “call sinners to repentance,” and this means the sins committed by individuals, as well as the corporate sins of society. He came not to pat any of us on the back but to remake us in his own likeness. I believe that it is precisely at this point that much preaching and teaching fails miserably. The heinous nature of sin and its effect on our lives is brushed aside while the plight of people in the mass is stressed, without regard to the fact that all of us are sinners who need a personal Saviour and that until Jesus is accepted as Saviour he cannot be Lord of our lives.

The world is a raging inferno. The Church must realize that it alone has the extinguisher—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The water pistols of human programs are not the ultimate answer. What is needed is preaching “according to the Scriptures” made effective by the Holy Spirit.

In this way alone the destroying fires of Satan will be replaced by the holy fire of God’s Spirit.


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