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The Essence of the Content in Saving Faith
Why did the woman at the well believe Jesus was the Christ? John 4:28-29,
The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out of the city and came to Him.She believed that Jesus was the Christ because He told her all things that she ever did, because she first saw the demonstration of His gift. In His gospel, Jesus had provided the "Way" for her to see the "essence" of the message - the Holy Spirit, which was a gift being freely offered to her.
Notice that she see Him demonstrate power in predicting her husbands, first, and then she believes in Jesus as the Christ. Which part of her testimony was the selling point to the townsmen? The noteworthy part, John 4:39,
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.”God-with-us is something to be excited about. All of the signs in John work in a similar fashion. When the Holy Spirit demonstrates Himself, people believe in Jesus. This is simple, child-like faith.
The scriptural content of the message for the unsaved becomes saving when it highlights one central truth: Man needs God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5,
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.How was it accounted to Abraham our father as righteousness? Romans 4:17, 20-22
...Him whom [Abraham] believed — God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.... He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”God is able to perform. "Do you believe this" (John 11:27-29)? Abraham's content to be believed was the power of God. He was fully convinced. Is it because he was open-minded to the facts and was passively persuaded? Is it because he blindly hoped it to be true? No; Abraham had seen for himself what God could do through him by conquering Canaanite kings so triumphantly. At the time of war in chapter 14 of Genesis, Abraham had become the administrative head of blessing in the land that God had promised in chapter 12, and Melchizedek, the priest of God, had come out to testify of God's presence with Abraham. Then after this, in chapter 15 he hears God's promise and is justified by believing it. Likewise in the Gospel of John, after hearing the most famous verse (John 3:16) we hear that those who already "do the truth" believe upon the Son receiving forgiveness "because" their deeds have been done in God (John 3:21). Those who seek God's essence (the gift of the Holy Spirit) have already recognized God's power in their pre-faith journey (Romans 1:20).
Defending the Babes, the Carnal
Free grace people admire Abraham who was "fully persuaded." Where does assurance of salvation really come from? Does it come from a promise alone gospel, a crystal clear, concise location in scripture to be used like a fool-proof formula? In limitation, a verse brings assurance of salvation. How about a systematic proof that Jesus is the Christ and was raised from the dead from the Old Testament all through the gospel accounts, like Paul preached in Acts 13 to Galatia? In limitation, a biblical synthesis gospel brings assurance of salvation. As much as Free Grace people are protecting saints and those coming to faith from a lifetime of doubt over their own justification with God, it is quite commendable.
Assurance of salvation comes from intimacy with the Holy Spirit, not just from a promise verse (John 11:25-27) or a persuasive case of things of first importance according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Consider Job. He was called blameless by God Himself in the beginning. Job spent the majority of the book arguing with his counselors that indeed he once had been blameless, even though now he was spiritually miserable. God was patient with Job's arguing over what happened in the past - and Job, in his grief, doubted it was worthwhile to be "blameless" as he once was. Only when Job realigned himself into fellowship with God once more was Job assured, and onlookers persuaded. The only way to prove our salvation is to identify who we are in light of who God is, every day.
I wonder if our thoughts on the gospel resembles Job's argument with his first three counselors.
JOB: "No, really; I was blameless."
ELIPHAZ: "Job, there's no way you and God were fine with one another; I mean look at you."
JOB: "But I was! I just can't show you. What's wrong with this picture? I am beginning to doubt there was profit in knowing God."
ELIPHAZ: "I say you never did. Here, let me tell you a more theologically correct understanding of God's acceptance."
Might it be God's manner to withhold assurance in someone's soul in particular times and seasons? After a saint's justification he will subsequently be tested and may disregard spiritual things. Free Grace people say either a concise verse or a biblical synthesis is the only "correct" means by which a person can re-establish assurance of salvation. By thinking this way, I wonder if we are no longer in step with God's discipline upon His child. A FG person hears this and mis-diagnoses it; that if they did not receive the exact content of the message that saved them, they must not have been saved in the first place. This is no more a solution than the Calvinists who wrestle with the plight of carnal Christianity, calling for upfront obedience in the proclamation of God's gift of salvation, distorting and distracting again from the true area of concern, which is? Non-persevering sanctification.
"Do not quench the Spirit," it says in 1 Thess. 5:19. This means to suppress or extinguish the presence of God in our hearts. Is it possible that a saint once would hear the Spirit cry from within him, "Abba, Father," at one point in his life as he sought reigning as a son with Christ, but would lose this comforting testimony that he is a child of God through carnality? Galatians 4:6-7,
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.Are these carnal guys the guys we've been defending with FG soteriology? When did this happen that the inward testimony of the Spirit within our hearts wasn't convincing enough that we had to go find a formula removed of His powerful, chastening Presence, to gain assurance? Though it might become quenched, Romans 8:15 tells us that when we were justified each of us received this inward testimony loud and clear,
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”Searching the Scriptures
How did Paul defend justification with God for the carnal Christian? He reminded them quickly of how they had known the power of God as opposed to the persuasion of men in a divisive manner, all the way through 1 Corinthians chapters one through four. Jesus had the same battle of "persuasive words vs. the power and demonstration of the Spirit of God," with the Pharisees. They knew so much about God that they were lawyers. John 5:39-40,
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.Searching the scriptures is spiritually fruitless till a person is willing to come to Jesus and receive life ("In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" John 1:4). This is what the revelation (the "Word") is teaching us to appropriate. It is amazing the Pharisees really thought they could make a case of knowing how to work God when they worked over passages. Jesus dealt with them in a disapproving manner. It only condemned themselves before God and men. This kind of free grace discussion is, as it was with Job as well, a carbon copy of that argument the Pharisees had with Jesus in the letter of the law over what needed to be believed regarding the work and person, at that time, of YHWH.
There are already many people who are looking for more from Free Grace. They want to be offered a life-giving gospel to every kind of man who suffers in darkness, not only the variety of darkness of needing a correct chapter-verse address to assuage doubt over a former event of justification with God.
The biblical synthesis gospel (beginning with 1 Cor 15:1-4 and utilizing several other passages) can be an obstacle to assurance, but it was never meant to work that way. This content of saving faith is a gospel where assurance will never be achieved as it requires the unsaved to produce concrete knowledge of abstracts with its long list of "needs to be believed." As with the Pharisees, the use of the Word somehow is twisted; scriptures of any kind of content should not not rob assurance. If used properly scripture always enhances assurance of salvation. 1 Thess. 1:5,
The Word should harmoniously build on our sense that we can become/have in fact been saved by the amazing grace and truth of our Lord. If scripture does not bring a believer into harmony with God, it is because an evangelist and his listener is imbalanced, having some excellence in doctrine but an immaturity in the experiential knowledge of the breadth and depth of the love of God. It would have been better if they had heard the Samaritan woman's content of saving faith in place of a scripture-intense one; "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!"For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
"He Never Fails to Give Life"
"Suffice it to say, however, that Jesus never fails anyone who trusts Him for eternal salvation" .
The brilliance of the "Desert Island Scenario" is that after the Holy Spirit demonstrates the power of God, the unsaved person will be fully convinced that God is trustworthy in His testimony no matter how short the scripture is concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit.
However, there are two mis-uses that arise with thinking like this. The first mis-use is why should anyone trust Him for everlasting salvation if they aren't inclined to desire it or understand it or even have eyes to see, unlike Abraham coming fresh off the battlefield? No one doubts the veracity of Jesus to give life. We doubt the people who have confused looks on their faces as they nod their head in politeness. No one is going to believe it unless they have been told they ought to seek it and probably already know it.
The second mis-use is that false religious people will agree with you. "Yes, I understand that Jesus gives eternal life to those who believe," or they say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus died for my sins on the cross and was resurrected," but who knows what they truly filter that to mean. For the false religions, they have not understood what it means to place their faith in an orthodox demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor 2:4). There is no protection against polytheism and other versions of "I believe" that are something less than the attention-grabbing thrust of a robust conservative evangelical gospel. Teaching the biblical doctrine of the antichrists and testing the spirits is helpful to distinguish things for the evangelist, but not for those being evangelized (see part III of "The Spirit of Antichrist: Decoupling Jesus from the Christ" by Zane C. Hodges).
Every content of saving faith seizes its relevance by making a case for our son-ship opportunity and the need for the Holy Spirit to achieve it. Without it, the biblical synthesis evangelists will never know for sure if a lost person has personally grasped the significance in a fifteen-minute download of biblical data. Even a promise-only presentation cannot explain the relevance of eternal life without also preaching son-ship .
People are not coming to Christ to increase license to sin! And they never will! I have been caught in this confusion regarding the gospel; perhaps you too? Can you imagine a humble, lost sinner who dislikes his own sin being told that Christ's salvation is a ticket to moral freedom (i.e. unconditional forgiveness)? This is the weak point in both a promise-only or a synthesis gospel. No wonder we are afraid to tell those who are much worse - those who pursue a life of debauchery - the gospel. They laugh at it and say, "that sounds good to me! You're telling me I can do whatever I want?!? Seriously, go away, why should Christ even die for sins then." They must believe God is good and that He would not tempt anyone. This is a gospel of light, not darkness. Son-ship makes "the promise of eternal life" and "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" two gospels of light! Presenting "the gift of God" as the Holy Spirit is what is missing.
What an interesting assumption that lost people care more about eternal life than their present one. Unless I am suddenly trapped under a car or hanging off a cliff, the afterlife is not what I think about all day long, as an unbeliever or even as a believer for several years starting off in the faith. I'm thinking about my next appointment, next vacation, next meal. It is usually those who have known Christ and the doctrine of eternal rewards that become interested in the afterlife - when they have a "beatitude promise" that it will be good and satisfying in spite of the lack of realized redemption in this one.
Eternal life is not just about salvation after we're dead! The unsaved desire the Holy Spirit for all sorts of things. The Holy Spirit is needed for obedience. He is needed for freedom from condemnation. He is needed for sonship and inheritance with God. He is needed for comfort and counsel. He is needed for the satisfaction of the daily spiritual needs of the soul. He is needed for intimacy with God. This is the reason why "eternal life" is described as qualitative such as John 17:3 or as for the rich young ruler why it was a possession to be gained through obedience.
Gospel essentials attain their usefulness when a person comes to Jesus ("the scriptures testify of Me" John 5:39) for the Holy Spirit. And what are they believing in when they hear the words of whichever Free Grace gospel is used? Take a look once more: what is the "bullseye" COSF according to this passage? 1 Cor 2:4-5,
And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.Indeed I believe it is saying it is critical we NOT be persuasive when sharing the gospel so that people will notice the Holy Spirit in the message, the presence and power of God, the essence they have been longing to believe was true, and receive Him Himself. The Word of God is a Spiritual avenue (the "Way") to see straight through to the Spirit of God who has always been not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).
This is what the woman at the well placed her faith in. She already knew where the well was, and where to draw water - not an issue. She wanted her own fountain of water so that she would not thirst nor keep traveling to draw it out. She heard of this source of power all for herself, all for the taking - exactly what Abraham heard in Genesis 12. They are not believing upon only the words of a promise... but the Presence within them.
The Duluthian Biblical synthesis proponents point out Paul's preaching in Acts 13 to the Galatians in their series of articles on the content of the gospel. In Acts 17, Paul preached to the Thessalonians "as was his custom" after so many evangelistic efforts recorded in Acts (Acts 17:3). Paul had a custom for the gospel presentation -- in the synagogues. He tailored the good news of Jesus to the tradition of those who already had the scriptures: "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” But that's not all his gospel shared. According to this one "custom" of Paul, both the Galatian and the Thessalonian churches knew the power of God when they heard the message as recorded for us in 1 Thess. 1:5,
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.The Book of Galatians confirms that same gospel demonstration of the Holy Spirit, they having "received" the Spirit and having "begun" in the Spirit, with miracles (Gal. 3:2-3, 5). It is the essence of God both Jews and Gentiles lived without, being held captive to the futility and bondage to the elements of this world, all alike under sin. When they see the demonstration of the Spirit with power, they will "know" God [is] -with-us. They will believe Jesus is the Son of God because His testimony is accompanied by the spiritual essence of God affecting their soul and their life. How can we lack assurance of salvation if God Himself, shows up? Isn't it a "no-brainer" - and human persuasion is not needed here?
Have people shared their testimony with you, saying, "The reason why I follow the Bible is because everything it says came true for me personally." This is an Abrahamic sort of justification, more dynamic than the common description of a "passive persuasion." This is the kind of believer who knows God has come near and has all sorts of assurance as a byproduct. This is what Jacob's well really meant to a Samaritan woman, who knew the impossibility of Jacob finding Rachel or Abraham's servant finding Rebekah, or a strange Man who knew her intimate life, apart from the miraculous power of God for the purpose of glory, honor and immortality (Rom 2:7). And the power of God was the Samaritan woman's gospel to the city "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did" - and certainly this COSF was enough for the city. She was fully convinced in the power of God, and the gospel went forth for His glory.
Biblical Synthesis Mis-Uses
Perhaps there are answers that I have not read, but I do not know of an explanation from a synthesis gospel proponent why the content of Paul's message changes in Acts 17 and in Acts 14:14-17 with a primarily Gentile audience. Paul went to the Jews, foremostly, until Acts 17/18. Of course he would engender faith in Jesus according to the Old Testament when he was in the synagogues, where a majority of Jews and a minority of God-fearing Gentiles were steeped in the tradition of the scriptures. This is the gospel presented to the Galatian church, but it is by no means the only way of demonstrating the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way that helps the lost believe upon Jesus. Presentation of scripture either waxes or wanes depending on the falling of the Spirit on the unsaved. Acts 10:34-35,
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.Exactly how does an evangelist get the notion that until his formed checklist of the gospel is completely spelled out and quizzed upon his listeners, he can keep at bay the Holy Spirit falling on those whom God is justifying? We should not call as common that which has been made clean. When the Holy Spirit falls, we take our most ultimate cues from that - or else ("...who was I that I could withstand God?" Peter asked concerning Cornelius in Acts 11:17). Pharisees were more concerned about code than hearts being right before God. As a result they were failures at ecclesiology. They had no idea how their religiosity caused them to separate themselves from believers who they had become one with in the people of God. Their theologies choked the life out of "love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith," which is the end-goal of the commandments.
The promise-only gospel not only identified theological legalism outside its borders, it instituted such. This theological legalism postulates that one truth in scripture is saving and others are not. It fairly has noticed that people become justified by faith in Jesus before understanding many basics of theology, however this awareness has become a misplaced mission to pare down truth into a single passage, one precise formula for salvation. Those who select 1 Cor. 15 as "the gospel" have followed in that thinking and are just as rigid, but it makes even less sense. The synthesis camp offers truth. The promise-only camp offers life. Unless God shows up while preaching either gospel, preaching the Holy Spirit as the heart of these gospels, it's only a fight over decaying leftovers.
Perhaps there is a reason I do not yet understand, but I do not know why three times at the last GES conference I listened to presenters say that the offer of "eternal life" is nowhere to be found in the Book of Acts. They are trying to fathom the reason why. It does not yet make sense to me, because the promise-only content of saving faith is right there in Acts chapter one, but with an alternate term, the "Holy Spirit." Acts 1:4-8,
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”Why is this passage only referring to unique phenomena in the origination of the Church? Abraham was promised "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3), and he was promised to inherit the land, as sons of God, which is exactly the difference from Judaism the Galatian church was failing to appropriate. Galatians 3:5-9,
Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.Nothing too "Pentecostal" about that; it's sturdy old-fashioned blessing from God. We can believe in this one and the same promise for ourselves and the world. Miracles are our future. If God is restoring everything in the world and everything concerning our lives, we have endless fodder for expecting a miracle according to the hope set forth in the gospel - even if it is deferred hope for the age of resurrection. One day, God will wipe every tear from our eye; why can't we encourage the unsaved to believe "God is able" in any aspect of their life, whatever they are focused on today? Abraham received a mix of fulfilled and deferred promises and such faith blesses God. Do we believe anymore in the power of God?
Give Them Spiritual Life
As you preach the gospel, your underlying orientation as evangelist is to have them receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Trust the Spirit to point Himself out for the sake of making the lost person jealous and thirsty when you preach scripture. What is the demonstration of the Holy Spirit? Each one of us were given spiritual gifts according to the measure of Christ. These gifts are involuntary super-blessings in "the gift" of eternal life.
Let me share a story. There was this person I wanted to share the gospel with, so before I began I said to her genuinely, "I am completely certain [and I was] that God wants to do something for you, to show you that He is real and that He loves you. Do you believe in God?" Then I proceeded to review the gospel essentials and said, "But maybe no one has ever asked you if you personally believe the promise of God, that Jesus died for your sins and was raised with power and wants to give you a gift of Spiritual life." Then I reviewed with her current need she had just confided. Her spouse had not been living at home for several months because of legal trouble. She wanted it to stop, and we prayed for God to help. The next day, the charges against him were dropped! He was able to return to his family.
The Abide-With-God Gospel
"Assurance is the essence of saving faith." Do you ever wonder why when people first get saved they are excited about God even though they know nothing... and then a few months afterward they hear something challenging and begin to think they had not really been saved at all, and begin a quest to obtain it from formulas? Because they had believed, and then lost, the avenue (the Way) to obtain assurance. Help them retrace their steps desiring that son-ship like Job's final counselor.
When a promise-only person preaches the promise of eternal life by faith, they are really telling the unsaved "abide with God through faith." When a biblical-synthesis gospel person preaches Jesus died for sins and was raised again, portraying Christ crucified on the cross, they portray a God who has done everything necessary so that we may approach God; they also are telling the unsaved "abide with God through faith." When someone is first saved, they are ALWAYS in a state of abiding with Jesus by faith - not just justified. Obviously, there is no fellowship barrier between God and man when the Holy Spirit regenerates and comes in to dwell with a cleansed sinner; therefore they are also abiding!
We fight over the scraps of assurance through scriptural formulas; meanwhile the abiding believer is feasting on it.
God is so gracious to us in Jesus Christ! If we have the privilege of evangelizing pre-sons of God, acknowledge them as such! With the proper disposition of an unsaved man, the "desert island scenario" would be sufficient. Luke 11:11-13
"If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”When lacking a proper disposition in the unsaved, or with the religious, preach the full testimony of Jesus Christ's person and work, that they might understand their need for God, the opportunity for son-ship, and seek His gift.
You heard of the Life of Jesus.
You heard of the Truth of Jesus.
Their essence is in the Way of Jesus!
 Zane C. Hodges, How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: Our Invitation to Respond. JOTGES, 2001.
 Zane C. Hodges, How to Lead People to Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation to Respond. JOTGES, 2001. (Excerpted from section "VI: Inviting People to Believe"):
"Hopefully, Ralph says that he does. If he says he doesn’t, I will ask him, "What seems to still puzzle you, Ralph?"
At this point, experience suggests that I will often get a question like this: "Do you mean that if I believe in Jesus for eternal life, that I can go out and do anything I want and still go to heaven?"
I am always pleased to hear this question, because it signals to me that the person is getting the idea that this is a gift and that it is not withdrawn if we behave badly.
My usual way of responding to the question is that being born again is like being born into a family. After that, we are always members of that family, even if we are scoundrels. But if we have good parents, they are not going to let us run wild. They will discipline and correct us and do their best to get us on the right path. Then I point out that, after we get eternal life, God is our heavenly Father and He is the best Parent we could imagine. He will not let us run wild. He will spank us, if need be, and may even take our physical lives away. But Jesus will never cast us out of God’s family."
How Much We Need Need (part 5)
How Much We Need Need (part 4)
How Much We Need Need (part 3)
How Much We Need Need (part 2)
How Much We Need Need (part 1)
How Much We Need Need (introduction)