Salvation Through Doctrine or Christ?
I've been getting into trouble lately. It all started when I asked myself the simple question, "What did the apostles preach when they presented the gospel to non-believers?" When I started to read the Book of Acts, with this question in mind, one of the first things I noticed was that the apostles overwhelmingly put the focus on the resurrection of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life. This got me into trouble with my liberal Christian readers because I refused to reduce the gospel to "let's all work together to make the world a better place." A few commented that I was de-emphasizing the life and teachings of Jesus. Go figure.
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The second thing I noticed was that there's no record in the Book of Acts of the apostles insisting on a Jesus-is-God litmus test before they accepted people into the fold. In fact, more often than not, they emphasized the humanity of Jesus in their preaching and yet, we're explicitly told that those that heard and believed their message were saved. (Two striking examples of this are Acts 13:38-39,48 and Acts 17:30-33) This led me to think that maybe we should focus on leading people to Jesus first and to doctrine second. I asked, "Are we saved by doctrine or saved by Jesus?" This got me into trouble with my conservative Christian friends even though I insisted that I'm not denying the deity of Christ.
So to set the record straight, here's a summary of a short message I gave a couple of weeks ago to a mixed crowd of believers and non-believers:
I began with the simple Bible story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. He was a nobody. Even though the crowd was following Jesus, they tried to hinder blind Bartimaeus from coming to Jesus by telling him to "Be quiet!". This is what religious people still do today. Maybe in the past you've been interested in Jesus, but you kept bumping into his followers pushing you aside and treating you like a nobody -- so you decided to give up on the pursuit of Jesus altogether. Bartimeaus could have done that, but instead he threw aside his garment, the symbol of all the things that were holding him back, and he came to Jesus.
Jesus healed Bartimeaus that day. He asked him a simple question, "What would you like me to do for you?" I ask you today, "What would you like Jesus to do for you?" Do you need healing, provision, or forgiveness? Jesus can do all of these things for you. There's such thing as spiritual blindness, and Jesus can take care of that too. We need more Jesus and less Christianity. Jesus always preferred to hang out with sinners than with religious people, so he'd probably prefer to hang out with you more than he would with me.
Jesus died on the cross for sinners. He rose again on the third day. The resurrection of Jesus gives me hope that one day God is going to make everything right in the world. Because Jesus is alive, he is able to grant you forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Come to Jesus today.
So there you have it. Aaron's gospel if you will. Are there things I left out or could have said better? Probably. Can God use imperfect people to accomplish his purposes? Definitely. Can God use imperfect theologies to draw people to a loving relationship with Jesus the Messiah? I think so. But then again ... I could be wrong. I sincerely hope I'm not.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of Alone with A Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron's ministry, go to www.aarondtaylor.com. To follow Aaron on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/aarondtaylor. Aaron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.