Asking the Wrong Question in Salvation

“So you mean I can do whatever I want and still be a Christian?” I’ve been asked that question numerous times when sharing the gospel. It’s a hard question to answer and mostly, up until recently, I would answer with a “Yes, but.” sort of vague statement. Yes, technically, grace covers all of your sins, post salvation. But you shouldn’t think this way because you should live for Jesus out of appreciation for what He did for you.

But I’m finding that’s a terrible response to an even more terrible question. And I think rather than answering someone’s question of “Can I do what I want and still be a Christian?,” we should tell them that the question they are asking belies something more troubling in their heart. Because if a seeking person needs this question answered before he will put his faith in Christ, then it reveals how fraudulent that faith might be.

You can look all through the New Testament and never once find this question either asked or answered. Yes, the gospel is free. There are no works involved in salvation. And yet, the gospel is never framed as “Come to Jesus and you can keep sinning.” When Jesus evangelized Nicodemus in John 3, he spoke of regeneration, that once Nicodemus had acknowledged his sinfulness and need for a Savior, something would happen inside. He’d be regenerated. He would change.

Acceptance of the gospel requires humility. We’re told often in Scripture that God “resists the proud” but “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). Why? Because only a humbled and desperate person will see their utter depravity, their inability to save themselves, and their need for mercy. Pride says, “I’m not really all that bad. I kind of like the sinful life I’m living. But if I can get into Heaven for free and keep sinning, I’ll take that deal.” That’s not saving faith. That’s negotiating with God. Salvation is not negotiation. Salvation is an offer, given by God, freely. It was purchased at high cost because your sin and my sin are an aggregious offense to a holy God.

The question you ask when confronted with the gospel reveals the true nature of your heart. Asking “Can I live as I please and still go to Heaven?” reveals pride and an unwillingness to bow. It’s the posture of a negotiator. But, the question asked by the Phillippian jailer to Paul and Silas reveals a posture of humility, “What must I do to be saved?” He’s desperate. He’s helpless. He knows He needs a supernatural, divine intervention to rescue him from his life of sin.

We must be careful when articulating the gospel. The gospel is free. Jesus did it all. You do nothing to earn it. You simply believe that Jesus Christ is enough to pay the penalty for your sin. But to come to this place, you must actually believe that your sin is bad, is tragic, is something not worth hanging on to, but something you want Jesus to rescue you from. Every single place you find the gospel articulated in the New Testament, you see given not only the free offer, but also what the gospel calls you to. Jesus wants you to come as you are, yes, but He has rescued you so you don’t have to stay the way you are.

That is why the questions we ask are important. They are vital. And those of us tasked with sharing this beautiful message of salvation in Christ must not give people what they want to hear from the gospel, but we must give them what they need: Jesus.

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2 Comments

  1. Darryl says:

    Such a simple but profound answer. I have been asked this before. Thanks for your insight!

  2. Adam Shields says:

    I think that Scot McKnight’s book King Jesus Gospel details some correction for this. While I think you are getting to the same end. I think he would suggest that the problem slightly different than the way you approach it. For him, the issue is that the gospel is not about salvation, but about Christ as Lord. Salvation is a response to the gospel, not the gospel itself.

    I think he would respond to this type of question by saying that what a person is doing by becoming a Christian is submitting to Christ as Lord and Ruler. So while we are all sinners and will continue to rebel against Christ as Lord, what we are doing when we continue to sin is rejecting Christ.

    The question is not “can I be forgiven” but can I submit.