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Last Update:  11/2013

The Good News of the Gospel 

Gospel literally means “good news” and the good news of the gospel is to stop trusting in what you do and begin to trust in what Jesus Christ already accomplished because anything else is a false gospel.  It is natural to believe we must do something to earn the favor of God, to be accepted and gain eternal life.  However, the gospel not only declares Jesus as essential for salvation, but He is enough for salvation.  To say you must do something to earn your eternal salvation is to say the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross for us was incomplete and unsatisfactory.  You unwittingly shift the glory from Jesus by stripping Him of His deity and glorify humanity to become your own savior when you approach salvation in this manner.  The gospel message becomes distorted and centered more on what humanity must do instead of being centered on Christ and what He has already done for us.

A Relationship of Trust and Faith 

When we sin, we are breaking trust with God.  A relationship of trusting love is the heart of the plan of redemption and not obedience to laws and ordinances.  This is the essence of faith - a trusting love of God and His promise of grace through faith.  If our relationship with God is centered on obedience to laws and ordinances, God does not have our love and our hearts and His plan is rejected.

The relationship of faith and grace is the same as works and law.  Grace and law are the fundamental doctrines, while faith and works are the vehicles we use in pursuit of those doctrines for a relationship with God.  A Christian’s fundamental doctrine of salvation is centered on the grace of God.  The Christian’s faith, his trusting love, is the vehicle used in pursuit of their relationship with God.  A Mormon’s fundamental doctrine of salvation is centered on works, laws and self-effort.  The Mormon’s work is the vehicle used in pursuit of their relationship with God.  Mormonism is extremely legalistic, which is exactly the views of the religious elite of Jesus' time and precisely what Paul and Jesus preached against.  Their message stripped the Jews of their pride and self-righteousness which had been fueled by striving for acceptance by God through laws and ordinances.  Their message and preaching of the cross offended the Jews pride from meticulous adherence to the letter of the law.

Grace vs. the Law

The book of Galatians is one of many areas of the gospel which speaks on this topic. Legalism is what Paul is speaking out against to the Judaizers and can be defined as Christ plus anything (works, moral effort, obedience to laws, etc.) to be justified or considered righteous before God. Paul’s message to the Galatians can be summed up as defending the true gospel of the gift of grace vs. earning God’s acceptance by our own obedience to laws, ordinances, effort and works. The Judaizers were not speaking against the need for Jesus, they were trying to teach Jesus is essential for salvation, but were subtly instituting laws and customs to advance into a greater acceptance of God (Galatians 3:1-5).  This is a common thread in the Mormon theology.

Paul warns the Galatians those who do this are following a different gospel than the one he preached, which is not another gospel at all, and have lost their grasp of the gospel of Christ and therefore, have lost Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). Paul realizes just how important it is to not follow another gospel message because people’s eternal life hangs in the balance. This is noted by Paul’s warning in the next two verses in Galatians 1:8-9 where he warns not once but twice, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

Just like the Judaizers, Mormons combine laws, ordinances and a slew of other necessary works with grace to be justified and righteous before God.  This attempt at self-justification by adding self-righteous efforts not only distorts the gospel of grace, but is not a gospel at all.  According to Paul, those who add anything to the gospel of grace are cursed and have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).  If that is not enough to deal with, God also informs us He will send them powerful delusions to continue to believe the lies (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Justification and Righteousness

Remember, righteousness is essentially one’s performance record.  Many Christians would define justification as being forgiven or pardoned by God, to be declared righteous before God.  This definition does not capture the full meaning of the word though. Being forgiven is a negative and has to do with the dismissal of one’s guilt.  Tim Keller said, “Justification is a positive and is the bestowal of a status with all the rights, privileges and benefits pertaining there unto.”  Sir Marcus Loane contrasted forgiveness and justification when he said, “The voice that spells forgiveness will say: ‘You may go; you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.’  But the verdict which means acceptance [justification] will say: ‘You may come; you are welcome to all my love and my presence.’”

Let’s now look at the application of justification and righteousness in the gospel.  In Romans 3:22-24 we read, “Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” Paul is declaring the righteousness of God is freely bestowed upon all through faith in Jesus Christ. His perfect performance record is freely given to us through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. It is freely given because we have all sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23) no matter what works, good deeds or effort we try to put forth in an attempt to earn His acceptance. If we have been bestowed the righteousness of God, then we have eternal life and this knowledge radically changes us from within to not live for the flesh, but for Christ.

Let's look at another example.  Romans 5:19 says, “For as by one man's disobedience [Adam] many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Jesus] shall many be made righteous.”  Notice Paul does not say by the obedience of you and me, but the obedience of Jesus is what gives us our righteousness.  There is not a continuum of righteousness when it comes to what God allows.  There is the righteousness of Jesus and the righteousness of all others, and the righteousness of Jesus is the only level that gets you into heaven and it cannot be earned.  If it was something that could be earned, then you would have reason to boast in your own efforts.  It would make God a debtor to you and that is just not how salvation and grace work.

Motivation for Works: Selfless or Selfish?

Tim Keller gave a sermon which relayed a similar message that when we believe our good deeds and moral effort are worthy to present to God, they are not good and worthy. To clarify this though, you may believe your good deeds and moral effort should earn God’s favor and therefore receive blessings because you feel you have earned it. Think about this approach though. Your good deeds and moral effort, though not bad, are rooted in motivations of selfish desires done for your gain out of guilt or fear from the consequences and not done purely for the love of God. But when we believe our good deeds and moral effort are completely profitless because they were done purely out of our love for God, they are good because they were done selflessly to glorify God only and not done to earn God’s favor, which shifts the glory to human effort.

The motivation for your works, no matter how righteous they may appear, is to earn or receive something from God and this is the underlying problem in all our hearts. There is a great quote pertaining to this issue that says, “the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.” The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked above all things and in Proverbs 28:26 one who trusts in his heart is a fool.

When we try to add anything to the grace of Jesus Christ to be saved, our hearts are sown with seeds of self-righteousness and pride. We begin to look at others around us and within our church and compare the list of laws we are obedient to, the moral effort we put forth or the righteous deeds we do.  Deep down in our hearts, a part of us feels good when we see others not doing as much or being as obedient as we are. We begin to lift ourselves up and look down upon those who we feel we are out-performing. We gossip with others about those who are not living up to the standards we feel are what God requires. Before we know it, the sin of self-righteousness and pride has sprouted from our hearts and we strip God of His holy judgment and become judges ourselves.

This is the very reason why eternal salvation is solely and completely based on grace through faith in Jesus Christ and the work He did for us on the cross. If it were Jesus plus anything else, we would have reason to glory in or boast of our efforts which leads to a prideful heart and that is exactly what the gospel warns is several areas.

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Romans 3:27-28 “Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

Romans 4:2-3, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

In the book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says: “If…you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior“ (Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, p.38).

Being In Christ through following His Will

The gospel is constantly demonstrating there are two groups of people: those who are in Christ and those who are not in Christ; or another way, those who are saved and those who are perishing.  Jesus Christ was crucified so believers in Him will have eternal life in heaven. On the cross an exchange was made. Jesus took upon himself the past, present, and future sins of the world (1 John 2:2) satisfying the wrath of God so those who believe in Him can be clothed in His righteousness with a record as clean as Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why Christians want to share with others the freedom and peace which can be found in Christ alone. We lay our worries and burdens at the foot of the cross so we may do the will of the Lord (John 6:40) and be selflessly obedient to the two great commandments on love (Matthew 22:36-40) and bring others to Christ.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Here we see people who believe they know Jesus and have done many wonderful works and even miracles in His name will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus could not be more clear with what it takes to get into heaven by saying it is only those who do the will of His Father. The will of the Father is plainly stated in John 6:39-40 which says, “And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”  For all who believe on Jesus will have everlasting life and He says He loses nothing! We are eternally secure in Christ once we trust His shed blood alone saves us.  

Resurrection or Heaven? 

Mormonism teaches the atonement of Jesus only guarantees everyone a resurrection (regardless of belief) and our eternal destination is based on our righteousness, works and obedience to laws.  However, John 6:40 states only those who believe will be raised to everlasting life (not everyone is included so it can't be a resurrection).  So the context here is our eternal destination because the Bible teaches all will be raised, but only those who believe in the work of Jesus on the cross alone for their salvation will inherit everlasting life (heaven).

Jesus' sacrifice does not only raise us at the last day as Mormonism teaches, but when the gospel is studied in context, it reveals so much more than this verse alone states.  Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:5-6 "Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus:"

When we place our trust in Christ alone for our eternal life, He not only raises us from the dead, but seats us with Him in heaven and we are just awaiting the redemption of His purchase.  This is why the gospel is good news because we are all dead in sin.  We are not weakened by sin, but dead, meaning there is nothing we can do about it.  This is a qualification to eternal life - being dead, dead to all methods of justification through personal righteousness and laws.  It is the perfect performance record of Christ alone which allows us to have eternal life in heaven and that is a gift which is given to those who put their trust in His finished work on the cross (Romans 5:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  This is what makes grace "amazing grace," because it is an unmerited free gift from God.

Ephesians 1:13-14 states “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”

Paul lays out the steps to salvation in that we first hear the word ,then we trust the word.  Then Paul informs us only those who take these first two steps are then sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise who is the earnest, or guarantee, of our inheritance.  This is important to understand because only those who hear the word and believe the word (trust in the work of Jesus alone on the cross for your salvation and not in your own works) will be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.  To be sealed by the Holy Spirit denotes ownership; we are now owned by Christ, receiving the seal, or guarantee, of our inheritance.  Notice there is no mention of works, obedience to laws and ordinances, baptism, laying on of the hands, etc. to be found here.  By believing in Christ’s finished work on the cross alone, we are guaranteed our place in heaven and the presence of the Holy Spirit is our promise.  This is why a Christian has peace and liberty knowing at this very moment heaven awaits because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).  What a burden to carry through life not having this guarantee and the peace and liberty it provides.

Amazing Grace

The Bible tells us the only way to God is through Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). It reveals to us if you try to earn your eternal salvation through works of righteousness, obedience to laws and ordinances, then you better keep the whole law and never fail at one point or you will be guilty of the whole law (James 2:10). This is a curse to men because it is an impossible feat (Galatians 3:10). This is why God came down to save the world and redeem us from this curse in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:13) as He became a curse for us. He redeemed us and purchased us, meaning a price was paid - the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). This is why grace is not cheap grace to a Christian, but it is amazing and costly grace because it cost the life of our Lord, the only One who could save us from our sins.

An important distinction to make here is when Jesus purchased us by his sacrifice on the cross, He did not just refinance our debt, His payment satisfied the need for mercy and demands of justice. The need for mercy was a gift of grace for all who have faith and put their trust in Christ. God’s righteous demand of justice was satisfied through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice for all sin for all-time.  The word “propitiation” means the complete and satisfactory payment by way of atoning sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a complete and satisfactory payment for the sins of the world based on the holy standards of God to turn his wrath against us.

1 John 2:2 “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.”

1 John 4:10 “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.”

Romans 3:25 “Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;”

Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Would the yolk be easy and the burden be light if we were trying to earn our salvation based on our moral effort, good deeds, and obedience to laws and ordinances when, if we stumble at one point in the law, we are guilty of the entire law (James 2:10)? Of course not! This is why Christians sing of amazing grace because God did for us through Jesus Christ that which we could not do for ourselves. And Jesus Christ never stumbled as He vicariously bore our sins so we may have the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our Transformation into Christ

Understanding the curse we are under as a human race due to the sin that was imputed to us from Adam (Romans 5:12) is extremely important because we are born into and are slaves to sin (Romans 6). We are all in sin no matter how perfect you or I try to be or how much we repent. That is the carnal nature of man. As bad as that sounds there is great news for sinners.

Romans 5:8-21 states, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life… Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:… Therefore as by the offence of one [judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When you come to understand the nature of sin, that we are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:5), and the only thing which can free us from that curse is the successful work on the cross of Jesus Christ, it is an extremely humbling experience and transformation that occurs within you. Remember, Paul chose his words very carefully here to declare us dead in sin, meaning there is nothing we can do to change it. This is why God was manifested in the flesh as Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 3:16) to rescue us, because if there was something we could do to help rescue ourselves then that law would have been put in place (Galatians 3:21). This transformation frees you from the chains of sin and into Christ. Once this transformation occurs we then demonstrate our faith by our works so others can see a living faith in Christ and not ourselves.

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Romans 12:2 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Now that faith is here we are no longer under supervision to the law (Galatians 3:25). We can be made free in the grace of Christ by our complete faith and trust in Him. 

Charles Spurgeon concisely explained it by saying, “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.”

Members of the Mormon Church typically regard the Christian view of grace as cheap grace because Mormons don’t understand what the gospel reveals regarding grace and what a true saving faith looks like.  They feel this will not work for people because all they have to do is believe in Jesus and they can do whatever they want because they have a license to sin.  It is interesting when they make statements such as these they essentially quote the gospel without knowing it.  If this is your belief and understanding of grace then you should ask yourself if you have truly trusted in Christ and been born again by the Holy Spirit.  Romans 6:1-2, 15 proclaims once you are in Christ there is no license to sin so that grace may erase it.  When someone comes to Christ by having faith on him it is not a simple belief in Him.  It is a complete trust in Him that faith in His shed blood alone redeems us and it transforms us from within. 

Paul’s Transformation into Christ

In Philippians 3:3-10, Paul exclaims we should have no confidence in our flesh, meaning our own efforts, deeds, and righteous works in being obedient to laws. His example is the Jewish cultural custom of circumcision, which was what identified you with God’s chosen people. Paul says the real circumcision is not this physical mutilation of the body, but the circumcision of the heart. People of true circumcision are one’s who do not place their confidence in the flesh, meaning to trust in their own ability by works to be righteous before God. People who place their confidence in Christ alone for their eternal salvation are the true circumcision.

Paul then goes on to say if there were anyone who has the pedigree and was qualified to be righteous before God based on obedience to the law and effort though works and deeds it was him. He describes his former life as a Pharisee, showing he had zealously been obedient to the laws, was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and had achieved the highest standard of righteousness there was according to his peers. Thought the standard in the eyes of his peers was met and likely made him feel good, this standard was far short of God’s holy standard.

Paul says everything he gained through the flesh (his works, moral effort, and obedience) he now counts or regards it as a loss for Christ. His confidence in the works of the flesh has been completely discarded and replaced solely by confidence in Jesus Christ and His work. Paul glorifies a personal knowledge of and relationship with Jesus who is now the central driving force in his life.  This is what a person looks and thinks like who has been transformed by Christ.