The answer to the great question of how to be saved was supposed to be easy. When I was a kid, they said to “invite Jesus into your heart.” It sounded good, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. To be honest, I still have no clue what that means — inviting Jesus into your heart?
As I got older, the answer became to confess your sin, ask for forgiveness and pledge your faith in Jesus. That was a simple enough process — Romans 3:23, then Romans 6:23, then Romans 5:8, and finally Romans 10:13. Tack on a quick prayer and you’re saved.
When I became a pastor, I was guilted into accepting the responsibility to teach everyone how to get others to say the “Sinner’s Prayer.” You know the one where you say something like, “Lord, I admit I am a sinner. I accept your death as the penalty for my sin and recognize that your mercy and grace is a gift you offer to me because of your great love, not based on anything I have done. Cleanse me and make me your child. By faith I receive you into my heart as the Son of God and as Savior and Lord of my life. In your precious name, amen.”
It soon became apparent this was a big task. First, I had to convince people, many of them too shy to speak to a stranger, that God wanted them to approach people with a clear, presentation of the gospel. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I wasn’t any more comfortable, but I occasionally mustered the courage to give it a shot.
Once I found a weak-minded believer who was willing to learn the process, it was necessary to spend several hours teaching them how to do better than Paul’s 81 words from the Roman Road. It usually required memorizing multiple pages of script and Scripture. It often felt like it would be easier to find the Holy Grail than to explain how to be saved.
“Once I found a weak-minded believer who was willing to learn the process, it was necessary to spend several hours teaching them how to do better than Paul’s 81 words from the Roman Road.”
After some time, it got frustrating. There has to be a better way. Finally, I did what I should have done from the outset: I decided to see how Jesus would answer the question of how to be saved if he was ever asked. Sure enough, there it was. You know the story. A young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19:16). That’s close enough.
This man was accustomed to getting what he wanted; the rich always do. Also, he already had tried the religious route, professing that he kept the rules his entire life. This would be akin to a wealthy deacon coming into the preacher’s office with a question about salvation and the preacher reaches into his seminary bag of tricks. Out comes the plan of salvation. The problem is that the deacon already has been down that religious road and it wasn’t enough. Jesus knew that. He corrected the man’s thinking, casting aside all the religious stuff and told him salvation is simple. He had to get rid of all his stuff because it was what the man served; most rich men do. Once that was out of the way, all he had to do was follow Jesus.
God, the creator of man, always has sought to have communion with man. The Bible says God spent time with the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the garden. However, after they violated God’s one prohibition, they hid from God and ended up being excluded from the garden. Their sin broke their communion with God.
God’s love for humans never changed. Like a parent with a wayward child, God anxiously waited for mankind to return home. It didn’t happen for thousands of years (time is not that meaningful to God), so God had to do something to bring us back home for fellowship.
It was clear that humans did not come home because we didn’t fully understand God’s love. Therefore, God did the most loving thing possible — God sent God’s own Son (himself in a human body) to tell man what God is really like.
“God did the most loving thing possible — God sent God’s own Son (himself in a human body) to tell man what God is really like.”
Jesus told a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it to vine-growers (Matthew 21). At harvest time, he sent servants to collect his portion, but the tenants beat and killed the servants. Two times he sent servants, and two times they were rebuffed. Finally, he chose to send his son, thinking they would respect him. Instead, realizing the son was the heir, they killed him to take the inheritance for themselves.
At the conclusion of the story, Jesus quoted their own Scriptures to the listeners, specifically Psalm 118:22, which says, “A stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The religious leaders did to God’s Son the same thing the tenants in Jesus’ story did to the vineyard owner’s son.
Jesus knew he was going to die at the hands of men. He gave himself willingly because the message of God’s love compelled him to give everything so men would understand. The cross was not an altar used by God to pay for sin. God didn’t need restitution for sin. All God wanted was for humanity to come home.
In another of his stories, Jesus told of the prodigal son who left his father’s home thinking he would be better off. He wasn’t. After “he came to his senses” (Luke 12:17), he realized his father’s house was the best place for him. His plan was to throw himself at his father’s feet, confess his sin and beg for forgiveness.
However, before he could say anything, the father saw him coming, ran down the road to greet him, embraced and kissed him. The son quickly asked for forgiveness, but the way the story is told, the father wasn’t even listening; he was planning a party. “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found” (Luke 12:24). Then they partied.
“That is the gospel. God loves you and is waiting for you to come home.”
That is the gospel. God loves you and is waiting for you to come home. Don’t bring an offering, don’t get your life straight, don’t mend fences; just go to the Father.
Jesus said, “Everyone who believes will have eternal life” (John 3:15). That’s why Jesus frequently called people to follow him. He wanted them to see God, to know God’s love. When we know Jesus, we know God.
The gospel is simple. Jesus will lead you to where life is best for you. Follow him, and you will be saved.
We prefer to boil the gospel down to a simple formula that can be memorized, repeated and easily shared. It makes life easier. Following Jesus can be messy; Jesus himself was messy much of the time. He enjoyed “sinners,” broke rules, spoke out against religious leaders, wasn’t much of a “church-goer.” Following Jesus can be an adventure, and most of us prefer something more comfortable.
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.
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