Every Sunday, millions of Christians hear a confusing gospel message.
I’m not talking about a false gospel message.
A false gospel is where everlasting life is made to depend on faith plus. Faith plus love. Faith plus fasting. Faith plus baptism. Faith plus repentance. Faith plus belonging to this or that denomination. Faith plus circumcision. Faith plus [insert condition here]. Millions hear false gospels every Sunday too.
What I’m concerned about here are confusing gospel messages.
Confusing gospel messages take the one condition of everlasting life—i.e., to believe in Jesus for it—and then fudge up the nature of faith.
For example, consider Robert H. Gundry’s discussion of John 3:15-16.
“Everyone believing” occurs twice to emphasize the universality of the gospel: the invitation is open to all. Because of the statement, “In him was life”…the phrase “in him” here in 3:16 probably describes the location where eternal life is to be found. In 3:16 a similar phrase (slightly different in John’s original Greek though translated the same in English) indicates Jesus as the object of believing for eternal life. To believe in him (more literally, “into him”) is to entrust yourself into his hand (compare 10:28…)” (Commentary on the New Testament, p. 362, emphasis added).
Sigh. It was going so well, then…pffft.
The difficulty here is how Gundry defines what it means to believe in Jesus. “To believe in him (more literally, “into him”) is to entrust yourself into his hand…”
What does that mean?
Let’s be clear about what the right answer is. To believe in Jesus means being persuaded that what He promises is true. Jesus’s says, “I’m going to do this, ” and you say, “Yep, I believe it, Lord.”
But Gundry makes the condition confusing by redefining faith to mean, “to entrust yourself in his hand.”
Now, in a different context, that might make for good poetic language. You don’t want to keep saying the same things over and over again, so maybe in the course of an evangelistic presentation, after having talked about “belief” a hundred times or so, you’ll want to switch things up and use metaphors for faith to keep people interested. For example, the Gospel of John uses the images of “drinking living water” (John 4:14) or “eating” Jesus’ “flesh and blood” (John 6:56) as metaphors for faith. It’s possible, I suppose, after already explaining that the one condition of everlasting life is to believe in Jesus, you could say, “and that’s like entrusting ourselves into His hand.”
But you don’t lead with that definition.
And you don’t make that your definition of faith, either in general, or in John 3:16.
That’s not what “faith” is.
Think of it this way. What time is it? If you believe it is 5pm, are you “entrusting yourself in #5’s hands”? No. Or if you believe that Canada is north of the US, are you “entrusting yourself in Canada’s hands”? Nope. Do you have a mortgage? Whether you do, or don’t, does your belief about it mean entrusting yourself in someone or something’s hands? Of course not. That’s a terrible definition of faith.
Instead, you are either persuaded that it’s 5 pm, or not, that Canada is north of the US, or not; or that you have a mortgage or not. It’s “yes” or “no” to those propositions.
Now, imagine if you’re an ordinary person, sitting in the pew, hearing the Gospel for the first time, and someone like Gundry tells you that in order to be saved, you need to entrust yourself into Jesus’ hand. What would you make of that?
What would you think “entrust yourself into his hand” means?
How do you do it?
And how do you know if you’ve done it?
Is there a sliding scale to “entrusting”? That is, can you entrust yourself to Him, but not quite get “into his hand”?
At what point have you entrusted yourself enough to know that you’re in His hands or not, and have everlasting life? And how do you know if you’re in his hand or not?
Can you see why it would get confusing?
Believing in Jesus, means being persuaded that Jesus’ promise is true. It means being sure that Jesus not only has the power to do what He promises, but that He keeps His promises to you. In other words, it means believing that you have everlasting life because that’s what Jesus promised you’d have if you believe in Him for it.
Christianity is for common people, simple people. Please, don’t be confusing. Be clear. Lives are on the line, especially when it comes to telling people about the one condition of everlasting life. Let “faith” be “faith” and “belief” be “belief,” and help free people from the bondage of a confusing gospel message.