I don’t know if it is true or not, but many years ago I was told that the Treasury Department has a specific way of training agents involved in preventing counterfeit money. They do not train them by showing them different examples of illegal currency. Instead, they spend thousands of hours studying what authentic money looks like. Once they know what the real thing looks like, they can spot the counterfeit when they see it.
I was reminded of this story recently when my adult daughter told me about a ministry she is involved in. She leads a Bible study of young middle schoolers. The average age is around 13. They all come from unchurched homes and have little to no Biblical training. The gospel of grace had never been explained to them.
What my daughter does is spend the first several studies showing them the gospel of grace. She goes over verses like John 3:16, John 5:24, John 11:25-26, and Eph 2:8-9. Over and over again they discuss how Jesus promises eternal life as a free gift. There are no works involved: before, during, or after. It is a life that can never end and can never be lost. When they believe in the promise of eternal life, they know they have it. To put it simply, they study the real thing. They get a good look at it.
What happens in later studies was a pleasant surprise to me. These young people have never studied things like repentance, Lordship salvation, and the supposed difference between things like head faith and heart faith. But after they understand the gospel of grace, my daughter will have a study on repentance. She will ask them what they think repentance means. They will say things like, “feeling sorry for doing bad things,” or “stop doing bad things.”
My daughter will then ask them if repentance is necessary to live with Jesus forever. The answer is consistently “no.” They will say that they don’t know the role repentance plays in the life of the Christian, but clearly it is not a requirement to be saved from hell. John 3:16, John 5:24, and Eph 2:8-9 make it clear that believing in Jesus for eternal life is the only requirement.
What is perhaps even more amazing is when my daughter asks them about James 2. She will ask them what they think James is saying. What does “dead faith” mean? The common response takes a little while. They will often admit that they do not know what James means. They certainly don’t know about the objector in 2:18-19! But they always say that James is not saying we have to work to “go to heaven.” That would go against what Jesus has promised us.
How refreshing to hear such things! Even though they don’t know all the counterfeit gospels out there, they know the real thing. They can spot the fakes. Once they understand that eternal life is free by God’s grace, they understand, even at that age, that you can’t add works to it.
And how encouraging this is for those of us involved in proclaiming that message of grace. If we make it clear, if we show them the beauty of it, they will know the ugly imposters when they see them.