Years ago I debated a Church of Christ pastor. He said to be born again a person must believe in Christ, repent of his sins, obey Christ, confess his sins, and be baptized for the remission of his sins. I asked him, “Is there a passage in the NT that lists all five of those things.” He said there was not. “Doesn’t that bother you?” His reply was that God expects us to study His entire Word, not just a small portion, so that didn’t bother him at all.
Recently I had a conversation with a pastor who considers himself Free Grace who believes that the sole condition of eternal life is faith, but that what we must believe is quite extensive. I couldn’t even get him to give me a list of all that one must believe to be born again. When I pressed further he implied that we must believe everything the New Testament teaches about Jesus in order to be born again.
How then do we know that our list of all we must believe is complete if God Himself doesn’t give us a clear statement of what is required? It would seem that we would always wonder if we believed enough to be saved.
A friend of mine calls this doctrinal legalism. I call it scavenger hunt salvation without a list.
A Scavenger Hunt without a List
Imagine a scavenger hunt in which people are sent out with a dictionary and told “Everything you will need to win the hunt is in this book. I can’t tell you which things you will need, or even how many you will need. Just go out and get the things which you believe will make you the winner.” What would you think?
That is the way many view the saving message. They think that God gave us the Bible, but that He never in one single place told us what we must do to be born again. Of course, an unbeliever can seek out people who might be able to guide him to the right elements, but how does anyone know what the right elements are if there is no passage? The best anyone can do is suggest things which he believes are important. Of course, if God did tell us what we must do, then such an approach is needlessly frustrating and may actually keep the unbeliever from believing and being born again.
God Tells Us Clearly What We Must Do
God is not unjust. It would be unjust to provide for our salvation by removing the sin barrier via the cross and then not tell us clearly what we must do to be saved. There is really one thing we must believe to be born again and it’s summed up in three words: believe, Jesus, and (everlasting) life. To be born again, eternally saved, all one needs to do is believe that Jesus Christ guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him for it. John 3:16 says that. So does John 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-27; and a host of other passages.
But Things I Think Are Vital
Aren’t on God’s List
What about the virgin birth, the Trinity, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, Jesus’ sinless life, Jesus’ miracles, the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, the convicting work of the Spirit, the hypostatic union, and so on?
Knowing these things certainly makes it easier to believe in Jesus for eternal life. But does it follow that we must believe these things to be saved? No. We know this because the apostles didn’t believe these things when they were born again. And neither did Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the men of Sychar, and others who are given in John as examples of how people are born again today.
Do we denigrate these things because we don’t say one must believe them to be born again? No. Every word of God is wonderful and invaluable (2 Tim 3:16-17), but not every Biblical truth is a condition of eternal life.
But the Gospel Has Changed
Since Jesus Ministered
It is hard to believe that there are people who are convinced that Jesus’ method of evangelism is now ineffective. They reason that since when Jesus evangelized He hadn’t yet died and risen from the dead, the message He proclaimed is now passé. They say that the progress of revelation shows that now people must believe more to be born again. Here are three reasons why this is faulty thinking.
First, the Gospel of John was written at least ten years after Jesus rose from the dead and it says that the way Jesus evangelized is still effective today. There is no hint anywhere in John’s Gospel that the saving message changed after Jesus died and rose again.
Second, Jesus is Lord. He knew He was going to die on the cross for the sins of the world and He knew He would rise from the dead on the third day. And He knew that the way He evangelized would be recorded in John’s Gospel to tell us what we must believe to have eternal life. He could have shared that all who believe in Him, plus His virgin birth, plus His eternal Sonship, plus His sinless life, plus His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, plus His bodily resurrection on the third day, plus X, Y, Z have eternal life. But He did not. The Lord Jesus shared the essential message for all times, not just for the time up until He died and rose again. And He said the object of our faith is He Himself. He said, “I am the life” (John 11:25-26; 14:6). He promised everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him.
Third, if the evangelistic message changed, how do we now determine what the new message is? We come up with the problem mentioned above. Where is the passage that tells us what this new saving message is? For that matter, where is the passage that tells us that the message Jesus gave to the lost no longer works?
Beware of scavenger hunt salvation. The Lord made the saving message very clear indeed. John 3:16 is simple enough that even a child can believe it and be born again. Many have.
People may ask questions after we share the simple message of John 3:16. This then gives us the opportunity to answer their questions using the Word of God. If our answers help them to believe in Jesus for eternal life, that is fantastic. But we must never assume that since our answer helped a person to believe the message of John 3:16 that the answer is now part of what a person must believe to be born again.