Building on the Right Foundation
by Virgil Holt
I am a missionary working with New Tribes Mission, a grace-oriented organization, in Mexico. Although our mission works primarily among tribal people, my ministry is to challenge and train Mexican believers as missionaries. Therefore I am involved a great deal in the local church here in Chihuahua. Some time ago I asked a number of people in the little mission church we were attending to explain to me how they came to know the Lord. Without exception, the focus of their testimonies was how they stopped drinking, smoking, dancing, and so forth. Not one mentioned the finished work of Christ on his or her behalf!
I was shocked by their responses and since then I've listened carefully to other people's testimonies. The pattern continues. The element of the finished work of Christ is usually either missing completely or mixed in with what they had done, or had quit doing, to be saved.
I was alarmed! Could it be that many people have never really understood the Gospel? Could it be that the foundation of grace so vital to our growth as Christians is weak or missing?
As a result of these questions, I find myself in a difficult position when these people decide they want to be trained as missionaries. I fear that to prepare missionaries, we must first go back and "re-lay" the foundation of their understanding of the Gospel.
I think Trevor McIlwain states it well:
The Gospel is not about the change which needs to be made in us, and it does not take place within us. It was completed by Christ, quite apart from us, almost two thousand years ago…The Gospel is not man accepting Jesus as his Savior, but that God accepted the Lord Jesus as the perfect and only Savior two thousand years ago. The Gospel is not man giving his heart or his life to Jesus, but that Christ gave His life, His whole being, in the place of sinners. The Gospel is not man receiving Christ into his heart, but that God received the Lord Jesus into Heaven as the mediator of sinners. The Gospel is not Christ enthroned in the human heart, but that God enthroned the Lord Jesus at His right hand in Heaven.1
It's unfortunate when our presentation of the Gospel becomes man-centered. The Word of God is crystal clear that fallen man is totally incapable of pleasing God. It is only the precious blood of the Lamb of God that can satisfy God's holiness. The person who comes to Him with hands completely empty of his or her own merit, but trusting completely in the finished work of Christ, is the one who will be saved.
There is a second effect of this "faulty foundation." To me it is equally alarming! It regards spiritual growth. Colossians 2:6 begins: "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." If a person's salvation is based even in part on the good he does, or the bad he doesn't do, he will likely base his spiritual growth on his own merely human efforts in the flesh and not on grace. However, if he comes to Christ having trusted in His complete and adequate sacrifice for sin, it follows that he will understand that "in my flesh dwells no good thing" (Rom 7:18). The believer will recognize that the flesh is judged to be dead on the cross with Christ, and that the life he now lives, is the life that Christ lives through him (Rom 6:3-11; Gal 2:20).
Until a believer leaves behind any hope of pleasing God by means of his flesh, he can't truly grow "in Christ." He merely makes his flesh conform to certain "Christian" activities. On the same basis that God must reject the works of our old man to save us, He will reject the works of our old man to sanctify us.
It's sad to say, but it is not only on the foreign field that people need to see these truths. We all need to get a firm grip on the truth that our Lord really meant it when He cried out from the cross, "It is finished!"2
We must all learn that our only righteousness is that which God has imputed to us through His Son. It is as we identify ourselves with Him in His death that we can also identify ourselves with Him in His resurrection. May God help us glorify Him by allowing the Spirit of God to live out the life of Jesus in us.
1Trevor McIlwain with Nancy Everson. Firm Foundations, Creation to Christ. (Sanford, FL: New Tribes Mission, 1991), 12-13.
2John 19:30. The Greek is just one word: telelestai. The perfect tense here connotes action completed in the past with lasting results.
Virgil Holt and his wife Jeri have been missionaries with New Tribes Mission since 1976. Virgil served with New Tribes Language Institute for 14 years where he trained English speaking missionaries. In 1990 the Holts moved to Chihuahua Mexico where they are presently establishing a training program to prepare Mexicn missionaries to reach tribal groups yet unreached with the Gospel.