“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
Faith in Christ is the gift of God. Faith in Christ is not hereditary. Faith in Christ cannot be produced by human logic or religious atmosphere. Faith in Christ is not the result of providential judgment, or even the terror of eternal damnation. Saving faith, true, heart faith in Christ is produced in the hearts of men by the gracious operation of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:19; 2:8-9; Col. 2:12).
In order for a sinner to trust the Lord Jesus Christ three things have got to happen: (1.) You must hear the gospel. No man will ever trust Christ until he hears the gospel preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 10:13-17). (2.) You must be born again. No man will ever trust the Lord Jesus Christ until he is regenerated, born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8). (3.) Christ must be revealed in you. — No sinner will ever trust the Son of God until he is revealed in his heart by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:15-16). Faith in Christ is produced by the revelation of Christ in the heart. As soon as a man sees Christ he will trust Christ.
But there are no prerequisites, conditions, or qualifications you must meet before you can trust Christ. Self-righteousness is like a pesky mole. Drive it out of one hole, and it will quickly find another. We have perhaps driven it out of the den of good works as a ground of hope before God. But it has found another hiding place. These dens of darkness have many names: “Fitness for Faith,” “Conditions of Conversion,” Suitability for Salvation,” and “Qualifications for Grace.” No matter what name you use, it is the same. The reasoning is this: “Salvation is by grace alone. It is not what you do, but what Christ has done that saves you. But, before you can trust Christ and be saved, you must be terrified with conviction, or you must weep and mourn over your sin, or you must desire holiness, or you must repent, or you must long after Christ, or you must come to see yourself as a lost sinner, or you must see and understand the doctrine of the gospel.”
This kind of doctrine may sound good to many, but it is only a round-a-bout way of preaching works salvation and mixing law and grace. Anything that is placed between the sinner and Christ as a condition or qualification for faith is works. The gospel of Christ is addressed to sinners as sinners. “This is his commandment, that we should believe on his Son Jesus Christ.” There are no qualifications or conditions to be met. Christ died for sinners. God saves sinners. The gospel is for sinners ¾ Not awakened sinners ¾ Not sensible sinners ¾ Not convicted sinners ¾ Not lost sinners ¾ Not repentant sinners ¾ Just sinners! The moment a man places any condition or qualification of any kind upon the sinner before he can trust Christ and be saved, he ceases to preach a gospel of pure grace.
Perhaps you ask, “Bro. Fortner, what can be wrong with using whatever means we can to make men know their desperately sinful condition, and thereby making them sense their need of Christ?”
Let me show you seven evils of preaching conditional faith.
1. It reverses God’s order. — Repentance, conviction of sin, and lamentation over sin are not pre-requisites for coming to Christ and trusting him. These things do not precede faith. They are the results of faith (Zech. 12:10; John 16:7-14).
2. It makes our experience, rather than the finished work of Christ the basis of our hope before God.
3. It keeps men and women from trusting Christ. — Conditional faith provides men with a place of refuge short of Christ himself, giving some measure of hope in feelings, emotions, and acquired knowledge.
4. It gives sinners some ground of boasting before God.
5. It forbids any real assurance for God’s elect. — If true faith in Christ comes only after repentance, conviction of sin, a great sense of sin, or any other condition, then I must always be plagued with questions like these: Have I repented enough? Have I been convicted enough? Did I really sense my sinfulness enough? Did I know enough?
6. It offers no immediate hope to perishing sinners. — The gospel says, “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The gospel says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But preachers of conditional faith say, “After you feel your sin, believe.” “After your heart is melted, harden not your heart.” “If you really know your lost condition and your guilt, you shall be saved.”
7. The teaching of conditional faith promotes an arrogant and judgmental attitude toward the people of God. — If believers must meet certain standards and prerequisites in order for their faith to be true faith, we must make our acceptance of a brother dependent upon his experience, rather than upon his faith in Christ. And the only standard by which we may judge another man’s experience is our own.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “We must not close with Christ because we feel him, but because God has said it, and we must take God’s Word even in the dark.” Spurgeon wrote, “All that is of nature’s spinning must be unraveled, and everything that getteth into Christ’s place, however dear to thee, and however precious in itself, must be broken in pieces, and like the dust of the golden calf, must be scattered upon the water, and thou wilt be made to sorrowfully drink of it, because thou madest it thy trust.”