The classic “formula” of the gospel is:
- God loves you and has uniquely designed your life.
- But all mankind has sinned, so they are separated from God. They have no relationship with God. They cannot have fellowship with God. They cannot experience his love.
- Jesus died to satisfy God’s judgment in our place.
- We can choose to accept this pardon.
Scripture bears witness to all four of these principles. Each of them could certainly be expanded on a lot more. For example, we could talk about how “accepting the pardon” also requires “repentance.” In other words, we realize that sin, not only separates us from fellowship with God, but it also blocks us from living according to our design. Repentance says “I used to live by these principles and standards of life. Now, I realize they don’t work. I choose to live by God’s principles and standards. I choose to live in subjection to him.”
However, my question today is: how close to the classic “formula” does a person need to be, for his profession of allegiance to Jesus to be authentic?
Augustine lived in the fourth century. To put it simply, he was a bad person. He lived selfishly, and for his own pleasure. But at some point in his life, he realized he was a bad person. And he was horrified by how he was living. So, he began a journey to find how a person can get right with God. After trying several things, he finally came to understand Jesus and the Cross. He understood repentance and faith. He gave allegiance to Jesus, and became part of God’s family.
I have a friend, who before he gave his allegiance to Jesus, was also a bad person. He knew he was a bad person, but he didn’t care. There were worse people. And in the long run, it didn’t matter.
One day, someone gave him a book. The book was about how the Bible is demonstrated to be true by events in history. His reaction was: “The Bible is true. God is true. Jesus is true.” The truth of history convinced him to give his allegiance to Jesus, not his guilt before a holy God.
The story of Paul’s conversion is quite prominent in the Bible. He became an agent of the Jews in persecuting the church. While on a trip to carry out his assignment, he was knocked off his feet by a vision of Jesus. It was this vision that became the main force in Paul giving his allegiance to Jesus. Paul, speaking about his life before Jesus, says that according to the Law, he had no fault. In his mind, at that time, he kept the Law. He was not guilty of breaking it. Scripture does not say what went on in his mind the three days between his vision and his baptism. But it was the truth about an encounter with Jesus that propelled him toward allegiance to Jesus, and not consciousness of sin and guilt.
I was nine when I gave my allegiance to Jesus. I do not have a very dramatic story. I was at my family’s church one Sunday. I became impressed by the fact that there really, and truly, was a God. And if there really was a God, that meant he was Boss of the universe. Which meant my life needed to agree with him, and his “direction.” So, I chose to get in line, and follow him the best I could. And it probably took me less time to decide that, than it did for you to read this paragraph.
Augustine’s main push came from his realization of his sin. The main push for the others came from some other truth. Not that they didn’t learn about sin, and how far away from God’s way they were. It came second though.
God does not follow formulas. God touches the core of each person’s heart, and connects with them. It might be a place of need. It might be a place ofafailure. It might be a truth. God does not get locked in, but uses a multitude of avenues to connect with people, and to persuade them to choose allegiance with him.