Gospel Theology: Why is Correct Theology Important for Salvation?”
A number of years ago, a strange situation developed on a farm in New Zealand. Without warning, a farmer’s cows began to get sick and die. The illness was a mystery. The farmer had never experienced anything like it before, so he called in the health inspectors. They tested the farm’s water supply and conducted other environmental tests. During the testing, even more cows got sick and died. Soon almost his entire herd of 100 cows was sick.
When the test results came back from the lab, the lead readings were off the chart. An autopsy of one of the dead cows revealed the cause. The cows had lead poisoning and the remainder of the herd was slaughtered! The farmer was baffled.
A rifle range was next to the farm. Over time, hundreds of stray bullets had landed in the adjacent farmland. They inadvertently got mixed in with the grass that was made into hay, which was then fed to the cows. The tiny pieces of lead, some too small to see with the naked eye, had poisoned the cows.
False teaching can have a similar impact on a believer that lead poisoning had on that herd of cows. Over time, exposure to wrong teaching produces wrong thoughts about the character of God and His relationship with His people. This produces carelessness in our understanding of who He is and what He expects of us as His followers. That ultimately leads to spiritual death, which is alienation from Jesus Christ.
For this reason, all Christ-followers should pay careful attention to what we are being fed. If we don’t know God’s Word ourselves, we won’t be able to discern if fragments of poison are part of our regular spiritual and intellectual intake.
The importance of teaching sound theology and doctrine can’t be overstated. This is particularly important for those involved in Bible teaching or missionary work. Too many professing Christians today think that being politically correct is more important than standing up for truth, even the truth of God’s Word.
You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” If it’s true that what we put into our bodies affects our health and well-being, how much more important is it that we are careful about what we “consume” intellectually and spiritually?
Jesus said in Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” You and I don’t live out of what we say we believe; we live out of what we actually believe! The things we believe about God affect the choices we make in life. And Scripture makes it clear that choices determine destiny. Wrong beliefs result in wrong choices. That’s why correct belief is so important!
As part of our introduction, we need at least a brief look at the terms we’re using in our title, “Gospel Theology; Why is Correct Theology Important for Salvation?” What is the Gospel? You might answer “the Good News.” OK, but the good news about what? That I can have a better life if I accept Jesus; that I can have a personal relationship with Him; or I get to go to heaven when I die? Those things are true, but they aren’t the heart of the Gospel.
The gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings. Here’s the problem: God is holy, just, and He’s perfect, and I’m not. Paul defined the Gospel succinctly in I Timothy 1:15. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Prior to conversion, every person is a sinner in need of salvation.
What is theology? The etymology shows that it comes from the Greek, theos = God, and logos = word. So, we can simply say “Theology is a word about God.” The word of man about God is founded on the Word of God from God. In other words, man speaks because God has spoken; spoken both in His Son – the living Word – and in the Scriptures – the written Word. So, Gospel theology is based on what God has said in His Word about Himself and about humanity.
Let me also comment on a related word, doctrine. It appears 56 times in Scripture (4 times in our text) and is simply defined as something that is taught. Paul uses the words, teaching, and doctrine interchangeably. His particular concern, and ours, is the teaching of “sound” or healthy doctrine.
If you can, turn with me in your copies of the Holy Scripture to II Timothy 3. I’ll begin reading with verse 10 and continue on through chapter 4 and verse 5.
As we examine this text, we will discover several essential CONCEPTS that will help us answer the question, “Why is correct theology important for salvation?”
The First CONCEPT is,
Gospel Theology Embraces Suffering (10 – 13)
Oh my; what a place to start! If people sat in on the weekly services at your church, would they conclude from being there that your understanding of the Gospel embraces suffering? If those same people followed you to your home and lived with you for a couple of weeks would your lifestyle choices convince them that gospel theology embraces suffering?
In verse 12, Paul makes a very clear, emphatic statement. “All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus shall suffer.” Or, put it this way, “all [that] are bent on living a godly life will suffer.” The apostle Peter agrees with Paul’s words, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, because in this you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings…” That’s First Peter 4:12 and 13.
What’s the relationship of Christ’s sufferings to our salvation? In Matthew 16:21 we read “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Isaiah 52 and 53 give a graphic picture of Christ’s sufferings and the glorious results – our justification! Gospel theology is clear; without Christ’s suffering, there is NO salvation.
Praise God we don’t need to suffer the penalty of our sins; Jesus took that upon Himself on the cross. But if we’re genuinely saved, we’ll experience suffering. Acts chapter 5 records the experience of the apostles before the Sanhedrin. Verse 45 says “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Why did they do that? Because they understood the greatness of the gift of salvation! The love of Christ, expressed in His suffering, motivated them to love Him in return. It should motivate us too.
Paul wrote that Timothy knew about his suffering. And why did he suffer? Because of his commitment to Christ and the qualities mentioned in verse 10. In his mind and experience, there was a direct cause and effect between salvation and suffering.
Today, many Christians insist that salvation and discipleship are two separate concepts. But Jesus and the writers of the New Testament taught them as inextricably linked together. Jesus never looked for converts; He called disciples. When He did speak of conversion it meant “a turning around.” You’re going one way, following one master (self and Satan); then you turn around and follow a different Master (Jesus).
In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” A genuine understanding of salvation includes discipleship, and discipleship means cross-bearing. Cross-bearing is suffering, but like Jesus, we can face it with joy. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “…Jesus…who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
After Jesus told Nicodemus to be “born again,” He said the effects of that experience would be visible – like the wind in the trees. Genuine salvation results in discipleship. Genuine discipleship results in visible lifestyle changes. Genuine discipleship is possible only to those who’ve received a new nature, the nature of Christ.
How much foundation must we lay in order to bring people to a proper understanding of the Gospel and salvation? Since the suffering of Christ is the basis of our salvation, and our suffering is a result of embracing that salvation, we must be sure people understand the cost of their redemption. This concept of suffering, I believe, is one that’s often ignored or minimized in many evangelistic efforts.
The Second CONCEPT is,
Gospel Theology Embraces Scripture (14 – 4:1)
It really doesn’t matter what you and I think the Gospel is. Does that statement shock you? It’s true! The Scriptures tell us what the Gospel is and we’re not at liberty to change it. It is fixed, unmovable, and objective. It’s not influenced by our personal feelings, our interpretations, or our prejudice. It’s based on facts as God has revealed them to us. Like Timothy, we need to embrace those facts and continue in them.
Paul tells Timothy in chapter 3 verse 15 that “it is the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” So, in order for a person to experience salvation he or she must have exposure to the Scripture; personally, and corporately. This is one of the essentials of a healthy spiritual life and a healthy church!
Paul Hattaway tells us about the importance of the Scripture in China. He tells how “Asia is full of bizarre religious beliefs. Numerous cults flood the continent, and it’s a constant battle for Christian leaders just to keep the most dangerous heresies from infiltrating and destroying their flocks. In China, the Eastern Lightning cult is also known as “The Church of Almighty God.” It continues to ravage churches throughout the country. At the core of the strange movement is the belief that Jesus has been reincarnated as a woman and is living in central China, waiting for the right time for her identity to be revealed to the world.”
Paul Hattaway goes on. “Now you may think, ‘That’s ridiculous! No Christian would ever believe such nonsense.’ That’s true, but in China, the availability of Bibles has been severely limited. This is a deliberate attempt to strangle the massive house church movement. Believers with only a shallow knowledge of the Bible have been easy pickings for this cult.”
In my introduction, I quoted I Timothy 1:15. “…that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” No one can come to an understanding of salvation without first understanding their lostness. Paul says in Romans 3:20 that it’s through the law that we come to the knowledge of sin. He further states in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” All of these things are foundational, and a person can’t be truly born again without understanding them.
Verse 15 tells us that our faith in Christ Jesus is based on the foundation of the Holy Scriptures. In other words, the Word of God lays out the requirements of salvation. When we, by faith, agree with God’s conditions, we can then access salvation. Peter made this clear in Acts 4:11 and 12 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Paul reminds Timothy that this embrace of the Word comes to us in the same way as our initial conversion experience – by faith. Faith believes what God’s Word says is true, even if it seems foolish, impractical, or impossible. Jesus said, “Whoever will smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Doesn’t that sound foolish, impractical, and impossible? From the standpoint of our human reasoning, absolutely! But faith believes and acts on the command knowing that God promises to bless those who obey Him in faith.
It was Augustine who said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” The embrace of the Word will lead us to believe first, and then our obedience will lead to deeper understanding.
While we’re thinking about the role of faith in salvation, I remind us of something very important. Scripture tells us plainly we are saved by grace, through faith. Faith is the channel of relying on Christ for our salvation and grace is the power that enables it. So, we are saved by grace, an act of God, through our faith, which is enabled by God. That removes from the realm of human possibility any attempt to make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight.
OK. Now we’re saved; what keeps us saved? Listen to I Peter 1:3-5. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Our salvation is NOT maintained by our good works! Don’t minimize good works; they’re an important part of discipleship. But if we think our good works maintain our salvation – we’ve reduced the Gospel to moralism! We “are kept by the power of God through faith” – and not faith in ourselves.
One theological concept critical to understanding our need for salvation is our bent, our natural inclination, to sin. We see it expressed in our text in the actions of the false teachers. Genesis chapter 3 records the sin of our first parents; the resulting sinful nature has been passed down to us today. Paul talks about this in I Corinthians 15:21 and 22.
The description of humanity outside of Christ is painfully graphic in vivid scenes from the Old Testament and in shocking words from the New Testament. Worthless, corrupt, defiled, open graves, like poisonous snakes, cursing and bitterness, murderers, evil men, seducers, ruin, and misery are all words describing our lostness. Outside of Christ, we are without hope and without God in the world; doomed to destruction, Paul says in Ephesians 2:12.
But many professing Christians today recoil from this concept. We’ve been influenced by humanism; the idea that man is basically good, he just needs to be educated or reformed. Thus, the Gospel is reduced to moralism – to improvements in behavior. But Scripture is clear; the Gospel is transformation, not reformation.
Far too many believers and churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. We communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straightened out so they can live their best life now. I fear our churches contain people who live morally and look right but are headed for eternal punishment.
Another theological concept necessary for our understanding of salvation is the sovereignty of God. Some carry this to the extreme, saying you and I have no choice in the matter of our salvation. I remember Bro. J. Otis Yoder told me about discussing this concept with one of his fellow students in seminary. Bro. J. Otis was arguing that as human beings we have free will, we choose to respond to the call of God. To this, his fellow student said, “Yoder, your God’s a peanut. If my God wants to save a man; He saves him!”
We rightly reject the idea that man has no choice in the matter of his salvation. We embrace the reality of God’s sovereignty but realize He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. In His foreknowledge, He’s aware of who will accept and who will reject the invitation to salvation. While the invitation is open to all, according to Romans 10:13, we must respond to the personal call of God’s Spirit. In John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
We should also be aware that we cannot respond to the message of salvation solely on our time schedule. We must respond when the Spirit of God, speaking through the Word of God, is inviting us to respond. That’s why we have warnings about “hardening our hearts” and “quenching the Spirit.” Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses, repentance and faith are gifts from God.
Another theological concept necessary for our understanding of salvation is the certainty of the Judgment. We see this in verse 1 of chapter 4. If there’s no final judgment, or if that judgment ends our existence, there’s no need for the Gospel of salvation. Paul says God will judge the living and the dead on that final day. From other Scripture portions, we know our earthly life is only a brief preparation for eternity.
At the end of life, you and I are going to stand before a just and holy God to be judged. We’ll be judged either on the basis of our own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the gospel is – Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own wellbeing but for His people. He’s done for you and me what we couldn’t possibly do for ourselves. Not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, but He also offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.
Forgiveness is a very costly matter. It cost God the sacrifice of His own perfect Son. God pronounced the value of Jesus’ sacrifice by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So, the gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did.
And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do you and I get them? As I said earlier, the Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith–and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him–and in Him alone. If you do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and your eternity is secure in Him.
The Final CONCEPT is,
Gospel Theology Embraces Service (4:1- 5)
Why did God provide for your salvation? Just so you could escape divine retribution? Definitely! So you could spend eternity in heaven with Him? For sure! So you could have a good life? Maybe, but not so much, depending on what you mean by that. I believe Paul’s teaching here points to something very important; we are saved to serve.
Notice what Paul says to Timothy here in chapter four, verse one. “I charge you before God…” In I Timothy 6:13, Paul speaks of this same charge. The English translation is a bit different, but the original word is the same. It means “one who is in sight.” It’s used to describe a person who does or says something in the presence of someone else and is consciously aware that he is being both thought of and observed. So, Paul says I charge you before or in the sight of, God.
Timothy, like every Christ follower, would face difficult situations in life. Timothy would also face hard situations in the church. Paul reminded him that his embrace of the Scriptures by faith would enable him to persevere in these situations. Surrounded by false teachers and unfaithful men, Timothy would need to keep his focus in the right place; we need that too.
And that focus was on “our God, even Christ Jesus.” Again, we get a glimpse of Paul’s attitude toward the deity of Jesus. In these final words to Timothy, Paul is striving to make an indelible impression, a lasting impression, on his beloved son in the faith. The deity of Jesus Christ must have a basic and prominent place in all Christian teaching and preaching!
The service Paul charges Timothy to embrace is to preach the Word! What does it mean to preach the Word? No doubt, when you hear the word, preach, you picture a pastor/teacher standing behind a pulpit; hopefully proclaiming the Word of God. But the word Paul used here, kerruso, is much different.
Into Timothy’s mind came a mental picture of a royal messenger riding or walking into the local town square. This kerruso, was an imperial herald, a spokesman for the emperor. He didn’t bring his own message. He proclaimed the message he had been given. In him was vested all the power and authority of the sovereign and to ignore the message he gave was to imperil your own well-being.
Paul goes on to list three important aspects of embracing our service. First, it must become a lifestyle. As those who are truly saved, we are called to be ready to serve at any time, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, whether it makes us comfortable or uncomfortable.
Now I’ll go from preaching to meddling. What circumstances does it take for you to skip Sunday School, the preaching service, prayer meeting, or an opportunity to serve someone else – convenience, comfort? How about a sports event, a day on the lake, or hours in the deer stand? We’re able and willing to endure inconvenience and discomfort for the things that are important to us. I stand convicted!
Second, our embrace of service must be rooted in our commitment to the Scriptures. Our own salvation moves us to obey God’s command to take the Gospel to all people; to share the Good News with them. We are also commanded as brothers and sisters in the Lord to bear each other’s burdens. There’s room for everyone’s gifts and abilities in this task, and EVERYONE has something to offer.
In addition, our service must be accompanied by longsuffering. We need to be uncompromising in proclaiming the truth, but harshness adds nothing of value to that proclamation. Instead, it detracts from the truth. Harshness puts the focus on the messenger more than the message. As those who have embraced the Gospel, we must be even-tempered, not easily crushed by suffering, slow to anger, and slow to retaliate.
And finally, Paul mentions the importance of doctrine or teaching. It’s interesting isn’t it, that our text begins and ends with doctrine? Four times he mentions it in 13 verses. So often we hear things like “doctrine divides; love unites.” But it’s not biblical teaching that divides Christians; it’s their response to biblical teaching. When you and I embrace the teaching of God’s Word and act upon it – that draws us together! It enables us to serve together, to live out our salvation in practical ways multiplying its effects.
However, Paul warns us that we will need to be diligent in embracing our service. Why? Because many people will reject the message that motivates it, and we will suffer for our faithfulness to the Word.
Today, there is much wrong theology (words about God) being disseminated across the globe. There is much erroneous doctrine (teaching about God) being promoted. This is why it’s critical that we have sound, biblical preaching in our churches. We must be people of the Book.
Theology and doctrine wrongly presented can appear to be cold, factual knowledge about some distant deity who’s not really involved in our daily lives. But to those who, by faith, have embraced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, the study of God’s character and attributes leaves us in awe and wonder. How can a God so holy, so powerful, and so glorious dwell in our hearts by faith? Miraculous! When we grasp the magnitude of what we’ve received we will embrace Scriptural theology and sound doctrine as a way to lovingly respond to such a great salvation!
Suffering, Scripture, and Service; what’s your Gospel theology?