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Volume 16, Issue 1: Stauron

Stains and Chains

Gary Hagen

Modern day pulpits incorrectly declare the fundamentals of salvation. Except in rare instances these days, the evangelist explains that salvation is a free gift of grace, and that Christ has done everything for the poor sinner. All that is left for him to do is to believe on the shed blood of Christ. These statements are repeated so often that they are all but engrained in our subconscious by now. For anyone to dare to dispute this, or to go further and claim that such a gospel is so wrong-headed as to be erroneous, is to instantly risk being branded as unorthodox—a heretic who advocates a religion of works.1 Salvation by grace alone, no matter what!

Yet grace does not compromise with sin. And a key fault found in many gospel presentations today is the absence of a solid call for repentance and a forsaking of sin. We find few preachers today who quote Isaiah in their altar calls, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." What we do hear a lot about is God as cosmic buddy, "understanding" problems.
As rottenness permeates old road kill, so sin invades every aspect of man's unregenerate nature. The corruption is consequently thorough because, as with any corpse, we are putrid. We are dead in sin. But if the average hearer of a gospel message today were asked at the end of that message to rank themselves against the mass-murderers of 9/11, along with the Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, Ted Bundys, and Jeff Dahmers on the one end of a spectrum, and the holiness of Christ on the other end, where would they fall? Somewhere in between? Maybe a teensy bit left of center? Wrong answer.
First of all, the standard of any spectrum does not define the righteousness of Christ. He is the standard. But secondly, many would put themselves in the middle simply because they are untaught in biblical truth. We all stand lumped with the worst sinners of our race (Jas. 2:10). None have a modicum of merit; none have an ounce of holiness in our carnal state (Rom. 8:6_8). We are all enemies of God. The stain of sin touches our every thought and deed as if it were in our DNA (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 13:23; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:10_13).
In the sermon preached by Peter on Pentecost (Acts, chs. 2&3), he did not tell the Jews what a wonderful plan God had for their lives, he didn't beg them to come down an aisle and visit with a counselor. He preached repentance and remission of sin; he exhorted them to be "saved from a perverse generation." Peter said that their sins needed to be blotted out (Acts 3:19). Similarly, when Stephen was arraigned before the Sanhedrin, he did not tell them how much God loved them. He called them hard-core sinners, stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart, murderers of prophets and sons of murderers. Butter up those seekers.
Even when Peter would later preach to Gentiles, he declared that Christ was ordained of God to be Judge of the living and the dead, and warned that only in His name is remission of sins found (Acts 10:42_43). Where is the evangelism today that declares the hearers are "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3)? Isaiah 55:7, quoted earlier, pulls no punches. Repent and forsake the old idols. But Isaiah also records God's promise in 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Not only does the biblical gospel message proclaim the need to be washed from the stain of sin, but Jesus also declared the need to be loosed from the chains of sin (John 8:34). Yet this message offends those who are not regenerate (see John 8:33). Like their ancestors in Eden, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve today are still enslaved by the deception of the devil (2 Tim. 2:26). Like the ancient Hebrew slaves who were impotent to free themselves from their Egyptian masters, so carnal man stands in need of a Deliverer. The message of the cross is of a Savior from sin, not a buddy with some instant advice for all your personal issues.
Luther said that we view Christ's sacrifice correctly when we witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners. He was even unwilling to release sinners for His Son without payment of the severest penalty. Thus He says in Isaiah 53:8, "I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people."2
Why does the church reap a crop failure in evangelism today? In one year a major U.S. denomination claimed to have obtained nearly 300,000 "decisions for Christ," yet less than five percent of those could be found in fellowship. Across the country, well known mass crusades report less than five percent living a Christian life or incorporated into a local church one year later.3 Yet our preaching is rarely like that of Jesus, Stephen or Peter, so is it any wonder? Perhaps one reason for our crop failure is the seed we are sowing. It's no longer the Word of God, but the word of man. Stauron Correction from 15/6: Edward was the son of Jane Seymour, not Anne Boleyn. There is dispute over the ages of both Latimer and Ridley at the time of their martyrdom. Latimer was somewhere from 60 to 80 years old, while Ridley was in his mid-forties to mid-fifties. However, that they died for their faith in Christ is well established.

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