I've been listening to Christian debates all week. This is something I find very interesting. An atheist and a Christian get together and debate a general topic, like the existence of God. This debate usually occurs at a university or a church. If it's at a university, the audience is usually hostile to the Christian, because universities are basically atheist churches. If it's at a church, the audience is usually sympathetic for the Christian. Notice I didn't say "hostile to the atheist," because usually the Christians are praying for the atheist's relationship with God during the debate.
Now, I do have to say that the atheist is at a disadvantage, regardless of whether the debate is at a university or a church. The reason the atheist is at a disadvantage is because the atheist doesn't actually realize the goal of the debate. He thinks the goal of the debate is to win. The Christian doesn't care about winning the debate. The Christian's goal is to share the gospel with the audience.
Now, the gospel during a debate is a watered-down general form of the gospel, and this version of the gospel cannot change hearts, but it can steer people in the right direction. A debate version of the gospel usually does not include scripture, and scripture is necessary to change hearts.
Why is scripture important to changing hearts? What is special about it? What is the substance of the Word of God that makes it a living Word that converts people away from their sinful lives and into God's kingdom? A biblical preacher or meditation on the Word itself is important. Why?
Well, what is the gospel? What is the key to salvation? Paul tells the jailer in Acts 16:31, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Just to believe in his existence? To believe that he is God? To believe that he died and rose again? What?
Dinesh D'Souza says something during one of these debates that made me curious. His version of the gospel was this: Jesus is different from all other religious figures in that he has paid the penalty for the sins of the world. All we have to do is ADMIT THAT WE ARE GUILTY, and God lets us off the hook, he saves us, because Jesus paid the penalty.
Imagine going into a courtroom for a trial. The trial is yours. The judge asks for your plea. You don't think you've done anything wrong, and so you plea "NOT GUILTY." Then the prosecutor comes over and begins to present his case against you. He proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are guilty of heinous crimes against God and humanity and deserve to be put to death--eternal DEATH. You can't rebut, because you agree with the conclusion. But now it is too late. You have pleaded not guilty.
Now, imagine the same scenario, except this time you plea GUILTY. You have read the Bible, and you have read yourself into the scriptures, the Holy Spirit has revealed the truth to you, and you are truly convinced of your guilt. After your plea, the judge leans in and tells you, "the penalty has been paid. You are free to go."
That's all there is to it, but you must truly believe that you are guilty. This is the biggest hurdle in today's world. We are taught from birth that we are not guilty. Our culture is a victim culture, not a guilty culture. Where does Jesus come in? Well, believing in the Lord Jesus IS EQUAL to believing that you are guilty! They are the same thing. If you don't truly believe in your guilt, you don't truly believe in Jesus. Only through your conviction that you are guilty--a conviction that comes through the Holy Spirit interpreting scripture--do you realize that you need a savior and that Jesus is literally the only figure capable of fulfilling that role.
So, admitting we are guilty, REALLY believing we are guilty, is confessing we need a savior, and that savior is Jesus. Admitting we are guilty IS believing in the Lord Jesus. We become saved only through that honest admission of guilt. This is no off-hand, "yeah, I'm guilty" or a deathbed confession. This has to be true belief in the soul.
And every church skips over this part of the gospel. They don't want to upset anyone, so they don't want to make us feel guilty. However, conviction of sin is paramount to belief. Only when we believe we are miserable sinners, totally depraved, will we honestly believe the gospel. Let's look at some scriptures for today.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' (Luke 10:1-11)
This is a common application text for church planters. We automatically assume we are the lambs in this passage, and that is true. We are the lambs, after we have come to Christ. Before we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are the wolves, and WE WON'T BE ABLE to believe in the Lord Jesus until we first believe we are the wolves.
And our preachers and pastors skip right over the wolves part. We are not presented the full gospel of Christ, because we are not harnessed with the role of wolf. Let's look at an old testament passage:
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her--that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies. (Isaiah 66:10-14)
Look! It's the prosperity gospel that I've been preaching against. Well, this passage must prove that the prosperity gospel is true. While it is true that God does want us to prosper, we never look at that last clause and think of ourselves as God's enemies. We cannot get the prosperity of God's gospel until we first understand--truly--that we are enemies of God. We were born enemies of God. We cannot become friends of God under our own power at all. We cannot read this passage except as ourselves as the bad guys. Once we truly we believe we are the BAD GUYS in scripture--another proof for the authenticity of scripture as God's Word (why would anyone write themselves into the story as the bad guys?)--only then can we reach for the antidote: Jesus Christ. Only then can we read ourselves as the blessed recipients of God's love.
And most Christians in the West do not believe they are the bad guys. Christianity in the East and the South is growing rapidly, because they are given the full gospel, including the "wolf" part. We are given a watered-down version of the gospel with a helpful God who wants us to feel good about ourselves. Believe in the Lord Jesus: admit you are guilty.