How do you know that a person’s response to the gospel of Jesus Christ is genuine? I suppose that there is no absolute way of knowing, but it seems to me that, in the Scriptures, those who have encountered the gospel have a remarkable reaction to it. Here are just a couple of examples:
Acts 2:37 (NIV) – “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers what shall we do?’”
Acts 16:29-30 (NIV) – “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
Have you ever wondered about this? Do you see this reaction to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the current culture? When was the last time a person was “cut to the heart” as they encountered the real gospel of Jesus Christ? When was the last time you saw someone rush into the gathering of God’s church during a Sunday service and threw himself down at the feet of the pastor and began to beg saying, “what must I do to be saved?”
I believe that in these two examples are found the qualities of a real encounter with the gospel.
The first: a real recognition of sin.
In the modern presentation of the gospel, there is often no need to be “cut to the heart.” All a person needs to do is “pray a prayer” and they’ll be saved. The “Jesus loves you” message is true, but how many times do people understand why Jesus had to die? The high cost of sin and grave consequences of rebellion toward God are missing in the message. Go back and read Peter’s message to the gathered thousands on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Do you read, anywhere, that Peter begins his message with: “I want to tell you how much God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” In fact, it wasn’t until after the crowd was cut to the heart that Peter gave them the message of hope in Christ through the forgiveness of their sins.
The second: a real desperation for salvation.
Who is clambering to the altar because of their deep desperation for Christ Jesus? My guess is, not too many. There are times when I’ve seen deep brokenness and open repentance from sin. I’ve known those who have seen the power of God and fell to their knees begging that they should be delivered from His judgment. As Paul and Silas sang in the Philippian Jail, I suspect that they were not singing “Kumbayah.” Perhaps they sang something along the lines of “How Great Thou Art?” Maybe they sang the text of Psalm 2, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them. Then He rebukes them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath” (Psalm 2:4-5, NIV). Imagine them singing that hymn the moment the earthquake struck! Whatever the hymn, there was a message in it, for the jailer responded at the power of God.
We say that the Holy Spirit is the only One who can bring a person to the place of salvation. What does that look like? “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8, NIV). So, then, how can we say that the Holy Spirit came upon a person for salvation when there was no experience of conviction? We cannot. Trite and insipid responses to the gospel are never a result of the Holy Spirit.
Let me conclude by saying this:
If Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, the King of kings and Savior of mankind is someone that you can either take or leave, you never encountered the gospel.
If Christianity is little more than a religious mode of operation and that being a Christian has never truly changed your life, you’ve not responded to the gospel.
If there is no real recognition of and repentance from sin, if there is no heart anguish and desperation for salvation, if there is no deep conviction of guilt before God and overwhelming gratitude for His great mercy in Christ Jesus, what gospel did you respond to?
Or, as the Apostle Paul warned:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace ofChrist and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel ofChrist” (Galatians 1:6-7, NIV).