Dear Guests of IDOTG:
We are now returning with the second and final installment of this two part series. If this is your first look at this series, please read part one of, Christ’s Resurrection: Part of the Saving Message?
Welcome back to my critique of Bob Wilkin’s latest article, Believing in the Risen Christ.
Wilkin’s fourth reason for apologizing for his prior Statement of Faith is the most troubling for those who hold to the truth of the Gospel. He writes:
“Fourth, the term ‘risen Christ,’ though accurate, has caused some to wonder if we are saying that to be born again a person must believe that Jesus rose from the dead.”Let there be no misunderstanding. Wilkin does not consider belief in Christ’s resurrection to be necessary in order to be saved! With seeming relief, in reference to the resurrection he writes, “The statement doesn’t say one must believe that to be born again.”
In an attempt to make his case, he points out that several other adjectives for Christ could have been used, such as “virgin-born,” “sinless,” and “soon returning King.” The implication being, if to be saved one need not believe all of these, then “risen” should not be a special case or exception that must be believed.
With the two sentences he wrote just before that last sentence quoted, he actually destroyed his own argument by writing, “Actually, the least problematic part of that sentence is the statement that anyone who trusts in the ‘risen Christ’ has everlasting life. That is who He is.” (emphasis mine)
Herein lies the heart of the matter. To be saved, a lost person must believe in the only Jesus who can save. A Jesus that is still dead, or a Jesus who was a sinner, or a Jesus who was a mere man cannot save! 2 Cor. 11:4 warns that some preached “another Jesus” and “another gospel” that the Apostles did not preach.
Obviously, those false teachers would not be deliberately trying to point to an entirely different historical Jesus, for that would wipe away any veneer of credulity they might have in the minds of their listeners. No. Instead, they would be claiming to preach the same Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem, but they would distort Him by claiming that He did not bodily rise from the dead (as Jehovah’s Witnesses do), or by claiming that instead of being God who took human flesh, that He was a man who attained godhood (as the Mormons do).
The cultists attempt to claim the same Jesus that true Christians do, but they distort the person and work of Christ, so that in effect they are preaching “another Jesus” and “another gospel” which cannot save.
In an attempt to make his point concerning the aforementioned modifiers for Christ (sinless, virgin-born, risen, etc...), Wilkin states, “The main modifier linked with Jesus that we see in Scripture is ‘the Lord Jesus’ as in Acts 16:31.”
Yes, Jesus is the Lord, but He would not be if those other things about Him were untrue. Since He is the Lord, He is also sinless, risen from the dead, and God in the flesh. For a lost person to claim to believe that Christ is Lord, while disbelieving who He claimed to be, what He did for us on the cross, and subsequent resurrection, is for that lost person to believe in “another Jesus”...and remain lost!
Obviously, to believe in Christ is to trust that what He said concerning His Deity, work on the cross, and resurrection is true, for this goes to the heart of how He saves us!
If people prior to the time of the cross and resurrection eternally perished because they refused to believe God’s word spoken by mere human prophets (see Luke 16), how can anyone post cross and resurrection escape the eternal judgment of Hell if they disbelieve the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest Prophet?
In his article Wilkin referenced verses in the Gospel of John, such as 3:16 and 6:35, which spoke of believing in Jesus, as if to say that believing in Jesus has no context other than believing in Him for eternal life.
I would point Wilkin to John 2:19 where Jesus prophesied that He will rise from the dead, John 3:14, 6:51, and 10:11 where Jesus claimed that He would die for us, and John 5:18-23 where Jesus claimed the same purpose, power, and honor as the Father, with such claims being blasphemy if Jesus were not indeed God in the flesh!
I’m sure Wilkin would then make the challenge concerning the context of belief under which the first disciples were saved by. Yes, it is true that before the cross, Jesus’ disciples did not have a full understanding of what He was telling them. But they believed He spoke the truth to them just the same. Now that everything has been clearly revealed, the method (belief) remains the same, but the context has changed. In these last days God has revealed Himself to us through His Son (Heb. 1:2), and it is mankind’s responsibility to hear Him (Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). With a fuller understanding of what has occurred comes a greater responsibility to believe what has been revealed.
Wilkin’s doctrine is not merely that a person could be ignorant of Christ's resurrection and be saved, but that a person could hear the truth of the resurrection, reject it, and still be saved!
He clearly said as much when he stated in his November/December 2008 issue of Grace in Focus:
“There is a difference Biblically between what we must believe to be born again and what the Savior had to be and do in order for us to be born again. The Bible distinguishes between these two. However, some who profess to believe in Free Grace deny this, saying that any essential truth about who Jesus is and what He did must be believed to be born again. These people limit the essentials about the Person and work of Christ—arbitrarily—to three points: Jesus’ deity, His death on the cross for our sins, and His bodily resurrection from the dead.” (bold emphasis mine)Traditional Christians certainly do view those three points as essential beliefs in order to be saved – based on the Apostle Paul’s definition of the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-4.
In another article of Wilkin’s, he argues that 1 Cor. 15:1-4 is “Paul’s gospel”, or good news for how those who are already saved can grow in sanctification, and is therefore not the saving message that the lost must believe in order to become saved. Wilkin’s argument is a non sequitur.
Notice that Paul brought the saints to remembrance of what he had preached to them just before they had received it. In other words, the Scripture itself in that passage proves that Paul preached this message to them while they were lost!
But I will directly answer his argument concerning sanctification. Yes, Christians must continue to hold to the truth of the Gospel in order to grow in grace and sanctification. However, this truth certainly does not contradict the truth that the Gospel must be believed by the lost in order to experience God's saving grace in the first place. The same Gospel message that saves the lost is the same Gospel message that helps grow the saved as they hold to its truth.
The error that Wilkin has fallen into was a result of taking his eyes off Christ and idolizing Zane Hodges. Zane was straight on the Gospel until the latter years of his life, when he fell into reductionism, teaching what is sometimes appropriately called the “Crossless Gospel.” For to Zane, one could deny not only the resurrection and Deity of Christ, but also His sacrificial death on the cross and still be saved.
Hodges led Wilkin astray from the truth, and now Wilkin is leading others astray. Unlike Hodges, now deceased, Wilkin has a unique and precious opportunity to repent and be restored. It is my prayer that this occurs, and I encourage all who read this article to pray this for him also.
While false teachers cause harm to the body of Christ, there is some good that can come as a result of this. What I’m speaking of is the opportunity for Christians to examine their own understanding of the Gospel, and come to a more clear view of exactly what is required of the lost in order for them to be saved.
Though it seems like there is a church on almost every corner, precious few of them give a clear, uncompromised presentation of the Gospel, and those that do so often don’t preach it enough. With these words let me encourage every pastor reading this to repent before God if needed, and commit to regular preaching of the clear Gospel message to their congregations. This is not limited to pastors. We should all take this to heart, for as Christians we all ought to be preachers of the Gospel.
Yours in His service,
Brother Evans is author of The Hollow “Gospel” of the Grace Evangelical Society