A Christian website states, "There are differences within Christian churches that have created various denominations. Although these differences are there, the common denominator with all of these Christian churches is that Jesus Christ is Lord and the means of eternal salvation. (Frankly, that's the most important thing!)"
At first glance, this accommodating attitude seems satisfactory to most Christians. They might feel that even though these denominations have differences regarding their beliefs in God and salvation, it's good that they are working toward the same goal and that they share a common belief in Jesus Christ. So it shouldn't matter which church Christians attend or which version of the "gospel" they preach, since they are all essentially the same, right? In fact, this question is not a new one. Long ago, during the apostolic times, Christians probably asked themselves the same thing when variations of the true gospel first began to arise. To those who accepted these differences, Paul replied:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)
Paul was generally very encompassing and sympathetic of people who were different, for he said, "to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you" (1 Cor 9:22-23). But when it came to the gospel, Paul left no room for compromise. There can be only one gospel. No other "gospels" should be tolerated.
Why was Paul so insistent on believing only one gospel? According to him, not all gospels and not all preachings about Jesus are true. Some gospels preach "another Jesus," or receive "a different spirit" or "a different gospel" (2 Cor 11:3-4). While these other proclamations or spiritual experiences may appear to center on Jesus Christ, they actually lead people away from the true gospel. In fact, any gospel that deviates from the one that the apostles preached can threaten our salvation, since the gospel of truth is intimately tied to our salvation (1 Cor 15:1-2). That is why Paul used such harsh words against all other gospels, even placing a curse on those who preached a different gospel and led others astray. Likewise, the apostle John also warned us not to believe every spirit, but instead to "test the spirits, whether they are of God." Such was the staunch attitude of the apostles in upholding the one true gospel.
Today, many people advocate the idea that differences in the doctrines of salvation are acceptable. Truth has become a matter of personal preference--"What is true for you may not be true for me." But the gospel of Christ is not relative. If it were, the apostles would not have condemned other gospels. Ephesians 4:5 tells us that there is only "one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism." This "one faith" refers to the one gospel of salvation that the apostles preached, "the faith which was once for all delivered to all the saints" (Jude 3).
Before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised that the Father would send us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, which would "guide [us] into all truth" (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit does not reveal different "truths" to different individuals, because the Holy Spirit brings unity (Eph 4:3). Therefore, two churches holding different beliefs or preaching different "truths" cannot both be true: one must be right and the other wrong, or incomplete.
The Teachings of Jesus and the Apostles How do we know if the gospel we have heard is true? First of all, the true gospel must conform to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
These verses tell us that we are being built into a holy temple for the Lord on the foundation of the apostles, the prophets, and the Lord Jesus Christ. "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Rock on which we must build in order for our faith to endure (Lk 6:48).
Therefore, the church that preaches the true gospel today is the one that continues the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. The church must not only hold firmly to and proclaim these teachings, but also, as the spiritual temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, she must experience the power of the Holy Spirit as in the days of the apostles. The church must have the testimony of God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit and various signs and miracles (Heb 2:3-4; Mk 16:20). When the church upholds the apostolic faith today, she will also have divine blessings similar to those of the apostolic church.
So what exactly is this "one gospel" that the apostles and the Lord Jesus preached? Let us explore this question in detail.
Salvation by Grace through Faith The true gospel preaches the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3-4)
The Lord Jesus received the punishment that our sins deserved, and He opened the way for us to have eternal life with Him. Grace is "unmerited favor," or according to Webster's, "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification." In other words, the chance for salvation is a gift; we do not receive it because of our innate goodness or because of any good we have done. Indeed, nothing we can do is deserving of God's salvation. But God came in the form of flesh as the Lord Jesus Christ and died to save us from our sins. This atoning work of Christ is the central message of the gospel of grace.
Since God's grace is a gift, we cannot possibly earn our salvation. Rather, we can only receive God's grace through faith:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed. (Rom 3:21-25)
Through belief in the Lord Jesus, we can be partakers of His grace. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8-9).
Today, almost all Christian denominations uphold the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. However, the disagreement comes when we discuss what this grace encompasses and what true faith entails. Most Christians believe that the moment you confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and accept Him into your heart, you are saved and have the guarantee of eternal life—any act beyond this belief and acceptance has nothing to do with your personal salvation.
But is verbal confession and intellectual acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ all that is necessary to receive God's grace? Do these acts truly guarantee our salvation? The Lord Jesus tells us,
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Mt 7:21-23)
According to these verses, outward confession and acceptance alone will not guarantee our salvation. We must accept the Lord Jesus with true faith by doing the "will of the Father in heaven." While every professed Christian may confess the Lord, not everyone is a true believer. False faith does not lead to salvation. Only true faith allows us to receive the grace of eternal life, and the real measure of faith is found in God's word. In order to know God's will, we must examine the Scriptures to see what He commanded in relation to our salvation.
The Complete Chrisitian Conversion
In the complete Christian conversion, three phases are integral parts of a person's faith. As believers, we need to reexamine whether we have met the biblical criteria of true faith.
1) Confess Jesus As Lord
Faith in the Lord Jesus begins with believing and acknowledging the grace of our Lord:
if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)
We need to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Rom 4:25). By the great mercy of God, we may have eternal life through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is important to understand that confessing the Lord is not just an outward formality or a one-time act. We also need to accept Him into our hearts and let Him be the Lord of our lives. True faith also means repenting of our sins and turning back to God (Acts 2:38, 40; Isa 55:6-7). Accepting Jesus as Christ means dedicating our whole being to the Lord for all of our lives. It is with such lasting faith that we receive the grace of God through Christ.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:1-2)
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:21-23)
Therefore, salvation by grace through faith is not an instantaneous act. Instead, it is a life-long working of God in the lives of believers, and believers must hold firmly to their confession of Jesus Christ throughout their lives.
2) Receive the Life of Christ
The true gospel must conform to the commands of the Lord Jesus with regard to those acts that pertain to salvation, for Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant between God and men.
When the Lord Jesus came, He gave specific commands that signify God's new covenantal relationship with believers (see sidebar on "Sacraments, Grace, and Faith"). All those who accept the Lord Jesus Christ must enter into this covenantal relationship by accepting these three commands: baptism, footwashing, and Holy Communion (also known as the Lord's Supper).
Sadly, these commands have often been considered as mere symbols with no saving effects (see "Sacraments, Grace, and Faith"). But if we study the New Testament closely, it is clear that in order to become a participant in the new covenant and be saved, a believer in Christ must accept these divine institutions in obedience to the Lord's command.
Be Baptized into Christ. In the Lord's commission to the disciples, He commanded: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). He also said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:16).
According to this verse, we must believe and be baptized in order to be saved. Why is baptism necessary? Peter tells us, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Ananias likewise commanded Paul to be baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).
Baptism is necessary because, through this sacrament, Christ's blood washes away our sins. Baptism is also the divine act through which our old self is buried and we are given a new life. Whereas we are dead in sin, we receive the life of Christ when we accept His washing by faith:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)
Let the Lord Wash Your Feet. During His Last Supper with the disciples, the Lord rose to wash the feet of each disciple. At first, Peter refused to receive the washing, but the Lord told him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (Jn 13:8). Then He commanded them:
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (Jn 13:14-17)
Footwashing is not just a symbolic act of humility or servitude; our Lord Jesus commanded that we perform this sacrament in order to "have a part" with Him. To have a part with Jesus is to have a part with Him in this life and the life to come.
Partake of the Lord's Body and Blood. The Lord also instituted the Holy Communion during the Last Supper.
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you." (Lk 22:19-20)
Earlier in his ministry, Lord Jesus explained the necessity of the Holy Communion:
Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (Jn 6:53-54)
The spiritual effect of the sacraments is based on the Lord's own words. Through Holy Communion, Christ lives in us and we in Him. With the life of Christ in us, we have eternal life and will resurrect on the last day. Therefore, all believers in Jesus Christ should partake of the Holy Communion.
3) Live by the Spirit Having been born again, our spiritual lives must be renewed constantly. This is where the promised Holy Spirit comes in. By God's grace, He has given us His Spirit to complete His work of salvation in us.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Tit 3:4-5)
The Holy Spirit is the Counselor who lives in believers to guide them in the truth and sanctify them. The working of the Holy Spirit is God's marvelous provision for the salvation of believers (2 Thess 2:13). Therefore, we must receive this grace of God through faith by walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25). We need to submit to the will of the Spirit and not live according to our own desires. That is the true meaning of being born again by the Spirit.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:12-14)
Our salvation is not complete when we first respond to God's grace; instead, we are just beginning the journey. We must continue in our faith by constantly responding to God's saving work in our lives through His Spirit. In regard to how we as believers should respond to the continual act of God in our lives, Paul said:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)
The doctrine of salvation by grace through faith does not entail just a moment of acceptance or belief. It encompasses the whole of our lives. We need to work on our salvation throughout our lives, with fear and trembling. But this idea does not suggest that we earn our salvation through works, for it is ultimately God who works in us to accomplish His purpose. While we continue our life of faith, God Himself will sanctify us and keep us blameless until the day that our Lord Jesus Christ returns (1Thess 5:12-24).
Conclusion There is only one gospel of salvation, and it is through faith in this gospel that we may become true children of God. Since this issue is crucial to our salvation, it is important that we each examine the gospel we have received to see if it is the complete gospel, the one preached by the Lord Jesus and the apostles.
The Lord Jesus challenged the people of His time, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Lk 6:46). True believers do not merely confess Jesus' name; they also obey the commands of the Lord. Today, God has established the True Jesus Church as the temple of the Holy Spirit, entrusted her with the preaching of the true gospel, and confirmed this gospel by His Holy Spirit and through signs and miracles.
Once you have found the true gospel, you must act upon God's word and receive the gospel of grace by faith. If you have not yet fully accepted the grace of Jesus Christ according to the way of God, we urge you to accept the true gospel today.