By Tom Wells
Both our eyes and ears play tricks on us. We are told that we see what we expect to see and we hear what we expect to hear. That is one chief reason why communication is difficult. It is hard for me to understand you because I am pretty sure I know what you are going to say. And you have the same problem with me.
All through this book I have been inviting and urging you to come to Christ. Only in Christ is there salvation. It makes sense, then, to abandon all else and to turn to Him. That is the way to be right with God. That is the way to live with God for ever. Come to Christ! Come to Christ alone!
I am afraid, however, that I may be misunderstood. I know that men sometimes misunderstand the message about Christ in the following way. They think they hear the messenger say, "Add Christ to your church attendance. Add Christ to your baptism. Add Christ to your good works. And then God will receive you." In other words, they suppose that coming to Christ is one item out of many that puts us right with God. But that is not so.
Let us take a glance at church attendance. Is that a good thing? Yes, it is! But can being faithful to the services of the church make you right with God? No, it cannot. Can it help toward God receiving you? No, not in the least. Church attendance can prove you a hypocrite - if you will not come to Christ - but it can do nothing to make you a child of God. Jesus Christ will have all the glory of your salvation, and He will not share it with you because you have been regular in church attendance.
Again, take baptism. Every man, when he becomes a Christian, is commanded to be baptized. Baptism is God's set way of professing faith in Christ. It is a good thing. But God will not receive you because you have been baptized. In fact, just the opposite may be true. God will refuse to receive you if you depend on your baptism to save you. Jesus Christ alone can make you right with God, and He will not give you part of the credit because you have been baptized.
That is true of good works as well. Christians are commanded to do good to all men at all times. But Christians are to do good works because they want to please the God who has already received them into friendship with Himself. In other words, they do such works because they are Christians. They do not work in order to become Christians. If they depend on their good works to make them right with God they are robbing Jesus Christ of the glory that belongs to Him alone. And a true Christian would never want to do that.
Perhaps I can explain what I mean if we think of the word "mercy". Imagine a kind and generous king who has a segment of his people rebel against him. They prove to be no match for the king*s troops and shortly they are brought to their knees. They have no excuse for their revolt. They have no defense. What will they do? If they value their lives, they will ask for mercy.
Now suppose the king pardons them. Suppose they receive mercy. What then? They will get off scot-free. And will that lead them to serve their king, or will they take his pardon as a licence to rebel again? The truth is, we do not know the answer to that question. But we know what it ought to be! They ought to serve their king for ever, with all their heart.
Let us take the story a little further. Suppose the king has the power to change the hearts of these rebels. Imagine again that he is kind and generous. This time, however, we will add something else about the king. It is this. He has made up his mind that he will never pardon anyone without, at the same time, giving him a heart of gratitude, a bent to please his king. Now we know something we could not guess before. Will his subjects take the king's pardon as a licence to revolt again? Absolutely not!
Such a King is the God of the Bible. He is a God of mercy. He freely pardons. But He does more. When God forgives the sins of any person He also gives that person the desire to serve Him. The service of God's people, however, adds nothing to their pardon. That is free. They are pardoned, one and all, through the merits of Jesus Christ. Their own merit - or lack of it! - has nothing to do with their pardon. Nothing at all! Forgiveness is mercy. It is God's mercy, and nothing else.
In this chapter I want you to hear Christ saying, "Come to Me . . . exclusively". Let me tell you why. There are two forces that would mislead you when I invite you to Christ. The first is your pride. The second is the pride of others around you.
If you are without Christ you may not want the pardon that Christ offers. Your pride may stand in your way. You may be one of those people who always pays his or her own way. You may say, "I never take something for nothing!" Many a man has gone to hell with those words on his lips. "I don't believe in a free ride!" is another way of saying the same thing.
But listen to this. Paul the apostle is speaking of how Abraham was made right with God:
Notice how Paul drives a man away from his own works. He says that wages earned by work are an obligation. There is no mercy in that. That is not grace. If a man were to work his way with God - that is not possible, you understand - he would have something to boast of. That would minister to his pride. God received me, he would say, because I did such-and-such. Oh how men like to brag!
But when God humbles you, you will know that you have nothing to give in exchange for pardon. No works, no goodness, nothing at all! Human pride is excluded when God pardons a sinner. To make this plain Paul says, "God justifies the wicked!" The wicked cannot work their way with God. As Paul put it again: "Christ died for the ungodly!" (Romans 5:6). "I have not come to call the righteous," said Jesus, "but sinners" (Mark 2:17). That is another way of saying, "Come to Me . . . exclusively".
Exclude your own works and (in the process) turn from your own pride!
But you are not yet done. There is still the pride of others to be dealt with. Follow me closely here, because this is a much more subtle danger, but no less real. I am convinced that millions have gone astray at this point without knowing it, until it was for ever too late.
What does the pride of others have to do with your salvation? Just this. When you think you are ready to forsake all credit of your own, other voices will say, "Give us the credit. We will see that you are saved if you put yourself into our hands. Trust us!" Of course, they will not say, "Feed our pride instead of your own!" But that is what they will mean.
There are many men who will do this. They will offer to be your spiritual directors. "Just do as I tell you," they will say, "and all will be well." And then they will impose their rules that are not found in the Word of God. Often their regulations will require a good deal of will-power. They may demand self-sacrifice. But listen to Paul speaking on man-made rules:
Some men love to get other men under their power. There is no quicker way to be thought to be a great leader. There is no surer way to puff up one's ego. But the Scripture will have none of it! Turn to Christ! That is the message! He can do all. None other can do anything. Turn to Him!
There is a further danger from the pride of others. Above I have spoken of individual men who will want you to feed their pride by following their rules. There are many such men. They are everywhere. They have "seen visions" or "talked with the Almighty" or have "tapped the resources within". They have great appeal. They sound wonderfully spiritual. And you must be on your guard against them. But there is something else, a thing more subtle yet, to watch out for. I have in mind churches and religious groups that will seek to make you depend on them to be right with God. Beware of them - especially!
Let me speak of churches for a moment. If you become a Christian you will need to meet with other Christians in a church or chapel. That is the command of Christ. And, once He has saved you, you will aim to please Him. You will seek the regular fellowship of other believers. That is immensely important. I do not want to make light of it in any way. But you must not do it with your eyes closed. In fact, they must be wide open to the fact that Christ by Himself has made you right with God. How could you think anything else, if you have looked to Jesus Christ alone?
I am sorry to say that not every "church" has grasped this. A church, for instance, may tell you that you must belong to "our congregation" or "our denomination" to be right with God. You will know at once that they are trying to take the place of Christ. Have nothing to do with them!
Watch out for this, too. Will the church make you totally dependent on her sacraments? Will you be denied heaven without them? That is not the church for you! A fellowship that pleases the Lord is known by the fact that her members do not meet to be made right with God time and again. Not at all! They gather because Christ has already put them right with God. They do not focus on what they can get from the church. That is not the main thing (though they do receive a good deal). They meet to stir one another, to help their brothers and sisters in Christ. And they join to worship. Their meetings are not self-centered. They are centered on others. And - most of all - they are focused on God.
I hope you will notice that what I am talking about is not a matter of style. I am not concerned here to tell you to go to a relatively formal church, or to one that is rather informal. My own bent is toward the less formal type of meeting. But that is not my point at all. I am speaking here of what the church believes, her doctrines. Will she put anything but Christ between you and God? Her priests, maybe? Or her ceremonies? Are they necessary to your salvation? Then you must bid her good-bye and go where Christ and Christ alone gets all the glory. This is no longer a matter of taste. The honor of the Lord Jesus is at stake!
A few pages back I was speaking of pride. Since then we have stepped aside to talk of churches. Let me show you how the two are connected. Long ago, before you and I were born, some of these churches were founded. And certain of them were formed by men who wanted credit for making others right with God. They were started by men (or corrupted by men) who wished to tie others to themselves. These men wanted to boast of their power. And they made their doctrines accordingly. Today the doctrines remain. They take away from the glory of Christ. They try to steal the glory of the Christian's salvation from the Lord Jesus. That is the sad fact.
The first question, then, is not, "How nice are the people at this chapel or church?" Your first question must concern doctrine. It must be about Christ. "Does this church give Jesus Christ all the glory for the salvation of Christians? Or, does it attempt to share that glory with Him?" The pride of men, long dead, may stand in the way of your trusting in Christ and in Him alone. They may have built dependence on their rites and ceremonies into their systems. And you must run from such systems, into the arms of Jesus Christ!
In closing this chapter I think I hear someone raising another question. It goes like this. "I thought you were telling me how to come to Christ. Have you not strayed from your theme in speaking of how I ought to choose a church? Are not these quite different things?"
Yes, they are - quite different! But the one illustrates the other. I have been trying to show you the kind of pitfalls I have in mind. It is wise to ponder this carefully. I have been saying that you must come to Christ exclusively. If words ever fail to convey my feelings, they do so right here. I wish that, somehow, I might impress you with the enormous importance of this point. I wish I could put you into my own heart for a few seconds and hear it beat, "Christ alone, Christ alone, Christ alone!"
Men and women everywhere find it easy to turn to a church or religious organization for salvation. That is far easier than coming to Christ. And so the church becomes a symbol. It is the symbol of all those "good things" that may keep you from trusting in Christ alone.
"Come to Me", says the Lord Jesus. "Come to Me . . exclusively." Will you turn to Him?