What is the Gospel?
By John Crotts 

As a pastor I enjoy the privilege of hearing many testimonies, or stories about people becoming Christians. It seems that these stories are like snowflakes in that no two are exactly alike. As someone said, there is only one way to God, but there are many ways to Jesus. 

In hearing so many stories, however, some are less clear than others. People come from all kinds of backgrounds and have encountered all kinds of biblical teach- ing, some better than others. Many times a person’s understanding of the gospel and what it means to be a Christian is shaped by these experiences. It is my joy to offer biblical help to clarify their understanding and expression of the precious pearl of the gospel. 


Young children can be particularly challenging cases when it comes to grasping and expressing the gospel. While it is absolutely true that the Lord can save a child, it can be difficult for parents and pastors to know while they are small children. Children sometimes repeat phrases and prayers without really appreciating their meanings. While recent surveys seem to reveal sad statistics about Christian kids losing their religion in college, I wonder how many of them ever had it to begin with. 


The saddest truth is that far too many adults who claim to be Christians are not too far ahead of the kids in expressing a solid understanding of the gospel. Let me challenge you with a Gospel Pop Quiz. Even though you don’t have to sign it or turn it in, because the Lord says that this is such an important matter, please take it seriously. 


The Gospel Pop Quiz 
1. What is the gospel?
2. What are you saved from?
3. Where does the Bible talk about asking Jesus into one’s heart? 
4. What does it mean to “ask Jesus into your heart?”
5. What is “The Sinner’s Prayer?”
6. Where in the Bible do you find people becoming Christians using “The Sinner’s Prayer?”
7. How do good works relate to the gospel?
8. Is the gospel for Christians or non-Christians? 


How did you do? Perhaps as many of 70% of churchgoers fail the quiz after the very first question. I have added seven more questions to solidify where a person may be missing the point of number one. Let’s consider the answers to these questions one by one. 


1. What is the gospel?
The basic meaning of the word gospel is “good news.” So what is the Bible’s good news? Is it that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? If you reject Christ and go to hell for all eternity, that doesn’t sound very good! Is the gospel that God wants you to have a fulfilled, purposeful life? Or is it just a fresh start? 

Let’s build our answer to the question from the Bible itself. Mark 1:1 begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Right away, the Bible connects the gospel with Jesus. When Jesus began his public ministry, Mark tells us that the summary of it was also the gospel. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14, 15). 


From the very start of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the connections of the gospel to Jesus are obvious. Romans 1:1-4 say, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” A few verses later Paul refers to it as “the gospel of his Son” (Romans 1:9), meaning the good news about Jesus. 


The place where the Lord brought lightning to the heart of the reformer Martin Luther was in Romans 1:17. Look at it and the verse just in front of it for more help in understanding the gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.” 


Paul gives a useful summary of the gospel that he preached to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 


The gospel is about Jesus. The portions of the Bible we have seen show us two categories about Jesus in relation to the gospel. The first is who Jesus is. Especially in Mark 1 and Romans 1 the authors weren’t content to barely identify Jesus and move on. They mentioned his royal linage as a descendent of David. They spoke of his divinity as the Son of God. His title, the Christ or Messiah, was also included. Of course, Mark will go on to highlight all sorts of examples of Jesus’ perfect words and deeds. 


The second category about Jesus in relation to the gospel is what Jesus did. In short, he died for sinners on the cross and then rose again bodily from the dead three days later. These bare facts spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15 assume several other facts, though. First, God is a holy creator with authority over his creatures. Second, we, the creatures, have broken his laws (which is sin). Third, we deserve God’s just condemnation in hell. Jesus died for sinners—in their place—when he died on the cross. 


This understanding of what Jesus was doing on the cross is confirmed by other Scriptures. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he [that is, God] made him [that is, Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God treated Jesus as if he had committed the sins of everyone who would ever believe. He did this so that he could justly treat believers as if they were righteous. Peter also writes about the idea of substitution in 1 Peter, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24); “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). 


The gospel is mostly about Jesus, who he is and what he did. Sometimes our response to these truths is included in the gospel. How is this good news about Jesus applied to sinners like you and me? Be thinking about the answer to that important question as we continue to answer the questions to our Gospel Pop Quiz. 


2. What are you saved from?
The word “saved” actually means to be delivered from danger or to be rescued from peril. If you were in a small failing fort surrounded by bad guys under heavy fire, and another army came and rescued you, you might say, “Hooray, I have been saved!” When it comes to your spiritual life, however, what does it mean to be saved? What are you saved from? 


Though many people get this answer wrong, the correct answer is God. You are spiritually rescued from the wrath of God because of your sins against him. Remember from Romans 1:16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” The idea of being saved is biblical and it is attached to the gospel. But consider Romans 1:18 where Paul begins to build his case for the reason humanity needs to be rescued. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” 


God is holy. His person and character are completely distinct from his creation. By application he is perfectly pure in contrast to a world that has been stained with sin. His eternal white hot wrath burns against every sin you have ever committed. If you die without Christ, you will face this angry God alone. He will judge you. You will go to hell for all eternity. 


God, out of his great mercy and love, punished his holy Son, Jesus, in the place of sinners. He did this so that he could remain holy and just, while also mercifully rescuing believing sinners at the same time. If you are a Christian, it is right to say you are saved by God through Jesus Christ from God. 


3. Where does the Bible talk about “asking Jesus into your heart?”
The short answer to this question is nowhere. So many people use this expression to describe conversion; it must be in the Bible! There are a couple of possible verses in the Scriptures that seem to support the expression. Let’s examine them carefully, noting the context in which they are found. 


John 1 begins with a summary of the ministry of Jesus. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). Some people grab on to the concept of “receiving Jesus” from this passage of the Bible, and then assume it means to receive him into one’s heart. But is that what John meant for us to understand? Let’s observe a few facts from the passage. 


First, notice that Jesus’ own people, that is, the Jews, did not receive him. We know from the rest of John, that most of the Jews rejected Jesus. They did not trust in him and his message. Instead, they ultimately cried out for his execution on the cross. Second, John uses a parallel phrase to explain the other response to Jesus. The phrase “did receive him” is directly parallel to the phrase “believed in his name.” Therefore, receiving Jesus, according to John, means to believe or to trust in Jesus, nothing less, nothing more. 


The other verse often cited to support the concept of asking Jesus into your heart is Revelation 3:20. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” 


If you grew up in the church I grew up in, you could’ve seen the bulletin boards showing this verse around a big red construction paper heart with a door in the middle of it. As you opened the door, you discover a picture of Jesus inside. 


If the bulletin board had more room, perhaps they could have included the entire section where the single verse was found. Revelation 3:14-22 is the seventh letter from Jesus to the ancient churches of western Turkey. This final letter was perhaps the saddest of all. While Jesus often had commendations for the various churches, before addressing areas they needed to work on, the church of Laodicea received no good news. Jesus said of them, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The only hope Jesus gave this church was to repent and invite him back into the church! This famous verse is not about an individual sinner asking Jesus into his or her heart; it is calling a dead church to ask Jesus into their assembly! 


4. What does “asking Jesus into your heart” mean?
How can you know for sure, when it is not found anywhere in the Bible? In many of the testimonies I have heard over the years, there has been confusion about the exact meaning of the phrase. If a person uses the very common expression, I will usually ask another question or two to clarify their understanding of the meaning of asking Jesus into their heart. Many people do understand the biblical response to the gospel, and they mean good things by the expression. Others, however, are less clear about the meaning. If you have talked of having received Jesus into your heart over the years, please don’t think I am calling into question your salvation. I am not. Since such language is not in the Bible, it neither proves nor disproves anything about your understanding of the gospel or your response to the gospel. All in all, it seems best to use biblical expressions in communicating such important realities. 


5. What is “The Sinner’s Prayer?”
The Sinner’s Prayer is a sample prayer frequently given at the end of gospel books and booklets. Some evangelists also have potential converts repeat such prayers to see the sinners brought to Christ. The prayers usually consist of some acknowledgement of the person being a sinner and some expression of trusting the person and work of Christ for forgiveness of that sin. 


6. Where in the Bible do you find people becoming Christians by praying “The Sinner’s Prayer?” 
The short answer again is nowhere. You can actually expand the question to include becoming a Christian through praying any prayer at all—the answer is the same. (By the way, it is also true that nowhere in the Bible can you find anyone becoming a Christian through the “altar call”—coming to the front of the building at the end of the message to respond publicly to Jesus). 


There may be a couple of examples in the Bible which come close to someone becoming a Christian through a prayer. The best possibility is in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found in Luke 18:9-14. 


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 


The tax collector truly does utter a plea to God for mercy, and Jesus does pronounce that he was justified before God. But notice a few other facts from this parable. First, it is a parable. Jesus told this story to illustrate a spiritual truth about religious people trusting in their own righteousness and treating others badly. Second, the man in the story was alone; he had no evangelist to coach him along in his prayer. Third, he wasn’t reading anything. This cry for mercy was the overflow of a broken heart. 


The other potential example of a person praying to become a Christian is the thief on the cross. After previously maligning Jesus with the crowds and the other thief, this man at last recognized what was going on. Luke records the exchange, “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:40-43). 


As wonderful as this account is, it is not a strong basis for advocating the Sinner’s Prayer. There are no other examples of prayer as the means of conversion in the Bible. Neither are there plain instructions for us to try to pray to become Christians. In light of how pervasive the Sinner’s Prayer is in Christian literature and practice, does it surprise you to see how little foundation there is for its practice in the Bible? 


What is the RIGHT response to the gospel? 
Before continuing to answer the final questions in our Gospel Pop Quiz, let’s stop and look at the right response to the gospel in the Bible. The one response can be seen as two sides of the same coin—repentance and faith. When you hear the good news about Jesus’ person and work, you should turn in your heart from sin to Jesus, trusting him alone for your salvation. The Bible declares this consistently. 


Jesus came preaching the gospel. Mark summarized his message as, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” After the earthquake in Philippi, the jailer sought out Paul the prisoner. “Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:30-31). Paul summarized his message to the leaders of the Ephesian church as, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). And in Romans 10:9, 10, Paul writes, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Jesus lived perfectly and died as a substitute for sinners on the cross. He rose again bodily from the dead proving that all that he had done was true and that God had accepted his sacrifice. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is applied by God to any sinner who turns from his sin and trusts in Jesus. 


Of course words of a prayer flowing from such a broken believing heart may well gush out. You may move from the back of a church building to the front before, during, or after initially trusting Christ. The issue is never the prayer or your location according to the Bible. The Bible’s only question to you regarding the gospel is, “Are you trusting Jesus or not?” 


7. How do good works relate to the gospel?
A popular evangelistic program begins with questions designed to identify what a person is hoping in in order to go to heaven when they die. Many, many people answer the question with some form of their own goodness. They might suppose that their good works outweigh their bad works, or at the very least that they are better than others. Some people include Jesus along with their best efforts as the key to going to heaven. 


All of the religions of the world can be boiled down to two. Those that teach that personal efforts to be good are the means of doing well in the afterlife, and Christianity which teaches that you can never be good enough to earn God’s favor. The Bible is absolutely plain on this point. 


Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Galatians 2:21 echoes the point by declaring, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If being declared righteous before God was within the reach of human performance, Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross. 


The Apostle Paul continues to wrestle with the role of human achievements (law keeping) in order to earn God’s favor in Galatians 3:10-14: 

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. 


Perhaps the most well know passage about the relationship of good works to a person’s status before God is in Ephesians. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). 


Your very best efforts to achieve God’s favor and save yourself from his mighty wrath will fail. Assuming that a person could be good enough for heaven severely underestimates God’s holiness and a person’s sinfulness. Did you know that God is so holy that if you commit the least little sin, you have earned eternity in hell? The punishment is so severe because the crime is committed against one so eternal and perfect. It is impossible to overcome so deep a debt of sin on your own. 


What about including Jesus in with my self-efforts at righteousness? Assuming that you can ADD to Jesus’ work is saying that Jesus’ work is not enough to satisfy God’s holy wrath—it needs me to supplement it! Remember Galatians 2:21. If you can earn God’s favor, the incredible sacrifice of the cross was needless. 


The slogan of the Reformation that a person is saved by FAITH ALONE is exactly right. Salvation comes through trusting the person of Jesus Christ alone. Not your personal goodness. Not Jesus plus your efforts. 


But, the Reformers were quick to add, the faith that saves you is never alone. In other words, when a person is declared right with God through faith, God begins to produce good works flowing from a transformed heart. The new heart has a root of faith that produces fruit of good works. Yes, you can come to Jesus just as you are, but Jesus won’t let you stay just as you were for long! 


James 2 includes a lengthy discussion of faith and works. James points out that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). True faith also proves itself by a gradually changing lifestyle. Just after Ephesians 2:8, 9, which stated so clearly that good works were not a part of salvation, comes the very next sentence which says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 


Let’s summarize the relationship between the gospel and good works. Good works have nothing to do with a person being declared right before God. Good works, however, have everything to do with proving that a person is right with God to the watching world. If a person is trusting in their own goodness in order to be saved, they are in trouble—no one can be good enough to overcome their sins. If a person, however, claims to be a believer and yet gives no indication of a lifestyle of loving God, there should be real questions asked about the person’s faith. Root always produces fruit (see Matthew 7:15-23). 


8. Is the gospel for Christians or for non-Christians?
This is a trick question. The gospel is for both Christians and non-Christians, but in different ways. Of course, the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ is for non-Christians. Whoever believes in Christ will not perish, but will have eternal life. Instead of believing in Jesus and then moving on to other matters, however, the Christian also finds hope, encouragement, and motivation for the Christian life from the exact same good news that brought him into the kingdom. 


Amazing grace is always the appropriate song for believers. Have you ever wondered why some of the letters in the New Testament that are written to churches have so much teaching about the gospel within their pages? Letters like Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews were all written to churches and all have at least half of their content devoted to the gospel. The reason is that the gospel is for Christians too! 


After eleven long chapters about sin and salvation, Paul tells the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This call for a lifestyle of devoted service to God is squarely based on what? The mercies of God—which is all of the gospel stuff of Romans 1-11. 


Even as a mature Christian, you still sin. You recognize more and more that though you are free from sin’s enslaving power, you still are impacted by sin’s presence. By the Holy Spirit’s power, you can and must put sin to death. This battle will go on throughout the Christian life. How can you stay encouraged when you are so aware of your failures to please your Lord? Why should you try again when you have failed so many times? The only answer is the gospel. 


Yes, you are a sinner. Yes, you are a failure. And sadly, yes, even your best efforts are tainted with sin. The old familiar message, however, still applies. Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus even died to save sinners that know better and have had much Christian experience. Jesus died to take away the sins you committed today! That truth must never be out of a Christian’s view. Far from making a believer want to walk away from God and plunge recklessly into greater sin, the gospel motivates, inspires, encourages, and empowers true believers to live for the glory of God with all of their hearts. The Christian doesn’t do these things to earn or maintain God’s favor, he or she obeys out of sheer gratitude and love for the Savior who bought God’s favor for them! 


Testimony Time
A testimony is a person’s salvation story. There are three elements I, as a pastor, am listening for when someone shares their salvation story with me. First, I want to hear a little about their life before Christ. Second, I am listening for the occasion of their conversion. It is here that a person’s understanding of the gospel comes out. Finally, I want to hear about their life after coming to Christ. What lifestyle changes has Christ made in their lives so far? In what ways is the gospel doing a transforming work? Let’s summarize what we’ve seen so far about the gospel in putting together your story. 


Life Before Christ
The key idea in this first part of your story is that you understand your sinfulness. The Bible is clear that every man, woman, and child is born bad. In other words, we sin because we are born with a sinful nature. David acknowledged this in his confession in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Jeremiah recognized that our hearts are so sinful that we can’t even know the extent of it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). 

Even if you grew up in church and were spoon-fed Bible truths since the cradle, you were still born with a sinful nature and did many, many sinful things. The reason that it is so important to have an awareness of your sinfulness before claiming to come to Christ goes back to the meaning of salvation. Why does a person need to be delivered from the holy eternal wrath of God? Because of their sin. If a person skips over the bad news, perhaps he or she doesn’t really understand the good news! 


Your life may’ve been filled with flagrant, destructive oceans of sinfulness, or your life could’ve been pretty decent on the outside thinly concealing a heart of pride, self-righteousness, and rebellion. You may’ve seen your sin all at once; the Lord may’ve convicted you little by little. In terms of your story, the important thing to communicate is that you recognize your need to be saved from your sin. 


The Occasion of Your Conversion 
When did you discover the person and work of Jesus Christ? Many people have grown up with many parts of the story in place. Sometimes a person literally knows all of the facts but has never put them together and seen how they relate to their own situation. For children growing up in Christian homes it can be difficult to remember a time that you didn’t know things about Jesus. 


Of course, there are many ways that people hear and understand about Jesus. Sermons are a common way of learning about Jesus, but such a talk need not have happened on a Sunday morning. Did you hear a message preached at a church? Was it a message preached, not in church (like at a Billy Graham meeting in a stadium)? Was it a message preached on television or the radio? Perhaps you learned about Jesus through a Sunday school lesson in a class or a conversational style meeting in a home. 


Other people learn about Jesus like the old telephone advertisement said by one person reaching out and touching another person. Who was the individual that answered your questions about the Healer from Galilee? Often concerned parents, family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers make it a point to tell people they love about Jesus. 


Other ways to learn about Jesus include reading the Bible itself, or a good book explaining the message of the Bible. Many people today are getting answers to questions about the gospel online. 


A number of these ways converge to instruct a concerned sinner about Jesus. When I listened to a person’s testimony, I want to know how they learned about the person and work of Christ. At what point in your life did it come together and make sense? 


The other special concern I have at this point in the person’s story is their response to the gospel. When did you repent of your sins and personally trust Jesus for your salvation? Sometimes in a person’s life, there is a sudden reaction to the person and work of Christ, while at other times, there is a gradual enlightenment to the good news and a gradual response. From God’s perspective, a person is converted all at once, but sometimes it is not as clear from our point of view. This seems to be especially the case with children brought up in Christian families. 


The most important issue, of course, is not when you were converted, but that you are converted! Listening to the way people describe the occasion of their conversion can be helpful in understanding their overall understanding of the gospel. As we discovered on the gospel pop quiz, there are a variety of popular expressions in use among professing Christians which may or may not communicate biblical meaning. When describing the occasion of your conversion remember what the right response to the gospel is—trusting Christ. It has nothing to do with a prayer that you prayed, a card that you signed, coming forward in a church meeting, or even asking Jesus into your heart. Your salvation is nothing that you did—it is you trusting in Jesus and what Jesus did. Several of those other things could’ve happened at the same time as your conversion, but the clearest way to tell someone about when you were converted is by saying when you repented and when you believed. 


Life Since Christ
What are some ways that your life has changed since you have come to Christ? How has your new God-loving heart shown itself in your lifestyle? Do you have different heart attitudes about sin and righteousness than you did before you were converted? Have you discovered fresh longings for the Bible, prayer, the lost, and the church? Did you get baptized after your conversion to publicly identify with Christ? 


A true believer cannot hide the faith in his or her heart—it always finds ways to show itself. Like James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). You may not be able to see into a family’s fireplace, but if you see smoke rolling out of the chimney there is evidence that there is a roaring fire inside. While we can never conclusively judge the existence of faith in the heart of another person, the person’s lifestyle gives evidence for the state of their soul. The issue is the pattern of life, not specific incidents. 


For many years I told people that I became a Christian when I was eight years old the night I went forward at the end of a service during a series of evangelistic meetings in the church I grew up in. I have always believed the facts about Jesus in my mind since as long as I can remember. My parents made sure that my conscience was highly sensitized as well—so I felt very badly whenever I did wrong. I wanted to please my parents, the people in church, and to some degree, the Lord. After growing up a little more, however, my lifestyle grew worse and worse. While the Lord mercifully kept me from committing more grievous outward sins, my heart was definitely not striving to obey the Lord out of my deep love for the Lord. 


When I was sixteen, a friend from school let me listen to some tapes by a man that expressed the basics of the gospel in a clear and contemporary way. My heart came to life. All of the truths I knew in my head about Jesus became completely personal. I had a new love for the Lord and new desires for the Bible and being with the Lord’s people. I wanted to live for Christ. I had become a Christian. But even though that was true, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t a believer before. I said, “I became a Christian when I was eight, but then became much worse. When I was sixteen, I rededicated my life to the Lord, and my life completely changed.” 


While my story for the next few years after my conversion sounds very typical (especially in the South!), it wasn’t really right. When God opens your heart to repent and believe the gospel, he sends his Holy Spirit into your life to do an overhaul from the inside out. As you share your salvation story be sure to include some of the ways that the Lord has changed you. While all of us know of more work that Lord needs to accomplish in and through us we should be able to identify and express clear patterns of change. If there have been no changes (or like me from age 8-16, a lifestyle pattern moving away from the Lord), there is good reason to examine yourself to see whether you are truly a believer after all. Maybe, you are a believer, but you may have become one at a later time than you had thought. That’s fine! The most important thing is that you believe right now. The only practical matter is being baptized after your conversion. I got baptized again after I was truly saved. Maybe you need to give your testimony in the waters of baptism as well. 


The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has rescued sinners from the wrath of God by taking the Father’s wrath upon himself on the cross. He rose again bodily on the third day, announcing to the world that he was who he said he was and that he accomplished salvation. Whoever turns from their sins and puts their trust in Jesus will be saved. 


Copyright © 2007 by John Crotts 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.