Some people say that the good news of the gospel is…too good.
Ever since the Apostle Paul preached, this gospel has been under attack with an old chestnut that goes something like this: “If salvation is a free gift, then let’s live any way we choose!” Or as Paul himself said in Romans 6:1, shall we “continue in sin that grace may abound”? There is a certain logic to it, no? If Christ has paid for sin, past, present and future, why not do as you please?
Well, here’s why: because when someone truly believes the gospel, they receive the Holy Spirit, which means that they receive a new heart (Ezekiel 36:36). This new heart enables them to truly understanding that Christ has died in their place for their sin. When someone truly “gets” that sacrifice by the power of the Spirit, their heart melts…and they change.
Saving Private Ryan
The movie Saving Private Ryan provides a good illustration. Here, in the aftermath of D-Day, Tom Hanks plays John Miller, an army captain who is assigned a mission to go into all of war-torn France and find one lone private – James Frances Ryan. The brass want Private Ryan brought out of the war because all of his brothers have been killed in combat, and his mother is to receive 3 horrific telegrams in one day; they don’t want her to eventually receive a fourth. Action ensues, and, as it happens, at the end of the movie, every man assigned to find Ryan has been killed in the search, except for one. And when this last man, Captain Miller himself, lays dying, he brings the surviving Ryan near and says, “Earn this.”
The movie closes decades later with an elderly Private Ryan coming to the Normandy cemetery to see Miller’s grave. He turns to his wife and asks her to confirm that he has lived a good life, that he is indeed a good man. She confirms it, and he stands at attention and salute’s Miller’s grave.
It’s a powerful movie moment and carries a life-changing truth: When someone sacrifices his life for you, and you are “in touch” with it, you can never be the same.
Now, leaving aside the idea that we might be able to “earn” what Christ has done for us – we can’t – what we take away from this is that everyone who truly believes Christ has been hanged on a tree for them, seeks to live for Him. By the power of the Spirit, they become full of what Paul called “conviction”:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction… 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 (ESV)
Paul said that he knew the Thessalonians were chosen by God (that is, true Christians) because they, by the power of the Spirit, lived lives of conviction, that is, purposeful, sober-minded, God-centered lives. And so, when you see someone behaving however they please, living totally for self, and yet claiming to be a Christian, you have reason to scratch your head and wonder if they are the real thing. Now, we can’t know for sure and it’s not up to us anyway, but we do know this: when the gospel comes, I mean when it really comes to someone, that person can never say, “Great, I can sin all I want now.”
Any more, that is, than Private Ryan could kick dirt on Captain Miller’s grave.