I was listening to James White the other day and I thought he made a point worth sharing. He was comparing the way the Apostles presented the gospel to the way many have come to present it in our day. We tend to start with the sinner and ask him if he wants to go to Heaven or not. We make it mostly about his escaping Hell and he can escape if he asks Jesus to save him. Of course, all of this has to do with the gospel message but if we study the way the Apostles presented it, it comes across with a different emphasis.
I started reading in the book of Acts to confirm this since I was raised with the mindset that the main question is whether we are going to Hell or not and what I find supports White’s point. We don’t read of the Apostles going around asking people if they wanted to escape Hell or not. They for the most part just proclaimed the fact that Jesus has been appointed Lord of all through his death and resurrection and that everyone had better submit to him and it is this submitting to him as Lord that brings salvation.
In Acts 2 we read of Peter speaking of the significance of the crucifixion but his emphasis isn’t on how this atones for our sins but how it is the means to his exaltation as Lord, “Act 2:34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Act 2:35 until I make your enemies your footstool.' Act 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Act 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
The inference is that Jesus Christ is our judge and since these men had a part in his death they were not ready to meet him but all Peter does is lay out Jesus as Lord and the Holy Spirit did the rest. He certainly does not lead them in a rendition of the “sinner’s prayer”.
In Acts 3 especially starting in vs. 17 Peter again refers to their murdering Jesus and points out that he is the Author of life. The inference is that they have rebelled against their creator and in vs. 18 they need to repent and turn again. In other words submit to him if they are to be saved. He then reminds them of Moses’ words that God would raise up a prophet like him that they “had better listen to” and if they didn’t listen to him they would be destroyed. Acts 17 is interesting in this light as well. Paul doesn’t begin by talking about the cross and that Christ died for their sins since no one in Athens knew anything of this and wouldn’t have understood its significance. He mainly speaks of the fact that God is Lord and Creator; his Son is the appointed Judge proven via the cross and resurrection and all had better repent of their sin and believe in or submit to him.
I am not saying that the Apostles didn’t speak of the atoning work of the cross or that they never mentioned Hell but do you see where the emphasis is compared to a lot of what goes on today? It is on the Lord of glory and our duty to acknowledge him as such. It isn’t on us and our need of eternal life and the escape from Hell. Eternal life in heaven is seen as the result of salvation not the goal of salvation. To them the goal of salvation was having a right relationship with Jesus, not just as savior but as Lord.
The effect of salvation is to get us on our knees in obedience to Christ, not just to get us justified so we continue to live as we want. If we apply this to the Lordship Salvation controversy of recent years one can’t help but think that those that take the side that one doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as Lord to be saved have missed the point of the gospel entirely and are in danger of preaching a false gospel. Is the crux of the gospel Jesus as Lord or is it us having eternal life?