The type of evangelism I was reared up on as a youthful and on fire evangelical was what has been called the Romans Road to Salvation. The basic idea that needed to be communicated to our hopeless victim was that they could in now way earn their way to heaven. They could not please God if they tried. If they have sinned once in their life, broken one little commandment, then they might as well broken them all. The Roman’s Road traces it like this, “there is no one good, no not one” (Rom 3:10), “because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), and the “wages of sin are death…” (by which we meant hell) this is the gloomiest point in the whole tale, the bottom of the bottom, but it’s at this point – when their heart has fallen into their stomach and you have them sweating great big beads of fearful sweat drops – that you offer them hope, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). At this point, and with a little bit of prayerful prodding, the now hopeful friend is ready to exclaim like the crowed in Acts, “What must I do to be saved?” at which point you take them to the last stop in their Romans journey, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Then you lead them into the Sinners Prayer, after which you two go off to find a church to split somewhere.
But if Scot McKnight, Trevin Wax, and N.T. Wright are correct, and the apostolic gospel is not justification by faith, not the Romans Road to Salvation, not the Four Spiritual Laws, then what does that mean for our evangelizing. To word it positively, if the gospel is – strictly speaking – the narrative of Jesus Christ particularly as it was documented by the Four Evangelists, then what does that mean for our evangelizing?
It would be difficult to find in the Gospels anything that looks remotely close to the Romans Road to Salvation, and if all we had were the gospels – as some of the earliest communities we can assume did – what would our evangelizing look like? The gospels do speak of repentance – particularly out of the unrelenting mouth of John the Baptists – but interesting enough, this is one element that is included in our evangelizing that is not included in the Romans Road to Salvation. There is no mention of repentance in any of the common passages cited. Then if we ask “why repent?”, the Gospels give a different answer than most people do when they evangelize. The Gospels tell us to repent because the Kingdom of God is near (or in some cases, has arrived). Can you imagine adding that element to your evangelizing? Most people would think that to be a very odd thing to say to someone whom you are trying to convince to pray/ask Jesus into their heart. You don’t repent because of the nearness or arrival of the Kingdom of God, you repent because you are a sinner separated from God, everybody knows that. Besides, in the Roman’s Road Paul says nothing about the Kingdom of God, so neither should we, right? Wrong. First, we’ve slyly moved back into the position of comparing the Gospels to Romans rather than the other way around. Remember that the Gospels tell the gospel. So we should say, if the Gospels don’t gospel the Romans Road to Salvation, then should we. But putting that aside for the moment, whoever said that Paul did not have the Kingdom of God in mind even in our favourite Romans Road to Salvation passages?
Have you ever asked yourself what – in Romans 6:23 – did Paul mean by “in Christ Jesus our Lord”? Of course not. It is usually not apart of our gospelling or evangelizing. Our main point is to tell people that they need to accept Jesus into their hearts to receive eternal life. But that’s just it. Because we don’t pay close enough attention to Paul, what our main point is and what Paul’s main point is are not the same thing. This begs the question as to whether we are even gospelling Paul’s gospel when we evangelize using the Roman’s Road to Salvation.
When Paul says “in Christ” he is saying “in the Jewish Messiah” or, to put it more pointedly, “in the King”. This is Paul’s “Kingdom of God” language. Jesus is the long awaited Israelite king, and standing in the line – as the climax in fact – of the Israelite kings tradition, it means that those who are in his Kingdom are represented by him as the King. This is what Paul means by “in Christ”. Jesus is eternal life. Jesus is ‘the Life’ (John 14:6). If we are “in Him” then we partake in that eternal life. Not only that, when Paul says “in Christ Jesus our Lord” what he is saying is that yes, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, but because Israel’s God is also the God of creation, to say that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah also means that he is Lord – i.e. King – of the rest of creation as well.
All of a sudden it is not about saying a prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts. Rather it is about making a conscious decision, a declaration of allegiance, that Jesus is Lord and with it a deep conviction that he is the first fruits of the New Creation (“if you confess with your mouth [a declaration of allegiance] that Jesus is Lord [read: King] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead [i.e. first fruits of the New Creation], you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
If we approach Paul’s gospelling in this way, it aligns well with the Gospels. Notice, it’s not about getting people to say a Sinners Prayer so that they can feel a conscious relief and breathe a sigh of security that they are going to heaven. This is an important point to make because this type of “gospelling” creates would-be “converts” – nominal Christians (and make no mistake about it, we’ve create an entire community of them and stuffed them into our churches). It has long bothered me that Jesus called the disciples the way he did. No Sinners Prayer. No confessions. No – dare I say – even repentance, at least not the emotional altar style we are used to. Rather, he called individuals – in fact, he called nations – to follow him. He called them to be disciples, not converts. Disciples. The Romans Road to Salvation, if understand and preached as I just suggested, does not create nominal converts. It creates disciples. It summons people to join a Kingdom and to become a new creation. This changes everything about their being. It changes the way they think and move and talk and act and live and play and work and love and fight… it changes everything.
Someone – a Christian I know – recently quipped that God doesn’t care about his language – the coarseness of it, its vulgarness – as long as there are starving children in the world. I would suggest that God cares about both. If you understand that you’ve joined a Kingdom – not just become a secure convert – you would not make that kind of remark. As a new creation you would guard your language, guard your heart, and feed the poor.
Some want the Kingdom without the New Creation, standing up for Homosexual rights, fighting for women’s rights, fighting for starving children, fighting for social concerns with their communities, but thinking that as long as they keep morally above reproach – stay away from big things like theft and adultery – it’s all okay, because we are following King Jesus – and little things like the way we drive or the language that comes out of our mouths, that stuff doesn’t really matter.
Others want the New Creation part – guarding every part of our personal lives, but doing nothing to change the situations of those around us and around the world, not taking part in the larger Kingdom vision of Jesus. That’s not right either.
Salvation flows from the gospel. The gospel is Kingdom and New Creation. You cannot have one and think that you can do without the other. Or, as Paul put it, we must “confess with our mouths that Jesus is King, and have the deep rooted conviction that he is the first fruits of the New Creation” (Rom 10:9 paraphrased). This means that if Jesus is King and you have declared an allegiance to his Kingdom, then he is your representative and what is true of him – to use Wright’s terminology – is true of you also. That is, if he is the first fruits of the New Creation, so are you.
And that changes everything.