January 3, 1960, three years and forty-two days before I was born, A. W. Tozer preached a sermon entitled, “What does it mean to accept Christ?” You understand if your mind is capable of doing math that Tozer’s message was preached some fifty-two years ago and that I am only one year away from being fifty years old. I mention this not to show you my age but to show you that for more than half a century there have been men of God standing against the modern false gospel of easy-believism or passive “acceptance” of Christ. Tozer lamented that in his day the majority of evangelism in America was of the sort that perverted the gospel by minimizing what it means to receive Christ and believe in Christ.
In other words, even before 1960, a large portion of American evangelism had already degenerated into a wide-gate false gospel of easy-believism. This is the false notion that one can be saved by just “inviting Jesus” into his or her life without entering into Jesus’ death. The wide-gate is one of easy access and easy entry. The wide-gate has no denying of self, death to sin, or any difficult sayings. It’s easy; it’s acceptable; it’s appealing; but it’s deadly. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
So receiving Christ is not just “inviting Jesus into my life” or just “adding Jesus to my life”; receiving Jesus is far more than responding to a minimized, inoffensive, appealing gospel of “just accept Jesus.” Of utmost importance then is the right and biblical answer to the question, “What is it to receive Christ?”
The Gospel of John answers the question, “What is it to receive Christ.” Remember that John 1:1-18 is the prologue to the book. Here John is telling us what the rest of the book is going to be about. In John 1:12 we are introduced to the wonderful truth that among blind and bad humanity there are those who see the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ and receive Him. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:13 shows us why these believed and received – “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Now we could stop right here in John 1:12-13 and say, “There you have it! All you have to do to be saved is receive Jesus and God will cause you to be born again.” And we would be dead wrong! Let me explain. This is the mistake of a minimized Gospel with no content. It’s like what is known in the health and nutrition world as “empty calories.” An empty calorie is a calorie without any content. An empty calorie is a calorie with absolutely no nutritional value. The sad part about empty calories is their deceptive nature. They cause the body to pack on dangerous and deadly fat while at the same time starving it of needed nutrition. This is why highly processed food (such as is common in the American diet) is so dangerous and deadly. It has been stripped of its nutritional value and substituted in the place of wholesome, healthy food.
To stop right here and ask people to receive Jesus would be to offer a highly processed Gospel empty of all its saving content with dangerous and deadly consequences. This deceitful mistake is made over and over in the evangelism of today. For instance, the peddlers of the wide-gate empty gospel will quote Acts 16:30-31 out of context to remove the Gospel’s content. “And after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Here is the problem. What Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer about how to be saved was true – he was to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved – but Acts 16:32 supplies some important information that preachers of easy-believism overlook – “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” Without understanding the content of the Gospel there is no saving belief in Christ.
Notice our text. John is not asking for a response to Christ in John 1:12-13. John has not yet explained the ministry of Jesus proving Him to be the fulfillment of the sacrificial system as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) who would die as a substitute and sacrifice for sinners (John 19:16-30), whose blood would be on the mercy seat (John 20:11-12), and who would be raised from the dead (John 20:15-20) so that a holy God could pardon sinners and remain just in the process.
It is only after John has fully explained the ministry of Jesus that he expects anyone can properly respond to Jesus and receive Him. Notice that it isn’t until John 20:31 that John calls for belief in Jesus – “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
People are not saved through a gospel emptied of its content. God uses His Word to teach us about the ministry of Christ and our need for Him and everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Jesus (John 6:45). No one can come to Jesus unless he is drawn to Jesus by the Father through the word about Christ (John 6:44). Those who receive and believe are born of God by the Word of God (John 1:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3, 23).
To receive Christ is to receive the testimony of His sinless life. To receive Christ is to receive His death as a substitute and sacrifice for your crimes against God – it is to receive His death as your death. To receive Christ is to receive Him in His resurrection as your life; as your Lord, because of the demonstration of His great love for you. You love Him because He first loved you.
Empty calories are having their harmful and deadly effects on the physical health and physical lives of millions of Americans. Empty gospels are having a more harmful and more deadly effect on billions of people in the world. What kind of Gospel have you consumed? What kind of Gospel will you share?