With a desire to see souls saved, with a longing to bring many people to Christ, some well-meaning Christians engage in theological reductionism while presenting the gospel, and come to the conclusion that salvation is “simple.” Some get frustrated at more thoughtful people who know that among non-Christians the way of salvation is not easy to understand. I have seen people struggle to believe. I think of one man who has told me time and again, “I would love to believe what you believe, but I do not understand.”
According to Merriam Webster, the word simple means, “not hard to understand.” If this is what individuals intend to say when they talk about the gospel being simple, then they are right, and they are wrong.
The gospel is simple to understand, but only for a person who is already spiritually alive, having been given spiritual sight, and whose understanding has been illuminated by God the Holy Spirit in a moment of time. But the gospel is not easy to understand by a person whose mind has been spiritually blinded by the god of this world, “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The idea of the gospel being simple or “not hard to understand” is the language of the redeemed, not the language of the unconverted.
The gospel was not simple, or easy to understand, by those alive in Christ’s day, for even when the Light of the world came to give light “to every man that cometh into the world,” we read that the Light “was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:8, 9). People did not know Jesus. They did not understand Him or His message. Why? Because it takes more than light to see Christ as Lord and Saviour, it takes spiritual sight and that is something the natural man does not have.
Not only does the natural man not have spiritual sight, he does not have a spiritual heart, or spiritual ears to hear the gospel. By nature and by choice the heart of the natural man is fat and dull with sensual pleasures and self-centered thoughts. The ears of the natural man are heavy and are difficult of hearing. And their eyes they have tightly closed to gospel truths. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15; Isaiah 6:9, 10). The gospel is not easy to understand for a person who is spiritually blind, has a darkened understanding, is deaf to the voice of God, and has a terrible heart condition.
Moreover, the gospel required the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. The natural man does not understand how the death of one person could atone for the sins of others. Such a concept is foolishness, and so the gospel remains a great mystery. It is not easy to understand.
Jesus said that He deliberately spoke in parables in order to reveal to His own the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to conceal them from others. “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew 13:10, 11).
The apostle Paul had to reason with the Jews, week after week, about the things concerning Christ for even the rabbis, schooled in the Scriptures, did not find the gospel easy to understand. Some, whose hearts the Lord opened, did believe and were saved. Most believed not and, moved with envy sought to hurt the messenger of grace (Acts 17:2-5).
The honest heart will confess with John Whittle (1889) that redemption is a great mystery.
“I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
It takes a miracle to convert a soul, and miracles are not of human origin. John W. Peterson understood that the omnipotent power of God must be involved in the salvation of every soul.
“It took a miracle to put the stars in place;
It took a miracle to hang the world in space.
But when He saved my soul,
Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace.”
If there is someone reading this Blog who will confess that you do not find the gospel easy to understand, but would like to, then ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see what others see in Christ. Ask God the Holy Spirit to open your blind spiritual eyes, and to illuminate your darkened mind, so that you might understand the gospel and be saved. On the other side of salvation you will be able to say, “Ah, the gospel IS easy to understand – now that God has shown me the way of salvation.”
“Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.”
Clara H. Scott, 1895