We don’t see a lot of Gospel Tracts these days while we are out and about. Two weeks ago while shopping at a local Home Improvement store, my son announced his need to use the restroom. While waiting for him to finish his business, I noticed what looked like a gospel tract lying on the toilet paper dispenser. I thought, “hmmm… don’t see that very often these days”. I picked it up quickly and read the cover, “You Say You’re Saved But…” Huh? Okay, then… wasn’t going to leave this behind. Today we’ll work through this tract and the need to distinguish Law and Gospel.
Audience for the Tract
So the front of this tract says this:
Who is the target audience of this tract? This is a common question we ask here during our Discernment in Music (DiM) posts, so there is clearly a force of habit at play, but seriously, who is the target audience of this tract? Someone who says they are “saved”. That is a particularly Christian turn of phrase. It’s a churchism. So this is a tract that was left in the bathroom stall of a Home Improvement store targeting professing Christians? I agree that there is a lot of bad teaching out there and that the problem of false converts is real, but this is an odd approach to addressing that problem. Without opening the tract, I’m already wondering, “why isn’t this at a Christian bookstore or Megachurch?” I’m concerned about the “but…” in bold letters. What is this tract going to use to counter the reader’s profession of faith?
Does your life magnify Jesus Christ?
Ouch. So, okay… the test for “am I saved” is “Does my life magnify Jesus Christ”? The tract then says
Colossians 3:17a, 1:18c, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
SO, LET ME ASK YOU. ARE YOU SAVED?
It was at this point that I almost lost it in that store. We’ll get to the proof-texting at play in just a minute, but taken at face value, is there ANYONE alive who can rightly claimed to be saved if this is the first test? No. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, Son of the Living God passed this test. And because He did and then gave His Life as a substitutionary atonement for our sin, by the Grace of God and through Faith in Christ Jesus our unrighteousness is exchanged for His righteousness.
Now, let’s deal with the proof-texting. They didn’t even bother to let the Scripture speak for itself. The took a phrase from a verse in Chapter 3 and closed its thought with a phrase pulled from Chapter 1. Does the Bible not plainly teach on salvation anywhere in scripture, such that we are left to matrix the most fundamental of doctrines? In truth, Chapter 3 does contain the Gospel… but since this tract is trying to beat up the reader with Law right out of the chute, the author has taken a Gospel passage and turned into a commandment. The book of Colossians isn’t a dictionary or a lexicon where we strip mine ideas and phrases to construct new thoughts, laws, or principles. It was a letter, written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Colossae. This is the only reference to Colossians made in this tract, and they literally flipped the message backwards in their only proof-text. Paul begins with the Preeminence of Christ and builds up the reader into good works as the outflow of the work of the Gospel, yet this proof-text takes good works as that which gives the Lord Jesus preeminence in our lives, proving our salvation. Let’s look at the text in order.
Colossians 1:1-23 (ESV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Preeminence of Christ
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
There are so many places to look for the Law of God which convicts us of sin… why do violence to the text, twisting the Gospel into a Law that cannot be fulfilled by our flesh (proof-text portion was underlined above)? Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to warn against being led away or shifting from the hope of the Gospel that was preached to them, particularly for those who would seek to enslave them once again under the elementary principles of law-keeping as a means of proving their salvation (like this tract seems to want to do).
Colossians 2 (ESV)
2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Alive in Christ
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Let No One Disqualify You
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Colossians 3:1-17 (ESV) | Put On the New Self
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity,passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is a Gospel Epistle… not a test of proving your salvation. Salvation isn’t something you prove by how well you’ve maintained the preeminence of Jesus Christ in your works. What does Paul point his readers to, their good works? Absolutely not! He points them to the preeminence of Christ, His finished work on the Cross for our sake, the Gospel of Hope that was preached to them, the forgiveness of sin by faith in Jesus Christ, for God took our debts of sin and transgressions and left them nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul transitions, painting a picture of our having joined in the death of Christ in water baptism, and Paul urges us to walk in newness of life by faith. You see, good works flows as the result of our regeneration in Christ, but Paul isn’t making them the proof of salvation here. We will continue to fall short and we will continually need to forgive one another, as we ask for forgiveness in our daily prayers.
This tract continues to take the Gospel passages and twists them into Law, accusing the professing Christian reader of not truly being saved since they cannot live up to standard of Jesus Christ. We’ll continue with the tract for a bit longer.
Does it show in your Lifestyle?
Now, we need to be careful here. We agree that a life of faith should look differently from a life of unbelief, we know this from the Epistle of James. If there is no visible difference in our lives, then can such a faith that produces no good work truly be saving faith? That’s a fair question and that should be where this question is pointing. Sadly, the tract goes back into the burden of law while skipping Gospel passages.
2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”
The “old things” here are the desires one had prior to salvation in Christ Jesus. When someone gets truly born again they are brand new. All the sins they once enjoyed are no longer a part of the will or the life of the new believer, and have been replaced…
See what they did there? If sin is still tempting to you, you aren’t truly born again. Because when you are born again, those desires go away and are replaced with Godly desires. Is that what the Bible teaches? That our flesh becomes perfect once we are born again? Not in this life. Will we be able to measure our salvation by our earthly perfection? Nope. Am I exaggerating the points being made by this tract? Let’s look at the remaining headings:
- Does it show in your love? Do you love Jesus more than ANYTHING? The only way that is possible is if you are saved….John 14:15, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.”
- Does it show that he is your LORD? Luke 6:46, “and why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”…if you profess Jesus Christ as Lord, but have never given Him full control of your life, you say you are saved, but it seems just to be a mere profession without salvation.
So, when the tract finally gets around to the Gospel, we get a list of commands:
- Accept that you are a sinner Romans 3:23, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
- Agree with God, and repent of your ins 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:”
- Call on Jesus and ask Him to save you Romans 10:9-10,13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, though shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Okay, so the reader goes through this list… and within an hour (I’m being generous), the believer will still fail every single one of the tests of salvation presented in the tract. The closing paragraph just before the contact information for the local church that purchased the tract breaks my heart.
God tells us to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith. Let the Lord search your heart. Will you listen to what He has to say to you? If you are not saved, are you willing to call upon the Lord Jesus and ask Him to forgive your sins and save you? Will you give Him your HEART and LIFE? REMEMBER, HE WANT TO SAVE YOU!
If only the Gospel had been clearly presented in the tract… without being crumpled into law. The professing Christian who still struggles with sin, with making Jesus Christ preeminent in his works (words and deeds) isn’t saved? This Gospel tract is an example of confusing Law and Gospel, and it provides no rest for the reader, no hope for the believer, nothing but works-based assurance.
Don’t share tracts like these. Get rid of them. Learn the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. It isn’t your place to measure the good works of one of Christ’s servants, merely to preach law and gospel and let the Holy Spirit work in His people. The Law is holy, and profitable for exposing sin and putting it to death in our flesh. We will all die. Our flesh is cursed, it is rotten and decayed due to sin. Please read through 1 Corinthians 15… Paul repeats the Gospel and then goes on to explain the Resurrection that is to come. We are indeed made new creatures by faith in Christ Jesus, but as long as the old flesh remains, it is being brought to death (by the Law of God as punishment for sin) so that when that which is our flesh finally passes away, that which is Spiritual will rise again in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
In Christ Jesus,