When it comes to understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is critical that you understand the cause and effect of the Gospel and not confuse the two of them. Cause is the reason why somebody receives eternal life. Effects are the results of having received eternal life. Mixing the two can have devastating impact.
Consider the case of the Galatians. The Apostle Paul came to them and taught them both what Jesus did and what Jesus promised. They became genuine, born-again Christians as evidenced by the spiritual gifts they demonstrated as noted in Galatians 2. Some time later a group known as the Judaizers came and taught that in addition to Jesus it was necessary for all males to be circumcised according to Old Testament law in order to be saved. Somehow, the Galatians believed it. Though it seemed like a small concession, the Galatians had fundamentally changed how salvation worked. For them, it went from you are saved by grace to you are saved by sacrificing your foreskin. Sounds pretty stupid when you put it that way. Paul agrees. In Galatians 5:2f are these strong words, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
How many situations can mimic the Galatians scenario? It is quite common to believe or at least express that you are saved by Jesus and (fill-in-the-blank). Grace is grace. It is a gift. You don’t and can’t pay for a gift. The cause of our salvation then is Jesus, that’s all; just what God has done for us. Whatever we do is effect. Mixing the two creates a Galatians-like false gospel.
Imagine for a moment that I am fabulously wealthy and I want to give you a present. I have discovered that you like art and so I buy for you Monet’s Garden at Giverny. Let’s say I bought it at an auction for $20M. Upon receiving this gift, you say, “This is way too generous” and you offer me a $100 bill to defer the cost. How should I feel about your offer? I’ll tell you how I feel. I’m taking back my painting. I was giving you a $20M gift and you demeaned it by offering to buy it for $100. This is how it is with our salvation. Our salvation cost the life and forsakenness of the incarnate Son of God. You cannot add your good works, church membership, tithe, holy days of obligation, foreskin or even faith for that matter. Even faith is the gift of God. So if asked, “Why do you expect to go to Heaven?” Let your answer be one word, “Jesus”.
Now, if you offered your $100 as down-payment on an appropriate security system for the painting, that would be an acceptable start. That reaction is an effect of receiving a great gift. So when we do good things, go to Church, honor God with our stewardship or whatever, these can be signs that God has found you.
Cause and effect, keep them straight.