As I write this, I’m preparing to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in Essen, Germany, and in Rome.
Germany, of course, was the land of the Reformation under the ministry of men like Martin Luther, where the authority of the Word of God was reclaimed after centuries of misuse by church authorities. The timeless, Biblical truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, swept across the German frontier and beyond and changed the face of much of Europe.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The battle cry of the Reformation became Post tenebras lux, which when translated from Latin becomes “After the darkness comes the light.”
Sadly, even in a country with such a historic faith, secularism and theological liberalism have become predominant in virtually every sector of public and private life. Less than 10% of Germans attend church on Sundays, and evangelicals comprise a small percentage of the country’s population.
So, how wonderful it is when we see men and women place their faith in Christ alone after hearing the unchanging message of the Gospel—the Good News of forgiveness of sin through repentance and faith in the saving death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Of course, we see the same secularism and liberalism in our own country as in Germany. America was founded by Pilgrims looking for the freedom to openly practice their faith after suffering stiff persecution at the hands of their countrymen. These separatist Puritans, who first fled England to the Netherlands before landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, led devoted lives of faith in Christ, influencing large swaths of the culture. Later, there came the Great Awakenings during the 18th century, when tens of thousands were saved through the powerful preaching of the Gospel by men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.
Now, fast forward a few hundred years, and we have the same scenario across much of Europe. Progressive, anti-God public policies and errant theology bend and move along with the cultural winds, no longer tethered to the unchanging truth of God’s Word.
Marriage between one man and one woman is under attack. Homosexuality is celebrated and promoted by the highest government authorities. Godly men and women who stand against these strong cultural, godless winds are attacked and ridiculed.
A growing number of young people and adults now claim no religious affiliation at all and are classified under the sad title of “nones,” people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” In 2007, when the Pew Research Center asked its questions about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by 5-to-1. Now that ratio is just a bit more than 2-to-1. That’s alarming! And if the current hostility toward people of faith continues on the same trajectory, we are in serious trouble as a nation.
Meanwhile, Italy has experienced a somewhat different scenario than much of Europe. Religion is still highly valued and practiced by many Italians. Thankfully, strong religious traditions there have been a buttress against some evils. For example, the abortion rate in Italy is seven times lower than the worldwide rate.
However, religion cannot save a person’s soul, and evangelicals and Protestants who hold to a saving, Biblical faith make up an extremely small minority of Italy’s population. Last year, I preached an Easter message from outside the Roman Colosseum, and it was a privilege to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ from the very city where the Apostles Paul and Peter were imprisoned and martyred. It was several hundred years later, when the Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire, that the persecution of Christians finally subsided.
My father never had the occasion to preach in Rome, so I am grateful for another opportunity to proclaim Christ in that great city. When I preach, I hold up the Bible just like my father did because I want people to understand that the Bible is the absolute authority for all of life. It is the Word of God, without error, from Genesis to Revelation.
Once again, the notion has spread that man is saved by faith plus works. No amount of good works can lead to salvation, because one then has to ask, “How good is good enough?” Well, the only answer is that the sum of our good works, our righteousness, is as filthy rags before a holy God. We can never be good enough or do enough good works to stand blameless before Him. Only through repentance and faith in Christ and His atoning, saving work on the cross, can anyone be saved. We stand justified—made right with holy God—through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The notion of a purgatory, a place where people go if their good deeds fall short, is never found in Scripture. Upon death, the soul either goes to be in the presence of the Lord in Heaven, or away from the presence of the Lord in hell. There is no halfway house. Those who make decisions to follow and obey Christ spend eternity with Him. Those who reject Him in unbelief spend eternity in hell. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Wherever the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association goes, it is always the power of the Holy Spirit acting upon the hearts of men and women as the Word of God is proclaimed that ushers them into the Kingdom of God. My son Will recently finished preaching to 17,000 people in Curitiba, Brazil, where nearly 1,000 people made life-changing decisions for Christ.
We give God the glory. Great things He has done and great things He will do as we proclaim Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). ©2023 BGEA
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA