I’ve been thinking a bit more on the reasons that many Christians seem to confuse the the message of the gospel. I have a few questions that we might ask ourselves as we seek to bring clarity to our presentation of the message.
Have we made it clear how lost man is? Do we make clear how much God hates sin? I think that many times those not yet saved don’t understand how serious their condition truly is. We don’t always make clear that man is indeed sinful, totally depraved, completely separated from God. Every man is in such a state that he is dead in his sins and he cannot do anything about it (Ephesians 2:1-2). The problem is three-fold. First, our sin offends the holy character of God and he must respond in wrath (Is. 64:6; Ro. 3:23). Second, our debt to sin is enormous and must be paid (Col. 2:13, 14; Rom 5:12). Third, sinners are deeply enslaved to the God of this world (Col. 1:13; 2 Cor. 4:4) and blind to truth. And sin to a sinner makes sense … he won’t want to let it go.
Why is this important? Because the Good News of salvation is that it is salvation from sin. Salvation is not just a means to a better life, without salvation we will have no life. And coming to faith means we must admit our sin, we must deal with it, we must repent. If people come to Christ merely for a “better life” they will prove to be like the seed sown on the rocky or thorny ground in the parable of the soils. They seem to respond but prove to have no depth of root and bear no fruit when life becomes difficult.
It is my privelege to be preaching at Crossroads this weekend – filling in for Jerry. The message is from James 1:5-8 on discerning the wise response to various trials through boldly asking God for wisdom. I note that later in the book James says we need to be discerning as to the “wisdom” we embrace – it isn’t always from God. He gives us some helpful insight into both kinds of wisdom.
James 3:13-18 (ESV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
TWO sources of “wisdom”
Not from above – heaven
Unspiritual – i.e., natural
Characteristics of “wisdom”
|(vv 14, 16)
Open to reason
Results from “wisdom”
I was quietly sitting in a local haunt in Sammamish – reading, underlining, and jotting a few notes in my journal – when one of the employees (maybe 16 years-old) walked by and exclaimed, “is that a book!” It was like he had never seen one. “I’ve heard of people who do that,” he continued. “Do what” was my bemused reply. “You know, read books.”
I’m still not sure what to make of it …
In the first part of this blog reflection (bloglection?) I noted that “I believe that that in some cases the gospel message has become muddled to the degree that resultant “converts” reflect, at best, shallow shadows of true Christians. At worst, they might not even be saved.” How did this come to be? A variety of things seem to have conspired to “mess up” our gospel message. Please not that I’m sure that in most cases the motives involved are pure, but the practice seems off. In some cases ignorance of biblical teaching may be at the root. I’ve discerned at least four reasons might lead us to a muddled gospel message.
- A mindset in churches and church leaders that is numbers conscious to the extreme. When we make growth and increasing attendance numbers, or baptisms, or conversions, or whatever the measure of success we can be tempted to water down the message to get a response or a lot of responses. The tendency can easily become one of subtly changing the message to be more palatable while leaving out important parts of the message.
- A “fast food” society that demands information in small bites, and results in thirty minutes or less. We need to be committed to the “whole counsel” of God and commitment to long-term redemptive relationships.
- A humanism that has infiltrated our theology and practice that leads us to cater to the egocentric “felt needs” of men and women in our culture. An emphasis on therapy may be leading us astray from confronting the real need of man (which is to deal with sin that so corrupts everything). Helping someone through their personal struggles and “felt needs” may be a worthy task, but if that becomes the ultimate goal we may present a message of self-fulfillment rather that divine redemption.
- A “muddling of the means” of salvation, forgetting that it is not men, or methods, or prayers, or activities that save. Salvation is a gracious work of God as he alone can redeem us from our sins.
More to come…
Is our gospel message clear?
It would seem that the message of the Cross, the message of salvation, should be the most agreed upon statement in the Evangelical Christian Church. It is the fundamental message of believers, the message of truth which all must hear and to which all must respond to in order to be saved. It should be the most universally consistent theological statements within the church. Yet amazingly it is not always so.
There have always been those that would teach that salvation is somehow apart from Christ and/or the cross. Others would make salvation to be the result of some sort of human achievement. In most cases in these obviously unbiblical and incorrect teachings have been confined to the cults and false religious systems. However, there seems to be some confusion over the Gospel message even among some evangelical churches. I believe that that in some cases the gospel message has become muddled to the degree that resultant “converts” reflect, at best, shallow shadows of true Christians. At worst, they might not even be saved.
In light of the stern warning of Galatians 1:6-9 it would behoove all of us to check out the gospel we preach and teach.
” I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (ESV)
We should carefully evaluate our presentations of the Gospel in light of Scripture, and seek to make extremely clear the very words of God and take care to avoid those things that might cause us to compromise the message.
“Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.”
– Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More, p. 105.
I found this quote on a couple of blogs this week. How little we seem to understand the selfish center within us that must consistently be brought to the Cross.