There are some grossly oversimplified versions of the Gospel floating around our culture and in our churches (*gospel means "message," and for the purposes of this blog, we are referring to Christ’s message of salvation). In an attempt to make the Gospel of Christ appear attractive and desirable to a lost and dying world, we have reduced its message down to a matter of where we will spend eternity or what God can do for us now. Unfortunately, these “versions” of the Gospel alter its powerful message just enough so that they don’t even resemble the real thing. This has led to an American church that is mediocre at best, greatly deceived at worst.
Take the “destination gospel,” for instance. This widely proclaimed message focuses entirely on where people will spend their eternity – safe and happy in Heaven with God, or burning and tortured in Hell. Often used as a scare tactic, the basic premise of this gospel is that people need to nail down their eternity before it is too late. “Thankfully, you can take care of that right now by praying one small, simple prayer with me.” Easy enough, check it off the list, now go and live your life…
Or how about the “health and wealth gospel”? Why wait for eternity to experience all the good God wants to give you? Just have enough faith and He will help you live “your best life now.” Having health problems? Let’s pray together and God will heal you! Want to be a millionaire? That’s what God wants for you, too! Things not going as well as you expect? Well, perhaps your faith is lacking…
These are, of course, two extremes that I have oversimplified for the purpose of explanation and exploration. Elements of truth exist in these perversions of the gospel, but having “enough” truth in them doesn’t make them true enough. The unaltered Gospel of Christ is the only Truth there is when it comes to salvation. Further, we never have to make the Gospel attractive to a world that does not know Christ. Our mission is only to proclaim its message; it is the role of the Holy Spirit to draw people unto repentance.
Why do I start this post out by discussing the integrity of the Gospel and the importance of getting it right? I’m glad you asked! It is because you cannot live the genuine life of a believer outside of the power of the Gospel. Today we have thousands upon thousands of people who sit in our church pews believing they have it all nailed down, when in fact, they do not. We know this because when we examine what scripture teaches about true salvation and we look at our churches today, something doesn't line up. The two do not look alike – “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong….”
In the last few posts, we have briefly explored Who God is and why we should fear Him. Yet if the story of humanity stopped at the place of knowing and fearing God but having no way to redeem our fallen state, we would have a major problem. Encountering God’s holiness outside of the Gospel of Christ puts us in a hopeless predicament. We have all sinned, rebelling against the Holy God and choosing ways that promote self above God (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We are the walking dead.
Most people in America have heard the story of Jesus Christ and could probably recite it in their sleep. He came as a humble baby, grew in wisdom and stature, lived a sinless life, and proclaimed teachings that countered the religious leaders of His day. He performed miracles and told parables. He forgave sins and taught that salvation was through Him alone. And in the end, He took the sins of the world upon Himself, dying on the cross in our place and rising from the dead three days later (Phil. 2:5-11). He defeated death, and not just physical death. He defeated the physical and spiritual death of the person, a death brought about by sin and leading to eternal separation from God.
But it begs the question: why did He do it? To save us from Hell? To give us a happy and comfortable life on earth? To show us just how much He loves us?
There is no simple answer to this question except to say this: the Gospel exists first and foremost to glorify God (Is. 43:25; 48:9-11; Ex. 36:22-23, 32; Matt. 5:16; Eph. 1:4-6; Rom. 3:25-26). Every other reason God has relentlessly pursued mankind and provided a way out of our sins falls under this overarching truth. The Gospel isn't about us. It is about God glorified.
As John Piper puts it, "God's ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us. And therein lies our security. God loves His glory above all" (1). How does this bring about security for us? Because God displays His glory through His love and pursuit of fallen humanity! In other words, "His all-sufficient glory is honored and displayed most by His working [salvation] for us rather than our working for Him. And this is love" (2). The Gospel message is that we cannot bring about our own salvation in any way. Salvation is the result of God's power alone, for His glory.
The Gospel of Christ exalts every good and perfect attribute of God. And we are comfortable with this statement in part. We like those attributes that we feel make much of us. God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). God is faithful (Deut. 7:8-9). God is kind (Lk. 6:35). God is forgiving (1 Jn. 1:9). These characteristics of God make us happy and comfortable as they bring immediate comfort and benefit to us.
But those attributes that scare us - the ones we often like to minimize or excuse - those are the attributes that actually make His Gospel that much more incredible. God is just (Ps. 25:8). God is righteous (1 Jn. 2:29). God is holy and jealous and pure (1 Pt. 1:16; Deut. 6:15; Prov. 30:5-6). God holds us accountable for our sins. Those still dead in their sins and destined to an eternity in Hell do not reveal a failure of God's love, a weakness in His saving power, or a lacking in His grace. No, they represent the absolute purity and holiness of God, which thereby demands purity and holiness in us. Friends, we are ever-deserving of every single consequence there is for our sins, including our eternal separation from God.
Therefore, the fact that God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and to once again know Him and have a right relationship with Him - now that is incredible and to the glory of God! God seeks to redeem His fallen creation for the purpose He designed it, to glorify Himself. Since He designed us to oversee His perfect creation and we gave it away, He’s using us to redeem it. His saving power raises Him high, and in the process, He raises us up as we call on His name. We benefit from His goodness and glory so that He may be glorified through us.
It is important, then, to get the Gospel right. And I'm not just talking about the process of salvation here...repent, confess, believe, or however you want to phrase it. I am talking about the purpose of the Gospel. Because once we grasp its purpose, we can live to fulfill that purpose.
Are you living in the saving power of Christ to make much of yourself or to make much of Him?
Piper, John (2013). Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Please to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Nashville, TX: B&H Publishing Group, p. 7.