For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Declaring the Whole Gospel

Years ago, a man named Finley Peter Dunn made the assertion that “the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” And in the hundred or so years since he said that, the same description has been applied to the work of the church in presenting the gospel and to the work of preachers in particular. In presenting the truth of God’s Word, it’s not all fluff and fun; we need to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Most folks want to water the gospel down to this mild mannered, warm fuzzy, non-offensive idea of nothing more than “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Now, don’t misunderstand me. God does love you, and He does have a wonderful plan for your life. But that’s not the whole gospel, is it?

There is a time and a place to talk about the warm fuzzy side of the gospel, but there is also a time and a place for the hard reality of talking about sin and judgment, depravity and destruction, and so on. We see both sides in the life of Jesus Himself, as well as in the record of the early church.

I recently read through the latest John MacArthur book called The Jesus You Can’t Ignore. It’s a response to those who are saying that Christians should be less confrontational with those who promote false teaching and so on. They suggest that we should enter into dialogue with those who disagree with us and find points of commonality; affirming one another, and so on.

MacArthur points out that while this might sound nice, it’s not the way Jesus confronted those who taught falsely in His day. He was very confrontational, very bold, very harsh even when it came to defending the truth, standing up for God’s Word, and so on. In fact, Jesus reserved His harshest words not for the Roman oppressors, but for the religious elite of His day; the scribes and elders; Pharisees and Sadducees; those who had corrupted God’s law and turned into something for their own profit.

As MacArthur points out in that book that when it came to broken sinners, Jesus was mild and gracious. But when it came to the proud self-righteous, He was anything but that. Someone once put it like this: we give law to the proud and grace to the humble and broken. Just as Scripture says that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Or put another way, the gospel is intended to both refresh and rebuke.

As our church continues through the book of Acts, we were given an illustration of the less popular side of presenting God’s Word as Paul confronts Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla with the gospel message. He doesn’t give the gentle, un-offensive “God loves you” speech. In fact, he does quite the opposite.

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’" (Acts 24:24-25, ESV)

I’m sure that modern evangelism teachers would cringe at that description of what Paul talks about. It’s much more confrontational than some think Christians ought to be isn’t it? Paul’s not looking for areas of agreement with Felix. He’s not trying to water things down so that Felix will listen. He gives Felix the truth of God’s Word so that the governor can see his genuine need for the faith in Christ he speaks of in verse 24.

First, he reasons with him about RIGHTEOUSNESS, and he probably began with the righteousness of God. He would have spoken of the character of God; His holiness and His perfection. God is holy. He is completely other, separate. And part of the complete otherness is the fact that God is perfect in righteousness; His moral character is without blemish. And because of that, His actions are completely holy and righteous, without blemish.

And the point is that because God is so holy and righteous, He cannot even look upon sin. Man, who is altogether sinful, cannot even enter into His presence in his own goodness or upon his own merit! God is righteous! And Felix isn’t the only one who needs to hear that.

We all need to be reminded of God’s righteousness so that we can see our desperate need for the righteousness of Christ, which is ours by faith in Jesus and His sacrifice. So though it might seem too confrontational, like Paul we need to reason with folks about righteousness.

Secondly, Paul addresses the issue of SELF-CONTROL. History says Drusilla was a very beautiful Jewish woman, and Felix, having no self-control, actually hired a sorcerer to help him lure her away from the man she was currently married to. And because Drusilla obviously had self-control of her own, she gave in to the promise of a life of ease with the Roman Governor and left her husband and married Felix while still officially married to her first husband.

I mention all of that because when Luke tells us that Paul reasoned with these two about the issue of self-control, he was obviously making some very personal applications of man’s depravity to these folks. It’s not just that man in general is depraved and unrighteous, especially in light of the righteousness of God. It’s not just that man in general needs salvation by faith in Christ. But Paul wanted it to be very clear that Felix and Drusilla were in need of that salvation, so he brings them to the very heart of their own sinfulness.

Now that’s not a very user friendly way to present the gospel, is it? It’s no wonder they reacted the way they did. And folks today have the same reaction. You see, it’s not necessarily sin and unrighteousness that we have a problem with; just don’t go talking about my sin. Sometimes, we need to be bold when presenting the Gospel, helping people not just see God’s righteousness and man’s sin, but their own sin lack of self-control, stemming from their own personal unrighteousness.

And when they understand that, then Paul’s next topic becomes especially meaningful, as he reasons with Felix about COMING JUDGMENT. Basically Paul says, here is the righteousness of God; His holy perfection. Here is the sin of man, and in particular your sin. And because of that sin, a holy and perfect God must punish sinful man. And one day, Christ is returning, and He’s returning not only as king, but as judge. And as judge, he will punish sin; not just sin in general, but your sin.

Unfortunately, in our desire to be more user friendly and seeker sensitive and whatever other catch word you want to throw at it, we don’t want to talk about judgment at all. Again, it’s just the God loves you and has a wonderful plan. And as I said, that’s true. But we also have to be faithful to share with folks that this God we’re talking about is a righteous God, who condemns sin, and we will stand before Him in judgment one day. If we truly love folks, we’ll warn them of that impending judgment and tell them that the only hope they have of standing in that day is to run to the cross.

The cross is the answer; Christ’s atoning work is the answer because in that sacrifice, He satisfied the wrath of God for those who will believe. It’s not just that God loves you and will forget about your sin. It’s that His loved caused Him to send His own Son to die in our place, to take our sin on His shoulders that we might have His perfect righteousness instead.

That’s the gospel message. That’s what we ought to be sharing. Not just the warm fuzzy parts; but the parts that show people the righteousness of God, the seriousness of their sin, the certainty of judgment, and the truth of the cross and faith in Christ as their most desperate need. And not everyone will like it when we share that.

In Felix’s case, He was alarmed and sent Paul away. According to a lot of our modern evangelistic approaches, that would make Paul a failure. Paul didn’t get Felix to pray the sinners’ prayer, sign on the dotted line so he could give him the “Welcome to God’s family” speech.

But the response to the gospel message is not up to us. Our success is not judged by the number of people we can coax into saying a prayer they don’t even mean, or guilting them into walking an aisle at church. Our success is judged by our faithfulness to proclaiming the whole gospel, however unpopular it might be, and we’ll leave the results to God. It’s His job to bring conviction, His job to bring regeneration, His job to call sinners to salvation. We just need to be bold and faithful, even if the world laughs at us.

Sorry about the longer post. I guess not posting more often causes it to build up a bit. But my prayer is that God’s people will become bolder in proclaiming the whole gospel, that we will be more concerned with faithfulness to the text and less worried about popularity and worldly success, that we will indeed be wiling to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And may God use His church in mighty ways to expand His Kingdom and Glorify His Son. To God Be the Glory.


Jeffrey said...


I feel the need to comment on this on behalf of all us "heretics". I say heretic because I am assuming you would consider me one because I know Mr. MacArthur would.

I will also admit that I am commenting out of ignorance because I have never read one of his books. However I would expect the grace that I extend to you and Mr. MacArthur to be returned to me.

In order for Philippians 2:12 to be a reality in each of our lives we ought to have each drawn our own unique conclusions based on our study of scripture and our unique experiences. Therefore we have no right to be calling each other heretics, this was particularly drilled home for me about a year ago when I realised how incredibly arrogant it is of me to call the Jehovah's Witness who has been martyred a hell bound heretic when the worst persecution I have ever received is being teased at work.

It is foolishness to argue over whose interpretation of scripture is correct when we are each supposed to have a unique relationship to both God and the Bible.

Scott said...

Rene -
I certainly don't know you well enough to call you a heretic, and I don't use the term lightly. But it is very clear that the example our Lord gave was of boldly confronting those whose "interpretation" of Scripture was clearly wrong, and this was the practice of His disciples as well.

You cannot read Scripture without seeing the clear call to "earnestly contend for the faith" to devote ourselves to "sound doctrine" and to "test the spirits." We are called to examine the faith claims of others, compare them with God's revealed truth, and call those who have run astray to repentance.

I understand your desire to be careful in that examination, to not not rush headlong into declaring anyone who disagrees on the smallest point a "heretic." But again, there are clear doctrines in Scripture regarding salvation, etc. and JW's and others are clearly at odds with that. It's not a matter of interpretation: Jesus is God, Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, etc.; all things your JW example would disagree with. In that case, we're not the one's consigning them to hell, Scripture is.

Furthermore, your reference to Phil 2:12 has nothing to do with each person finding their own salvation, which would contradict the rest of the entirety of Scripture. It's an admonition from Paul to see the process of sanctification continue in those who truly believe. All Scripture must be taken into context with the rest of Scripture; which never anywhere suggests that we can each have a "unique relationship" apart from clearly revealed truth.

Thank you for your gracious and honest response. I pray God will reveal Himself to you through faith in Christ as you continue to seek Him through His perfect Word.