Gospel

Distorting the Gospel

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“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.” Galatians 1:6-8

As you read through these three verses, the thing that immediately stands out if you are familiar with Paul’s writings in his other letters is the firmness with which Paul is writing. Paul is not coming to the Galatians with a gentle rebuke. Paul is upset, and it shows.

Usually Paul would open his letters with some form of thanksgiving to those whom he was writing. But there is no such thanksgiving found in this letter. Paul gets right down to business.

As Paul writes this letter he is a lot like a parent whose child has gone off track or has gone astray. Many of us have children. Have your kids ever done something wrong, and honestly done something so stupid that you were just flabbergasted by it?

I know I’ve looked at my kids many times and just been dumbfounded as to why they would do something like that. They know better! I’ve taught them better than that! And that is sort of what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, “I can’t believe you! Why would you do this? You know better!”

And why is Paul so upset? These believers were turning away from the true Gospel.

For those of us who have young children, if one of our kids were to take off running towards the road we wouldn’t gently call them back. No, we are going to raise our voices. We are going to yell at the top of our lungs for them to come back. We are willing to do anything, to say anything to keep our children safe and secure. Our child’s safety is a matter of life and death. And so is the Gospel…

This is Paul’s heart as he writes these verses.

In these verses Paul is astonished, he is angry, and he is grieved. It is clear that Paul has the heart of a Pastor. Paul is grieved that the Galatian believers would so quickly turn from the Gospel of grace that he has preached to them, in order to follow those who would distort the Gospel of Christ.

And friends I can so identify with Paul here.

Nothing grieves me more as a pastor, than seeing sweet people who have a real and sincere desire to follow God end up under teaching that distorts the biblical Gospel.

As we talk about this thought of distorting the Gospel, let’s look at some ways in which the Gospel gets distorted in our day. As we will see, this happens in both subtle and non-subtle ways.

First, there is this idea that many Christians have, or they have been taught that, yes they are saved through their surrender to Christ, but THEN they also have to have the right beliefs or the right behaviors to go along with this surrender.

This sounds almost right. And you might be hearing that and say, “Well, I don’t see the problem.” And I’ll give it to you, this is almost the gospel…but, almost the gospel isn’t the Gospel.

There are also times we will hear folks say, or challenge us to “give your life to Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart or life” and then we will be saved. Again, this sounds biblical. But here is the problem. When we say things in this way, or believe that this is the order in which things happen, we miss the fact that it is “grace first.” Here is what I mean.

You aren’t saved by your strong belief in God, or even our level of trust in God. Your level of faith or the strength of your faith isn’t the measure of whether or not you are saved. You don’t need to manufacture strong feelings or desire for God in order to feel secure in your standing with God.

Here’s the key. You aren’t saved BY your faith. You are saved THROUGH faith. If we think we are saved “BY” our faith then that means we are making our performance our savior. But when we understand that we are saved “THROUGH” faith, we make it clear that Christ is our Savior.

The Gospel is also sometimes distorted by those that teach it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a “good” person. (As if there was such a thing. We may be good compared to other people, but compared to a Holy and perfectly righteous God whose standard is complete holiness, we fall quite short)

Now on some level this sounds good. I think a lot of us would like to believe that everyone who is a good person was saved. We all probably know some folks who we would call “good people”, yet they don’t know Christ. It grieves us to think that perhaps these people if they don’t come to know Christ may end up in hell. So, I think a lot of us probably wish that we could be saved simply by being good.

But the problem is, it’s simply not the case. The Bible is clear that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone.

Again, this way of thinking that we can be saved by doing good works, is simply not true. If it were true that we could be saved based on our own goodness then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. There would have been no need for the cross. But hopefully we all know that we were in desperate need of the cross. We needed to be rescued, for apart from Christ we have no hope.

But not only would this teaching mean that Christ died for no reason, but what does it say about “bad” people? If “good” people can be saved, where does that leave bad people? I guess it damns them all to hell, with little or no chance of redemption.

But this clearly contradicts Scripture and even Jesus himself, most notably Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus tells us in those verses that He didn’t come for “good” people. Jesus says that He didn’t come to call “righteous” people. Jesus came for sinners, and he came to save sinners. Sinners like you and me!

So trusting in our own works completely misses and distorts the Bible.

There are also those who would tell you, (both professing believers and even unbelievers) if you were to ask them about heaven or how they get there, they would say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

But friends, being sincere won’t get you saved. I have a friend who is very sincere that she doesn’t need to believe in Jesus to be saved. But she’s just as lost as she can be. A runner can be very sincere about wanting to win a race. But if he goes the wrong way he’s never going to get to where he needs to be. You have to know the way, and Jesus and Jesus alone is the way. Sincerity isn’t enough. Only Jesus is enough.

There is also another way that the Gospel gets distorted, and I think this is probably the one that most of us are familiar with. There are a lot of churches that are very intolerant of small differences, or what I would call secondary (non-essential) beliefs.

I’ve seen this in some churches who say you can only use a particular Bible translation. Some churches say you can have to dress a certain way, or you have to have your hair a certain length. Other churches elevate certain spiritual gifts to the point of making them a condition of salvation, or perhaps maybe a higher level of salvation…

But the problem is, none of these things are in the Bible. So what these folks are doing is adding to what the Word of God says. They are being more strict about certain issues than God himself is, which I think is a problem. We must be very careful not to speak where God hasn’t, or to shout when God has only whispered. We must put emphasis where God has put emphasis, not where it suits our fancies.

As believers our emphasis must always be on the “gospel of Christ” that the Apostle Paul spoke of. This is the one and only Gospel we see taught in the Bible, and we must be very careful to neither add to it nor to take away from it. We must never, ever, lose sight of this Gospel or the Jesus it points us to.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why

I’m sure we have all heard the question, or maybe even asked the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

This is a question that the world wrestles with,  with some even using this reality (that evil exists, and that good people suffer) as a proof that God doesn’t exist…

But what would you say if I told you that in our world, bad things DON’T happen to good people.

Now, some of you might scratch your head at that. “What do you mean? I know good people that have died before their time. I know good people that suffer. I know good people that experience tragedy. I read or see on TV all the time how good Christians are suffering for their faith! Chris, what do you mean that bad things don’t happen to good people.”

Let me just say, yes…when we compare people to people…yes some are good, and some aren’t. Yes, some people are more evil or wicked than others…

But other people aren’t the standard for comparison. God is the standard. When we compare ANYONE to God, they come up short. The Bible almost seems to go out of its way again and again to make sure we know that there are no good people. (Romans 3:10, 3:23 for instance)

Folks, there is only One who is good, and that is God. And I think this ought to put the problem of evil, and this idea of righteous people perishing while the evil prosper in its proper perspective.

In contemplating this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” R.C. Sproul, Jr. answered it like this: “That’s only happened once, and he volunteered for it.”

He’s talking of course about Jesus. There has only ever been one man, one person, who could truly say that He was good. That was Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God who was God Himself, He took on human flesh, became a man and lived a perfect sinless life even though Scripture says he was tempted in all things as we are. Yet, he did it without sin. This One who was the only truly “good” person who has ever lived went to the cross and suffered and died.

Why did He do it? So that you and I, “bad” sinful people might be forgiven of our sin and saved…saved to live forever with God.

Folks, this is the Gospel. The world asks why bad things happen to good people, but the Gospel says that there was only one time a bad thing happened to a good person, and it happened so that good things can happen to bad people.

We are the bad people, we are sinners. But Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we might be saved from our sin and the wrath of God that those sins deserve. God is holy, and because He is, He must punish sin. So Jesus, the perfect, spotless, sinless lamb of God took our punishment for us.

The Gospel is very good news for sinners, and that includes everyone reading this.

So, how does this apply to us, and the reality of suffering. Well, we have to keep it in its proper perspective. Yes, bad things happen in this world, but those bad things happen because of sin. We live in a world in which sin is a reality. We live in a world in which we ourselves are sinners. Since this is true, we can’t ever say, “I don’t deserve this!”

This may sound harsh…but what we deserve is hell. So, if God through Jesus has saved us from hell, friends we have much more, and much better than we deserve.

When tragedy comes, we can’t say, “God how could this happen, why did you do this?” We “deserve” much worse.

Suffering, difficulties, tragedy…these things are never fun. We don’t want to go through them. But I believe there is comfort in the Scriptures as we face these realities. I personally find comfort it in a verse that I quote quite often:  Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

For the child of God, even the “bad stuff” we go through, God is using for our good. I heard a question this week, and it was a question Pastor James Boice asked his congregation as he suffered from stage 4 cancer some years ago. He asked, (I’m going to paraphrase) “If you could take your suffering and disabilities and difficulties away…would you?”

Most of us would probably say, yes. But, James Boice said if we did, or if we could, it wouldn’t be nearly as good for us as what God is doing for us AND in us through them.

This is hard for us to wrap our mind around, but this is the truth and the meaning behind Romans 8:28, this is why we have to trust in God when we don’t understand what is happening. This is why we have to rest in the Gospel and rest in Jesus.

So if you are reading this, this is my plea to you. Trust in God and trust in Jesus your Savior…

Because this God, and this Savior, Jesus Christ…He is our only hope, our only salvation, and our only goodness. Don’t reject Him, and please don’t try to live apart from Him. Receive Him, trust Him, and rest in Him.

 

The God Who Mourns

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One thing my family and I try to do is have a time of family worship in which we spend some time reading and talking about the Bible, and praying. Normally my kids love this time we spend together, and love hearing about Jesus and what God has to say to us through His Word.

Recently however, my 4 year old daughter didn’t want to have Bible Study. She wanted to play with her older sister. Even though I told her we were going to talk about Jesus, and how it was so important because Jesus loves us, she still wanted no part of our worship time. Even though I told her that the Bible tells us all about God, and how we can love God better, at that moment she had zero interest in hearing what the Bible had to say. (This sounds a lot like some adults I know also.)

After several minutes of me trying to encourage my daughter to join us, she finally got frustrated and blurted out, “I don’t like Jesus! I don’t want Him! I don’t want to know about God!”

Now, I understand that she is 4 years old and she really doesn’t understand what she is saying. I understand that she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that when we read the Bible, and read about Jesus, and when we choose to receive it as truth or reject it…there are eternal consequences. But nevertheless, when she blurted out those words, I was crushed. My feelings were hurt, and my heart agonized hearing such harsh words come from the lips of my little girl.

Her words got me to thinking though. If those words crushed me – If hearing the voice of my little girl reject Jesus and the things of God affect me so powerfully – How much more does it hurt the heart of God when He is rejected?

How it must pain Him when He hears people say they don’t want Him. How it must cause Him to mourn when people reject His Word. How it must grieve the heart of God when He sees people turn away from His Son Jesus, and the salvation that He brings. Sadly, there are times when even those who profess to love Him still choose to reject Him…either with their lips, or with their actions.

Now, this idea of God mourning over the words or the actions of people may strike some as odd. God is sovereign, He has perfect foreknowledge…so, does God really grieve over the actions of men, or how they choose to respond to Him and His love? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Colossians tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15) This means that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Jesus Himself says this exact thing in John 14:9. Jesus was God in human flesh, and perfectly reveals God and His character and personality to us. This being true, if we want to know how God feels about something, or how He would react to a particular scenario…all we have to do is look to Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to being rejected? He wept and He mourned. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 19:41 tells us that when Jesus drew near and saw the city, “…he wept over it.”

I don’t know about you the reader, but as I read these words and think about the heart of God, I am amazed. To think that God loves us so much and longs to bring us to Himself is amazing. To think that God grieves when we choose to reject Him with either our words or our actions, is a powerful thought.

Friends, God loves you. God longs to be with you. We know this because He sent His Son Jesus to tell us so. God loves you and longs to be with you so much, that He sent Jesus to the cross to make it possible. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, and my sin, so that we could be forgiven and no longer separated from Him. There is no questioning the love of God for His people, or His desire to be with us. The only question is…how will you respond to His love?

My prayer is that none of us would foolishly echo the words of my young daughter. She spoke out of youthful ignorance. If you are reading these words, you don’t have that excuse. Jesus loves you, I pray that you will love Him back. Jesus wants you, I pray that you want Him as well. God knows all about you, do you have the desire to know Him? I hope that you do.

Dear reader, don’t grieve the heart of God by rejecting so great a love. Run to Him. Desire more of Him. Learn all you can about Him, learn how to love Him better, and rest in His precious saving grace.

Cross-Cultural Gospel

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There is a big push in many churches these days to make our churches ethnically diverse. I was reading a social media post by a local pastor and he was speaking about how we need to make our worship services “cross-cultural” so that our churches could be “ethnically diverse.” And on one level I believe many of us would give a hearty “Amen!” to these two thoughts. On the surface these things sound good and true. And lest you misunderstand me, nothing gives me greater joy than to walk into a church and see a group of people of all colors, backgrounds, generations, and even shapes and sizes, for this is indeed a foretaste of Heaven…But as I reflect on this thought…of making our worship services “cross-cultural” to make our churches “ethnically diverse” I can’t help but think we might be missing something…

The fact is, we don’t need to make our services cross-cultural. The Gospel IS already cross cultural. Frankly, it disturbs me when churches say we are aiming for this group, or this demographic. The call of a church is to preach the Gospel to the area in which they are called to. If you have been called to a ethnically diverse city, then yes your church should look ethnically diverse. But, the church should resemble the city/area to which it is called. If you are called to a small town filled with older white farmers, then your church is probably going to be made up of older white farmers. If you are called to a college town, then your church is probably going to be made up of mostly younger college kids…I think you get what I’m saying.

My point is…The Gospel is cross cultural. Jesus is cross cultural. If you faithfully preach Jesus and His Gospel as a church to the place where God has called you AND live it out, then I believe people will come and I believe people will be saved and lives will be changed. Paul says in both Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 that we are all one in Christ, the walls that separate us according to cultures or ethnicity have been broken down. People are reconciled and united in Christ!

So, we don’t need to make the Gospel anything other than what it is…The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.(Romans 1:16) We don’t need to make the Gospel cross-cultural…it already is. Our goal is to be faithful to the Gospel, not try to change it or mold it into something else in an effort to attract certain people groups to our church so that we can point out to others how diverse our congregations are. When we do these things, we end up changing the Gospel or watering it down, and sometimes end up with a false Gospel which has no power at all to save.

We don’t need to strive to be cross-cultural, but we do need to strive to have a culture of the cross. It is my conviction if this is true of us, then God will work powerfully through us in our communities to draw all peoples to Himself. And depending on our locale, this is going to look different for us all.

Perspective in Trials: A Gospel Primer

Striving With God

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“More than anything else could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.

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Perspective in Trials: A Gospel Primer

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“More than anything else could ever do, the gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them. For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me. When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad. I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials. The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.” ~Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer

As Paul says in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation. This being true, we never stop needing the Gospel. We never outgrow the Gospel. In fact we must preach the Gospel to ourselves daily,  lest we lose perspective in our lives. This is never more true than when we are going through trials. As we face the trials of life we must keep our faces turned towards Christ and his Gospel truths, so that we can keep in the forefront of our minds what the purpose of these trials are. Ultimately, trials are for our good.(Romans 8:28) Why so? Because through our trials we are being conformed to the image of Christ.(Romans 8:29)

In regards to preaching the Gospel to ourselves, one of the best tools I’ve found for doing that is A Gospel Primer For Christians. I tell my friends, If they don’t have this little volume in their libraries, they are doing themselves a great disservice. I completely stand by that statement. If you don’t have it, I highly recommend  you run over to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy. Simply click the link below to grab the kindle version for only $7.99!


A Gospel Primer for Christians

Meditation on ‘The Gospel’

At Bible Study this week our Pastor quoted the following two definitions of the Gospel:

“The Gospel is the good news about the great salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, by which He reconciled sinful men to a holy God.”

–  Lorraine Boettner

“The gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless life which fulfilled the perfect law of God;his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.”

– Jeff Purswell

After hearing these two quotes I jotted down my own definition of ‘The Gospel’ in my notes…I think it is a sort of meshing of the two together:

“The Gospel is what God has done, and is doing through Christ to redeem and reconcile a sinful people and His creation to Himself”

I’m still meditating on my definition and phraseology, so that may get tweaked…but nevertheless I think it communicates what I believe to be the central message of what the Gospel is, and what it does. My Pastor summed up the Gospel by saying that, “Christ is the Gospel”. John Piper has similarly said, and has even written a book entitled, God is the Gospel”.

I rejoice that there seems to be a new awareness of “The Gospel” and what it really is. For so long we simply thought of it as something we needed hear in order to be saved(get to heaven) or a presentation we had to make for someone else to be saved. We thought of “The Gospel” as the entry point into the Christian life, and then we graduated from there and got into the real “meat” of the Christian experience. I rejoice that there is a new attempt at defining what “The Gospel” means, and it’s implications in every area of our life. Books are still being written on the subject of defining “The Gospel”. Just look at the two quotes I posted above…You have one rather short and simple quote, and you have another more detailed and complex quote. This sort of begs the question: “So, is the Gospel simple or complex? How exactly can you define what “The Gospel” is and what it isn’t?”

To the first question I say yes, and yes. The Gospel is both simple and complex. For me that is the beauty of it. It is a well so deep that we can never reach its depths, or exhaust the life giving qualities…yet the simplest among us can come with our dixie cups, and skim from the top enough of it’s living water that we can be eternally secure in Christ. The Gospel is an ocean so deep that we can never plunge it’s depths, yet shallow enough for the smallest, and most timid among us to frolic along the shore with our water wings on. I’m sure those last couple of lines are similar to someone else, and if I knew who, or wanted to take the time I would give them credit…I wanna say C.S. Lewis has said something similar, but honestly right now I have no idea where I’ve read it, or even if it was an original thought.(though I confess I’m not very original…just stay with me for now though) God is so amazing and so vast that He has chosen to reveal Himself in ways that we can understand, yet we will never fully know Him on this side of heaven. I’m thankful I will have an eternity to get to know Him, and to learn His ways…

To the second question I would say you can read all of the definitions I’ve given thus far and have an accurate picture of “The Gospel”. That being said, I don’t know that they completely and fully define it, at least in ways that we completely understand. (Stay with me) The fullest and most accurate definition I would say would be that “God is the Gospel”. Everything that “The Gospel” is, God is. Everything that “The Gospel” does, God does. “The Gospel” was personified in the person of Christ, so in effect(or actuality) Christ is indeed “The Gospel”. That being said though, I think all of our attempts at defining “The Gospel” in human words fall short. Words tend to be exclusionary by nature. If we say something is this, then this can’t be that. But “The Gospel” is so vast, that it includes so much(everything?). So I think any attempt at defining what “The Gospel” is falls short because it is a part of every fabric of our lives…every fabric of our world even. I say this because there is nowhere that God is not active, and nowhere that God is not at work. “The Gospel” I believe is the truth that God is working all things together for His glory, to the completion, and fruition of His plan for all of creation.(Perhaps this is a better definition than the one I gave earlier?)

So many times in our definitions we say that the Gospel is this, but not that. The Gospel is that, but not this. My pastor even said the other night that, and I think this is a John Piper quote, missions is not the Gospel, but a result of the Gospel. I’ve heard others say that social justice is not the Gospel, but an outworking of the Gospel. I say yes, but these things are “The Gospel” because they are the Gospel at work. I believe this to be true of many other things that people say “aren’t the Gospel”. I think it better to say that these things alone are not the Gospel, because the Gospel is so much more. Perhaps this is splitting hairs…perhaps I’m missing something…but hopefully my point is being made.

God is awesome, God is amazing. We can’t fit Him, or His Gospel into a box. Ultimately all of our words fall short in defining Him, and what He is doing. Yet we can know Him, and cling to Him and His Gospel. We can embrace His Gospel, and live it, (at least to the degree in which He enables us to), and let it flow out of us onto and into others. The Gospel truly is good news for a world that so desperately needs it. Let us continue to explore the depths of what His Gospel is…yet know in our hearts, that ultimately His truths are simply too much for our finite minds. But isn’t that what makes Him God? Isn’t that what makes “The Gospel” good news? He brought His vastness down to us…He has given us a glimpse into who He is. He has given us enough to want Him, and desire Him more…He has given us a thirst that only He can quench. Oh how I thirst for you God…

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.”

Psalm 42:1-2

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!…
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-34,36