Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Gospel..A false expectation, An Ineffective presentation

     I apologize in advance for the length of this post, however I believe this is a matter that should not be cheapened by issues of brevity.  It is loaded with heavy thoughts on a serious and eternal issue.  I pray you will see it through to the end and ask God what encouragement or challenge he may have for you in this post.
Here we go.
    In this age, when the culture is already corrupting us, unfortunately the Gospel Message has been watered down into a consumeristic, soft serve message designed not to create any fear or any offense. After all, the Gospel is "GOOD NEWS"!  Right?  Of course.  But, what is Good News without some Bad News?  It's just news.  People do not realize they need to be rescued, unless they are informed they are in trouble.  They will not understand that they need a Savior, unless they are informed there is something to be saved from. They will not understand that Salvation, without repentance and Lordship, not as the cause of salvation but as evidence of salvation, is not Salvation at all. They will not understand that they cannot accomplish this on their own.  They need the grace of God provided by the Holy Spirit to come into their lives, save them, and empower them to continue the growth process.(Phillipians 2:12-13)  They need to understand that Salvation, from the moment they are born again until the moment they are made perfect in heaven, is only possible by God's grace.  That they are incapable of walking out that faith, unless God places that gift of faith inside of them.  They need to understand that there is no goodness in them capable of accomplishing this(Romans 3:9-18)  That without the price that Jesus paid on the Cross, all our righteousness is as filthy rags(Isaiah 64:4-9) We are all evil sinners deserving of God's wrath.  We deserve his wrath because God hates sin.  He is perfect and cannot tolerate sin.  So he must separate himself.  That is why God sent Jesus to drink that cup of wrath and take on the penalty of our sins on the cross.
      Today's evangelistic message tends to be, Jesus loves you.  He died for you.  He wants to come into your heart.  All of this is true  Now pray this prayer and get baptized and you will  go to Heaven.  All of this is partially accurate.  But, it is an incomplete message.  There is no mention of repentance, of dying to oneself.  The focus is much more on Eternal Life than Eternal Death. So many want to talk about God's love, goodness, mercy, and blessings.  That's great for those who are already soundly saved to understand.  There is however, a whole other side of the story.  There is God's wrath, jealousy, justice, and judgement.  That is much more pertinent to the need of the lost.  Oh, we can't talk about that. Why?  We might offend or drive someone away?  They are all attributes of God and His most Holy love encompasses them all. Many of the great presenters of the Gospel in years past (Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield, D.L Moody, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Matthew Henry, A.W. Tozer  and many others of their day) believed in preaching the whole truth.  They would not steer away from the use of the Law of the Ten Commandments and the mention of Hell.  No.  They would begin with it in hopes of planting seeds of conviction among their listeners.  In fact, they believed the law of the Lord was essential to conversion of the soul(Psalms 19:7). The law makes us aware of our need for Christ(Romans 3:19-20).  In John 6:44 Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father that sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day".  It is not our responsibility to decide whether anyone chooses to follow Christ.  Our responsibility is to share the whole truth with the world because the knowledge of the truth will set them free. (Matthew 28:16-20; John 8:32)  So we do not have to avoid truth for fear of offense.
        If the lost do not understand the fullness of God then they are committing to an incomplete idea of who God is and what the complete idea of His love is. It will be difficult for converts to fully appreciate God's love and grace if they do not also understand God's wrath toward sinful man.  Think of it this way. It is difficult to fully appreciate and understand the glory of the cure for a disease unless we first realize that we have a disease and it is TERMINAL.  The gravity of that disease must be explained and THEN a person understands just how badly they need and want the cure.  Many ministers, myself included, are concerned that this incomplete presentation of the Gospel is leading to more false converts than anyone wants to admit.
     Today's contemporary Gospel message tends to be, "accept Jesus into your life and He'll give you love, joy, peace, fulfillment, and lasting happiness".  It rarely makes mention of the persecution verbally, emotionally, and physically that is promised in the Bible.  Sometimes, unto physical death. When Jesus called others to follow him, It wasn't warm and fuzzy.  In three different Gospels (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24) Jesus says, "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  DENY himself?  Take up his CROSS?  Doesn't sound much like the seeker sensitive, positive thinking, prosperity based message that is often preached today does it?  Jesus said, "Foxes have holes and birds have the air, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. (Luke 9:58; Matthew 8:20)  This was in response to someone expressing interest in following him.  Not exactly a positive invitation.  I am not saying that God will not bless us.  God says He will supply for our every need according to his riches his and glory(Philippians 4:19) whether that requires natural or supernatural provision.  And yes the Bible speaks of prosperity and increase.  However, none of these were major talking points for convincing anyone to follow him.  He never said, "I have a wonderful plan for your life"   He never told them how to get their "best life now". Paul said, "you were dead in your sins"(Eph 2:1, Col 2:13) and Jesus said "no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again".(John 3:3)  He said, "no man comes to the Father except the spirit draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day".(John 6:44)  The focus of the Gospel needs to be taken off of the creation and placed back on the Creator.  The focus needs to be taken off of the gifts and placed back on the Giver.  Being blessed and provided for should be a result of our salvation and obedience, NEVER the motivation for desiring salvation or being obedient..  If someone trusts in Jesus based on the idea of having a "blessed" life then when they experience trials, tribulations, and persecution they will likely not withstand them.
    Many Christians, in regards to evangelism, want to think that the Gospel is so simple and easy. They paint a pretty picture of the goodness of God, say confess and believe and "pray this prayer with me" and eternal life is yours.  Now I am not saying that is not part of it however, in Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus says, "Enter through the narrow gate, For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many will enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and few will find it".  Clearly there is more to it than believing and praying a prayer.  There must be a transformation. The bible says we are a new creation in Christ.  Old things pass away.  Thus, We cannot remain the same after a genuine salvation experience.
    Scripture also makes it clear that practicing religion is not be enough to guarantee you eternity. 2 Timothy 3 makes references to godlessness in the last days.  He lists all kinds of sinful behavior and then in vs. 4-5 he says "they are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of Godliness, but denying it's power.  In vs. 7 he makes reference to people who are "always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth".
         In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out many demons and in your name perform many miracles?  Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you, away from me you evil doers".  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and goats based on how they treat "the least of these".  He says the goats who did not take care of "the least of these" will go away to eternal punishment. Matthew 7:24-27 shows Jesus refering to those having a solid foundation as the ones who put God's word into practice.  Those who do not, will not have a solid foundation and will not stand in the end.
     So if the Gospel is so simple, then why does it seem like so many will miss the mark.  Why does it seem like our salvation is tied to works?  What about the Love?  What about the grace and mercy?  What about the cross?  I'm glad you asked.
      The bible makes it clear that if we are truly born again that it is by grace through faith so that no man may boast(Ephesians 2:8-9). Then the works, that are the faith based evidence of our salvation, will be evident in our lives.  Not that we work in our own power to attain or keep salvation, but that the same grace through the cross that saved us, will also work in us, enabling growth, enabling escape from the grip of sin and the things of this world,  and enabling us to obey every command that God has given us in His Word. Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose".  (Philippians 2:12-13)  
     It is our responsibility as ministers of the Word, who are responsible to make disciples (that is ALL Christians) as well as every pastor, that we encourage people to check their hearts, words, actions, and motives daily.  Sometimes it seems we are so concerned about encouraging the body of Christ and not causing them to doubt their faith that we avoid the entire truth of what it means to follow Jesus and how it represents the reality of our salvation. In 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 the apostle Paul says this, "examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test  yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you---unless, of course, you fail the test"?  
     So, if it is God who saves you, and God who keeps you according to scripture(2 Timothy 1:12, Hebrew 12:2) then it stands to reason that if you fail the test, you were never saved to begin with.(1 John 2:19)  There is still hope.  My prayer is that if anyone has concerns about their salvation that they come desperately before the throne of Grace and cry out to God that he would save them. 1 John 2:3-6 says, "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, " I know him, but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, , God's love is trully made complete in him.  This is how we now we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did".  If we find this to be true then we have nothing to fear.
      The Gospel in it's entirety should be the driving force behind everything that we do and say.  It should not only be lived out, but spoken into the hearts of listeners in our path every opportunity we get.  That is the greatest act of love that we can show.  If we truly believe that billions of people around the world are going to die an eternal death without Jesus and we do not love our fellow man enough to show and tell them the truth of the Gospel and their desperate need for Jesus then we are not walking in the completeness of God's love and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we have not Love, then everything else is worthless.   In fact, there is a possibility, according to 1 John 2:3-6, that God will have some serious questions for us, IF he even knows us. 
      I will be writing a few more posts clarifying and fleshing out some of the ideas in this post.  Think of this as a preamble to the next several posts dealing with salvation and evangelism. 
       I write plainly and seriously because this is serious business.  People are going to HELL and the church is not doing much about it.  My love for the Church and for the lost grows daily. My concern for the potential lost souls IN the church buildings grows daily.  My hunger is to not only to see myself grow in obedience to the Word and knowledge of the Word, but to see the Church grow in an obedience to the Word and knowledge of the Word that will empower them to biblical evangelism and discipleship.  There is NO greater cause on this earth than glorifying God through the spread of the Gospel. 
     I continually pray that these posts though direct at times, will be able to be received in a loving way.  My desire is not to chastise but to jumpstart.  It is always out of love first for Jesus, then for the people, that I ever post on any topic.  May every post be covered by God's grace and every heart be prepared to receive whatever God would have them receive as they read these posts.

Love in Christ,

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