Sunday, August 06, 2006

What the gospel is not...

I came across this as I was reading the other day and thought Mark Dever made some good points about what the gospel is not. The article can be found at

1. I’m Ok, you’re OK

Sin is humanity's biggest problem, not self-esteem.

  • Sin does not just make my heart desperately sick. It kills me as a person apart from the gracious and saving influence of God's Spirit. I was DEAD in my trespasses and sins, and I was earning death as a paycheck for my diligent disobedience.
  • Humanity's biggest problem is that our own sin has shut us up to spiritual death - eternal separation from the God whose fellowship we were created to enjoy, and servile slavery to the power and penalty of sin.
  • If we consistently or deliberately omit sin from our preaching or from our evangelism, we are preaching a different gospel, and need to repent of this sin and preach God's truth with bold, counter-cultural clarity. The gospel is NOT that we are all OK with God.

2. God is love

  • "God is love" is commonly misinterpreted and therefore misused. It is increasingly popular today to trot out 1 John 4:8, "God is love," and then assume that God's love is the only divine attribute that has any functional significance in the way He relates to people.
  • Simplistically equating God with love leads to error.
    • Mathematically, if God = love, then love = God. If God becomes equated with love, then love has become God.
    • Theologically, we know that many other things characterize God besides love - the Bible presents God as holy, sovereign, and a whole host of other things.
    • So to reduce God or His gospel to just love is crass idolatry that caricatures the King of Kings.
  • It would not actually be good news for sinners to learn that the only attribute out of which God acts towards His created people is love. If God were so singularly amiable, from whom would we seek retributive justice for wrongs suffered? Is it really good news to learn that Judge of all the universe is willing to forgive sin without punishing it? The gospel is NOT simply that God is love.

3. Jesus Wants to be my friend

"Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship."

Ever heard that? It's true enough, isn't it? God has taken us in as His adopted sons and daughters (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7). Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb 2:11-12). And whoever does the will of the Father is considered by Jesus as family (Mark 3:31-35).

But have you noticed that some people attach the implication that Christianity is simply Jesus wanting to be my friend or brother, along with a subtle appreciation for the irony of casual familiarity with the divine.

  • Yet Christianity is not simply a casual friendship with Jesus, because the gospel is not simply the cultivation of a friendship or even the following of another's example. The gospel involves God's holiness, our sin, the payment of a ransom, the conferring of an acquittal, the winning of a war, and ultimately the glory of God and the spread of His fame.
  • The gospel is referred to in the Bible not only in relational, but in economic, military, and legal language. Thus to pigeonhole Christianity as merely a relationship is reductionistic. The gospel certainly does enable us to have a relationship with God through Christ Jesus, but it is also more than that.
  • To say that Christianity can be summed up by the idea that Jesus wants to be my friend is a man-centered way to view the gospel. It assumes that the gospel is only or primarily about bringing man into a personally fulfilling relationship with God, rather than about bringing glory to God for His grace, mercy, kindness, faithfulness, justice, and love. The gospel is not simply that Jesus wants to be my friend.

4. We should straighten up and fly right

Some say that the gospel is simply the message that I need to change my behavior. The good news is seen as consisting in a set of virtues, biblical and otherwise. If I am busily enough engaged in these virtues, I will be pleasing to God and helpful to others.

If the gospel is just a change of outward behavior accomplished on my own, regardless of the state of my inner self - then the gospel is reduced to mere moralism. In other words, we've begun to think that the gospel penetrates no deeper than the level of outward moral renovation, when in reality the gospel penetrates to the level of inward spiritual transformation.

This tendency to moralism is often the danger of preaching that treats Scriptural texts and characters as mere examples to emulate or avoid instead of as integrated scenes and characters in the grand story of redemption writ large on the canvas of human history.

The gospel is not merely an additive that can make our already good lives better. Nor is it a commandment to live rightly that we can obey by digging down deep within ourselves. The gospel is not simply that we should live right.

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