15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2
There has been a lot of talk for as long as I can remember about the “real” gospel. I went to a “Full Gospel Businessmen’s” meeting once. By “Full Gospel” they mean they emphasize certain sensational manifestations of supernatural gifts. The stupid old “plain” half-gospel is about believing that Jesus died for your sins, but the “full gospel” includes casting out demons and speaking in tongues.
Or there is the idea among the advocates of Lordship Salvation of “real faith” – those with “real” faith will love Christ and will long to obey Him. The “real” Christian will have a serious commitment to the Lordship of Christ or will have a transformed life or will have some other sign of moral change that is a necessary sign of authenticity. If you don’t have it, mere belief isn’t enough, because if you really believed you would pretty much completely stop sinning forever.
Or we have the idea of the “incarnational” gospel:
The gospels tell us that Christ Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” (Matthew 11.19). He associated with tax collectors, prostitutes, the diseased, and the down and outers of society. The religious leaders despised him for it and called him a glutton and a winebibber, because he attended the parties of the sinners, (Luke 7.33-35). Socializing with these kinds of people ruined Christ’s testimony before the religious leaders of His day. The missional church is also often misunderstood and maligned as it attempts to reach out to people in the same manner of our Lord.
At the heart of being incarnational is simply loving people like Jesus loved people; loving people enough to go to them. The missional church understands that Christians are to follow the example of Jesus.
So the “real” gospel means, loving outcasts the way Jesus did. The real gospel means Jesus’ example is far more important than Jesus’ offer of salvation. If you’re not doing incarntational mission, it isn’t the real gospel. The real gospel means being a friend of outcasts and sinners (which I guess implies that we’re not outcasts, but our mission is to condescend to reach out to these other wretches!)
So, we’re to understand that the “authentic” gospel – the gospel according to Jesus as opposed to all of this anti-Jesus “salvation” stuff – means real lasting moral transformation. It must be qualified with words like “real” and “authentic” and “genuine” because the regular old vanilla Bb stupid gospel that just saves sinners because they believe in Jesus is too easy (John 3:16-17). Regular grace won’t do – it has to be “costly” grace. Which of course means it has to cost us. We have to add our works and efforts and sacrifice to the gospel somehow, or it isn’t really the gospel. Only the elite obedient people will really be saved. The regular vanilla “Jesus saves us” gospel is only a half gospel, but these people have come to an enlightened new message – you have to do hard stuff to get approved by God.
Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
If you notice, the “real” or “full” or “incarnational” or whatever gospel is a bloodless, crossless, graceless gospel. It is not a God-initiated gospel that loves and saves sinners. It is a “gospel” which presses human responsibility onto us as a necessary ingredient for “truly” being saved. These “Jesus plus” gospels tell us that God isn’t interested in regular old sinful people who merely believe. They tell us that God is only interested in the committed, the sacrificial, the costly, the incarnational “believers.” Yet what is it they “believe?” And how is this inviting to the outcast wretches they are extending the strong arm of ministry towards? They believe in human deeds and efforts as the ultimate justifying sign. They emphasize deeds and works, and assign a backseat if any seat to the Cross of Christ. Or they redefine the Cross of Christ as being an example, but not really a salvation. Thus their teachings are no different than any human system of religion or ethics. Atheists believe we should behave ethically and kindly. Everyone believes that. These “gospels” do not represent a message of a God-initiated salvation, but of human-invented behavioral excellence.
The simple message of the Cross of Christ – Christ Jesus crucified for sinners – is the true message of Christianity. Only the Cross of Christ declares the true depth of the horror of our sin. Only the cross declares the serious and terrible wrath of God at our injustice. Only the Cross of Christ declares a lavish and just forgiveness. Only the Cross of Christ declares a real compassion. Only the Cross of Christ declares that God embraces those He ought not to embrace. Only the Cross of Christ declares a genuine and unconditional and enduring love. The Cross of Christ declares that while we were yet sinners, Christ deemed us worthy of His death (Romans 5:8). Only the Cross of Christ can wipe our consciences clean:
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
These other so-called “real” gospels relegate the importance of our salvation through Christ’s blood to a one-time past event that must be supplemented with obedience and effort and transformation. They say, now you are saved, so welcome to hell! Get to work! Stop all that sin! Prove it! Show it! Be authentically “saved” or God will kick you right out. Don’t ‘judge’ or God will judge you! Have “assurance” without being assured! God loves you but He is also a schizophrenic monster who hates you and is waiting for you to screw up or not be “full” or “incarnational” enough so He can throw you out.
But you have to think that maybe Jesus would disagree with them about the importance of His death on the cross. He says, remember my death often with the wine and the bread. You don’t even have to know how to read to get the message here – you just have to know how to eat and drink. This is because it is a central and extremely important message for all people. Jesus says, proclaim the New Covenant in My blood until I return. Keep it front and center. Make it important. Determine to know nothing else. Paul the Apostle seems to agree with Jesus’ gospel of forgiveness through His blood. That seems like a big clue. So I say, enough of this. To hell with these other gospels. I mean that quite literally. To hell with them, where they belong, with the accuser of the brethren who is never satisfied with God’s works. These preachers of another gospel are united against God’s purposes and the devil is their father – who all think the blood of Jesus is not enough justice for us.
Installment 2 tomorrow: The Cross of Christ as the true defining element of the Church, and the implications of that great truth! This is going to be a super happy ending – for real.