One reason for concern about the conservative church today is its distortion of the gospel. I have been startled to hear seminary students who could not give a clear statement of the good news. I have read with dismay books on evangelism and preaching that add to the simple gospel in ways that, if he were still alive, would probably stir the apostle Paul to write another letter like the epistle to the Galatians. I have heard message after message in which all sorts of appeals in muddy phraseology were substituted for an explicit presentation of the gospel itself. What is happening in Bible believing circles?

Two trends are evident in this decline in understanding of the gospel and how to explain it to others. On the one hand, certain leaders in the evangelical fold have developed catch phrases that have also become the stock in trade of many who have followed them. For instance, appeals to "let Jesus come into your heart" or to "make a decision for Christ" or to "commit your life to Christ," are heard everywhere instead of a plain statement of the good news about what Christ has done and a command to believe it. On the other hand, being aware of this sort of distortion, some have tried so hard to counter it that, in place of a presentation of the gospel itself, they enter into a long theological excursus on every aspect of it, and the good news is obscured by additional baggage. It was not necessary for the Philippian jailor and his family to take a twelve-hour theology course to understand and believe the gospel. Both extremes must be avoided.

What, then, is the gospel? And how should it be presented? The necessity for asking and answering those questions among evangelical Christians is sad. After all, the gospel is the central truth of our Christian faith. When it goes, everything else goes right along with it.

The gospel, as the word means, is "good news." It is not good works to be performed, but good news to be proclaimed. The gospel is news about a completed event in history. It is not a transaction yet to take place. It is good news because of the bad news that men are sinners condemned to hell. This good news tells them how they may be saved from the penalty for their sins and have eternal life instead, as well as a new life here in this present world.

While all of these things are true about the gospel, they are not the gospel, nor does one proclaim the gospel when one says them. The gospel is a two-point message, as Paul took pains to write in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4:

. . . that Christ died for our sins, in agreement with the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in agreement with the Scriptures.

First, Christ, the promised One of the Old Testament, died a penal death as a substitutionary sacrifice for guilty sinners. The word "for" is huper, which means "on behalf of," and all that the Old Testament said about the innocent, sacrificial lamb slain in the place of God's guilty people. Second, Christ was raised bodily from the grave in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. These two great facts, then, the substitutionary death of Christ on behalf of sinners and His bodily resurrection from the dead, constitute the good news. Anything added to that message, anything subtracted from it, or anything substituted for it distorts the gospel.

The Book of Acts relates much about the early preaching of the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world. When you read the book to discover what, exactly, the apostles and their associates preached, you find it was precisely the same truths: Christ's death and resurrection. Throughout the book, whenever an account is given of a one-on-one conversation or a public preaching situation, these two great facts are at the core of it all.

Be careful not to substitute either a high powered theology course (as valuable as that might be at another place) or some appeal to "come to Christ" (as appropriate as that may be after having announced the gospel itself) for the gospel, as so many do today. Be clear and be determined in your own thinking so that you will be just as clear in your words when the time comes to witness to someone or to proclaim the gospel publicly.

The Bible calls us to announce this message, that is, to inform people of the facts and to urge them to repent (change their minds about any false ideas they had about themselves or God which the gospel message corrects) and to believe the good news. It is truly good news to be proclaimed and believed. Indeed, it is so good that it needs no human additions or improvements. Why distort it?

Jay E Adams

Institute for Nouthetic Studies

100 White Meadow Ct
Simpsonville, SC 29681

(864) 399-9583




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