Chapter 2: Life Lessons on the Gospel
1. There is no greater story and no more significant event than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its reality must never be taken lightly or be removed from the centrality of our purpose on this earth.
When Christ came to earth, He said that He came to bring a sword which would divide based upon those who would believe in Him and those who would not (Matthew 10:34). Yet it is also true that only the gospel has the power to truly unify and bring people together. This is why we must never compromise or water down the gospel message which was handed down to us by the apostles. Paul says in Galatians 1:9 that any who preach an altered gospel from the one that he preached is to be accursed. Paul’s gospel was simple and straightforward: the Messiah, Who is Jesus, God in human flesh, was crucified for our sins, buried, and raised again from the grave, thus proving His Deity and power over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). This is the message we must preach unwaveringly because it is only the gospel received by faith that can save souls. Though we were alienated from God and were deserving of His wrath because of our sin, God Himself sent a perfect sacrifice in His Son to bear the wrath that should have been ours and to open a doorway into heaven for those who respond to His love in faith as they turn from their sin. It is a beautiful message of epic proportions and maximum significance. We must get it right.
The great commission is not a political movement or a social mandate. While it is good to work against social ills and to take moral stands politically, we can never forget that the only ultimate answer is Jesus and His gospel because only He can actually change hearts. Christ must remain first and foremost in all that we do and say (Colossians 1:18), not just in a religious or ceremonial sense but according to the truth of the gospel. Too often professing believers are content to modify the gospel to make it less offensive, or they choose to leave out the most controversial parts such as sin, hell, and repentance. The reality is that the devil would like nothing more than for us to deviate from the basic truths of the gospel and yet still think that we are conforming to it. He loves it when the deceived deceive others, but this is not what God desires. 2 Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” What tends to happen is that people seek to broaden the gospel because they don’t like the doctrine of hell, or they let other ambitions usurp the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. The gospel must stand as it was given, and we must be willing to preach it in season and out regardless of what divisions it causes, knowing that it is the only hope for those who believe. If it wasn’t true, we would be of all people the dumbest (1 Corinthians 15:19), but, since it is true, the dumbest thing is to ignore it, change it, or compromise it.
2. Truth without love and grace is not reflective of the gospel, but neither is it loving to fail to speak the truth.
John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” If we want to imitate Christ, we need to seek to be full of grace and truth. Being full of truth without compassion does not communicate the love of Christ. The gospel is a loving message because it provides good news to a bad predicament. Our proclamation of truth should be motivated by our love for Christ, first and foremost, and by our love for others. Our love compels us to tell the truth of the gospel, but it also impacts how we tell it. With the humble and broken, even the worst of sinners, Christ was gentle and compassionate while still being honest and bold. It was only with the arrogant Pharisee types that He took a harsh, condemning tone. The Pharisees couldn’t see their need for grace, and thus they stood condemned. The grace that Jesus needed to show them was to tell them about just how condemned they were. But those who were crushed in spirit and devastated by the effects of sin needed the grace of knowing that they could be forgiven, received, and accepted by God. Christ was moved with compassion for the masses, those like sheep with no shepherd. So, too, must we care about people, not viewing them as numbers to be added, but rather we should see them as individual lost souls who desperately need to hear the good news. If there was but one lost sheep, Christ would go and find it. Our perspective and fervency for one lost soul should mirror His (Luke 15:4-7).
The most loving thing we can do is tell people the truth and give them the answer for eternal life, but it should be flavored with grace rather than condemnation or superiority. They stand condemned already, and it is our mission to save them through the message preached (John 3:17-18). Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” A tender spirit allows people to open themselves up and say what they really think, thus opening the door to giving a response tailored to their individual needs. Those who just go through a presentation but who have no grace for the hearer tend to make people close up and shut down. We are not peddlers of a product or clever marketers but rather messengers of a life-changing hope through which we ourselves have been changed. As we identify with their condition as having been a sinner also, we lift up Christ and therefore the power of the message rather than the messenger. Gospel preachers who portray love and grace in their person and presentation all the while speaking the truth boldly are a rare breed, but it is those who follow in the footsteps of Christ.
3. The longer one pretends not to be a Christian or is at least silent about being one, the harder it is and the less believable it is to speak for Christ later.
Some glory in the fact that they have been able to succeed at being undercover Christians. Now there is a time to be shrewd as serpents and be able to identify the proper times and opportunities to speak out, but people around us should never be surprised to discover that we claim to know Christ. Our lifestyles should make it obvious, and how we treat them should be consistent with Christ. How can we ever be ashamed for having shared the gospel if we truly did it out of love and compassion even if it was out of season (2 Timothy 4:1-2)? People may not like hearing about the gospel from us as it is convicting and divisive, but they need to hear it whether they like it or not. We cannot judge whether we are being faithful to Christ based upon the response of the hearer; rather, our faithfulness is dependent upon whether or not we are faithful to preach. The fact is that the longer we are silent and the more we pass on opportunities to distinguish ourselves even in casual conversation as topics of church, religion, and morality come up, the harder it will be to speak up later. When we do, the less credibility we will have. Furthermore, it is very difficult to remain neutral, for if we do not take stands when the spirit tells us to take stands then it is only natural to begin to conform to the crowd. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” James 4:4 says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Never is it acceptable to be friends with the evil ways of the world, and in trying to be friends with the unsaved, we must not fail to distinguish ourselves as saved. There must never be a question about who we are and where we stand, for it should be more than evident just how different light is from darkness.