The outlook for Christianity in western societies is looking pretty bleak. Christians and Christian values are repeatedly being cancelled in the workplace, schools, and government. Even churches are now watching their backs as they come under attack for their historically orthodox beliefs on personhood, sexuality, and marriage.
In countries long acquainted with Christianity, the gospel is either advancing only slowly or retreating. There has not been a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in bringing revival and mass conversions in over a century. The apostle Paul boasted that the gospel was “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Why then is the gospel in our day seemingly weak? Did Paul overestimate the gospel’s power or has our generation been preaching a faulty gospel? Certainly the latter.
The gospel of Christ that is taught in many Christian churches today is similar to some of the castle ruins in Scotland. What once were majestic, powerful fortresses have been reduced to mere shadows of their former glory—some broken-down walls and an eroded citadel. Similarly, this gospel has a few elements of the original– salvation and heaven– but much of the glory is lost. If the Christian church wants to see the glory of Christianity restored in our lands we need to rebuild, from the ruins, our gospel message and start proclaiming the whole counsel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The term “the gospel” is used in the New Testament to represent the core message of the good news about Jesus Christ, but the content of that message has been distorted. In the apostle Paul’s day, there was already a “different gospel” being offered which diverged from the real gospel that Paul and the apostles preached (Gal. 1:6-9).
Our day is rife with distorted gospels. Liberal churches for years have been preaching a gospel of the love of God and the brotherhood of mankind. The Son of God’s coming to earth and dying shows how much God loves you, so be inspired and live a good life! The gospel of Christ effectively disappears as there is no need for people to be saved.
In some churches, a moralistic gospel teaches people to follow Jesus the good teacher in his cause against the moral ills of the day. If you are an old-school Fundamentalist, you stayed away from drinking, smoking, and dancing. If you are a Social Justice Warrior you oppose poverty, sexism, racism, phobias, and global warming. The prosperity gospel is still rampant across the globe where God exists to make people healthy and wealthy. Such a gospel is simply repackaged paganism where the gods are worshipped in order to grant material blessings, the kind of temptation that Jesus rebuffed from Satan (Luke 4:5-8). A just Jesus gospel demotes the King of kings and Lord of lords and simply looks to Jesus of Nazareth, the sympathetic counsellor who exists to guide, comfort, and affirm you during life’s difficulties.
The worst false gospel though is the perversity gospel. The book of Jude warns about teachers who“pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Don’t worry about sinning, God’s grace has you covered. People boast in a perverse way that they are “glorious ruins.” Instead of being ashamed of sin, they revel in their “brokenness.” They reason that since Jesus gets glory through grace, “Why not do evil that good might come?” (Rom. 3:8) Paul responded, “Their condemnation is just!” These kinds of gospels don’t actually bring salvation but entrench the lost in their sins. What is consistent with all of these distortions is that there is little to no call to personal repentance and discovering the true transformative grace of God in Christ (Titus 2:11-12).
These false gospels are anathema to the true gospel, but in our day we have a number of diminished gospels that retain much of the essential gospel message but lack the fullness and power of the whole gospel. In the main, the evangelical church still proclaims that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, that his death and resurrection accomplishes forgiveness of sin, and that through faith in Christ one obtains eternal life. However, this lowest-common denominator gospel falls short of the whole gospel preached in former days. The standard gospel of our day is what could be called a just justification gospel.
The just justification gospel identifies that forgiveness of sins and justification by faith are the critical elements of salvation. The point of this gospel preaching is to get people “saved,” which is primarily a pardon for sin and a place in heaven. Once that has been locked in the gospel carries little relevance to the Christian. Faith is limited to what Christ did 2,000 years ago and results in little expectation of Christ’s active rule over the church and world today. Faith is not exercised to see the kingdom come or experience personal change, instead, the gospel simply reassures believers of their salvation.
Just-justification preachers predominately or solely focus on “resting” or “abiding” in Christ. They instruct people to rely solely on Jesus’ past faithfulness, and they downplay obedience and personal faithfulness to God. Is it any wonder that the world is not impressed with the lives of churchgoers?
Our poor presentations of the gospel inhibit the gospel from being powerful. In many cases, there simply is no presentation of the gospel at all, or churches only subtly allude to the gospel lest they offend someone. Sermons encourage the hearer to “follow Jesus,” with no mention of sin, redemption, or call to repentance. Jesus is some kind of guide on your “faith journey.”
Other references to the gospel seem to imply that since Christ atoned for sin, salvation automatically applies to all people. If you happen to be in the church when the gospel is mentioned, redemption is conferred upon you. The truth has been lost that sinners must experience a personal and actual conversionunto Christ.
Other more bold evangelicals are good at presenting a plan of salvation (see the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, or the Roman Road). In this manner salvation is achieved when a sinner understands and agrees with the plan. Plans are helpful, but you are not saved because you believe that Jesus died for you. You are saved when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you. Salvation is not found in a plan but in a Person.
We need to return to a more robust gospel message that proclaims the full work of salvation that God accomplishes through our eternal Prophet, Priest, and King, the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the message about the person and work of Christ who has affected a redemption that includes four main facets: forgiveness of sins, transformation of self, rule by a King, and hope for eternity.
Forgiveness of Sins: The fundamental truth of the gospel is that God in his grace redeems and forgives sinners. Sinners can’t save themselves through good works or religious observance. God delivers sinners from their bondage to sin (redemption). Jesus’ death atones for sin and satisfies God’s justice, and by faith in Christ’s work for us, God forgives our sins (justification). Once justified we are free from condemnation and become God’s children (adoption). This initial act of salvation delivers us from all the penalty and guilt of sin and gives us peace with God.
Transformation of Self: Christ’s redemption of sinners does not stop at merely forgiving them, he intends to completely transform them. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in a person whereby Christ completely remakes them to reflect his holy image. At the point of conversion, the Holy Spirit regenerates (“be born-again,” John 3:3) a person wherein they are actually given a new holy nature. From that point onward they are progressively transformed to be less sinful and more righteous. The power of sin over a person has been broken and their new identity in Christ defines and governs their life. Now more than ever this generation is crying out for a new identity, real transformation, and true liberty.
Rule by a King: The gospel declares that after Jesus rose from the dead he ascended to the right hand of the Father and was crowned “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). By his work of redemption, the Son earned the right to rule. The prophetic promises of the Old Testament looked forward to a time when God would set up his Christ as the Lord who would govern the world in righteousness. From his enthroned position in heaven (Christ’s exaltation) all rule and power in this age is made subject to him for the sake of his church. The great promise and mystery of the gospel is that God would no longer just be a king over one nation (Israel), but through the Lord Jesus Christ, God would rule over every nation. The OT prophetic promises looked forward to a day when the nations would stream to the “mountain of the Lord” (Isa. 2:1-5) and that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). By a powerful combination of kingdom and covenant, Christ the Lord provides all protection and blessings needed for his children to live in a fallen and dangerous world.
Hope for Eternity: The gospel finally declares that through Christ the curse of death has been broken and eternal life is open to all who trust in him. The hope of heaven is good news for the Christian for it will be the compensation for all the trials and tribulations experienced in this present evil age. When Christ appears in glory the bodies of believers shall be immortally and incorruptibly resurrected, rejoined with their perfected souls, and they will live with God in a perfected new heavens and earth. Christ will reward believers for their faithfulness during their mortal existence with abundant treasures that “neither moth nor rust can destroy” (Matt. 6:19). In contrast, the wicked will receive a just retribution for all their evil deeds and be cast out into eternal darkness and torment away from the presence of the Lord.
If our society is crumbling, it is because the church has already crumbled. Since “judgment begins at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17) we need to get our house in order. If we want the gospel to be powerful once again we need to rebuild the gospel from its present ruin. With solid truth and pure hearts let us restore its broken walls and turrets. When the gospel makes a life-transforming impact on a believer–or the church at large–in turn it impacts the wider world. A resurgence in robust gospel proclamation will bring new converts into the faith. Transformed lives will confirm the truth of Jesus Christ. A renewed vision for Christ’s kingdom will inspire social action and missions.
Lastly, our eternal hope of reward in heaven will fuel our faithfulness on the earth.
Not only preachers from pulpits but every Christian ought to be able to articulate these truths to anyone. The biblical gospel is enough to justify the “reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Our post-Christian societies are hopeless and dying because the thinkers of our day are saying that there is no absolute truth, all people are basically good, we can define ourselves, all types of sexual activity are okay, the earth is doomed, and that there is no ultimate meaning to life. In the midst of this vacuum, the gospel must enter. Christians have real hope to offer the lost. The word of God is the source of infallible and absolute truth. “None are righteous” but all can experience “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 3: 10, 22) in Christ. Amid gender confusion and sexual depravity Christ can restore a true and pure humanity in both body and soul (Eph. 4:24). The world is not coming to an end, because Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
Lastly, though we cannot comprehend fully the ultimate meaning of our lives, we “know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). These are the truths that give us hope and made our Christian lands blessed. Therefore, we must once again boldly and unapologetically proclaim to the world, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,… blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Ps. 2:12).