The power of the Gospel

What is the Gospel?

I briefly covered this in my article, The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel. But the topic is so important that I return to it here.

St. Paul defines the Gospel very clearly and concisely in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

1 Cor. 15:1–8, NKJV

The Gospel, then, is the fact that Christ died for sinners, was buried, and rose from the dead.

Notice that Paul says ‘I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you’.

The Gospel is Good News to be declared. Good news to be preached.

And it is good news to be received. Good news in which we stand. Good news by which we are saved – if we cling fast, as Paul says, to ‘that word which I preached to you’.

There’s that word ‘preached’, again. The Gospel is a message to be delivered.

Paul frequently uses shorthand for this Gospel:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Cor. 1:21–24, NKJV

Paul here sums up the Gospel message that he preached (and are you noticing a pattern?) in just two words: ‘Christ crucified’.

Of course, this short phrase needs further explanation.

But within those two words is contained the entirety of the glorious truth of the Gospel: the Father graciously regenerating underserving sinners by His Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Saviour:

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3–7, NKJV

Read again the 1 Cor. 1:21–24 passage:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

How are people saved?

What’s interesting here is that Paul does not say that people are won to Christ by being befriended and having their felt needs met by the Church.

There’s nothing wrong with Christians showing love in such practical ways, of course. In fact, this is a good thing! But this is not the means that God uses to save people.

No, Paul tells us plainly: ‘it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’.

And which message is it that saves? Which message is it that is a stumbling block and foolishness? Which message is it that is ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ to those who are being called?

It is the message of ‘Christ crucified’.

‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ comes through the preaching of this message.

If you would love your neighbour, bring him ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’. Tell him of how, without Christ, he is under God’s wrath and will receive the eternal punishment that he has earned by his rebellion and sin. Tell him of the Christ crucified for sinners such as he. Tell him of the Christ who was buried, and who rose again on the third day. Call him to repentance. And give him the offer of forgiveness of sins in Christ to all those who put their trust in Him.

This is what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. This is what it means to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

Luke 24:46-48, NKJV

Please, use words that your neighbour will understand. Patiently explain anything that he doesn’t grasp. But preach Christ crucified. Proclaim to him repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Nothing else can save him.

The only means that God has ordained to save the lost is this proclamation, this message of ‘Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). If you would show love your neighbour, there is no greater good that you can do for him than to bring him this Good News.

Paul returns to this theme of the preached Gospel over and over. How could he not, as one who had received such boundless grace and love in Christ? How could the love of God poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) not overflow in the proclamation of the Gospel that saved him?

But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’

Rom. 10:8–13

I weep for the lost. They need to hear the Gospel message, ‘the word of faith which we preach’. And to hear it, they need a preacher. And preachers must be sent:

‘How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’

Rom. 10:14–15

Not all will receive the message of peace between a holy, righteous God and fallen sinners, for ‘Christ crucified’ is a stumbling block and foolishness to those who are perishing:

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ (Rom. 10:16, NKJV)

Nevertheless, our speech and our preaching are not to be with ‘with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4). O Lord, may our lips resound with the Gospel, ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’!

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17, NKJV)

This Gospel that the lost need is the very same Gospel that I need to hear. That you need to hear.

Every day.

For I sin daily. And were it not for the regular reminder of Christ crucified for my sins, I should despair.

But the Gospel message brings hope. It builds faith, for ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’.

And the true faith in Christ that comes through hearing the Gospel word of Christ shall surely bring forth its fruit.

Pastors, if you would have your flock bear fruit, feed them with the Gospel every week.

If you would fulfil the commission with which Christ has entrusted you, take every opportunity to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

The sheep you oversee need the reminder of this message every week. And you too need to hear this message. For the preached Gospel is Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Cor. 1:17–18, NKJV

O God, have mercy upon the lost and upon all your Church. Raise up and send many preachers, that the dying and all the hungry may hear clearly the bold proclamation of repentance and the remission of sins in Christ. And if in your grace it should please You to use such a weak and lowly vessel, ‘Here am I. Send me.’ Amen.

41 thoughts on “The power of the Gospel

  1. WOW!

    This is probably the best blog post I have ever read. It both convicted and encouraged me. I will refer to it again and again. I will refer others.

    WOW!

  2. Hello my brother,
    I echo Ryan’s sentiments entirely, especially toward your desire for the church to return to the fundamental truth of the Gospel message; namely Christ crucified.

    We already linked to your previous video/post at our website, and if you don’t mind, I would like to do so with this post if it is okay with you? Obviously we will give you full accreditation as the author, and links back to your website. Please just let me know at: john@#######.##.uk

    Thankyou again dear brother in Christ, I look forward to hearing from you, and would very much like to offer Faith Defenders as a platform to draw attention to your ministry as much as possible.

    God bless you,

    John.

    • John, thank you too for the encouragement – and from someone on my side of the Pond, too!

      Anyone is free to link to my posts here without asking permission – I love to be told when that happens, but it isn’t required.

      (I’ll be sending you an email shortly. I blanked out a portion of your email address to spare you from the spammers.)

  3. Amen, Daniel
    “We are mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread” — Martin Luther
    “We are beggars. This is true.” – Martin Luther
    (2 Kings 7)

    • Great quotes, Paula. Luther is wonderful at capturing truth in a pithy saying.

      And I love the 2 Kings 7 reference! We are not only beggars, but leprous ones. How could we keep silent concerning the Good News?

      ‘Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”’ (2 Kings 7:9, NKJV)

  4. Wonderful…
    the missional aspect of all this is in this… ‘How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ Rom. 10:14–15 and Jesus, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” John 17:18 and 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21

    The challenge of the church and your post is this: most who read your post were blessed and thought it applied to their pastor and not to them. They have been falsely taught that their job is to bring the people to the pastor who will preach the gospel to them and the elect will hear in faith and be saved.

    The missional twist on this cultural reality is that we all believe we ALL are the sent ones, therefore we are all equipped to, charged to and must ALL preach the gospel to the salvation of sinners and the freedom of the saints.

    The “I’ve been called to preach” that I was raised with presumes the rest have not been. And then this destructive belief makes the saints, who have been given the mission of God, dependent on them (church leaders) for gospel proclamation.

    Missional rejects that out of hand as destructive to the mission of the church and releases all the saints to their God given call of proclamation.

    PS GRRREEAAATTTT POST!

    BC

    • Bobby, it’s so good to have you around.

      I keep feeling that I ought to be disagreeing with someone who describes himself as missional, LOL. But actually, I think we are on the same page on so many things – perhaps it is simply that we sometimes focus on different paragraphs within that same page?

      The challenge of the church and your post is this: most who read your post were blessed and thought it applied to their pastor and not to them. They have been falsely taught that their job is to bring the people to the pastor who will preach the gospel to them and the elect will hear in faith and be saved.

      There are some who are specifically commissioned and have the privilege of devoting their primary efforts to the propagation of the Gospel. I confess to casting envious eyes toward those whom God has called and honoured in this way.

      And then there’s the rest of us. We have other primary ways of serving our neighbour, other responsibilities to fulfil. But as recipients of such overwhelming love, peace and grace, how could we possibly keep silent about the Gospel that saved us? That would be iniquitous, and completely out of keeping with the nature of the work being performed within us! Paula’s 2 Kings 7 reference is apt, I think.

      As a teenager and young adult, I can remember several occasions where a preacher berated me and others, trying to guilt us into evangelism. But such efforts are terribly misguided: induced guilt is not an effective motivation for sharing the Gospel of Christ. This is an attempt to use the Law (‘You have a duty to share Christ.’) to propagate the Good News of what Christ has done for us. There is a deep irony there.

      I rather think that the most effective way to help Christians to share the Gospel is to help them understand it, to give them a vocabulary and idioms with which to express it, and to show them its power at work in their lives day by day.

      This is best done by preaching to them repentance and the forgiveness of their sins in Christ, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God to them.

      I believe that if pastors were to be such examples to their flocks of Gospel proclamation, week in and week out, the sheep under their charge would become equipped to do the work of the ministry. And such well tended sheep would naturally, without force or coercion, beget other sheep, as it so pleases the Lord to make them fruitful. This is using, not the Law, but the Gospel, to propagate the Good News of what Christ has done for us.

      Put like that, it sounds rather self-evidently obvious, doesn’t it?

      Some pastors seem to think that their job is to direct a volunteer labour force, as a CEO of a corporation might manage and administer his staff. But Scripture tells us that the offices of the Church, whether past or present, are given to equip the saints and build up the body of Christ in the faith and knowledge of Christ so that the body grows up to maturity in Christ and produces growth as every part does its share in love:

      ‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.’ (Eph. 4:11–16, NKJV)

      The body has different members, with different gifts. Some are evangelists. Some are pastors and teachers. Others modestly share the effusive overflow of the love of Christ with their neighbours, friends and colleagues. And some simply need their broken hearts to be graciously tended with the soft balm of the Gospel, until they too are brought to full health in Christ. Some are outgoing; some are shy. Each naturally does his or her part in love, and the whole body grows up in all things into maturity in Christ.

      Was I intending to speak only to pastors, therefore? Oh no. I was speaking to them – and also to their flocks. Most of all, though, I was speaking to myself.

      • Amen and Amen.

        It is my experience that nothing deepens your dependence on the gospel, nothing invigorates your desire to fully ferret out its riches than sharing it day by day to saints and sinners. Bible studies come alive when you say with the disciples “Why could we not cast it out?” in regards to lives broken by addiction, suffering years of institutionalized dependance, suffering a deep sense of nothingness, deep guilt and shame for sins and deep suffering for the sins of others they have been victim to. Surely then, the gospel becomes your hope and Calvary the cure to all of the ills of life.

        It is there where your confidence in its power grows, your awareness of its astonishing glory flourishes and only then, in experience, can you say with Paul and with truthful confidence that you also have decided to preach nothing but Christ crucified.

        Glorious response btw,
        BC

  5. This is really first class!

    I have been talking to Mike Domoney who befriended me as a young policeman and shared his testimony and the gospel over a period of weeks until the message entered my stubborn heart and I was born again of the Spirit. Mum and I then regularly visited his home and within a few weeks she also was saved. Throughout his life he has had apparently random encounters with people, at work, in hospital, wherever he goes. He shares the gospel message and, I believe, because he has been directed to them by God, they respond to the message preached and become Christians. The love of Christ constrains him to reach out to those in need and so many respond to his presentation of the Gospel. He is just an ordinary guy but God has used him in miraculous ways. I have known a number of Christians like him who only seem to need to meet someone, share the gospel with them, and they are converted.

    It is true that the gospel must be preached and not diluted or altered to ‘make it more palatable’ but that does not prevent us seeking to ‘do good to all men’, and come alongside them, perhaps in a time of need, and then share our experience of Christ with them. This forming a relationship may well make that person more ready to listen to our proclamation of the gospel. Paul talks of ‘being all things to all men that he might win some. 1 Cor 9.19-23 could, I suppose, be seen as a model of ‘friendship evangelism’? The fact is, real concern for the lost is not something that can be ‘faked’. We either have it or we do not. While the message of ‘Christ crucified’ is the essential need of all sinners the way we deliver it can determine, at least in some measure, whether it is given a hearing or rejected. I will share a story which is something of a parable in that you can’t take every part and apply it: We need a new door to our house. We recently had a cold call offering a salesman to call and discuss such a door so we allowed him to visit. His manner was such that although we felt that his product was what we wanted we are disinclined to buy from him and have made enquiries elsewhere. We may seem to be ‘cutting off our nose to spite our face’ but that is human nature.
    So I am trying to make a plea for some sympathy with those who are concerned with the manner of presentation of the gospel while completely agreeing with what you say about its content.

    • Welcome, father :-) I’m so pleased that you have exited the shadows and made your commenting debut here – may you make many further comments on this site!

      You very helpfully raise a number of significant points, and give me the opportunity to clarify one or two things that I might not have made sufficiently clear in this particular article.

      1. With regard to your friend Mike Domoney, let us thank the Lord for him and his ilk! He seems to demonstrate exactly the sort of characteristics that I would hope mature, well-fed believers would share (allowing, of course, that not everyone has an outgoing personality that enables them to make friends as easily). He clearly has a love for the lost, an understanding of the Gospel, and confidence in both the power of the message and in the one to whom the message testifies. Thus, ‘The love of Christ constrains him to reach out to those in need and so many respond to his presentation of the Gospel’. This is how things should be.

      2. You make the case that we are not prevented from ‘seeking to do good to all men’, nor of coming alongside them and, when given the opportunity, sharing the Gospel with them. I wholeheartedly agree!

      For clarity, neither my article here, nor the one that I referenced in the second paragraph, was intended to berate anyone for doing practical charitable deeds. Rather, my purpose here was to use Scripture to :

      a) define the Gospel;

      b) demonstrate the only means God has ordained for the propagation of that Gospel;

      c) show the power and efficacy of those means, and of the Gospel thus propagated;

      d) show that these same means are the way to grow mature Christians who are, naturally and without coercion, sharing their faith.

      Now, I wonder whether you were writing partially in reaction to this statement:

      What’s interesting here is that Paul does not say that people are won to Christ by being befriended and having their felt needs met by the Church.

      I didn’t mean by this to say that there is no value in befriending people and meeting their needs. I followed with:

      There’s nothing wrong with Christians showing love in such practical ways, of course. In fact, this is a good thing! But this is not the means that God uses to save people.

      My purpose was thus to make clear the distinction between making friends and meeting needs on the one hand, and the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ on the other. The former might well be helpful in creating opportunities for the latter. But it is only through the latter that salvation comes.

      The target of my other article was those who have so devoted themselves to meeting felt needs that they have neglected altogether the proclamation of repentance and the remission of sins in Christ. One doesn’t have to look very far to examples of see this. (But my new friend Bobby here has most certainly not fallen into this trap!)

      It might be helpful at this point for me to quote from my own comments on that other article:

      I am very happy for the church to get involved in the community in practical ways (as long as people are not coerced, and as long as these things are not turned into duties or obligations that are somehow needed to keep favour with God), and I think that can be a helpful way of building relationships and creating avenues for the Gospel message of ‘Christ crucified for sinners’ to be proclaimed.

      But such activity should never be a substitute for proclaiming the Gospel, which is the problem I am seeing all too frequently in the UK and in much of the US. My video and post here are really trying to speak to that error. The last thing I want to do is to berate anyone for serving and loving their neighbour! That’s why I had the word ‘also’ in my script, and I started by commending the charitable deeds.

      In summary, I think we are in agreement on this matter (?), and I am grateful for the opportunity to make clear my position for the benefit of any other readers.

      3. With regard to ‘friendship evangelism’, I admit to considerable discomfort with that phrase – although not, I am sure, with what you intend by it. Should we share the Gospel with our friends? By all means! Why? Because we love them, and so yearn to share with them the grace and peace that we have received through Christ, even the forgiveness of all our sin and the righteousness of Christ put to our account.

      But the term ‘friendship evangelism’ itself has too many negative connotations for me. It makes me think of those speakers I mentioned in my reply to Bobby above – those whom I endured as they tried to convince me to evangelize out of a sense of duty. I always felt that I was being admonished to make friends in order that I could fulfil my duty of evangelism – an idea I find abhorrent. It was as if I were being encouraged in some misguided pietistic legalistic fashion to use other people to fulfil my duty toward God. But my duty toward God is fulfilled by Christ alone.

      I suspect that, in part at least, it is a reaction against such ideas that has resulted in so many now making friends and meeting needs without subsequently proclaiming the Gospel. Both practices are, I think, in error.

      No, if God has given someone a personality that is outgoing and inclined to form friendships easily, then praise Him! Let the Gospel be shared to many through that gift. But if we are shy and retiring, that is in itself no sin. Let instead the Gospel be shared through the relationships that we do form: parents with their children; mothers at the school gate; colleagues at work; people we meet online; the few, close, friendships that we might nevertheless have.

      Thus, I am in favour of making friends because we genuinely care about people and love them. And I am in favour of sharing the Gospel with those friends, because we genuinely care for them and love them. But I am against my traducing the very notion of friendship by forming artificial relationships with people for whom I have no love, merely in an attempt to fulfil a work of the Law and thereby earn God’s favour.

      Sharing the Good News of Christ crucified with my friends, though? Absolutely!

      4. Staying with the notion of sharing the Gospel with our friends, and those others with whom we have formed relationships: There are many who find it difficult to form such relationships, or who simply do not have the opportunity to do so. If one happens to be such a person, what are you to do if you have a love for the lost and a strong desire to share the Gospel?

      I might be wrong (Bobby, please feel free to leap in!), but it seems to me that this is where the kind of missional engagement that Bobby has been talking about (here and in the comments on my other article) comes in. This is really all about creating opportunities for Christians to express to the lost the love of Christ that has been shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

      This isn’t about creating false, artificial relationships with people in whom one has no real interest. It is instead about going out into the world ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:9). Not out of a sense of duty, but rather as those compelled by love. It is about going and finding those very people for whom Christ has already put a love in our hearts. When we find them, we tend them, and we share the Good News of Christ with them – one beggar to another.

      5. You ask:

      Paul talks of ‘being all things to all men that he might win some. 1 Cor 9.19-23 could, I suppose, be seen as a model of ‘friendship evangelism’?

      Hmm. Reading from the beginning of ch. 9, the context is Paul’s right to live from the Gospel, but nevertheless his refusal to exercise that right. Why does he not take it up?

      Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor. 9:12b)

      But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. (1 Cor. 9:15)

      The idea, then, is that Paul does not even take that to which he is entitled, lest he hinder the Gospel in any way. His whole conduct is so as to give no opportunity for anyone to accuse him or to take offence. Thus, it is never Paul himself that offends anyone, but only the Gospel itself. v. 18 continues this idea:

      What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:18)

      Paul behaves in this way so that he stays far away from abusing his authority when he preaches the Gospel. As one entrusted with such great authority, this is surely wise, good and proper. If only all those today with high-profile ministries would be so cautious!

      Now, v. 19 is clearly continuing the same line of thought, being introduced with the conjunction ‘for’:

      For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:19–22, NKJV)

      The natural sense of these verses, then, is that Paul wishes to avoid giving unnecessary offence. He wishes to avoid creating any hindrance to the Gospel:

      a) He will not abuse his authority for material reward.

      b) If he is meeting with Jews, he is going to behave in a manner that will be acceptable to them. He isn’t going to abuse gratuitously the freedom that he has in Christ in a way that will offend them and cause them to close their ears to the Gospel message of Christ crucified.

      c) Likewise, if he is meeting with gentiles, he isn’t going play the Pharisaical Jew before them, but will act in a way that does not give offence.

      d) To those who are weak and helpless, he comes himself in like manner. Think how domineering an authoritative Apostle such as Paul might seem to a frightened sinner on the cusp of faith. And yet, ‘“For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”’ (2 Cor. 10:10)

      e) And this is a general principle: he has become ‘all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’

      Paul concludes the chapter by pointing to the greater prize. He is ‘temperate in all things’ (v. 25), as is everyone who competes. Yes, living in the way that he does might be difficult and inconvenient. But he is running ‘to obtain an imperishable crown’ (v. 25) that is worth every hardship. He disciplines his body and brings it into subjection, ‘lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.’ (v. 27)

      There are undoubtedly many applications of this passage. But, having considered it in context, I cannot immediately see any connection with friendship. It is really all about conducting oneself in a way that does not impede the preaching of the Gospel by causing unnecessary offence.

      6. You say that real concern for the lost is not something that can be ‘faked’. Again, I am in unreserved agreement.

      If people professing Christ do not have that concern, their pastors should be asking why.

      Is it because those people are not saved? They need to hear the Law and the Gospel.

      Is it because, although saved, they somehow think they are better than the lost? They need to hear the Law (to show them their continuing sin) and the Gospel.

      Is it because they do not understand the plight of the lost? They need to hear the Law in all its terror, and the Gospel in all its comfort.

      Is it because they do not understand the Gospel itself? That they do not sufficiently comprehend the awesome magnitude of God’s love and grace – poured out upon vile, helpless sinners like us, in the person and work of Jesus Christ? They need to hear the Law and the Gospel.

      There are many potential reasons. But I am contending that love for the lost comes only by the hearing of the Gospel. If significant numbers of believers in a congregation are not showing love for the lost, my suspicion is that they are not hearing Law and Gospel, rightly divided, sufficiently frequently or sufficiently clearly.

      We all need to hear the Gospel, day by day, week by week. And as we grow in our understanding of its riches, the wonder of God’s love toward such wretches as ourselves will increasingly overwhelm us. And that love, poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit as He applies Christ and His righteousness to us, will begin to overflow to those around us. We grow to realize ever more fully that, but for God’s unmerited favour, we too would be heading for eternal punishment. With that terrifying realization, the grace, love and mercy that we have received compels us to share the Good News with anyone who will listen. For perhaps, if it should so please the Lord, we might even save some?

      I hope that was helpful in clarifying my position, but please come back and let me know if you think I am in any way in off balance!

      • I did write a long reply to this starting with the phrase that I agree with everything you have written. I then went on to write some other comments but somewhere along the line the whole lot disappeared! Anyway, I concluded with the suggestion that we seem to be, as I think the present idiom has it, on the same page!

  6. Beautiful post, my brother. You clearly have a pastor’s heart. (Dare I say that after our last discussion?) But it does seem so.

    The gospel is so, so important, and you express it with reverence for God and tenderness for lost souls. I was happy to see this today, because I was just studying the gospel last night. I don’t presume to know what God is doing, but it *feels* as if He is bringing His church back to a deeper understanding and love for Him, and this post is more confirmation.

    I read this verse in Titus 1:15-16:
    “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”

    It carried with it profound conviction for me, and the question, “Am I pure? Do I profess to know God and then, in my works, deny Him?” Only the gospel can quell these fears, because, as Eph. 2:8-9 reminds me, it is through grace that I have been saved, through faith, and that not of myself, it is a gift of God. I can’t boast, I didn’t do anything. And why has the precious faith been created in me? So that I would walk in the good works God has prepared for me.

    It is, consequently, awesome to see good works in my life, and terrifying to see sin. When I read your posts, I can tell you feel this keenly too, as every Christian should. And I think that is where the reverence for God and tenderness for the lost that I mentioned before comes from.

    I was trying to work out a gospel formula last night. I think it’s like this:
    1. God, in His grace, is moved to save us
    2. Regeneration occurs, moving the heart to repentance
    3. Christ is presented as the means of salvation
    4. Faith is created in the heart to accept that Means
    5. Works flow out of faith

    Do you think I’m correct in that? Would you add / change anything? I’ve been lazy, and haven’t included the verses that correspond (there are many!)

    Another interesting question to answer would be this: at what point, in the order of things above, does the preaching occur? It seems to me our responsibilities to our fellow men fall in line something like this:
    1. Prayer for the lost, that God would have mercy
    2. Calling people to repentance, so that those being regenerated can respond
    3. Presenting the gospel
    4. Observing salvation and rejoicing with / accepting the saved into the body
    5. Nurturing, cleansing, teaching and exhorting others and ourselves to good works

    I enjoyed your writing. So often I read Christian blogs where the author seems annoyed at people for not understanding spiritual things. I don’t see any of that here. Keep up the lovely, encouraging work. :-)

    Tiffany

    • Tiffany, as always, you demonstrate yourself to be an astute student of sound doctrine. You may therefore dare to say anything you wish! (Oh, and there are possibly some comments that you haven’t yet seen over on that other thread you mentioned.) In any case, I have yet to censor a relevant comment on this blog, so I certainly should not object to anything you might have to say :-)

      I hope and pray that you are right that God is working in His Church to bring us back a deeper understanding and love for Him. I see signs, and the number of like-minded friends I have online is encouraging. And yet, we see that error abounds, and it is easy for us to turn our eyes away from Christ and become discouraged.

      It is, consequently, awesome to see good works in my life, and terrifying to see sin.

      And there you succinctly expressed the nature of the Christian life. God’s good works in and through us, and yet the continuing reality of our terrifying sin. As you say, only the gospel can quell our fears.

      With respect to your ‘gospel formula’ – I’m impressed. The phrase you want to google is ordo salutis, the ‘order of salvation’. And take a look at this article, as I think that will probably address all your questions (although it seems to have missed sanctification from the Arminian version):

      http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Ordo-Salutis/

      And thank you too for your ongoing encouragement.

  7. Hi Tiffany,

    With regard to the order of salvation (ordo salutis), I’ve found it thoroughly inspirational to me personally, especially with regard to many uncertainties concerning my salvation, that have been deep rooted in my mind for many years.

    I am currently in the process of drawing attention to this process in a series of articles I’ve been putting together at Faith Defenders. Rather than going into great depth with endless quotations from Scripture, as were many of the articles I found when researching this doctrine for myself, I have tried to set it in easy to see layman’s terms.

    If it helps you can read through what I’ve put together already, which broaches the the first 4 stages:
    1. The call of the Gospel (Predestination)
    2. Effectual Calling (Regeneration)
    3. Repentance & Faith (Conversion)
    4. Legal Declaration (Justification)

    I still have the subjects of adoption, sanctification and glorification to cover (still putting them together), but the following link is the location where they will all be eventually: http://faith-defenders.com/tag/ordo-salutis/

    God bless,
    John.

  8. Excellent post, brother!
    One thing more important than talking about the gospel is to give it out to sinners.
    This is where we tend to fail, for various reasons, primarily fear and lack of knowledge. Any discussion on the gospel helps us to clarify our thinking, particularly in the light of some strange, unbiblical gospel messages today.
    I address the contemporary v biblical gospel used in evangleism in my website “What Is The Gospel?”
    http://www.whatisthegospel.org.uk

  9. Just to press the matter a bit further in your response to your pop.

    First of all… you get it.

    Having said that let me pick on a sentence that you used and give you a missional twist/challenge.

    You were talking abt people who “have a love for the lost and a strong desire to share the Gospel” and them having opportunity, etc.

    I used to preach that way, not any more. What being a missionary to my city has taught me is there may not be any such thing as loving someone you do not know. In some grand theological sense maybe, but practically, not so much. I don’t love lost people if I don’t know any. How can you be burden for ‘those poor lost souls’ that I don’t know at all. I am burdened for Autumn and Jerry and Tamika and Rashan…. real people who I know who are lost. What missional people do is drop the nonsense and face a startling reality, I really haven’t become all things to all people so that I might win some, as a matter of fact I’ve never won even one.

    The church is filled with people who save they love the lost, but have never done a single thing to reach them. That’s not love, it is actually hate. If you were fully aware of the suffering that the lost experience now in their sin and that they will experience in hell and you don’t do anything to bring them to Christ who could save them from both, how can you say you love them? You don’t. John says love is to be with deeds not words only.

    So rather than say we love and send people to hell with our words and inaction, we go to where they are so we can learn their names and fall in love (using corny phrase on purpose) and then out of that REAL love be burdened to pray and fast and proclaim the good news of God’s grace to their hopeful conversion.

    That’s missional.

    BC

    • You make your point passionately, Bobby, and you are right to confront the hypocrisy (let’s call it what it is) that lies within people like me over this.

      It is easy for me to say that I have a love for the lost, but where is the outworking that demonstrates the truth of my claim? James says that ‘faith without works is dead’, and that seems to me to be an observation not without relevance to this discussion.

      I wonder, though, is it true that it is impossible to love someone in a meaningful sense without first knowing them?

      Let me give you some examples.

      I have one or two Facebook friends who stand for hours outside abortion mills. They hope to persuade desperate women not to go through with their plans, and to proclaim to them repentance and the remission of sins in Christ.

      I have a real-life friend who is an evangelist (I have more than one of those, but I am thinking of one in particular). Part of his time is spent in door to door work, seeking out people who are willing to talk. He forms lasting friendships with a few of the people that he meets this way.

      And then there’s you, and your church. You all go out into your city, to search out people in need and minister the Gospel to them.

      What is it that motivates all these people?

      The ladies who minister outside the abortion factories do this because they have a practical love and compassion for the women involved, and also because they have a practical love and compassion for the helpless infants whom those women carry.

      My evangelist friend does what he does because he has the hope of perhaps seeing yet one more person come into the Kingdom of God.

      And you do what you do because you have a heart for the lost in your city, to see them rescued by Christ.

      Why do any of you care for people whom you have never previously met?

      Is it not because you all identify with the plight of the lost, having once been lost yourselves? Because you know people like those whom you seek out, and the compassion you have for those you already know is easily extended to others like them? Because you understand the fate of the lost, and it terrifies you that they are heading unawares to hell? Because, knowing the magnitude of the undeserved mercy and love that you have received, you cannot help but wish to share that mercy and love through the Gospel with others?

      But, for all these people, the initial motivation for action comes before meeting particular individuals.

      For sure, the evidence that this motivating love is real is the subsequent action. And it is certainly the case that a somewhat abstract love becomes concrete when we encounter a poor and needy person with a face, a name, and a heart-wrenching story. And it is also true that, as we go out into our communities and meet these particular real individuals, our love for them and those like them is magnified.

      I suspect I am not really disagreeing with you here on anything substantive, merely addressing a nuance. I suppose I might wish to caution once more that not everyone is called to action in the particular ways that I mentioned – we are not all meant to be full-time evangelists. But I pray that Christ applied to me by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel might bear the proper fruit in my life.

      You quoted John. I think I shall conclude with that same passage, talking primarily of the love that we are to have for one another in Christ:

      ‘By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16–18, NKJV)

  10. It is so refreshing to read the TRUTH!

    I feel so alone sometimes when I demand the gospel be preached, not just helping the poor and feeding the hungry (which is good to do ). There is so much deception right now in the church, especially in the more “progressive” or “emerging” categories. I get so much flack from “Christians” who call me pig-headed or harsh or “unloving” for not tolerating sin, and wanting me to condone them. Would Christ do it? No, he would love them, but hate their sin, and tell them to repent!

    Thank you. Thank you. I really needed this. encouragement. It’s really good to find an ally in the blogosphere. I reblogged someone who had posted your latest video on tumblr (that is how I found your site).

    Keep preaching the truth, brother.

    Lauren — “Speak the truth in love”

    • Thank you, Lauren – I’m really glad you found the article helpful. And thank you for helping to share my video, much appreciated :-)

      Your zeal for sound doctrine and your hatred of sin is a good thing. I know that my own doctrine is still so very far from perfect. And there is so much sin every day in my own life – my ongoing failure to love God or my neighbour as I ought – that my life is a continual process of repentance and of being reminded through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

      And even as I see so much at fault with others and what they teach, I long for them too to enjoy the unmerited favour and love that I have received from my heavenly Father through His Son by the Holy Spirit. Truly, there but for the grace of God go I. How wonderful it would be if they too could receive the forgiveness of all their sins!

      Let our prayer for them therefore be that our gracious Father would open their eyes to the truth, granting them true repentance, faith and the remission of sins in His own dear Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

      Grace and peace be to you in Christ.

  11. I knew you would make me explain the nuance… :-) okay, here’s my swing at it.

    Surely you can say you love generally, like for instance, I love Indians, Asians, poor people, alcoholics or the lost. What you are saying is that for this particular class of people, you have a particular pity. You understand their plight generally and sometimes you identify because you were once one of them as you stated better than I.

    And also surely the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts and we are constrained by the love of God to live for God and take our mission as His ambassadors (2 Cor 5: 11ff).

    So in these two ways, we have a God generated love that grants to us Christ’s pity, “for God so loved the world.”

    The nuance (and you actually addressed it), is in James’ and John’s comments that beg the question, is ‘love’ without a practical outworking love at all? Is it possible that it is just sentimental pity but not love?

    Considered the phrase “moved with compassion” used of Jesus in the Gospels. Without boring your friends with the greek, the word is essence means that I am so internal moved, stimulated and stirred that action is not optional but necessary. The words immediately following these are always words of action… he was moved with compassion and he healed them, taught them, etc. For God so loved the world…. that he did something.

    The language escapes us here of course, and I just restated what you said, but it seems to me that there is a functional distinction between the sentiment of love and the action produced by that sentiment. Which brings me to my former point, when Jesus was “moved with compassion” it was always real life situation with real people that he was looking at and in the proximity of.

    I’ll spot you that it is a bit overstated and perhaps misstated but we missional types can’t settle for a sentiment of love, even one that is accompanied with tears, that compels no action. And practically, the best way to stir up that love is in the action of it.

    My head hurts.

    BC

    • Ah, now that was helpful. I’m very grateful for your willingness to have this discussion – it has helped me to think through some of these issues in a meaningful and non-abstract way.

      So, I think I understand what you are saying, and I agree with you on this: we cannot settle merely for a sentiment of love. But I am simply suggesting that a love that does produce action is indeed a genuine love, even before that action occurs. But, I’ll leave the point there, as I think we probably understand each other and have both made our respective cases well. In practical terms, there’s really not a lot for us to disagree over on this nuance, as we both assert that actions are the result of the kind of real love we are discussing.

      For the benefit of anyone else reading (not for you, because I know you understand this), I also want to reiterate here that the love-that-acts that we are discussing does not require everyone to be a missionary to the poor and needy in their nearest big city.

      The greatest need of all is for each person to hear the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ. And nearly all of us are surrounded by people with this need, unless we happen to live on a remote mountain top somewhere.

      And even in terms of the love-that-acts manifesting itself in serving other people in practical ways, most of us have opportunities thusly to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbours, our work colleagues, and so on. Usually, these things happen discretely, one-to-one with our neighbour in need.

      I say these things lest anyone think that either of us is criticizing, for example, a busy mom who has her hands full raising her children. She might not be called as a missionary to some big city, but she is serving her children, her husband, her neighbour (‘Hello, Mrs. Jones, I’ve brought you your weekly shopping. How are you today?’). And she is given opportunities to share the Good News of Christ with her children, her husband, her neighbour… Not out of compulsion, but because she delights in doing that.

      But I do want to pick up on one thing you said:

      ‘And practically, the best way to stir up that love is in the action of it.’

      I get what you’re saying. And, in many senses, you are not wrong – I agree that meeting people and seeing first-hand their plight stirs up a desire to do something. And doing that something further reinforces the compassion and love. But, you don’t even have to be a believer for that.

      The problem I have with the statement here is what it leaves out. And yes, I get that you were making an important point, not making a final and definitive statement of practice :-) I know too that you have an emphasis on the Gospel. You know that the Gospel must be communicated.

      But history shows that the Gospel must also be kept front and centre, or else the practical things that we can see will crowd it out. Maybe not this year. But give it five or 10. Give it a new generation of converts who were not trained to focus, first and foremost, exclusively even, upon Christ and Him crucified. Then, you will see the proclamation of the Gospel begin to fade.

      I thus come back to the point of my article.

      What really matters, what is effective and powerful, is the proclamation of repentance and the remission of sins in Christ. And pastors are called to proclaim this message to their flocks, to feed them with it week in and week out.

      The Gospel thus proclaimed will inevitably have its fruit, even producing a compassionate love-that-acts. That compassion will then be magnified and stirred-up through its outworking with the people that we meet. But the origin of the love-that-matters is in the faith that comes by the hearing of the Gospel, not in seeing the plight of our neighbour, nor even in acting to meet his need.

      The love that comes by the Gospel will cause us to reach out with the Gospel and practical deeds. The love that comes by seeing the needy – even by helping them – will tend to focus only upon practical deeds. And that was why I created the video I did for my article, The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel.

      I am thus unwilling to deny my assertion that the love-that-matters is the one that comes by faith through the hearing of the Gospel:

      ‘We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.’ (1 John 4:19–21, NKJV)

      You have done a wonderful job here of stirring us out of our complacency. Thank you. I hope that I have performed at least an adequate one of making the case for the supremacy of the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified.

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