The gospel most evangelicals in the West preach today bears little resemblance to that found in the New Testament. Increasingly the very heart of the biblical gospel message is being stripped away, leaving a shell which offers little of what Jesus and the disciples preached.
Consider just a few verses which highlight the core gospel message, all from the lips of Jesus:
Mark 2:17 Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Matthew 4:17 Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Matthew 7;13-14 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
From just these four words of Jesus, we learn much about the very heart of the gospel message: We are all sinners under the wrath of God who need to repent. And few will find eternal life. These truths are found not only in the four Gospel accounts, but in Acts and the epistles as well.
Yet what is the basic gospel message we hear today? It is all about come to Jesus and he will solve all your problems, make you a better person, and give you happiness and peace. We even hear that coming to Christ will make you rich, help your self-esteem, and make you successful in life. Just where in this modern message do we hear anything about sin, judgment, repentance and the hard road of being disciples?
These core gospel truths are almost lost today. Way back in 1970 Walter Chantry penned a small volume called Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? In it he said that we are no longer preaching the hard words of Jesus, but a popularised, sentimentalised and humanistic gospel.
He wrote: by the “omission of essential ingredients of the Gospel, many fail to communicate even that portion of God’s word which they mean to convey. When a half truth is presented as the whole truth, it becomes an untruth.” Paul Washer, in The Gospel Call and True Conversion says the results of such “gospel reductionism has been far-reaching”:
It “hardens the hearts of the unconverted”; it “deforms the church from a spiritual body of unregenerated believers into a gathering of carnal men who profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him”; it “reduces evangelism and missions to little more than a humanistic endeavor driven by clever marketing strategies based upon a careful study of the latest trends in culture”; and it “brings reproach to the name of God”.
This is the stark reality we face today. And many other great men of God have warned about this very thing. D. James Kennedy put it this way: “The vast majority of people who are members of churches in America today are not Christians. I say that without the slightest contradiction. I base it on empirical evidence of twenty-four years of examining thousands of people.”
Or as A. W. Tozer warned: “It is my opinion that tens of thousands of people, if not millions, have been brought into some kind of religious experience by accepting Christ, and they have not been saved.” The mantra of “just accept Christ” and everything is taken care of is leading many millions of souls into a false assurance of salvation.
But to point out the narrow road of salvation and the cost of discipleship will often result in all sorts of people getting angry at you. They will call you judgmental or legalistic. They will claim you are being unloving or intolerant. Indeed, simply quoting Jesus and the disciples will result in such words of rebuke!
I have been called many things over the years as I have sought to defend the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thought I had heard it all, but there are always surprises just around the corner. As I was recently defending what Jesus and the apostles said in marked contrast to what modern day televangelists like Joel Osteen say, I was actually told I was guilty of “ultra legalism”!
I must say, it did take me several minutes to pick myself off the floor, dust myself off, and regain my seat in front of my computer. While I may well have been called much worse, that was one of the most bizarre things I have heard from a fellow Christian.
To defend the clear teachings of Jesus and the disciples makes me an ultra legalist?! Really? And I was also chewed out for claiming that such false gospels are sending millions of people to a lost eternity. But this is certainly serious business. A false gospel will lead to false converts, and hell will of necessity be the final destination.
Paul was so concerned about those preaching a false gospel which would endanger the souls of many, that he actually said of these pretenders that they should be accursed. Indeed, he said that twice in Galatians 1:6-9. Those were very strong words, but they were certainly needed to prevent such error and such tragic outcomes.
And true men and women of God have been saying the same thing ever since. Plenty of great saints who have called out false gospels and cheap grace can be appealed to here. Think of the Puritans and Ryle and Lloyd-Jones and Tozer and Ravenhill and Washer for starters. But let me mention just two recent volumes which you all should be aware of.
The first is by Ray Comfort: God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life (Living Water Publications, 2010). He cites plenty of statistics to show that “there are many today who name the name of Christ, but who have failed to ‘depart from iniquity’ (2 Timothy 2;19). They are false converts who have ‘asked Jesus into their hearts,’ yet they remain unconverted because they have never truly repented.”
The second volume you all need to read is Michael Brown’s Hyper-Grace (Charisma House, 2014). In this very important corrective to the unbiblical extremes of the hyper-grace crowd, Brown reminds us of the dangers of preaching grace without truth:
“I’m afraid that many modern grace teachers, in their zeal to safeguard the glories of grace, preach their message without fundamental aspects of biblical truth. These would include: 1) God requires holy living from His people; 2) our sins do have an impact on our relationship with God; 3) you can preach grace and preach against sin at the same time; 4) there is much in the Old Testament that remains of foundational relevance to believers under grace.”
So much more can be said about this vital topic. We must recover the biblical gospel, or risk being responsible for leading countless souls to a lost eternity. The sad truth is, as a result of this shallow, hollow and compromised gospel message, we have innumerable people today who think they are Christians but in fact have never been truly converted. They will face the horrible words of Jesus as found in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
God forbid that we in any way might contribute to that terrible outcome.