CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Gospel, Cheap Grace, and a Lost Eternity

Sep 14, 2014

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.

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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.

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15 Responses to The Gospel, Cheap Grace, and a Lost Eternity

  • Bill…I’m guessing you haven’t read the second half of my book “Totalitaria”.

    To see what Christians are truly up against, and why, I recommend it.

  • Good article again Bill. A reminder that new converts need to be discipled.

  • I have only recently found your ‘Culture Watch’ posts. For a few years now I have felt very uncomfortable with what I would see as an imbalance in teaching in the church in general, and consequently the apathy towards holy living by christians. Some seem to almost despise right behaviour or persevering in difficulties as some sort of disease to be stamped out because you might appear to be a legalist or ‘negative’, heaven forbid. This at first was very alarming for me because I still feel the same way I did 26 years ago when I gave my life to Christ. My attitudes, desire to please God because I love Him and excitement over being with fellow believers is still there stronger than ever. But I have noticed a change around me and at first I thought it was my imagination. But I believe this awareness is prompting from the Holy Spirit. I can see that now. But I draw strength from people like yourself Bill who are willing to say the hard stuff (and love your humour). I know there are others out there who also feel the same. We are all sinners. I sin everyday. I have been covered by the blood of Jesus for this and I am eternally grateful, but part of that is to try to live my life by the word of God and with His strength to do so. As I continue in my walk I feel more and more ok with being in a minority for how I live out my Christian life. After all God is ultimately the only one I have to answer too. So thanks Bill, keep up the good work.

  • Many thanks indeed Carmel. Bless you in your journey with Him.

  • Hi Bill, could you give your readers what you understand is the good news of the Kingdom of God ? thanks Kevin McDonald

  • I have found that the most difficult people to lead to repentance and faith in Christ are those who have been ‘converted’ by a false man-centred gospel. It seems as if they have been inoculated against the true Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  • Thanks Kevin, although with over 3000 articles here, that should be sort of obvious. And it does not really matter what I think, but what the Scriptures teach on this. But the biblical storyline can be put roughly in these terms: We were created to have a love relationship with God, but the Fall and sin has made a rescue plan necessary, accomplished by Christ at Calvary. Repentance and faith are the means of getting right with God, while obedience and faith are the appropriate ongoing responses to the free gift of salvation. All that is good news, provided we play by God’s rules, instead of making up our own.

  • Another great article Bill and very needful. Ray Comfort and Michael Brown are two men who are fighting hard to stop these heresies which divide people from Christ. The saddest part is, people who say all this stuff give themselves away as having not read the New Testament, as I find it impossible to simply read through it and come to these absurd imbalances and conclusions, its a demonic spirit which is embraced by those who want Christ their way.
    Keep on picking yourself up off the floor as I do, I fear it will only become worse, but few will count the cost and turn from their idolatry yet, making it all worth the while.

  • Eternity is of such utmost importance and to mislead people and distract them with other issues on earth is to deceive them.

    Even Arthur Stace, an alcoholic and petty criminal converted to Christianity on the night of 6 August 1930, after hearing an inspirational sermon by the Reverend R. B. S. Hammond at St. Barnabas Church, Broadway. Inspired by the words, he became enamoured of the notion of eternity. Two years later, on 14 November 1932, Arthur was further inspired by the preaching of evangelist John G. Ridley, MC on “The echoes of Eternity” from Isaiah 57:15:

    “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth Eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

    John Ridley’s words,”Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?” proved crucial in Stace’s decision to tell others about his faith. In an interview, Stace said, “Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity.” Even though he was illiterate and could hardly write his own name Arthur, legibly, “the word ‘Eternity’ came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t.”

    Stace spread his form of gospel by writing the word “Eternity'” in chalk on footpaths in Sydney over a period of approximately 35 years.

  • It’s so sad. It never ceases to amaze me how many so called Christians are the first to come against the the preaching of the true gospel of Christ.

  • At the risk of maybe labouring the point, but it is not until we realize that we are born into the kingdom of darkness (John 3:17 and John 3:36) and need to be adopted into the kingdom of God, which He made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph 1:5) and by being born again, (John 3:3; 2 Cor 5:17) which is our response to that provision. I am not sure if it is part of our sinful nature or Satan’s deception, but there is something in us humans that wants to either circumvent or jump over that decisive point in our life that always must be accompanied not only by a changed life, but also the confession of the name of Jesus as Lord.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • I love and support your work but this column is very confused as are all columns that conflate salvation and discipleship. I understand your concern with the prosperity gospel and Christians in Name Only but the answer to that is not a works based salvation. When Galatians attack Corinthians, they’re both wrong. I can imagine everyone in the Galatian church sharing this column and buying brother Brown’s book . . . except the Apostle Paul. Brown’s book also suggests that one can lose their salvation based on their behavior. I wouldn’t be recommending it at all, then again, I like my milk without arsenic in it.

  • Thanks John. But I of course did not “conflate salvation and discipleship” and I certainly did not promote a “works based salvation”. It may be you who is a tad theologically confused here. Salvation as traditionally consider has several aspects, and here we are discussing two major ones: justification and sanctification. While these are different aspects of the salvation experience, they cannot be separated either. It is a package deal according to the New Testament writers. Justification is of course the free work of Christ in which believers are accepted in the beloved. This is not of works and can never be. It is by grace which we receive through faith. But justification is only the beginning, and no New Testament writer considers it to be separated from sanctification, either in theory or in practice. The believer’s walk is to be characterised by obedience and growing holiness. When these marks of sanctification are not present, then one can rightly ask if a person has been truly converted in the first place. All this of course is basic Christianity 101 as any perusal of the New Testament makes clear.

    The question of whether a believer can lose his salvation is a related but separate question. That discussion depends on many things, including how one defines the terms in question, what one’s theological presuppositions are, and so on. But that is the stuff of another debate, and is not what I am here discussing. Nor is it my intention to get into a big theological bunfight over all this.

  • I really wonder what new testament translations those people have!
    Have they even read Romans chapter 8? It starts like this Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
    Yes, we are free from condemnation BUT…. there is a condition here! no condemnation for those who walk after the spirit and not the flesh!

    That sums it all up! The whole chapter keeps saying that over and over again! And so does the whole new testament!

    Aint it sad to see people believe some made up Jesus!

  • Although we’ve visited some, it’s been years now that my wife and I stopped attending church services. All of those we’ve visited are become social clubs, none of them are preaching the True Gospel but like you say a cheap Grace. They forgot one of Paul’s warning:

    Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord

    God bless !

    From Quebec, Canada

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