The Gospel: We Can’t Improve Upon Jesus

There is nothing more important than the gospel message entrusted to us by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. And there is nothing more imperative than the proclamation of that message. Yet too often today our church leaders are watering down the message and giving up on its proclamation.

‘Jesus was a cool cat and all that, but hey, we gotta get with the times man. While he was OK in his day, things are different now, so we gotta get hip or lose out. What he did and said back then was neat, but times change so we gotta move on and do a lotta new stuff.’

preacher 1This tragically is no exaggeration, but is how far too many Christian leaders feel and think. Whether the hipsters in the submerging church or the trendies in much of the evangelical church, many of these folks actually think Jesus can be improved upon.

They will insist that we have to leave behind all that talk about repentance for example. While it may have worked in earlier times it is not something we can run with now. In fact, we have to dispense with talk about hell and judgment to come, and just focus on love, acceptance and tolerance.

I have actually heard pastors insist on this, claiming such “negative” emphases might have worked for a Billy Graham or some other earlier preacher, but we can’t run with them today, and we must update our messaging. I am flabbergasted that any church leader would say something so patently untrue.

No one can improve upon the message of Jesus. If he spoke on judgment, wrath to come and the need for repentance – and he did, regularly – then we need to be preaching on this as well. How in the world can we think that we can improve upon Jesus and the message he proclaimed?

That is the height of arrogance and impiety. Yet contemporary Christian leaders really seem to think they can do better than Jesus. Sorry, but I will stick with Jesus and the disciples any day of the week. Sure, we can adjust our methods, but we must never alter the message.

We can alter the way we present the gospel message, we can use differing methods, and we can experiment with new technologies, etc, but the message itself is not subject to change, nor can it be. To change the message is to proclaim a “different gospel” – something Paul roundly condemned (see 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:6-9, eg).

As bad as it is to foolishly think we can just change the gospel to suit changing times, it is even more ludicrous and unbiblical to think we can dispense with preaching altogether. Plenty of trendy pastors today have actually abandoned sermons in church, replacing them with stories or entertainment or discussions or feedback sessions.

Paul dealt with that nonsense long ago in Romans 10:14-15 where he declared that the preaching of the message must always be part of our ministry: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'”

And of course the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and most of church history show us that was just what believers have always done. They proclaimed the message and they did not alter the message. That is our calling and we dare not shy away from it. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

All this of course should be common knowledge for believers – it is really Christianity 101. Yet sadly for many it is not, so we need to keep restating the obvious. And while many leaders today disdain the preaching and preachers of old, I do not – and never will.

Indeed, give me these great preachers and teachers of old, instead of so many false gospellers of today. Let me finish with their words – words which we must continually remind ourselves of:

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” John Wesley

“The true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains.” Charles Spurgeon

“The sermon which does not lead to Christ, or of which Jesus Christ is not the top and the bottom, is a sort of sermon that will make the devils in hell laugh, but make the angels of God weep.” Charles Spurgeon

“Since Satan cannot destroy the gospel, he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution.” J.C. Ryle

“Do you know the message of this gospel? Do you know why Paul gloried in it? It is because he had come to see that God had got a plan for this miserable, wretched, failing sinful world. And it is a plan that he had planned before the very foundation of the world itself. I know of nothing so wonderful in the whole world today. That is why I do not preach topical sermons, I have something to tell you that is worth listening to!” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“We are called to the sacred task of Biblical exposition and are commissioned to proclaim what God has said, not what human beings want to hear. Thus, we have no liberty to scratch the itch of our listeners or to pander to their likings.” John R.W. Stott

“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.” Leonard Ravenhill

“They ought to kick most pastors out of their practice because, out of cowardice or self-preservation, they will not preach the Gospel.” Paul Washer

[1038 words]

8 Replies to “The Gospel: We Can’t Improve Upon Jesus”

  1. Thanks Bill for highlighting this very important issue. Methods do change over time, but the message never will. We must be careful to maintain the original and full Gospel message that we have been commanded to proclaim. I may be able to help some of your readers in this area. We have just produced 10 five minute videos in a series called “Reaching People you Don’t Know”, actually had the launch of the DVD two days ago on Vision Radio. Part of the series tries to tackle this issue of ‘Law and Judgement’ vs ‘Love and Grace’. Would be keen to know what you think. We also have an App out called “Gospel in 7” that helps Christians communicate the historic Gospel message in a modern way. Many Christians want to communicate the full Gospel without watering it down, but are not sure how to go about it in todays culture. The App is working very well. Hope this helps. Blessings.

  2. This is all around us now. People no longer believe there is such a thing as “sin”, they no longer believe in right and wrong. People don’t want to be told their lifestyle is wrong with God; they want to hear about how Jesus would have said it was ok and they want their minister to say so too.
    Many no longer want to believe in God because they think they’ve got life all fathomed out, so God is just an old-fashioned idea that’s being consigned to the attic.
    They actually believe they’ve “grown up” and no longer need fairy stories about angels and spirits. They believe that they themselves are gods and have full power over everything, to do whatever they want.

    Every time I open my local village magazine and read the monthly message from the bishop or lay preacher, all I see are wimpish comments about love, tolerance and acceptance. Anything considered more “gutsy” probably wouldn’t get printed; the editor only wants “nice things”.

    There seems little doubt that the crowds walking the broadway are far far larger than those on the narrow one. We need those “hellfire and brimstone” preachers again.

  3. We can’t improve upon Jesus but many people are tempted to revise, update, interpret and downplay the words of Jesus as being not relevant to our time. In my limited experience and understanding of the bible, I find that every word is crucial and significant, not to be changed, as it morphs to something different. People today laugh at the “bible based” approach, finding fire and brimstone laughable. Matthew 7 contains much of Jesus’ teaching, including the warning about false prophets: “Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.” If the doctrine is different the truth of the Word of God will be compromised. I think it is only when you become aware of the concept of propitiation, the placating of the wrath of God by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, you realise that we are part of a massive system that is the Creator’s plan,which has stages along the way, which is as inevitable as a book-keeper’s balance sheet. It has taken me many years to perceive the depth of meaning of the simple words Jesus spoke. For example if I say the Lord’s prayer, I perceive a deeper meaning almost every time and that way become more enlightened. It makes you realise the need for the narrow path.

  4. This reminds me a bit of Steve Taylor with his song ‘Whatever Happened To Sin’ from the early 80s.

  5. With regards to the difficulty in reaching out to others, I came across one of Jesus’ many well known sayings in gospel of Mark: 7 yesterday: Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn against and rend you.

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