CultureWatch

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

Gutting the Gospel

Jun 4, 2019

Those who are Christians have been entrusted with the gospel. That is just what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God”. This is a sacred trust, and we dare not misuse nor abuse it.

But so many believers do get the gospel wrong. They end up preaching another gospel, a false gospel, a gutted gospel. It is not the biblical gospel, but one of their own devising. This can be done in so many ways: by watering down the heinousness of sin, by downplaying the holiness of God, by denying the need for repentance, and so on.

One of these gutted gospels involves telling people that coming to Christ will solve all their problems and make life just peachy. Everything will be just rosy if they receive Christ, and all their troubles will simply disappear. This is a false gospel, but one we hear preached all the time.

And it can only result in disaster. Those who are sold this bill of goods will not last long as a follower of Christ. As soon as some hardship or opposition or tribulation arises, they will be baffled and perplexed, and will likely jettison the faith. I have written before about the dangers of such easy believism. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/10/16/2022/

In those articles I mentioned books such as Ray Comfort’s 2010 volume, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, and the 1970 volume by Walter Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? But before they wrote their books, another famous preacher was sounding the alarm about such matters.

Back in the 50s and 60s the noted Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones was going through the book of Romans verse by verse, and he often spoke about the need to offer a genuine gospel – an ungutted gospel. Thankfully those sermons are available in print form, totalling over 5000 pages in 14 volumes.

In the volume on Romans 8:5-17, “The Sons of God,” he again speaks to this matter. His words are so good that the best thing I can do is simply to offer them here. While commenting on Rom. 8:17 (“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him”), he says this:

Image of The Sons of God: Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17 (Romans Series)
The Sons of God: Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17 (Romans Series) by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Amazon logo

This should surely control even our evangelism; and to the extent that it does not, we engage in a false evangelism. Far too often evangelism takes the form of saying, ‘Are you in trouble, are you unhappy, are you failing somewhere, do you need some help? Very well, come to Christ and you will get all you need.’ Thank God, it is very true that, if you come to Christ, you will derive many benefits; but I do not find the Christian Gospel presented in that way in the New Testament itself. . . . We must be careful never to present the gospel in a way that puts it into line with the cults. That is what the cults do. They say, ‘Are you worried? Well, believe this theory and you will lose your worry. Are you suffering ill health? Just realize that there is no such thing as matter, no such thing as disease, no such thing as pain. If you but believe that, you will lose all your aches and pains, and you will be perfectly well.’ That is typical of the cults. They come to us and offer to put everything right for us here and now.

But that is not what we have here; and it is not what we have anywhere in the Bible. The Bible, unlike the cults, does not seem at first to promise us very much in this life. What it does promise lies mainly in the future. The whole Bible points to that glorious future – to the ‘promise’, the ‘hope’, the ‘inheritance’. And this teaching should govern our evangelism. The chief reason why men should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is that they are under the wrath of God, and that if they die under the wrath of God they will go to hell, and their eternal future will be one of misery and shame. They must ‘escape from the wrath to come’. That was the message of John the Baptist, and the message of our Lord Himself. They did not come to people and say, ‘The gospel will solve your problem for you, and enable you to live a happy life while you are in the world’. They called for repentance, because, in their state of sin, men and women are under the wrath of God. The main thrust of New Testament evangelism is always in terms of this ‘wrath to come’, and the two great possibilities that face us all eternity. Such is the theme we are dealing with here.

Why should I be concerned about knowing that I am a child of God? The answer is, that I may be certain that I am an heir and that I am going on to that inheritance. And this is not only very important from the standpoint of evangelism, it is equally important from the standpoint of the pastor and the need to help people in a pastoral sense. Popular evangelism too often comes to us and says: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and all will be well with you; you will never have any troubles or problems, the whole world will be changed. You will walk down the road of life with a light step, and all your problems will have gone.’ People believe this and on they go for months and perhaps for a year or two. Then things begin to go wrong with them, and they pray to God. They say, ‘I have only to ask God, and all will be well’. But nothing happens, things are not put right, and they are surrounded by trials and troubles and the malice of other people. The devil seems to be active, old temptations rise up and shake them, and they wonder where they are and what is happening to them. Then the devil comes and says: ‘You have never been a Christian at all, because if you were a Christian, obviously these things would not be happening to you. Don’t you remember what the evangelist said?’ And so they think that they have never been Christians at all. Or the devil will come to them and say: ‘Didn’t I tell you not to believe it? The evangelist promised you that if you only believed in Christ you would never have any more troubles; but look at yourself now.’ So if you have believed the message of that pseudo-evangelism you have no answer.

True evangelism does not offer some panacea for all the ills in our life in this world; it does not promise to make us perfect in a moment or set the whole world right. It says rather, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation; but fear not, I have overcome the world’. It is ‘the promise’, ‘inheritance’; it is the future. If you believe what the Apostle says here, you will be in no difficulty when someone tells you that the gospel is not true because you are experiencing trials. You say, ‘Were we ever promised by the gospel that we would have no troubles?’ ‘If we suffer with him’, says the Apostle, ‘we shall also reign with him’. ‘The sufferings of this present time’ are real, and I cannot promise you that they are going to decrease, but what I can tell you is that ‘they are not worthy to be compared with the glory’ which is coming. Hold on, therefore, quit yourself as a man, carry on; because, whatever may happen to you in this life, that inheritance is absolutely certain. That is how the gospel speaks to us. So I emphasize that this is a vital doctrine from the standpoint of evangelism as well as from the standpoint of pastoral ministry.

Yes exactly. We must offer to lost sinners a realistic gospel, a biblical gospel. It is no use sugar-coating things and playing games with the lost, pretending that everything will be just fine, and they can have their ‘best life now’. That is lying to them. That is simply setting them up for a fall.

We tell people what Jesus and the disciples told people: that there is a real cost to following Christ. It will cost you everything. And because of your faith, you will be hated by all men. That is the truth we must tell them, not the fake news of so many mega-churches and tele-evangelists.

When we tell the lost the whole truth of God, then we will be able to say with our heads held high, along with the Apostle Paul, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God: (Acts 20:27).

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8 Responses to Gutting the Gospel

  • The Gospel of Christ is far from being an “opiate of the people”: The Lord of glory who suffered for us calls us to suffer with Him in that very world where he was rejected – a world where, too often, Caesar demands for himself those things that belong only to God. Peace with God has often come to Jesus’ disciples along with solid dose of tribulation in this world.

  • Right on, Brother Bill! True words indeed!

  • Thanks Bill. In the mid-1970s I loaned my mother the Lloyd-Jones’ volumes on ch 3:20-4:25 (Atonement and Justification) and ch 5 (Assurance). On the basis of her study she accepted Christ at age 54. There’s certainly no substitute for the clear, uncompromising Gospel.

  • I think when the church took a wrong turn was in 1953 when 95 % of all churches took an oath to the 501c3 State tax exemption status & agreed to only preach what the state allows. At that moment the church stopped preaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ & took on the form of as you so well put it “Happy Clappy Christianity”. Literally, the church sold it’s soul to the state. To bring in the big bucks they have to sell “Happiness” to potential converts. Rarely do we hear sermons on suffering. Fact is if one brings up the serious subjects to fellow church goers that we need to repent & pray about abortion, gender mutilation, pornography, being silent on evil, the spread of the LGBT to control western civilization we are looked upon as “Deaby Downers” and treated like we have the plague. The church has been trained very well to be silent on evil. Dumb down & dummy up.

    “Lord, Jesus please forgive us, we know not the evil we have embraced.”

    Thanks Bill for your article & allowing me to throw in my 2 cents worth [so to speak].

  • It can be all very confusing, or it can be very straightforward. The confusion comes when we form Christianity into what we want it to be, sometimes to make it more acceptable for others or ourselves.

    I speak with a very old man on Sundays for an hour or so. He likes to be known as a soldier. He has medals in a box, and he carries his comrades in his thoughts and heart. Some of the stories he tells me are so sad they bring tears to my eyes, but those times oddly were the best days of his life. He told me of one situation that I have never forgotten, as we could learn and understand why we have to suffer for our faith from his story. He told me that he and his comrades were transported in a metal craft to the shores of a beach while they were in the craft they were relatively safe; however, they were not winning the battle by remaining in the safety of the craft. Their commanding officer had to lead them into action, as that is the only way they could win the battle. Their role as soldiers wasn’t to be comfortable or even safe; it was to suffer for the cause of freedom. Without their suffering, there couldn’t be freedom. I think Christians are led into battle by their love of Christ, sometimes its to do nothing more than quoting scripture, and other times it standing up for our principles. We could, of course, stay in the safety of the craft of silence, but doing so doesn’t win anyone over to the good news of the gospel as it would just remain in the safety of silence.

    I have never known war, and I have never known suffering as this man has. He probably thought he was talking to an immature teen girl who only knows the emotion that relates to what he told me. I am much more linked in than he realised however since my saviour fought and died to free me from my sin. I probably know better than he the sacrifice love will go to save even one sinful teen girl.

    Nothing was ever won it seems without sacrifice, however, we should not sacrifice the gospel for profit or to not offend, we should sacrifice ourselves as if we were soldiers of the Lord.

  • Great post as usual Bill,

    Worth mentioning too I think is the influence of the self help gospel on otherwise sincere-ish churches.

    Many would not claim to teach that gospel, and would claim to preach the full gospel, and in so many words they would. The problem is in the undercurrents.

    Many churches teach a more subtle self help message, that often avoids using explicit biblical language. Instead of sin, God deals with our ‘struggles’ and ‘brokenness’, which provides a slippery scape goat. They can always say they’re talking about sin, but many hearers of the message will interpret as their own personal struggles, especially the more sheep-like attendee’s who don’t regularly engage with their bible on their own in private.

    This I think is an important nuance, because so many believers and churches would not claim to be explicitly teaching a self help gospel, but the devil is in the details really.

  • My reading this morning was from the end of Luke where Jesus said that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:47). I noticed he used the r-word, which isn’t too popular these days.

    And in Paul’s sermon to the Greeks in Athens he said, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30-31). There’s the r-word again! But isn’t this passage supposed to be a model for a seeker-friendly gospel? Oh well, never mind…

  • Yep – bang on again Bill.
    I love how Trump’s term “fake news” has taken off. I even hear lefties using it. Haha…

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