The Gospel (II)
THE GOSPEL - WHAT IT'S NOT
(from a transcript of a sermon preached 9/10/00 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Last week, I preached a message entitled, "The Gospel - What it Is." Today, I'm entitling the message, "The Gospel - What It's Not." The foundation was laid last week as we went over what the gospel is. I'd like to do a quick review of some of the key passages we went over.
First, let's look at Romans 1, verses 16-17:
Romans 1: (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek; (17) for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; even as it has been written, "But the just shall live by faith."
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone believing, and the gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God. What is the righteousness of God? Let's turn to Romans 3, verses 21-26:
Romans 3: (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus.
Now let's read Romans 4: 6-8:
Romans 4: (6) Even as also David says of the blessedness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: (7) "Blessed [are those] whose lawlessnesses are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; (8) blessed [the] man to whom [the] Lord will in no way charge sin."
The righteousness of God shows forth that God is just to justify the ungodly based on two things: the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ after the sins of His people were imputed to him, and based on the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to His people. Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes. And the summary of the gospel is in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
2 Corinthians 5: (21) For He (that's God the Father) made Him who knew no sin (that's Jesus Christ the perfectly righteous one) to be sin for us (that's our sin imputed to Him), that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (that's Christ's righteousness imputed to us).
The gospel is a specific message. It is the specific message of salvation based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. It is a promise from God He will save His people based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Last week, we saw how important the gospel is. We saw that Mark 16:16 says that those who do not believe the gospel are lost, and we saw that Romans 10:3 says that those who don't know about the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel are lost.
Now it's time to talk about what the gospel is NOT. This, too, is a very important subject, as I hope you will see, because when we hear people give a wrong definition of what the gospel is, then this tells us a lot as to how they make their judgments. Again, like I said last week, the gospel can be expressed in different ways, so I'm NOT saying that you need to use the exact same words as I do, but whatever words you use, it must include the message of salvation that is based on the work of Christ alone and leaves no doubt that this work of Christ ENSURES and DEMANDS the salvation of ALL whom Christ represented.
Let's first go over one of the more blatant heresies when it comes to defining the gospel. The false gospel known commonly as Arminianism is a gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner. Different Arminians will define it in different ways, but what they all have in common is that salvation, in some way, to some degree, is conditioned on the sinner. The Arminian gospel is the good news that God loves everyone and showed that love by sending Christ to die for everyone so as to make it possible for everyone to be saved. In their gospel, what is the ultimate ground of salvation? Well, if Christ died for everyone, and not everyone goes to heaven, then does Christ's work make the ultimate difference between heaven and hell? Of course not. It is the work of the SINNER that makes the ultimate difference between heaven and hell. This is not only NOT the gospel, but it is the very ANTITHESIS of the gospel. Arminianism has this in common with all false religions, from Hinduism to Buddhism to Islam to all the false gospels that come under the name of Christianity: salvation conditioned on the sinner.
What I'd like to focus on are the wrong definitions of the gospel that are given by those who claim to believe the doctrines of grace. And I hope you will see that wrong definitions of the gospel give rise to many wicked things.
First, the gospel is NOT the entire Word of God. It's a very popular notion among those who profess to believe the doctrines of grace to define the gospel as everything that is contained in the Bible. Now what difference does this definition make? Isn't it true that the entire Bible records the very words of God? Yes. Isn't it true that God's Word must be believed? Yes. Isn't it true that the gospel is contained in God's Word? Yes. Isn't it true that the gospel is throughout God's Word? Yes. So why is defining the gospel as the entire Word of God such a horrible error? Well, let's think about it for a little while. If the gospel is the entire Word of God, then how is the gospel preached? Does the preacher have to read or preach the entire Bible in order to preach the gospel? Well, the advocates of this definition have a little out that they will always mention eventually. They will say, "No! A preacher doesn't need to read or preach the entire Bible; instead, a preacher can read or preach ANYTHING in the Bible and still preach the gospel." So they believe that the power of God unto salvation is ANYTHING in the Bible. Now notice what this means about BELIEVING the gospel. Mark 16:16 says that those who do not believe the gospel will be damned. If they were consistent, they would have to say that those who do not believe EVEN ONE PART of the Bible are lost. And, as I mentioned in last week's sermon, you can't believe what you don't know. So, if they were consistent, they would have to say that someone who doesn't know that "Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters: and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah," which is from Numbers 26:33, they are lost. But no - they do not say that someone who doesn't know about a particular truth in the Bible is lost. Instead, they say that WHEN THIS MESSAGE IS PREACHED, they will believe it. And UNTIL IT IS PREACHED, a believer can be ignorant of it. Now this is all well and good, when it comes to the daughters of Zelophehad. But what about when it comes to the work of Christ that demands and ensures the salvation of all whom He represented? Here we get to the bottom of it all, and the real reason why some would want to define the gospel in this way. They use the SAME REASONING for the daughters of Zelophehad as for the atoning work of Christ. After all, since it's ALL the gospel, one passage of Scripture is no different than any other passage of Scripture when it comes to salvation.
So here's what they say: They say that a regenerate person can be ignorant of what Christ's work accomplished, but when they are confronted with what Christ's work accomplished, they will believe it. This is their way of speaking peace to those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, including speaking peace to Arminians. They will say that a regenerate person may believe for a period of time that Christ died for everyone, but when they are shown their error from the Bible, they will repent of their error and believe the truth of the Bible. But what they are really doing is speaking peace to those who believe that Christ died for everyone. They do not judge as lost those who are ignorant of what the atonement accomplished. In speaking peace to them, they are participants in their evil deeds.
Second, the gospel is not a well-meant offer of salvation to all who hear it. We're not using the word "offer" in the old sense of the word, which meant "to bear," "to bring," or "to present." We're using the word "offer" in the sense in which most religionists use it, including those who claim to believe the doctrines of grace. The word "offer" now implies that the offerer desires that the offeree accept the offer. For example, if Mr. Smith offers Mr. Jones an apple, it is because Mr. Smith desires that Mr. Jones accept the offer of the apple. In the same way, if God offers salvation through Christ to all without exception, it is because God desires the salvation of everyone to whom He offers it. Now if God desires the salvation of everyone who hears the gospel and yet not everyone is saved who hears the gospel, upon whom is this salvation conditioned? You only need to hear the appeals of the well-meant offer advocates to see their conditionalism. They preach that Christ is ready and waiting and willing to save every lost person within the sound of the preaching. So if Christ is READY and WILLING to save them, what is He WAITING for? Of course, it is for the sinner to do his part. They will even go so far as to say that God ENABLES the elect to fulfill the condition. Yet it is still salvation conditioned on the sinner, and it is damnable.
In light of the well-meant offer, I would also like to mention some terminology in preaching that comes very close to, if not crosses the line into, well-meant offer preaching. Suppose a preacher says to lost sinners, "the gospel is God's promise to save you based on the righteousness of Christ alone." What does that "you" imply? It implies that God promises to save every person in the audience based on the righteousness of Christ alone. Some preachers will just come out and say, "God will save every one of you based on the righteousness of Christ alone." Now if this is a promise from God, then God WILL save every one of them. But this is NOT a promise from God. God NEVER promised this. And to say so is to say that God's promise is a conditional promise - that God will save every one of you, IF you do your part.
There's another way that the gospel is stated that could be misunderstood (or understood, as the case may be) as teaching conditional salvation. Some preachers say that the gospel is God's promise to save sinners based on the righteousness of Christ alone. You might be wondering, "what's wrong with that?" Certainly, God saves sinners based on the righteousness of Christ alone. I have no dispute there. But how could this be interpreted when preached to an audience that includes unbelievers? When one uses the word "sinners" in this general sense, then it could easily be interpreted to mean "every sinner." And some who use this general word DO mean it as that. In fact, the well-meant offer preachers LIKE to use these general terms, so they can straddle the fence between universal and particular redemption. What could the unregenerate people in the crowd think when the gospel is presented in such a way? They could thing, "God promises to save sinners, and I'm a sinner, so God promises to save me." It's like the old Arminian Roman Road. You first admit you're a sinner, then you admit that Christ died for sinners, and then, based on these two facts, you come to the conclusion that Christ died for you. So be wary of such things.
The gospel IS a promise. But it is a promise from God to save HIS PEOPLE. It is a particular promise. It is NOT a universal promise. If it were a universal promise, then it would be the will of the sinner that thwarts God from fulfilling his promise.
Third, the gospel is not a COMMAND. Some who say they are against the well-meant offer say things like, "The gospel is not an offer; it's a command." They will say, "the gospel is the command to repent and believe." Or "the gospel is repent or perish." Or "the gospel is repentance for the forgiveness of sins." But do you notice - in each one of these definitions, the emphasis is on the work of the sinner! The gospel is about Christ's accomplished work. It has nothing to do with our work. Some go to Acts 16:31 to try to prove their definition of the gospel. Let's read Acts 16:30-31:
Acts 16: (30) And leading them outside, he said, Sirs, what must I do that I may be saved? (31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.
What they fail to read is verse 32: "And they spoke the WORD OF THE LORD to him, and to all those in his house." Paul and Silas did not just say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved"; they preached WHO this Jesus Christ is and WHAT he accomplished! I have one more comment on those who say that the gospel is the command to repent and believe. Look at Mark 1:14-15:
Mark 1: (14) And after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, (15) and saying, The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God draws near. Repent and believe in the gospel.
If you replace "gospel" in this verse with their definition, you will come up with this: "Repent and believe the command to repent and believe." It makes no sense.
Fourth, the gospel is not the death, burial and resurrection of Christ considered apart from that the death, burial, and resurrection actually ACCOMPLISHED. People go to 1 Corinthians 15 to try to prove this definition. Let's read verses 1 through 5:
1 Corinthians 15: (1) But, brothers, I reveal to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, (2) by which you also are being kept safe, if you hold fast the Word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. (3) For I delivered to you in the first place what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, (4) and that He was buried, and that He was raised the third day, according to the Scriptures, (5) and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
What do we see in verse 3? Does it just say "Christ died?" No! It says, "Christ died FOR OUR SINS!" Christ's death actually accomplished something! And he doesn't stop there. He says, "Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES"! So in order to know what Christ accomplished on the cross, we go the Scriptures. In this passage, the Scriptures to which he was referring were the Old Testament Scriptures. Now what do the Old Testament Scriptures say about what Christ accomplished on the cross? Let's look at one familiar passage, Isaiah 53. Let's read verses 4 through 6:
Isaiah 53: (4) Surely He has borne our sicknesses, and He carried our pain; yet we esteemed Him plagued, smitten by God, and afflicted. (5) But He was wounded for our transgressions; [He was] bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His wounds we ourselves are healed. (6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have each one turned to his own way; and Jehovah made meet in Him the iniquity of all of us.
What was Jesus wounded for? OUR TRANSGRESSIONS. He bore our sicknesses and He carried our pain. AND his wounds heal us. And look at verses 10 and 11:
Isaiah 53: (10) But Jehovah pleased to crush Him, to make Him sick, [so that] If He should put His soul as a guilt offering, He shall see [His] seed; He shall prolong [His] days; and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand. (11) He shall see [the fruit] of the travail of His soul; He shall be fully satisfied. By His knowledge the righteous One, My Servant, shall justify for many, and He shall bear their iniquities.
Jesus Christ was made a guilt offering for us. He bore our iniquities. He was punished in our stead. And God was satisfied with the offering and shall justify many based on Christ's obedience unto death. Romans 4:25 says that Jesus Christ was delivered because of our offenses and raised because of our justification. So the gospel DOES include the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But it doesn't stop there. It also includes the ACCOMPLISHMENT of that death, burial, and resurrection. The work of Christ ENSURES and DEMANDS the salvation of ALL whom Christ represented. And those who do not believe THIS, do not believe in the accomplishment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
The gospel is not just the person of Christ or just the work of Christ. The gospel is not just "Jesus is God." The gospel is not just "salvation." It is SALVATION BASED SOLELY ON THE WORK OF JESUS CHRIST, THE GOD-MAN MEDIATOR.
I could go on forever about what the gospel is not. But I hope I touched on some of the important ones that we have and will come across as we talk with other professing Christians. I hope this will help equip the saints in their daily warfare, and if anyone listening to this has not believed in God's definition of the gospel, I hope the TRUE gospel will be used by God to bring you to life. Amen.