TITLE: THE GOSPEL—WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT ISN’T!
Subtitle: If Your Life Depended On It, Could You Show Someone A Brief Passage Of Scripture Containing The Entire Gospel Message?
Experience shows that confusion abounds today concerning this subject—the most basic and elemental and important tenet of Christianity! It has become encrusted with almost 2000 years of humanistic reasoning and interpretation, which has served to partially obscure its wonderful simplicity. I cannot help but be reminded of what happened to Judaism between the years of Moses receiving the Law from the hand of God and the first advent of Christ. Few in their right mind would ever propose that the Law was originally simple, but fewer still would even recognize it after 1500 years of rabbinical interpretation and additions! If the Law taught anything, it was that human works and merit can not possibly secure the favor of God—yet that is precisely what was being taught when Christ came upon the scene. In the same manner the New Testament gospel message loudly and clearly proclaims the grace of God, but the specter of human merit continues to loom over the truth.
What is the gospel? What is the actual content of this "good news" we are supposed to spread to the world? Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and we will find out! Verses 1 and 2 are introductory and verses 5 and following are supplementary information. Verses 3 and 4 contain the gospel message in its entirety:
"For I passed on to you first of all what I also had received, that Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, died for our sins in accordance with [what] the Scriptures [foretold], that He was buried, that He arose on the third day as the Scriptures foretold"(Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
That’s it folks! And if you think it is short and to the point, please consider the message preached by John the Baptist (and the Lord Himself) to the nation of Israel, as found in Matthew 3 and verse 2:
"And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (KJV)
As the old saying goes, "Dynamite comes in small packages!" These few words are spiritual dynamite and are imbued with supernatural energy to a degree that is infinitely beyond our ability to comprehend. The simplicity of the message is intentional and plays a very definite part in God’s plan for mankind. To emphasize and underscore this truth, I call our attention to what Paul had to say in 1 Corinthians chapter one, beginning with verse 17:
"For Christ, the Messiah, sent me not to baptize but (to evangelize by) preaching the glad tidings (the Gospel); and that not with verbal eloquence, lest the cross of Christ should be deprived of force and emptied of its power and rendered vain—fruitless, void of value and of no effect. For the story and message of the cross is sheer absurdity and folly to those who are perishing and on their way to perdition, but to us who are being saved it is the [manifestation of] the power of God. For it is written, I will baffle and render useless and destroy the learning of the learned and the philosophy of the philosophers and the cleverness of the clever and the discernment of the discerning, I will frustrate and nullify [them] and bring [them] to nothing. Where is the wise man—the philosopher? Where is the scribe—the scholar? Where is the investigator—the logician, the debater—of this present time and age? Has not God shown up the nonsense and the folly of this world’s wisdom? For when the world with all its earthly wisdom failed to perceive and recognize and know God by means of its own philosophy, God in His wisdom was pleased through the foolishness of preaching [of salvation, procured by Christ and to be had through Him], to save them who believed—who clung to and trusted in and relied on Him. For while Jews (demandingly) ask for signs and miracles, and Greeks pursue philosophy and wisdom, we preach Christ, the Messiah, crucified, which to the Jews is a scandal and an offensive stumbling block (that springs a snare-trap), and to the Gentiles it is absurd and utterly un-philosophical nonsense. But to those who are called, whether Jew or Greek (Gentile), Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God. [This is] because the foolish thing [that has its source in] God is wiser than men, and the weak thing [that springs from God] is stronger than men. For [simply] consider your own call, brethren; not many [of you were considered to be] wise, according to human estimates and standards; not many influential and powerful; not many of high and noble birth. [No,] for God selected—deliberately chose—what in the world is foolish to put the wise to shame, and what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame. And God also selected—deliberately chose—[what] in the world [is] lowborn and insignificant, and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are; so that no mortal man should (have pretense for glorying and) boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:17-29, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
I urge you to back up and read and re-read this passage of Scripture until you are sure that you understand what it is saying. Verse 29 is clearly the summation of what the Holy Spirit intends that we learn here: God’s wonderful grace is applied to man in such a way as to reflect 100% of the glory back to Himself! Anyone or anything that in any way detracts from the honor and glory rightfully due God is wrong and will ultimately be punished. This is heavy stuff, folks! The basic simplicity of the gospel message is there by supernatural design and is intended to confound the wisdom of mortal men by virtue of that simplicity!
Please take note of what Paul said in verse 17 regarding his own preaching, or declaring the gospel message, how that it was "not with verbal eloquence." Does this mean that Paul was incapable of eloquence? Hardly! It means that Paul had enough sense to maintain the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!) in order to totally avoid the undue and unwelcome praise of men. The salvation of a soul is a profoundly supernatural event and completely, entirely, all, every bit, wholly, fully, unabated, undiminished, perfectly, through-and-through, 100% of God! Ron, are you trying to tell me that man has nothing whatever to do with it? You got it, ace! Common logic demands that, in order for Gold to receive 100% of the credit, God must do 100% of the work. Right? Therefore any role or input whatsoever that one may perceive as having had in his own salvation or the salvation of others, is not only totally fallacious—but also detracts from what is rightfully due God. Scripture repeatedly affirms that salvation is a gift and freely given to those whom God has chosen.
I find it highly significant that the Book of Acts records two of the most important sermons ever preached and both were by the Apostle Peter—a fisherman, a nobody by that day’s standards—but a spiritual somebody by God’s standards. We find the first of these sermons in chapter two, beginning with verse14 and ending with verse 36, which Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. Comprised of just twenty-two verses, it is a model of brevity and to-the-point conciseness. Greek scholars tell us that Peter’s words betray his lack of formal education, but the resultant salvation of 3000 souls literally reeks with the heavenly fragrance of the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory, great things He hath done! Peter, the man who had previously denied his Lord, is now a veritable spiritual dynamo as he pounds the truth home to the hearts of his countrymen. In verses 23 and 24 he delivers the "knock-out punch" of the gospel:
"This Jesus, when delivered up according to the definite and fixed purpose and settled plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and put out of the way, [killing Him] by the hands of lawless and wicked men. [But God] raised Him up, liberating Him from the pangs of death, seeing that it was not possible for Him to continue to be controlled or retained by it" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
The rest of his words are merely introductory and/or explanatory! The simple gospel message hit their hearts like a spiritual sledge-hammer. This is verified by verse 37 where we read:
"Now when they heard this they were stung (cut) to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles (special messengers), Brethren, what shall we do?" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
As we attempt to analyze Peter’s sermon, one thing is immediately apparent: there is no hint of any psychological methods designed to play upon the emotions of those listening to him. There was no "soul-stirring" music to soften them up or emotional appeals made. Quite the contrary, Peter just "laid his ears back and strapped it on ‘em!" He hit them right between the eyes with a solid dose of the unvarnished truth of the gospel—sprinkled with pertinent excerpts from the Word of God—always guaranteed to produce salvation or anger!
Would to God all preachers today would sit up and take notice! You see, Peter was not the least bit interested in building his personal reputation as a "soul-winner". How many of these 3000 could Peter legitimately take credit for "winning" to Christ? You know the answer to that as well as I do—not one! Peter was merely a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit—the one and only Soul Winner. Folks, I’ll be up front and candid with you—I despise the appellation of "soul-winner" because it has come to mean something it should not and must not. If God is to receive 100% of the honor and glory from the salvation of a soul, how in the name of reason can any one of us claim to play a part in it? You can engage in semantics (as most do) and try to work your way around it, but the simple truth of the matter is that tools cannot of themselves accomplish anything. My claiming to have "won" someone to Christ makes about as much sense as the word processor on this computer trying to take partial credit for what I am writing! Wake up my brothers and sisters in Christ—just because something is so very familiar to us does not necessarily mean that it is Scriptural. A lost person is spiritually dead (literally born that way)—dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and incapable of discerning spiritual matters (1 Cor.2:14). Pray tell, how are you going to "win him/her to Christ"? To each and every possible reply you may choose to try to defend your position, I will answer, "Remember that he is spiritually dead and cannot understand!" Only God can converse with a dead man. Think about it.
On the other hand, it is proper to "lead" someone, or direct them toward Christ. As a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit, we can, and should, be used to tell others about the Lord—showing them from the Word of God what it says about salvation. Plus we have a God-given responsibility to maintain our personal testimony for Christ and live in such a manner as to commend Him to the lost. But the very concept of "winning" a soul to Christ carries a connotation of persuasion that is erroneous in the respect that it attempts to share in and thereby detract from, that which only God can do. I submit to you that some preacher of the past (no doubt with good intentions) lifted the expression "soul winner" from Proverbs 11:30—"He that winneth souls is wise"— took it out of context and wrongly applied it to New Testament practice. It sounded good and seemed to fit, so it caught on has been taught ever since. However, taken in context, the expression does not refer to the salvation of souls. "The Liberty Bible Commentary" has this to say about Proverbs 11, verses 29 and 30:
"Avarice will ultimately bring great trouble to a man’s house-hold as well, for his destruction will leave his family nothing to inherit. Ultimately, the fools of the world will become the slaves of the wise man, who has managed his affairs in accord with the commandments of Yahweh [Jehovah God].
The righteous man is a source of life to many. By the power of his spirit and example, the wise man gains many souls for wisdom’s battle against fools. The company of the wise shall be recompensed by God for their misdeeds; how much more shall the wicked and the sinner (cf. 1 Pet 4:18) receive a deserved retribution for their sins." (Page 1217, emphasis and insert mine).
Thus we should be able to see that the ubiquitous expression "soul winner" is in fact a misapplication of a verse in the Old Testament—a verse that is never repeated in the Word of God. You may accuse me of "splitting hairs", but I insist that this seemingly harmless phrase is actually quite damaging in that it implies a Christian has the power to do that which only God can do!
The second example of Peter’s preaching is found in Acts chapter ten. Beginning with verses 34 through 43 and ending with verse 47 (eleven verses total!) we have once again, a very brief and concise sermon. Verses 39 and 40 contain the "dynamite":
"And we are [eye and ear] witnesses of everything that He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And [yet] they put Him out of the way—murdered Him—by hanging Him on a tree; But God raised Him to life on the third day and caused Him to be manifest—to be plainly seen" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Verse 44 informs us that "While Peter was still speaking these words….", those lost individuals who were listening to him preach received the Holy Spirit—they were gloriously saved! I encourage you to study these two sermons cited and try to find any of the psychological ploys that are so much in vogue today. Evangelism has evolved to the point that it is generally believed (and practiced) that confrontational persuasion and pressure tactics are necessary to prod the impenitent soul into action. I respectfully submit to you that these things are not only unscriptural, but they are also largely responsible for our churches being filled with unsaved members. Men with good intentions have, with the passage of time, allowed human reasoning to prevail and tailored their doctrines and practices accordingly. This reasoning—when viewed objectively and held up to the "straight-edge" of Scripture—can be seen for what it is. The only question is, will "results" continue to be the engine driving modern evangelism—or will the pure Word of God once again be faithfully followed? For the sake of all concerned, I sincerely pray that it will be the latter. However, in any case, God’s good and perfect will is going to be done and we can rejoice in that blessed fact.
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but have come to realize His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to accept His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can also do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you accept Him as Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
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