This is third message I taught on evangelism last year, but forgot to post this one!
Biblical Gospel. What is more important to those made in God’s image than being cleansed from the sin that stains and separates us from our Creator? Jesus said it’s more important than the whole world! And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26.) If we take God at His Word, we will want to get this part right. Proclaiming His message of reconciliation is the only role He has given us in His grand plan of redemption. We can’t save anyone’s soul, we can’t know who God will save. All we can do, and it is a glorious privilege, is to be faithful with His Gospel, trusting Him to do what only He can do.
First, the gospel is not an urgent call to obey the Law, based on and extracted from the Mosaic Covenant. The Law of God demands perfect obedience and the Scriptures remind us of what we know to be true, we cannot do it (Romans 3:9-18). The Law demands to be answered, but, as an old Baptist hymn reminds us, the lost man senses something is wrong and often runs to the wrong place:
I felt the arrows of distress
And found I had no shield, no hiding place
Holy justice stood in view
To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew
But justice cried with frowning face
“This mountain is no hiding place!” 25
If we cannot answer Mount Sinai’s demand for justice, how can we face the Holy God who shakes the earth (Hebrews 12:18-29) with His demands? The holiness of God causes man to tremble (Isaiah 6) and that is what we hold up in the gospel. The Law may be useful to break the pride of some men, but the Law is not the gospel. Jesus Christ and Him crucified – the holy One of God sacrificed for sinners; that is the gospel!
God the judge provides the God-Man as the justifier; that is the mystery and the glory of God’s gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is considered by many to be the best summary of the gospel given to us in the Scriptures.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
This message proclaims the mighty work of redemption completed by the biblical Jesus; no pale, culturally relevant imitation will suffice. This biblical gospel is tied to a place in time and space, the hill and the grave-site near Jerusalem; where the Lamb of God was slain as a wrath-satisfying (propitiating) sacrifice to save sinners and make them presentable to God the Father. And, lastly, this God-Man was raised from the dead and seen by many people. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most substantiated events of the ancient world, and it gives us the firm hope that He will raise us from our graves one day and make us like Himself and make His home among us (Revelation 21:3).
The biblical gospel recognizes that, as Jonah declared from the belly of the fish, Salvation is of YHWH! We are told that we can plant seed (which is the proclamation of the gospel – Mark 4:14), we can water (which is making disciples of those God has saved – Acts 18:27), but it is God Who gives the increase (which is the work of reclaiming ruined sinners, see 1 Timothy 1:15). People become the children of God, not according to blood, to the will of flesh or the will of man; but according to the will of God (John 1:10-13).
Within the pale of those Christians who agree that there is no other name, there are those who mistakenly think man has something to do with securing reconciliation with God. Mostly, this is the result of poor teaching, which takes a verse here and there out of context and settles in one’s mind as “gospel.” Since Scripture cannot be broken, it will not contradict itself. Therefore, we must seek to understand the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just a few “proof texts,” to rightly comprehend this most important doctrine. If anything man does contributes to his justification, to being reconciled to Holy God, then that man’s gospel is polluted, reducing the supreme work of redemption completed by Jesus to something that doesn’t quite save anyone. If the work of Jesus is not enough, nothing we can do can close the rift. We must think carefully and deliberately to weed out any shred of self-confidence or self-will regarding this most important change, of being made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is a monergistic work of God; man plays no role in being raised from the dead any more than he did in being born physically (John 3:1-8). Man is by nature spiritually dead, following after the spiritual father of fallen humanity, this according to the Word of God. Paul’s letter to the church, those who had been redeemed, at Ephesus provides an excellent summary of man’s problem and God’s redemptive answer (Ephesians 2:1-10):
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This passage shows that there is no “demilitarized zone” in the spiritual realm; one is a child of Satan unless and until God gives new life and faith to the sinner, adopting him as His child. We who have been chosen by God to be reconciled to Him by His gift of grace, were chosen for this redemption before the foundation of the world, just as those who were left to serve and worship the beast, who was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:5-8). This is seen again a few chapters later as people who marvel at the beast are described as the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).
Christians were chosen and given saving grace in Christ before the foundation of the world (1 Timothy 1:8&9; Ephesians 1:4), predestined for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to His will (Ephesians 1:5), and we were formed and predestined for good works (Ephesians 2:10). There is no biblical support for man choosing to save himself or for a saved man to continue in sin with no concern for being obedient to his Savior and Lord. When we recognize that God saves sinners, and we do not, the pressure is off us. Our mission is to proclaim His gospel. He has given us the means, planting and watering, and reserved the ends, spiritual life, to Himself. How wretched the is the Christian who thinks he failed to save some because he said something just less than perfect!
We must embrace the truth of Scripture, even if it goes against what we’ve learned from our favorite author or preacher. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is sharp and, as wielded by the Holy Spirit, cuts like a scalpel, bringing healing to our broken souls. False teaching is seen as less threatening, like a butter knife. And it works the same way, tearing the flesh as it pierces, bringing destruction rather than healing. Good counsel presents the truth of Scripture; this is biblical love, even though our beloved traditions may have to be abandoned.
Many claim the gospel is summed up in John 3:16. Let us briefly examine this verse to see if this is so, as good Bereans. Here’s the verse, from the King James: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That settles it for many, who do not stop to take note of the context or see if the words may have had a different meaning when written 500 years ago than they do today. But contrary to a popular hermeneutic which declares, “when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense,” the plain sense of Scripture often contradicts the true meaning of Scripture and our common sense often makes no heavenly sense. The genre of the text we are reading will indicate how we are to read it: poetry and apocalyptic books cannot be taken literally, and even historical narratives are full of word pictures that must be interpreted rightly to get God’s view of His Scriptures. The Jews of the first century had common sense and they took certain prophecies in the plain sense. This caused them to look for a king like David, a man of war, and miss the true meaning of their own Scripture.
In regards to John 3:16, let us examine a couple of key words upon which the meaning of this verse hang. In English, the word “so” can be either an adverb or an adjective. We see it in verse 14: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (KJV). Here, the word “so” is an adverb, meaning “in like manner” or “in the same way,” describing the nature of something. Many people think the word “so” is an adjective in verse 16, describing the degree of the thing that follows: God loves the world SO much. The problem with this view is that the Greek word translated as “so” in English (houtos – Strong’s #3779) is rarely used as an adjective. Strong’s Greek and Hebrew dictionary defines it only as an adverb. Houtos shows up more than 200 places in the Greek New Testament. In only four occurrences it is definitely an adjective: Galatians 1:6; 3:3; Hebrews 12:21 (houto); and Revelation 16:18. In more than 97% of the uses the word houtos is an adverb.6 Now looking back to John’s gospel, let us read a little more for context:
John 3:14-16 (KJV) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Is there a compelling argument that John’s use of houtos changes from the common adverb in verse 14 to the extremely rare adjective in verse16? If its use in verse 16 is as an adjective, the Bible tells us God loved the world to such a great degree that He sent Christ to die for the same world He said we are not to love (1 John 2:15). Since Jesus said Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) we must interpret Scripture with Scripture and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), even if the plain sense makes common sense to us. Our common sense is our understanding, not God’s. I do not have space here to examine “the world” and how it is used; but since not everybody at all times in every nation, tribe, and tongue has been forgiven, it is reasonable and in keeping with Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 that Jesus did not come to save the whole world in the comprehensive sense some assert. As noted in Ephesians 5:25, Jesus gave His life for the church, not everybody in the world. And since “the world” often means a region (Luke 2:1; John 12:19), or the system which lies under Satan’s rule (John 15:19; 17:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12), we have no reason to assume this term means everyone everywhere as regards salvation, as the Lamb of God died for the redeemed, not the damned.
Here’s this passage from John 3 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
This is more in line with the common use of the Greek and keeps consistency within the passage and with the whole teaching of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. The ESV has a note in the margin agreeing with the HCSB on verse 16a.
If Christ died for all people, either hell is not a place of wrath poured out on sins (because people there had their sins paid for by the One Whose death satisfied the Father’s wrath and wouldn’t pay again) or the blood of Christ is not truly sufficient to save anyone or does not satisfy the Father’s wrath (as not everyone gets saved). Each of these consequences of that perspective contradict clear teachings in Scripture. Therefore, we can strenuously teach and believe that when Jesus says He gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11) and He gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25) He meant exactly that!
If man is free to resist, God is not free to act, for He is bound by man’s freedom. If God is to be free to act, man must be bound by the will of God. … But in a fallen world, God’s grace must be irresistible or man’s will can remain forever opposed to God, and the will of the creature overrides the will of the Creator. (Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace)
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) The Greek word behind “draws” conveys the notion of dragging. The gracious act of the Holy Spirit giving life to that which was dead is overwhelming; it’s irresistible, just as when Jesus commanded Lazarus, by name, to come out of the tomb. The man, who had been dead four days, responded to the call of Christ, and rose up and came out of the grave; alive again. No one can come to the Father of his personal volition; all are useless and dead in sin. No one can refuse the call of the Father; though he may seek refuge in the belly of a big fish. God’s will shall be accomplished in this grand redemptive plan of His; Christ Jesus will have His full reward for the suffering He faced on their account.
When we proclaim the gospel to lost people, we don’t have to tell them God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. We don’t have to believe that God will save the ones we are speaking to. We have to be faithful to His gospel – Jesus came to save sinners, repent and believe on Him! His Word and His Spirit will do the work of saving souls. We are blessed to be able to participate as workers who are nothing, as Paul referred to himself and Apollos as those who planted and watered.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
As an aid in help man see the biblical case for the awesome work God does when a sinner is redeemed, theologians have developed a systematic theology (a process of taking the whole counsel of God into account) of salvation.
- Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)
Predestination – As it refers to the elect, God did, in eternity past, chose who He would save. By default, all not so chosen are left to their sinful desires and predestined to eternal torment. (Ephesians 1:3-14)
Effectual Calling (Regeneration) – While God’s choosing of His elect took place before the foundation of the world, each of us was called and born again in time, as the Holy Spirit worked by the sowing of the Word. In Mark 3:13 we see the effective call of the apostles, Jesus called those whom He selected. How much more valuable is the call to salvation, and yet many declare man chooses. Only those with ears to hear, those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), hear and respond to the call – our nature being changed so we could hear and joyfully answer (Matthew 22:8-14; 2 Timothy 1:9). As Conrad Mbewe put it, making sure we get the sequence right: “We’re born again in order for us to repent & believe; & not that we repent & believe in order to be born again. Regeneration comes first!”8
Faith/Repentance – The soil having been prepared, the seed having been sown, true growth – root and fruit – begin to emerge. As the Spirit of the living God gives ears to hear, so He gives faith & repentance to God’s elect only; and without fail (Mark 4:10-20; Acts 20:17-21).
Justification (Legal Declaration) – Those whom God chose and called and brought to faith & repentance, He declares to be NOT GUILTY! No, that’s not enough. He declares us to be RIGHTEOUS! Our legal system lets people off with the lower standard; God’s justice demands perfection and the earned righteousness of Christ is credited to each of our accounts, irreversible. The calling of God is without repentance; no undoing what He has predetermined to do. His will is what history records (Romans 3:27 & 28; 8:29 & 30).
Adoption – Herein is the kindness of God towards those He has redeemed. Knowing we are weak minded and forgetful, creator God adopts us into His family! No longer strangers, we are sons and daughters, joint heirs with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:14 & 15; Galatians 4:3-7; Ephesians 1:3-6).
Definitive Sanctification – That fertile soil allows the seed to sprout and put down roots and begin “above ground” growth. There will be evidence of being made a new creature in Christ. We do not have a litmus test of tongues or other gifts, but we do expect to see some evidence, as no one born again by the Spirit of God can be unchanged (2 Corinthians 5:17; Mark 4:20).
Progressive Sanctification (Preservation of the Saints) – As we mature in Christ, our appetites change. Things that used to appeal to us and draw us into sin are less attractive; the Truth of Scripture that proclaims the glories of God and sinfulness of man nourish our souls, whereas they used to repel our flesh (Hebrews 12:1 & 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 & 24).
Glorification – At the end of all things, we will be made like our Savior, free from temptation and unable to sin (Philippians 3:17-21).
With each aspect of this Ordo Solutis, God is the one who either does it outright or enables us to cooperate with Him in the work. There is nothing we do outright; God is the source of all good and we have nothing that He has not given us (1 Corinthians 4:7).
The Biblical gospel – one of the marks of a biblical church; and that’s what a Baptist church should be.