Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Essence of the Gospel

Cross of Jesus

by Dennis Pollock

People initially approach Jesus Christ for many different reasons and through a great variety of complex, inter-connected circumstances. Sometimes their lives are falling apart and they are desperately searching for answers, any answers from any source which will bring relief to their desperate situation. Some draw near to Christ out of a sense of guilt and shame; others come to Jesus in an attempt to cure their restless discontent, having exhausted nearly every other possible source of fulfillment. Some have heard that Jesus will fix their money woes, and enable them to realize the prosperity that has thus far eluded them. Some motives are clearly superior to others, and some motives are not especially noble.

It was not much different during the days when Jesus walked the earth. Multitudes constantly surrounded the Master, but they came for different reasons. Some followed Him because He “spoke like no other man spoke.” Some came for physical healing, and some followed Him hoping for continual encore performances of the multiplying of the fish and the loaves. Some were simply curious, wondering what a real prophet might look like. If we were to carefully judge the motives of the masses on an individual basis, we would surely find the good, the bad, and the ugly. But all had one thing in common: they came to see Jesus.

Ministers today are usually eager to attract people to Jesus, and rightly so. You cannot believe in One of whom you have not heard. People typically do not become born again by watching murder mysteries or super-hero movies on television or at the theater. There is normally no particular warming of the heart toward Christ that occurs as one downs beers at the bar or attends concerts of current pop singers. People get saved when they hear about Jesus, but in order to hear about Jesus they will have to have some exposure to believers – either in one on one conversations, or in Christian gatherings, such as home group meetings, church services, Christian concerts, evangelistic rallies, and so forth.

Getting Them in the Doors

Christian ministers have always sought to find ways and means to attract the non-believers to their gatherings. The more non-believers you have, the greater likelihood that at least some of them will come to faith in Jesus. The great British pastor, Charles Spurgeon, observed that when hunting ducks, if you are shooting at a large group of them flying overhead, you have a much greater chance of hitting one or two than if you are shooting at a solitary fowl.

Some of the means that ministers use to attract people are innovative and effective; others are downright silly and accomplish nothing. Non-Christians may be void of the Holy Spirit but they are usually smart enough to smell nonsense when they run across it. Other ministers, considering themselves too spiritual to ever use any means whatsoever to attract unbelievers, are content to simply pray and preach the gospel, and hope that somehow people will just show up in their meetings. Sometimes it happens; often it does not.

Not only are there specific ways and means that Christians use to attract non-believers to their gatherings; ministers often tailor the content of their preaching and teaching to attract them to Christ. In this case, they already have the sinners in the building, but they are determined to bring them to Jesus, and there are various assumptions about what type of preaching and messages are best suited to attract and draw the non-churched and non-interested into a genuine relationship with God.

One major error that some make is to essentially drop the gospel altogether. Assuming that non-Christians have no desire to hear about salvation and deliverance from the wrath of God, they shape their sermons, articles, or songs around God’s goodness and His willingness to bless, prosper, and make us successful. Words and concepts like reconciliation and justification are discarded, and instead we hear about fulfillment, prosperity, and abundance. Outwardly, this approach works beautifully. What person, especially those who care little about Biblical truth, will not eagerly respond to such a message? And without question there are verses and passages which speak of God’s willingness to answer prayer and enhance the lives of His children.

“How Can I Thrive?”

Recently I ran across an interview with several ministers which highlighted this approach. One minister in particular spelled it out with crystal clarity:

I’m over-simplifying this, but older generations were asking, “How do I get to heaven?” and “What do I do with my guilt?” Millennials are asking, “What does it mean to thrive?” If we approach millennials with a pitch for Christianity that was designed to resonate with their parents, it isn’t going to sound like good news to them.

According to this man, and many others who may not say it but certainly practice it, the Christian’s task is to go out and quiz the unbelievers, find out what subjects occupy their minds, and then fashion ministry efforts around those answers. That may sound reasonable, but in truth this approach is riddled with problems. Although there is nothing wrong with attempting to discover how sinners think and what issues occupy their minds, it will never be enough.

It has never been the job of Christians to craft our evangelism around the world’s current controversies, difficulties, and issues. We have bigger fish to fry. Let me illustrate.

Concerned DoctorImagine a man who goes to the doctor, hoping to get a prescription for some type of sedative. He has been dealing with fear and experiencing a great deal of nervousness lately, and he hopes his doctor will give him the latest, greatest, tranquilizer on the market. But in the course of routine examinations and blood work, the doctor discovers that the man has advanced pancreatic cancer. He requires surgery almost immediately if he has any hope of living another year. But when the doctor begins to tell the patient his problem, the man does not want to hear it. His mind and his thinking are entirely focused upon his nervous condition, and he is determined to get a prescription for a powerful sedative. As the two converse, there is a strange seesaw of topics. The doctor wants to talk about cancer; the patient only wants to hear about sedatives.

Finally, the doctor gives up. Seeing how obsessed the man is with his fears and his nerves, and what little interest he has in hearing about his cancer, the doctor prescribes a sedative, and the patient happily goes his way. What’s wrong with this picture? What is wrong is that the doctor caved in and gave the patient what he wanted, but not what he desperately and urgently needed. The patient walks away, buys his tranquilizers, and is dead in three months.

Byproducts

I spoke earlier of a minister who suggested that people today are not asking, “How can I rid myself of guilt?” or “How can I go to heaven?” He is right! But one of the reasons people are not asking these questions is because many modern ministers, Bible teachers, and writers have quit emphasizing these things. If you listen to them, you might get the idea that Jesus Christ came to the earth, died on the cross, and rose again, only to improve our self-esteem and fulfill us to the max. Salvation through Jesus Christ may well result in that, but those things are strictly byproducts. What we need is forgiveness; what we need is reconciliation to a holy God. And the answer to that great need is Jesus Christ.

In saying that millennials are asking, “How can I thrive?” this minister is not telling us anything new. In truth, sinners of every generation have been far more interested in personal prosperity and “thriving” than their spiritual well-being. But the church’s response must never be to meet them on that level, and turn Jesus into a cosmic life-coach. Jesus Christ can be a life-coach; indeed He is the best that ever was. But first He must be a Savior. And we cannot be born again and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by asking Jesus into our hearts as our personal life-coach and self-esteem guru. We must receive Him as our Savior. John writes: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).

A Set of Truths…

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a set of truths that revolve around Jesus and God’s plan of salvation. They come in the context of the terrible reality that we are all sinful and alienated from a holy God. And if nobody is asking questions about this, it is not because these truths are irrelevant. It is more likely because too few Christian leaders dare to speak of these things. In the illustration about the man with cancer, the patient needed two things. First, he needed to be convinced that he actually had cancer that would soon prove terminal. And second, he needed an operation to cut that cancer out of his body. No patient would ever submit to a surgery he felt was entirely unnecessary. We go through the ordeal of surgery because somewhere, at some point in time, a doctor has convinced us that we will be far better off with the surgery than we would be without it.

This is why the gospel must always be preceded by significant doses of the moral law of God and the holiness of God. The approach of the old-time preachers was to “wound with the law of God and heal with the gospel of God.” Jesus declared that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” We must assume there was no time limit applied to this command. Do you really suppose He might tell us today, “Of course this no longer applies to evangelism in these modern times. Now, everyone is wanting to know, “How can I prosper?” so by all means give them what they want. Preach Me as a financial advisor, and tell them to accept Me as their personal financial consultant and investment planner.”

That is not what Jesus commanded. When we proclaim Jesus to the Chinese, we preach about sin and forgiveness, about Jesus’ cross and resurrection, and about accepting Jesus by faith, being reconciled to God, and receiving the gift of eternal life. And that is precisely the same message we must proclaim to the Africans, and the Canadians, and the Germans, and the French, and… well, you can fill in the rest!

Gospel Facts

This is Christianity; this is at the heart of all that God has to say to the human race. While there may be myriads of different situations and motives that determine why we first approach Jesus, there is only one way, and only one gate through which we may enter into God’s family and live in His presence. That gate is Jesus Christ, and the particular set of truths which open that gate have a name. That name is the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we read through the epistles of the apostles, we discover these gospel truths hammered home again and again.

In the second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20, 21). The apostle Peter writes: “…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Certainly there is “thriving” in Christ. But the thriving we enjoy is not the thriving that most godless, Christless people desire. Our thriving is far superior to their sad little dreams and selfish ambitions. Our thriving is to enjoy the presence of God within us, carrying us through all the good and the tough times of our lives. We live in Christ with the smile of God on us, and the joy of the Holy Spirit within us. Now that is thriving!

If we try to lure the unsaved to Jesus by promising them amazing wealth and continual success, they will soon grow disillusioned and fall away. We have better promises for them. We declare, on the authority of the eternal word of God, that upon receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, their sins will be forgiven, they will become children of God, they will receive the Holy Spirit, and they will live eternally with God in heaven.


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