Threats to the Gospel and How to Guard ItTuesday, March 06, 2007
Threats to the glorious gospel come in two forms: from the inside and from the outside.
The threats from the inside are simple, for these threats add to the gospel. The internal threat comes primarily from our sinful heart which, although declared dead on the cross with Jesus, still attempts to revive itself. It reflects itself most clearly in attempting to become acceptable to God by means of doing our best. However, even after we've come to Christ and been converted, our hearts still desire to add to the work of Jesus by continuing to do our best to be acceptable to God. This is called legalism, before and after conversion.
How is this manifested? It seems that our American-cultured Christianity is perpetually bombarded with opportunities to find our identity in what we do rather than in who we are. People find their identities in their jobs, in their wealth, and in their family or friends. Christians often tend towards finding their identities in reductionistic approaches to Christianity like being reformed in their theology, only choosing homeschooling for their children, expository preaching in the pulpit (if they're pastors), using a particular version of the Bible, or anything else which focuses our attention on some particular thing other than the cross and the empty tomb. None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But we so often use them by relying on them to identify us as Christians rather than looking to the finished work of Jesus Christ as our single point of identity.
Conversely, the threats to the gospel which come from the outside are just as simple: subtracting from the gospel. As if being diligently vigilant for the inward threats that look to add to the gospel weren't enough, there are constant external threats which seek to take away some part of our precious gospel.
How is this manifested? New theologies claiming to be old or simply fresh perspectives arise each generation claiming to refocus our vision on the biblical understanding of justification by faith, substitionary atonement, propitiation, etc...all elements essential to the message of the cross. By subtracting any part of these gospel-doctrines, they consequently subtract from the very gospel itself.
What is more, the devil has utilized these threats and partnered with Hollywood to continue attack the gospel with movies and television shows that remould a biblical understanding of our Savior and His work. Twenty years ago it was the Jesus Seminar. Last year it was The DaVinci Code. This year it's the discovery of the tomb of Jesus. Next year it will be something new, something different, something fresh.
The way to guard the gospel from these threats is also two-fold.
First, it is to be held closely. This means we are to know the gospel and all its parts. If we are unaware of any part of it, we will likewise be unaware when someone comes along and subtracts or adds to that part which we are not familiar with. This is such an overlooked feature in churches today which reject the notion of doctrine altogether, fancying it to be nothing more than old-school, irrelevant opinions of dusty books and long-ago stuffy preachers. Yet the refusal to know it explains the welcoming of the internal and external threats which seem to enter into the church so casually. Therefore, we must know all of it if we are to guard all of it from anything which threatens a part of it.
Second, and quite paradoxically, we are to release it. The gospel is a message which God has invested with the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. It is an unfortunate trend to see those who know the gospel so well hold it so closely that they treat it as an invalid. They write books about it, discuss it on forums, talk about it in discussion groups, have Bible studies about it, and preach sermons about it. But they seem to have no concept of living it by releasing it to do its work.
To release the gospel is to envision people for it, empowering them for it, and equipping them to do it. Far too many pastors seem to act as if they are the gatekeepers for the gospel. Ministry must come to them first rather than through them. Pastors are equippers for the gospel (Eph. 4:13 ff.), outfitting the saints to take the gospel to the streets, to the workplace, to the home, to the gas station, etc. When we hold it closely and do not also release it, we hoard it. And if we hoard it, we can't say we believe it, for it is a message intended to be released into the world to change lives and advance God's kingdom here on earth.
Further, releasing the gospel means pastors and ministers releasing their people to go with the gospel. The gospel changes lives, and it changes lives as it goes with lives to change lives. In other words, the saints must march out into the world with the gospel in hand, and pastors expecting that the gospel will change them as they go. This necessarily means that they will not be changed completely either before they go, as they go, or as they come back. And this means we have to trust a sovereign God.
Ministers must relinquish their supposed rights to control the ministry of the gospel and how the saints go out with it and in it. Though they are saints, they'll never be perfect. Their families will never be perfect. They'll always struggle with sin. But the gospel changes them as they take it to the world. This is especially difficult for pastors who are reformed and do hold the gospel so dearly. But their love for it cannot and should not quench its flames in the hearts of others who may not know it as well as their pastor, but desperately desire to see it burn the fields that are white to harvest. For these pastors, the danger is adding to it by creating an atmosphere where the saints feel they must measure up to a-b-c-1-2-3 in order to be able to minister with it effectively to whomever or wherever God envisions them. And when they add to it in this way, they actually subtract from it the power that has been invested in it by the commission of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.
May we all, saints and pastors alike, be envisioned and empowered for guarding it from internal and external threats by holding it closely and releasing it willingly.