Monday, August 19, 2013

Confusing the Response with the Actual Gospel

An evangelist came to a church I was attending several years ago. He came preaching a message on Christian living. It was an okay sermon, very energetic. About 95% of it was directed toward those who were already Christians and how to live as a Christian. Then, right near then end, he "appended" an appeal to get saved. Said that without Christ we are lost and will never be able to have a relationship with God. Then he said that if they wanted to have a relationship with God they needed to "repeat this simple prayer." He had everyone close their eyes and those who wanted to become a Christian were to repeat his words in their heart and really mean it. Then he proclaimed that those who prayed that prayer were saved. What's wrong with this? Here is a non-exhaustive list:
1) He actually never mentioned faith/believing.
2) He quickly referenced "repent from your sins" during the prayer, with no definition or explanation given for what repentance was.
3) He was compelling people to respond ... but what were they supposedly responding to? The gospel? No, the appeal to be in a relationship with God. But what did that mean? He didn't say!

Is this the content or the response?
Many preachers confused the appropriate response to the gospel with the gospel itself. Repentance and faith are the appropriate responses to hearing the proclamation of the gospel. However, they are not the gospel itself. Note what Jesus says in Mark 1:15 (HCSB): "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" The saving response to the good news (the gospel) is repentance and belief. But if we are repenting and believing in the gospel, then they are not the gospel itself. They are the responses not the content. So the problem with this presentation of the gospel is that it confuses the appropriate responses with the actual content of the gospel. Therefore, when repentance and faith are presented as if they are the content, the gospel has not actually been presented. So what is the person who responds by prayer a pray actually responding to? They are responding to the general concept of becoming a Christian, but that is not a response of faith, it's a response to belong to a group, to be a part of a religion or an organization. This is a huge problem today. What is the content of the gospel?

Greg Gilbert (What is the Gospel?) and Trevin Wax (Counterfeit Gospels) do a great job simply explaining this, though in different ways (both books were mentioned in a previous post). Gilbert uses four words to summarize the gospel: God, Man, Christ, Response. Each word has several concepts connected to it (these are my summaries, not Gilbert's).
God - He is creator there we are accountable to Him

Man - Adam rebelled against his Creator and transgressed God's law. Therefore he was separated from God and all his descendants, which is all of humanity, are separated from God. All people are born enemies of God. We are in a desperate situation, declared guilty before God.
Christ - God initiated a relationship with mankind over and over again: the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant are two examples of God initiating a relationship to mankind. But His ultimate initiation was sending His Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man, to live a perfect life and die a perfect death. His sacrifice was for us. He died in our place. God himself paid the penalty that we could never pay in order to restore us in to a relationship with God. Christ's victory over death and sin, that He was who He said He was, was ultimately demonstrated by the resurrection.
Response - Now repentance (turning from sin) and faith (trusting in Christ Himself and His work on the cross as sufficient to pay for our sins) can be explained in a context as a response to the gospel.

Trevin Wax organizes it differently. He pictures the gospel as a stool with three legs. The first leg is the gospel story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. The second leg is the gospel announcement, which is very similar to the "God, Man, Christ, Response" explanation above. The third leg is the gospel community. He says "the gospel story is the context in which we make the gospel announcement" (Wax, 154). Without the gospel story, the gospel announcement can easily be understood, especially in a culture that is unfamiliar with the Bible. Then he says: "The gospel story and the gospel announcement lead to the formation of the gospel community" (Wax, 155). Here Wax explains that once someone has heard the gospel story and announcement, if the presentation of the gospel ends there, they might misunderstand that being incorporated into a local church body is not just an option but is essential. The church is birthed by the gospel and is the place where we are sanctified. The body of Christ is one of the tools that God uses to make us more like Christ (to sanctify us). American individualism gets in the way of this tool.

Is this more complicated then just saying: repent and believe! Yes, it is. Does it take more time? Yes, it does. Sometimes it might take several meetings for the unbeliever to understand. Sometimes they won't understand the first, or second, or tenth time you explain it. Make sure you do the true work of an evangelist and give the content to the gospel, not just the proper response when witnessing to unbelievers.

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