As we consider, as well as, listen to the gospel as it is proclaimed in the present era (if it is proclaimed at all; the gospel often simply seems like a suggestion), we might ask ourselves, “What is missing in the gospel presentation today?” “Why isn’t it more powerful?” “Why don’t we see more powerful responses to the gospel in people’s lives?” Dr. James I. Packer has bemoaned the fact that we don’t very often see true conviction in our “conversions” today. I ask “why?”
I believe that there are certain missing elements (or concepts) in today’s gospel presentation which have made it insipid, weak and ineffectual. First of all, the glory and holiness of an awesome, majestic God is missing in the gospel today. A God of whom the writer of Hebrews declares, “The Lord will judge His people. It is a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God.” (10:30a, 31). And, “….our God is a consuming fire.” (12:29). Does our present culture (or church) comprehend the nature of a God who has revealed Himself as an infinite, eternal and unchangeable being of awe and One who requires and demands holiness, without which no one will see the Lord? (12:14). Do
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
– Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)
Christians (believers) and/or non-Christians (unbelievers and pagans) have a reverential awe, a fear, a proper, sobering dread of the living God who demands perfection in both heart and life in order to enter His presence? (Matthew 5:48). I tend to think not. God is God and His holiness is so beyond comprehension that we wouldn’t begin to understand it unless He had revealed Himself and His glory to us in His Word and indeed in His Son, the Lord Jesus (John 1:18). This glorious God is missing in the gospel presentation today and sinners therefore sense no sin and therefore sense no need of grace.
Secondly, the gospel is missing the law of God,indeed the holy law, which reflects His holiness and His will, His call both to loving Him with our whole heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The law shows forth the loveliness of God’s righteousness and the beauty of that righteousness as it is lived out in all of our relationships. However, the
concept of breaking God’s law is missing from our gospel presentations today because when law is proclaimed, although the beauty of holiness is shown, our own sinful nature, disposition and failures are also graphically displayed. The law causes us to realize that we all have fallen short
“Without the law, the good news of the gospel has little relevance… Today’s gospel presentation makes no one tremble, so why flee to the work of Christ?”
of the glory of God, an unpleasant message to hear. Dr. John Gerstner said it well, “You must be insulted in order to become a Christian!” Dr. Gerstner understood the Gospel. It always includes the law – God’s holy standard – and the law condemns – it condemns my heart and life. It insults all of my furious efforts toward building my own self righteousness. The law takes me down – not just a notch. The law slams my self-built kingdom of righteousness or self-justification to the ground. Upon hearing the law declared, I must fall to the ground and cry out before a holy and dreadful God, “What must I do to be saved?” Without the law, the good news of the gospel has little relevance. Dr. Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University, used to say, “Until you hear the thunder claps of Mount Sinai (law), you can never appreciate the grace notes of Calvary (gospel).” Today’s gospel presentation makes no one tremble, so why flee to the work of Christ? We’re all okay anyhow, if there is a God and if we’re not all okay, at least I’m okay, because I am probably better than the next guy (so goes our reasoning).
The final concept which I would submit is missing from today’s gospel is one which is related to the truths of God’s holiness and God’s law and that is the element or the message of repentance. It is one thing to trust Christ for one’s salvation and millions have walked an aisle or prayed a prayer looking for salvation and hoping for the best (I did both many times without conversion or Holy Spirit-induced transformation or true
“Repentance isn’t a work or more effort to try to get right with a holy God. Repentance is a gift of God in which our hearts are broken with godly sorrow for having broken God’s law, grief over having hurt and damaged ourselves as well as others…”
repentance; bartering with God was my futile approach). But, have we had that experience in which we have truly dealt with a holy God and His holy law and demands, which in turn has driven us to reject our self-centered, self-focused, sinful lives and thus receive the Lordship of Christ over our lives, passionately embracing His call, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”? This is repentance,
a “change of mind,” about our understanding of God, our understanding of ourselves, our understanding of Christ’s Lordship over our lives. Repentance isn’t a work or more effort to try to get right with a holy God. Repentance is a gift of God in which our hearts are broken with godly sorrow for having broken God’s law, grief over having hurt and damaged ourselves as well as others (often gravely) through our self-centeredness and our selfish acts. Weeping may accompany repentance (I wept mightily when God opened my eyes to pain which my sins had caused to others). However, not a tear may be shed in conversion; yet the sorrow and the stark realization that one has both fallen short of the holiness of a great, good, loving and glorious God and offended His righteous and loving demands can so overwhelm an individual that even without tears he or she is deeply grief stricken of heart over his or her condition and need of grace and help. The gospel indeed involves complete faith and trust in the beautiful, sacrificial bloody substitution of Christ on the cross on my behalf. But upon seeing, by faith, that sight of the Savior on the cross and comprehending, by God’s grace, that my sins put him there, repentance will take place. This is the conviction of personal sin and personal sins concerning which Dr. Packer speaks. When faith and repentance occur, conversion occurs and lives are changed, to the glory of God.
And this is the gospel which must be preached. Faith in Christ’s work on the cross, necessary because I will one day stand before a holy God and give account of my brazen and known, as well as my unknown and obscure, violations of His holy law. And, in addition to faith, repentance, turning from self to God, with the great hope and expectation that He will faithfully transform me into the image of His dear Son until I die or He returns, while looking toward eternity where I will somehow be glorified and holy, loving God forever. This is a serious gospel, a Biblical gospel.
To God be the glory.