This Week's Teaching: "The Forgotten Gospel"
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Sometimes just reading scripture verbatim can challenge our tightly held doctrinal positions. And when it does, there should be joy in it! We shouldn't shrink back from that! The principle of bible study is to let it say what it says, and not make it say what it doesn't say. Even if it challenges long-held beliefs.
I've noticed this with what we think of as "the gospel." As a preacher of the gospel I have often gone to the scriptures to find (yet again) the succinct, once-and-for-all articulation of "the gospel" and, while I do find articulations of it, the apostles never settled on one final "this is how you explain the gospel" way to say it. We have our pet verses like John 3:16, or "the Roman Road," or whatever, but they just kept speaking the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, bringing its light into darkened hearts in whatever context they found themselves.
Five hundred years ago the context was dark, with a polluted gospel that said we could buy God's forgiveness, and various other heresies. The correction of that was a powerful and freeing, boiled-down view that emphasized the verses that say salvation is "by grace through faith."
This was a necessary corrective! But it de-emphasized the verses that say explicitly that God does tie reward to how we live.
We have difficulty holding the two thoughts in tension, especially when theology has run amuck on one of the thoughts. So now, when we read verses like Romans 2:6-8, it almost feels heretical. "God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger."
In our X242 context, as we devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching, reading the scriptures verse by verse, it gives us a wonderful opportunity to open our hearts again to the entire conversation.
That's what I hope to stimulate with this week's teaching. I'm not arguing against the faith-only, or grace-not-works view of the gospel, as much as opening our minds to hear all that the scriptures say about the gospel. In my experience, this conversation feels very threatening to people. But that tells me that we need to have it if we are to be mature in our thinking. We need to let the scriptures speak all that they speak!
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If you're in the church, and especially if you're a teacher, there's pressure to teach certain things and to not teach certain things. If you pay attention to what people tell you the Bible says, you will preach one thing. If you simply read the Bible and teach the Bible, willing to simply read for people what the Bible says and explain the applications of that, you'll end up teaching and preaching different things.
One of these things has to do with the gospel itself. And I say this with respect and with gentleness to those who would come against some of the things I say. But today I just want to read for you what I think of as a different gospel, and I'm suggesting it's the complete gospel.
This is a continuation of my thought that I introduced several months ago on disentangling. And it really is what defines my interaction with the text and teaching these days â€” disentangling the faith from a whole bunch of things that we've woven into our understanding of the scriptures, of the faith.
Some of it is very good thought, good thoughts that are speculative and some of those speculations may be spot on. They're speculative, but we've allowed them to nestle in as the only possible reading of a text, or understanding of a theological or doctrinal position. And it's time to disentangle that. It's time to pull out those threads, not because they're always wrong, but just so that we can understand what is the essential meaning of the text and what it essentially means to follow Jesus.
And I suppose you could say whether we should follow Jesus, but I'm way down the path on that one. For me, this is about following Jesus as revealed in the scriptures, and ultimately it lands at a very orthodox understanding of the essentials, and a generous understanding and interaction with the non-essentials â€” which allows us to have conversation about things that are not essential where we disagree, and allows us to have unity about things where we do agree.
Now I cringe a little bit to talk about the forgotten gospel or the other gospel because it reminds me of, "Oh, we found, Peter's gospel," or "We found Philip's gospel," or whatever . And I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the forgotten aspect of what the scriptures describe as the gospel. And by gospel I mean the "euangelion", the good news that has been preached and is still to be preached.
So today, I just want to read other things that the scriptures say that might not line up â€” no, that do not line up with a very narrow understanding of what the gospel means.
Now, when I say narrow understanding, yes, I believe that it's a narrow road. I'm not talking about whether the path is wide to get into the kingdom. I believe it's narrow because that's what scripture says. But I'm talking about a narrow understanding of what the gospel is.
Now, I recently had a conversation â€” what I felt was a challenge â€” but it became this very respectful dialogue. There was a distinction that we made between the gospel of salvation and the gospel of the kingdom. And I would be one who says the gospel of the kingdom. I'm not inclined to put labels on it, but it just is a way to speak of that.
And so the popular gospel that many Christians in the evangelical world, the popular gospel would be that Jesus came to save us, and that it's about getting saved. And many people would say that means going to heaven when you die, escaping God's wrath.
I totally believe those are a thing. Like, I believe that's God's desire to save us from sin. But not just from our sins, but to save us from sin. I believe it's God's desire to bring us into fellowship with Him, to reconcile us to himself. I believe that wrath will be visited by God on everyone who chooses to reject him. I believe that. That's what scripture says.
But the emphasis on simply grace â€” I know that this scares some of you. It doesn't scare me at all, but I know that it scares some of you because you think that I'm saying, oh, we need to work our way into God's favor.
I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that.
God's grace is more than just an easy forgiveness mechanism. God's grace is his favor on us. God's grace is his love toward us. God's grace is his guidance. It's his discipline. It's his wisdom. That's God's grace toward us. His grace is generous toward us.
And so it can't just be boiled down into this concept that we are saved by not having to do anything except simply believe. I don't believe we find that in scripture. We find seeds of it. It's not a totally foreign thought to scripture, but it's incomplete.
And so today what I want to do is simply read scriptures that say more than, and possibly the opposite of what some of us have been taught and continue to argue.
Now my challenge to you is as you read the scriptures, let them say what they say and don't dismiss the things that don't fit in with what you've already decided that the gospel is.
Let them say what they say. And when they say something other than what you — now, this is a how to study the Bible kind of moment — when the scriptures say something other than what you've been taught, ask yourself: Where did I learn what I believe? Who first told me that? How many people have told me that? And there is something to be said totally about learning within the community. So I'm not dismissing that. But ask, Okay, who first taught me this? Where did I first learn this and why did it sound reasonable to me? What other impressions was I under? And I'm talking about when you're reading scripture and it says something other than what you've been taught.
So ask yourself that question. Who first taught me this?
[Then] ask yourself, Where is it written? Where else is what I understand written? And ask yourself, am I perhaps going beyond what is written in my understanding?
And so this is this desire to disentangle the faith and to come back to a simpler understanding of things. That's not simplistic, but simply saying, this is what scripture says, so this is what I believe.
These won't necessarily be in chronological or biblical order. These are [just] what come to me as I study the concept.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, whoever wants to be my disci..." — now just ask yourself, is this a part of the gospel that you have come to believe? "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." They must do it. They must follow him. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the son of man..." — here's verse 27 — "for the son of man is going to come in his father's glory with his angels and [then] he will reward each person according to what they have done."
Now that doesn't fly for some of us who say, "Uhoh! That's works! That's works righteousness!"
Let the scriptures say what they say.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'" — calls out to me, "Lord" — and I'm not gonna read the other things right now that say, "Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." That's part of our understanding. But here, Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven."
Reading on. "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?'" Did we not have the evidence that we were filled with the Holy Spirit, that we were operating in the things of God? Didn't we? And Jesus says, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers."
So start piecing this together. The Lord will reward those, each of us, according to what we have done. Those who do evil: "Away from me. I don't know you," regardless of whether you're operating in miracles and signs and things like that.
Little bit longer, but listen. Jesus is talking again.
"When the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my father. Take your inheritance. The kingdom prepared for you. Since the creation of the world for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or imprison and go to visit you?'
"And the king will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and imprison, and you did not look after me.'
"And they also will answer, 'Lord, when do we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or imprisoned and did not help you?'
"And he will reply, 'Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Does it fit your understanding of the gospel?
Romans 2:5-10, 16
"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil... but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good..." Jumping to verse 16, "This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ as my gospel declares."
Does this align with your understanding of the gospel where we simply call out to Jesus and he saves us, and after that there's nothing that we have to do, or that how we live after that bears no consequence in whether we are saved?
Now for me to even say that causes me some distress because , like I say, I do believe that God's forgiveness is free. It's total. We call out to Jesus in confession of our sinfulness, in confession of our waywardness, and I'm talking about that core sin in each of our lives. It's the same thing as when Adam and Eve decided for themselves what's right and wrong, that they would be the judge of themselves. They would be the judge of right and wrong, of good and evil. When they decided that they would be the Lord of their own kingdom, it's the same sin that we live with.
It's the same sin that I live with, that desire to decide for myself. I'm talking in the flesh. I've been released from it, but that desire to decide for myself what's right and wrong. " God, I know you said that [but] I'm gonna do it this way. I think I know better." That sin. When we confess that to Jesus and say, "Lord, I'm done living for myself. Lord, I'm sorry." He forgives us. He comes and wraps us up in his arms. He says, "My child, welcome home. I forgive you totally and freely. I paid your debt."
Like, I believe that. But I also believe this, that God will reward each person according to what they have done; to those who by persistence in doing good, seek, honor and glory and immortality he'll give eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking, and who reject the truth and follow evil, eternal punishment, eternal death.
Does it cause you stress? Does it open your eyes to possibly a different way of seeing the gospel of the kingdom to live out the things of God?
2 Corinthians 5:10
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
Does it fit? Does it add to your understanding?
Again, pulling this out of context. You can read it. "The Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do."
And chapter five, verses three and following. "But among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity or of greed because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather there should be thanksgiving. For of this, you can be sure: no immoral, impure, or greedy person — such a person is an idolator — no immoral, impure, or greedy person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words for because of such things, God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."
I'm not saying that the gospel of grace only, or of simple grace — call out "Jesus," say, "Lord, Lord," and he will save you — I'm not saying with finality that those are empty words that deceive. But I do believe that many have been deceived into believing that if you pray a prayer of salvation, everything's done.
And it's because of our fear of setting ourselves back up in the kingdom of self, like we're gonna work our way back to God. And that's not what scripture is talking about. Scripture is saying, live a dependent, a surrendered life to God. And live it out choosing good and rejecting evil. Do that every single day because that actually bears consequence on eternity.
So it's our fear of putting ourselves back on the throne, we might say, that has us saying, but if it's not just grace, if it has to do with how I live, aren't I then earning my way to heaven? No. No. I understand the fear. Don't put yourself back on the throne. Don't think you can be good enough to get to heaven.
But let scripture say what it says: live a good life. Reject evil. Choose good and what's honorable. Reject evil and what's dishonorable. And know that God will reward your decisions in that. That's what scripture says. So stop thinking, "I prayed the prayer. The blood of Jesus covers me and all my sins, even as I continue to keep on doing them." Like, stop doing that to yourself.
Those are empty words that deceive. It matters how you live. It matters the choices you make. If you call out "Jesus" and yet you persist in sin saying, "Well, I know this is wrong, but it's just kind of what I need to do right now." Whether that's debauchery or drunkenness or whatever that is, if you continue to do that, "Do not be deceived. Such a person has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." God will reward each of us according to what we have done. " For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It's shameful even to mention what the disobedient doing secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, and everything that is illuminated becomes a light."
That's for you. That's for you. Have you put your faith in Jesus, live as illuminated. Reject the darkness. Choose the light.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
"Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans who do not know God... The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us" — talking to brothers and sisters in the faith — "God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being, but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit."
If that doesn't fit your understanding of the gospel and you're choosing to live a life that does not reflect the glory of God, the goodness of God, that's not living in the light, you should tremble a bit. It's time to shake.
But listen to this.
1 Thessalonians 5:9
"God did not appoint us to suffer wrath , but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep," like living or dead in the body, "we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
"You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his son from heaven whom he raised from the dead — Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath."
When Jude wrote his book, he started out saying, "I wanted to write to you about one thing, but now that I'm writing, I gotta write about something else. I was hoping to write to you, to encourage you to talk about the mutual faith that we share. But man, I've gotta write this, and it's a hard word."
That's what my heart feels often. If I'm talking to you face to face, I'm going to speak about God's love towards you, and how generous he is towards you in his thoughts and affections, how gracious he is towards you, how he is quick to forgive your sins. He's slow to get angry with you. I'm going to tell you all those things because I totally believe it. And whenever I speak to someone, it's in my heart to go that direction.
But what I see in the church is an entangled understanding of the gospel that doesn't allow the scriptures to fully speak into our lives what they speak. When we read the scriptures, they say it does matter how you live. It does matter how you live. Yes, Jesus took care of everything, but it still matters how you live.
Jesus will one day judge everyone according to what they have done. According to what we have done. He will reward us according to what we have done.
If this is a word of discouragement to you, repent, turn from whatever is not earning a reward that you would want to get.
If it's a word of encouragement to you to keep on fighting the good fight, to keep on choosing well and choosing good, then be encouraged. Be strengthened. There is an eternal reward. There is a heavenly kingdom that awaits all of us who by persistence in doing good, and choosing what's honorable — and who by persistence in loving the people around us as if they are Jesus himself, who by persistence in living a righteous life, choose to honor Jesus — there is a reward for each of us, and we will receive it. We will be part of the eternal kingdom.
But for those who believe that they can pray a prayer and then choose what's evil — choose to live there — I want you to be discouraged from that course of action. You should tremble. Judgment is coming. God's wrath is coming. God's wrath is coming on the wrong doer. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Trust his love. He is good and loving and powerful. Trust him with your life and then live as if you trust him in all things.
Whoever would follow him, must deny themselves. Take up the cross daily. Follow him.
This is the word of the Lord. I welcome your comments below.