Karl Barth said that people come to church out of the expectancy that they could find the answer to the question ‘IS IT TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE?” He was talking about the gospel. And that’s what these posts are about.
If the gospel of Jesus Christ is really TRUE, then certain conclusions follow. We’ve looked at the conclusion that, if the gospel is true, we have a message for the world which is both good news and bad news. We are Christ’s aroma (2 Corinthians 2) — and some will think we are a fragrance and some an odor!
Let’s notice a second conclusion and that is —
IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .
We have every reason to challenge other worldviews and religions as to their response to the gospel.
We are not suggesting any form of persecution or marginalization of other belief systems. We are simply stating that truth is greater than error. And the errors of human religions must be compassionately but clearly engaged so that the good news about Jesus can be heard.
This is why we have MISSIONS. We believe that people are genuinely lost and that they cannot save themselves by their own religious efforts. No one is good enough or spiritual enough to earn forgiveness from the Triune God. If we could save ourselves, then why the Cross? The Apostle Paul puts it this way: 4 “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10)
One of my fondest memories of teaching theology in seminary for almost twenty years was the class I created called “Eternal Destinies.” I invited (with the approval of my seminary dean) leaders from such cults as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Ba’hai, Judaism, Buddhism, Christian Science and one or two others to present a brief lecture to my class about their worldview.
You need to know that we treated our guests with dignity, but the students brought me great pride as they asked precise, insightful questions of the guests. Some of their questions were: “How do you know your spiritual authority is right?” “What view do you take on the historical Jesus?” “Will anyone ever be lost eternally?”
We need not fear other religions or worldviews. We will need to do our homework and we will need to treat others with kindness. Satan is the great deceiver and it takes work to separate truth from error.
Today’s Challenge: Do you have any friends who belong to a religion other than Christianity? Are you treating them with kindness? Do you see your mission as asking them significant questions which just might get them thinking about the true gospel?
We began this series with a quote from Karl Barth who said that people come to church out of the expectancy that they could find the answer to the question ‘IS IT TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE?”
If the gospel of Jesus Christ is really TRUE, then certain conclusions follow. The conclusion we want to look at today is . .
IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .
We have a message for the world, a message which is both good news and bad news.
The “gospel” means good news. Is the gospel good news to you? IF the gospel is true, then it is the best news anyone could ever hear — forgiveness from the Triune God! A place in God’s family! A reason to live! A confidence about the afterlife! But the gospel isn’t only good news. [The first book I wrote is entitled The Other Side of the Good News].
What’s the bad news of the gospel? Eternal judgment. Separation from God and God’s people forever. Righteous condemnation. Eternity in hell. There is no worse news than that!
One biblical text has always gripped my attention. It’s found in 2 Corinthians 2 —
Please notice the olfactory emphasis in this text. We are an aroma. We smell. To some we smell great. To others, not so much. Our job is to “spread the aroma” of Christ everywhere.
Just a few observations:
1. We are to be aroma-spreaders . . . everywhere (v. 14).
2. This aroma is “of the knowledge of Him” (v. 14).
3. Our primary audience isn’t the human race, but God Himself. We read, “For we are toGod the pleasing aroma of Christ” (v. 15). 4. There are two groups who catch our aroma: (1) “those who are being saved” and (2) “those who are perishing” (v. 15).
5. The aroma we are spreading isn’t benign. To those who are perishing we are “an aroma that brings death.” To those who are being saved we are “an aroma that brings life” (v. 16).
6. Our aromatic duty is overwhelming and should cause us to exclaim with the Apostle Paul “who is equal to such a task?” (v. 16).
Today’s Challenge: Because the gospel is true, we have no choice as Jesus-followers but to bring the aroma of Him to the world. Everywhere. To everyone. Don’t be shocked when some turn up their spiritual noses at you or me. It comes with the package. Because the gospel is true.
Although I have great reservations about the theology of Karl Barth, I agree with what he said when he stood before a congregation for the first time in his life. He said, “Expectancy – that’s why they were there, why all of us were. At that strange, still moment just before the show starts. It is above all else expectancy that throbs in the stillness like a pulse. All those people out there in the pews, some hostile, some searching, some both at once, some young, some old. Their being there points to the event that is expected or appears to be expected or at least, if the place be dead and buried, was once expected there. . . . The event they await so expectantly is the sermon itself and which, whether they recognize it or not, they, all of them, want to find the answer, to one question beyond all other questions, which is the question, ‘IS IT TRUE? IS IT REALLY TRUE?”
The question I want to pose in this series of posts isn’t is the gospel true, but IF IT IS TRUE, WHAT THEN? The question IS IT TRUE is, of course, fundamental and absolutely critical. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.” (God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics). A great message on “What Is the Gospel?” by D.A. Carson is found here.
But my assumption in these posts is that the gospel indeed is true. And my purpose is to ask what difference that makes? Some of the issues I want to consider are as follows.
IF THE GOSPEL IS TRUE, THEN . . .
We have both good news and bad news the world needs to hear. (forgiveness and judgment). We are news-bearers. Are we a fragrance or a stench? Or both?
We have a justification to be kind but clear when it comes to any other worldviews or religions. Does this or that religion help me live in God’s world? We are not to fear, but can compassionately confront alternative worldviews.
We have every reason to make the Bible our absolute guidebook for life. There are a number of inadequate pictures of the Bible which seem to dominate Christian thinking. But what is the Bible? Really?
We desperately need the people of God, the church. For many the church is the great Evangelical option. “I’ll go if I have time.” “I’ll give if I can spare some loose change.” “I’ll serve if I have to.”
We can honestly face the suffering in the world without becoming cynical or callous. We will think through the book Why a Suffering World Makes Sense and draw certain conclusions about real, but temporary suffering in this broken world.
We are able to be supernaturally joyful despite the challenges of this fallen universe. What is true joy and how is it expressed in a seemingly progressive depressed world?
We can be biblically optimistic about the future because our God is sovereign.
Many of you know that my New Jersey friend Frank and I are reading through God’s Word together (described here). We’re now in the book of Romans and are reading chapter 1 each day this week. Here is something that I noticed in reading this chapter:
The reason Paul’s not ashamed of the gospel is because it is God’s power to save – – anyone! But only those who believe.
Paul defines the gospel as “the power of God that brings salvation.” We in our sinful condition are powerless to save ourselves, even when we thought we could! Only God’s power can rescue and redeem lost sinners!
And what is the purpose of that gospel? To reveal the righteousness of God! We know that God is righteous — and that we are not. How does the gospel reveal the righteousness of God? Because His righteousness is given us . . . by FAITH. Not by our works, but by His grace through faith in Christ.
How could one possibly be ashamed of this kind of gospel?! I love the statement by pastor Steve Brown when he says, “When I share the gospel with people, I’m worried about what people will think about Christ. And about what they will think about me. But mostly, about what they will think about me.”
We don’t always treat doubters with kindness. We seem to resent their questions and can become angry at their unbelief. Os Guinness wrote a great book a few years ago entitled Doubt. It has been re-issued as In Two Minds. He’s also written an excellent article entitled “I Believe in Doubt” which may be found here.
We must give room for seekers to express their doubts and ask their questions. And that calls for MERCY!
II. Don’t lose the urgency of the gospel — “snatching them from the fire”
How close is your unsaved friend to eternity? One breath. One heartbeat. It’s not surprising that we Jesus-followers are sometimes over-zealous in presenting the gospel. Eternity is at stake! If I truly believe the gospel, sometimes I will feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak about eternal lostness. And so should you.
III. Have a godly fear yourself!
“mixed with fear” — of what? Perhaps that doubt might begin to erode your own confidence in God. We are to show mercy mixed with fear. If this is a reference to the fear of the evangelist, then it might be a holy terror of what will happen to those who reject God’s mercy.
[I’m reminded of Galatians 6:1 which says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” There is risk involved in ministry . . . and in evangelism.]
IV. Don’t lose your hatred of sin!
‘“hating even their clothing stained by corrupted flesh”! What an expression! There is such a thing as godly hatred. And here that godly hatred is expressed hyperbolically as directed at the lost person’s clothing! That’s how much we should HATE SIN!
Today’s Challenge: Do you really care about lost people? Do their questions irritate you — or cause you to respond in mercy and love? Does their continual refusal to believe the gospel discourage you (me, too!)? May God renew you and me in a passion for the gospel, a love for the lost, and a clarity about the truth!
When you come right down to it, isn’t that a great explanation of the gospel? UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER? We have no claim on God’s grace — and should have no expectation that we somehow deserve His mercy. We are enemies of God until we trust Christ! And GOD is the last One we should ever have as an ENEMY! Any ideas how we help others unconditionally surrender to Christ?
The term “mystery” is used in the Bible several times, isn’t it? We have that great passage in I Timothy 3:16- “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
We read in 1 Corinthians 2:7– “No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” Paul speaks about our being gathered to Christ in1 Corinthians 15:51 – “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—”
The term “mystery” is used seven times in the book of Ephesians and four times in the book of Colossians. In Ephesians Paul writes, “he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ . . . (1:9). In Ephesians 6:19 Paul speaks of his desire to make this mystery known: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . “
Unlike Calvin in the cartoon above, Christians are to make known the mysteries of God, the most important being salvation in Jesus Christ — for both Jews and Gentiles — who believe!
Life is, indeed, often tragic. But that’s why the GOSPEL is so critical! People need to hear the Good News about Jesus, put their faith in Him, and have their sins forgiven! Life will still bring tragedies, but one day . . . one day . . . He will make all things new!
Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.
We’re now in the book of I Corinthians. And we just started reading I Corinthians 15 on Easter Sunday! I want to occasionally post an outline of what I’m learning from my reading.
Here’s my outline on the topic —
Getting Back to the Gospel! (I Cor. 15:1-2)
I. We need to be reminded of the gospel (v.1)
II. The gospel is something to be preached (v. 1)
III. The gospel is something to be received (v. 1)
IV. The gospel is something on which we take our stand (v. 1)
V. It is by this gospel that one is saved (v. 2)
VI. There is a condition — “if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you” (v. 2)
VII. If one does not hold firmly to the word preached — “you have believed in vain” (v. 2)
Our latest book, Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World is a call to becoming a friend of sinners like the Lord Jesus was! You can order this through Amazon or directly from me (send $10 [which includes shipping] to my address).
Dr. Larry Dixon
117 Norse Way
Columbia, SC 29229 Cell: 803-201-9745