Tag Archives: the gospel
3. THEY DON’T HAVE A LIFE-LONG, SATISFYING MISSION IN LIFE!
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
John R.W. Stott tells about the seventeenth-century Jesuits in China who, in order not to upset the social sensitivities of the Chinese, excluded the crucifixion and certain other details from the Gospel. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper responded to their decision by remarking: “We do not learn that they made many lasting converts by the unobjectionable residue of the story.” (John R.W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence)
How critical is the gospel of Jesus Christ? We learn in verse 1 that the gospel moved Jude from the category of a scoffer (see John 7) to the category of a servant. Jude and the other half-brothers of Jesus challenged the Lord in John 7. During the Feast of Tabernacles they told Him to “leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Then John adds, “5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
Life must have been rough growing up with a perfect brother, don’t you think? The other male children of Joseph and Mary (“his own brothers”) had not yet placed their faith in Jesus as God the Son come to redeem the world. So they mockingly advised Him: “You need to show who you are! Your disciples need to see the works you do. If you want to be a public figure, then do what a public figure does — go public! Go, show yourself to the world!” Obviously such advice was given from unbelieving hearts, as John tells us.
Only the gospel can turn a scoffer like Jude into a “servant of Jesus Christ.”
The gospel also changes the lives of those who have been called, loved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ (v. 1). What a wonderful triad for the believer: called, loved, and kept! (This idea of being “kept” is also referred to at the end of Jude’s letter when he refers to the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling,” v. 24).
How else does the gospel change lives? Let’s not skip over Jude’s salutation (greeting) in verse 2: “Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.” We all need God’s mercy, His peace, His love in our lives. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ makes us aware of our desperate need to be sheltered from His judgment (His mercy), brought into a harmonious relationship with Him (peace), and assured of His affection for us (love). And Jude recognizes that these three gifts are not given in one solitary moment. We need these three blessings “in abundance.”
Imagine living for a moment outside God’s mercy. Try to survive without a sense that Christ has brought down that barrier of enmity between you and God. Pretend for a few minutes that God didn’t love you. What an awful life that would be!
A Dramatic Change
But Jude doesn’t just dwell on the blessings we enjoy as servants of Jesus Christ. He has become acutely aware of the challenge these believers are facing, and so he writes his epistle.
He says that he was eager to write about “our common salvation” (v. 3). Perhaps his original letter was going to be something like the epistle of Philippians, a message of joy in their common salvation. But a compulsion overcame Jude — and he changed the purpose and the content of his letter! Here we have a little glimpse into the process of God the Holy Spirit guiding a writer of Scripture to write what God wanted written! Hearing about the false teachers who were plaguing these Christians, Jude changes the purpose and content of his letter from that of a happy discussion of our common salvation to a battle plan for believers.
He felt compelled to urge these Jesus-followers to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (v. 3). Please notice two truths about this verse:
First, they were to contend for “the faith.” here “the faith” does not refer to their confidence or their personal trust in God (we might say, “Just have faith”), but rather to the content of truth God has given to His people (“the faith”).
Second, there is a finality to this “faith.” Occasionally I get to teach New Testament Greek in our seminary, and the expression here in verse 3 is: “contend for the once-for-all-entrusted-to-God’s-holy-people faith.” All those words are adjectives modifying the noun “faith.” The clear implication is that this faith will not be edited, abridged, modified, altered, or otherwise changed. It is fixed, secure, permanent, final. There will be no “Gospel 2.0.” “This is it,” Jude says. “Now, fight for it!”
A number of years ago my wife and I attended a “Walk Through the New Testament” seminar. The young man leading the seminar was from New Jersey. One section of the seminar was learning the themes of the New Testament epistles. When he got to the epistle of Jude, he had us repeat after him, “Fight for duh fadth!” Yes, we are to fight for duh fadth!
Most of the rest of this one-chapter epistle deals with these false teachers. Please notice that they had somehow slipped in among God’s people, but they had not bypassed God’s notice. Their condemnation “was written about long ago” (v. 4). Although these believers were not adequately prepared to recognize this danger, God was not taken by surprise.
Their Two-Fold Heresy
These false teachers plaguing Jude’s audience are described not only as “ungodly,” but as those who commit two serious theological sins:
(1) They pervert God’s grace into a license for immorality, and
They deny Jesus Christ as Lord.
The Apostle Paul asks the Romans in his epistle, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6). These false teachers would answer quite differently. They would say, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? YES! YES! That will give God more opportunity to forgive your sins!” These false teachers “pervert” God’s grace.
(2) They also commit a serious error about the Person of the Lord Jesus. They “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” This is the central mistake of all cults — denying the true identity of God the Son.
You may have heard the story of the liberal pastor who was brought up before his church council heresy charges. He was accused of denying the deity of Christ. When asked how he responded to the charge, he reportedly said, “Deny the deity of Christ? Deny the deity of Christ?! Gentlemen, I haven’t denied the deity of any of us!”
Many deny the deity of Christ today. The late Chuck Colson rightly stated, “The battle is raging today all around, but many are perishing because we Christians have failed to engage the enemy at the point of attack. We not only flinch; for the most part we are not even looking in the right direction.” (Who Speaks for God?)
In The World According to God, Greg Johnson writes: “Today it’s not unthinkable that an Evangelical scholar might say something like this: ‘For me personally, from my limited perspective, I think it would appear to me, if I’m not mistaken about this, that there’s one primary Savior in the Bible, at least according to my faith tradition, within my circle of meaning, assuming a pre-modern metanarrative in a faith-based discourse, as we tend to do, I think.’ Johnson responds: “WEASEL! There’s a difference between being aware of your limitations and being a coward. We used to say, ‘Jesus is the only Savior.’ It’s a clear, concise statement, powerful in its simplicity. Besides, GOD says so!”
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 to God 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.”