For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Christianity centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is doctrinal precision all we need to get gospel right? Can getting the technical aspects alone save you? Or is there more?
You can get the content of the gospel right, but still miss the gospel. Here are four ways getting the gospel right ain’t enough.
You can get the content of the gospel right, but miss on how you present it. First, it’s worth noting that the gospel is presented in a variety of ways. Each passage has a tenor that must be hit. Within that range, when heeded the gospel should bring hope and drive people to Jesus Christ. It should not bring despair to the weary.
I regularly heard a certain evangelist growing up. He got the gospel right. Bad news. Good news. Repent. Yet he consistently and severely missed the tenor of the gospel. It wasn’t a gospel of hope. His preaching has wreaked havoc in the lives of many people I know. They are constantly doubting their salvation due to the manner in which he preached the gospel. He missed it. It wasn’t hope. It was fear. It wasn’t Jesus. It was our sincere response.
You can get the content of the gospel, but miss on the method you use. In our current church culture, there are two ways I see this error playing out. First, the proclamation of the gospel turns sales pitch. 1, 2, 3 repeat after me. Not contextualizing the gospel to the crowd. Just bulldozing everyone you meet with a rehearsed sales pitch. We all know those kinds of sales people, and there’s a reason why used car salespeople are the butt of many jokes. Nobody likes them, yet many churches adopt this approach.
Second, the proclamation of the gospel is aided. This isn’t a hit on contextualization. We all speak language. We are all part of a culture. We all contextualize the presentation of the gospel. Contextualization isn’t a change of the gospel itself and it’s not what I’m combating. I’m down on gospel plus. This is a Charles Finney type gospel presentation. Manipulation. This error is what prompts churches to shock and awe people with outrageous stunts like flying the pastor onstage with a zip line or headlining rock songs like “Highway to Hell” to draw a crowd. The gospel isn’t the power of God for salvation, but a rusty sword that needs some sharpening.
3. Tone Deaf
The next gospel miss is tone deafness. These are the kinds of churches that have old time religion services and by old time religion they mean American culture from the 1950’s. They take pride in being out of step with the culture around them. Sin is outside, not inside. The primary threat to the church is those sinners out there. Many in this group live in fear that they might contract sin from living in the world instead of worrying more about the sin that dwells within.
On the far fringe would be a group like the Westboro Baptist Church. They might (even that might be stretching it) get the some of the gospel right, but it’s lost in their hate sloganeering.
4. Rotten Fruit
Last, we can get the gospel right, but bear rotten fruit. I can’t forget a picture I’ve seen several times on Twitter. It’s a gathering of “Christians” with a banner across the stage, “Jesus saves.” The gathering is for the Ku Klux Klan. The doctrine is right. Jesus does save, but we all know they’ve missed the gospel.
Our hope of assurance is the person and work of Jesus Christ and the promises of God that he is our yes and amen. Part of that irrevocable promise is that Jesus Christ in us will fundamentally transform us. This, however, is not an individualistic naval gazing. It’s not my job personally to judge others, but it is certainly the church’s. The church disciplines and excommunicates. The church determines when the fruit is so rotten it most certainly didn’t come from the tree (the church) and its root (Jesus Christ).
While life and death rest on getting the content of the gospel right, the gospel isn’t just rote fact. It’s a full bodied, two thousand year old wine and fresh baked bread that when drunk and eaten strengthens, grows, and matures.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the assistant editor at CBMW Men’s Channel. He regularly writes for a variety of publications. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.