Why must the gospel remain the same?

At times, change can be a good thing. I know it was for me. Over a decade ago, I made a change and moved to the DFW metroplex. Growing up, I never thought I would live in Dallas, but when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. I not only took the opportunity because I thought it would help me advance my career faster, but I also made the move because I felt like I needed a fresh start in order to work on my relationship with God. Starting afresh can be a good thing. It can kick start the change in our life that we need.

Take the change in the weather we have experienced over the last couple of days. At the beginning of the week I was dressed in layers of clothing with mountains of blankets on me. Yesterday, I was sitting on my back porch with no jacket on. Today is forecasted to be even warmer. The change in the weather is a welcome change. It is definitely for the better.

But as welcome as change can be at times, change isn’t always for the better, especially when it involves our core beliefs. Our core beliefs determine why we do what we do. They undergird our behavior. If we change our core beliefs, our behavior, our actions are going to change. So change, especially change for change’s sake isn’t always for the better. That’s especially true when it comes to the gospel. Why is that?

Why shouldn’t we change the gospel?

(1) Changing the gospel makes salvation impossible.

If we are forced to rely on our own works, we’ll never experience salvation.

When I was in college, I let my credit card get a little bit out of control. Nothing too crazy, but it wasn’t something I could pay off while I was in college. I just worked part-time at a climbing wall. It was a fun job, but it didn’t pay a lot. I ended up graduating college with some debt. Now, I didn’t keep that debt for long. After I got my first job out of college, I paid the debt off.

We often think of salvation like it’s a debt we have to work off by doing good works. If we do enough good works, God will forgive us and we will experience eternal life. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t accept our works as payment towards our debt. He only accepts the work of Jesus on our behalf.

In Galatians 1:3-4 we read:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,”

(Ga 1:3–4)

It was Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that gave us peace. It was His sacrifice that delivered us. Not our works. That’s the case because that’s how God designed it. Notice that Paul says that this is “according to the will of our God and Father,” Since God doesn’t change, the payment He requires doesn’t change. If we change the gospel to a works-based system of salvation, we make salvation impossible because God doesn’t accept our work as payment towards our debt.

(2) Changing the gospel leaves us with a disturbed conscience

Starting in the middle of verse 7 we read,

“but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

(Ga 1:7b)

The idea here is that changing the gospel doesn’t help us instead it hurts us. Paul tells us that these folks are troubling the Galatians. It troubles them. It troubles us because a works-based system produces emotional distress. It makes us uneasy because we don’t know where we stand. We know that’s true because when you talk to folks who are caught up in a works-based system you hear them more often than not say something to the effect of: “I sure hope I have done enough.” They don’t know if they have done enough. They just hope they have done enough. Which means they are left in limbo. Always wondering if they are good enough. That affects us. It affects us emotionally because it produces a disturbed conscience.

As Christians, we don’t have to worry about where we stand. If we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are God’s children. We will experience salvation instead of eternal damnation and separation from God — All that is good and beautiful. We can be sure of that because Jesus’ work is enough. It has satisfied God’s wrath. So we don’t have to worry. We don’t have to live with a disturbed conscience, but those who change the gospel do.

(3) Changing the gospel means we aren’t delivered from bondage.

In verse 4, we learn that Jesus

“gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”

(Ga. 1:4)

If we add works to the gospel, that means we don’t understand or believe the gospel. We aren’t trusting in Jesus as our Savior, which means He hasn’t delivered us from bondage. Since we can’t deliver ourselves, we remain in bondage. Satan remains our master and we are his slaves. All we have to look forward to is what this world can offer us because there is no resurrection to eternal life. That is a sad state in which to exist.

(4) Changing the gospel means that we are taking worship away from God.

In verse 5, Paul tells us that our salvation should result in God’s glory forever and ever. But if we make salvation a work that we do, we steal God’s worship away from Him. Instead of it being about God’s grace and sacrifice on our behalf, it’s about our work. What we do. Our ability to muster the effort, to crack the code of salvation. When we think like that, we’ll find that we start praising ourselves for what we’ve done, instead of what God has done in our lives. Changing the gospel steals worship away from God.

(5) Changing the gospel means that we will face a curse.

In verse 8 Paul says,

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

(Ga 1:8)

The idea here is that those who change the gospel will face a curse, and that curse is eternal damnation. Or as one commentator puts it:

To be anathematized then means far more than to be excommunicated. It means nothing less than to suffer the eternal retribution and judgment of God.

 George, Timothy, Galatians, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), xxx, 98–99

Conclusion

Changing the gospel isn’t a good idea. Even though we are experiencing a massive change in our world, we must hold fast to the gospel. It is not something we should change, it must remain the same. We must rest in the unchanging message of the gospel. If we do, we will experience salvation, deliverance from this present evil age in which we find ourselves, we will have something for which to look forward. We will have hope in this dark world.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Be ready to provide a defense of your hope in Jesus

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Pe 3:15–16)

Our world is increasingly growing hostile to Christianity. I’m not talking about cultural or progressive Christianity, rather, I’m referring to gospel-centered evangelicals who stand firm on God’s Word. The world in which we live is growing more hostile each and every day towards our message and values. Instead of assimilating or disassociating from the culture around us, we should engage. 

Peter tells us that we should be ready to provide a defense to the hope we have in Christ. It is that hope that keeps us going and it is that hope we should be ready to share with others. But we must not share the hope of the gospel in combative harsh ways. Instead, we must be gentle in the way in which we share. As well as we must share with a good conscience. We are not out to attack or one-up someone. We are not out to be harsh and disrespectful to other human beings. Instead, we must be gentle and loving in the way in which we share. That doesn’t mean we shy away from sharing the truth. We must continue to share the truth because it is the truth that sets us free. It is the good news from ages past that is still good news today, so we must not and cannot alter the gospel message. Instead, we must share it with others so that they might experience the same hope we experience. 

One book that has been helpful for me lately is Sam Chan’s book Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable. He does an excellent job of walking you through how to share the gospel with others in today’s culture. If you are looking for a way to reach the world in which we live, give Chan’s book a read. 

We should worship the One who rescues us.

Jonah worships the Lord. In Jonah 2 9, we read:

“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.”

(Jon 2:9).

Recognizing God is the One who saves, Jonah worships God. Which is what we should do as well. We should worship the Lord.

The great thing is you don’t have to wait until Sunday to worship God. Worship is more than coming here on Sunday mornings and singing a few songs and hearing a sermon. You can worship God throughout the week.

You can worship God by:

  • Reading His Word
  • Praying
  • Telling others about Him
  • Ministering to those in need
  • Obeying God’s Word

There are other ways we can worship Him as well. But the point is we can worship God every single day.
We should worship God daily.

If we are going to be daily worshippers, we must constantly set our minds on the things above. One thing we should set our mind on is the gospel. We must preach the gospel to ourselves daily, constantly so as to remind ourselves that Jesus died for us. He shed His blood for our sins so that we might have life. That salvation is free and those who desire it need only to repent and turn to Jesus. Those who call Jesus their Lord and Savior experience salvation.

How amazing is that? Jesus died for us. He willingly gave His life to redeem His enemies from sin and the Father’s Wrath. He gave His life for those who want nothing to do with God. How amazing is that?

When we think about what God has done for us, how He has rescued us from our idols and saved us in Jesus, we should be driven to worship, not just on Sunday morning, but every day.

What does it mean that we aren’t willing to speak into another’s life?

When we are unwilling to speak into another’s life, in some sense we hate them as well.

We may not hate them as much as we hate a murderous ungodly regime. But we hate them nonetheless. We don’t love them as much as we love ourselves.

I believe the main reason we aren’t willing to speak into another’s life whether it be for correction or with the gospel is because we love ourselves more. We love our position, our comfort, our status, our life more than we love another. When we say things like,

“I know I should say something to my friend but I don’t want to ruin my friendship.”

OR

“I know I should seek to engage my neighbor with the gospel, but I don’t want to mess up the community we have. They are good neighbors and I don’t want to create any difficulty or uncomfortableness between us.”

When we say those things, we aren’t saying them out of love for our neighbors or our friends. We say them out of love for self.

When we prize self-comfort over speaking the truth, we don’t love our neighbors we actually hate our neighbors because we are leaving them to face God’s wrath.

We should want to be used as God’s instruments because Jesus came for us

Jesus’ sacrifice and His cross work should be something we want to share with everyone.

Jesus didn’t have to come. Jesus could have left us in our sins. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus had compassion on us. He cared for us. He loved us. His love drove Him to come and die so that we might have life and our relationship with the Father would be reconciled.

We should want to go, not because it is easier and we know God’s will will be done, but because we want to share the love of Jesus with others. Because we want to share what Jesus has done for us.

“When [our] heart is gripped by the love of God poured out in the cross, and when [we] see the extent of that love in the propitiation by which Christ became the sacrifice for [our] sin, bearing wrath and entering hell for [us], and when [we] are convinced that this Christ offers Himself in redeeming love to others who do not yet know Him, a passion will be lit in [our] heart to pursue a God-centered life, [to pursue people on mission for God.]”

James Denney in Jonah by Colin Smith, 48.

When God comes to us and asks us to do something that is difficult — and if He hasn’t done so already, He certainly will — when He does, we should go. We should answer His call, so that others might experience the same joy, peace, comfort, love, and salvation as we do.

When God calls us to go, we should go for the sake of others and their eternal destiny.

A Gospel-Centered Church Preaches the True Gospel, Resulting in True Conversions

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

When I talk about us being a gospel-centered church, I mean that we are a church that is centered on the good news that Jesus came to save sinners like you and I. We are centered on the gospel, allowing it to drive how we operate as a church.

Centering on the gospel frees us to place our identity in Jesus and as well as it frees us to believe in, trust in, and rest in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus came to save sinners. Those who center on the gospel realize there is nothing they can do to save themselves. No amount of church work, right living, or giving can provide salvation or sanctification.

Sanctification is just a fancy word for growing to be more like Jesus. Sanctification occurs through the gospel, not through trying harder or by following a set of legalistic rules. We grow as we understand more and more about the grace of God in Jesus. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, which includes God’s plan highlighted and worked out in Scripture, we should grow in thankfulness for what God has done for us. Our gratitude should propel us to know God more, to understand how He wants us to live, and to actually live in a way that matches God’s desire for our life as a way to glorify Him. If we want to grow as Christians, we must reflect on the gospel, viewing it from different angles like a diamond, and allowing it to do a work in our hearts so as to bring about change.

The only way we experience salvation and sanctification is by believing in, trusting in, and resting in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus saves sinners. That is wonderfully freeing news because it means:

  • We don’t have to keep striving to maintain a self-image that is broken.
  • We can rest from self-salvation and the worry of — have I don’t enough.
  • We can love God for who He is and not for what He gives.

Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel

Being gospel-centered, then, is the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel centers on health, wealth, and material possessions. The end all be all of the prosperity gospel is prosperity, it’s not Jesus and the salvation He offers. Jesus is just a tool to get prosperity.

But prosperity isn’t salvation. It doesn’t provide the identity for which we long. Prosperity just leaves us empty, wanting more. While there is nothing wrong with being prosperous, it can’t hold the center. Only Jesus can. Only He provides us with a true identity and true salvation.

More than Social Justice

Being gospel-centered also involves more than fighting for social justice. The social justice gospel centers on social issues. Those who do social justice seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. You’ll find a social justice warrior fighting against all kinds of social issues including systemic racism. That is good and right. We should seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. We should fight against systemic racism.

But these actions can’t be the end all be all of our ministries. The good news, the gospel, is not solely centered on justice. To be sure, justice is part of the gospel. A desire for justice will flow out of the gospel, but it is not the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus’ work on our behalf.

Not Progressive/Liberal

Being gospel-centered also involves rejecting a Progressive/Liberal gospel. Many in the progressive or liberal gospel movement deny the inerrancy or truthfulness of Scripture. As well as they teach that Christianity is just one of many ways to experience salvation.

But again, the gospel centers on Jesus’ death on our behalf. It teaches us that there is only one way to God, not multiple ways. Those who center on the true gospel don’t seek to progress into new ways of understanding. Instead, they camp out on God’s way of understanding the world, which is found in His word.

In contrast to the prosperity gospel, the social justice gospel, and a progressive/liberal gospel, a gospel-centered church urges its members and those who attend to believe in, trust in, and rest in Jesus’ work on their behalf. They do that by faithfully pointing their people away from sin and towards Jesus by preaching the true gospel, which results in true conversion.

The result of preaching the true gospel is true conversion.

In verse 12, Paul writes,

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1:12–14)

The true gospel tells us that we are sinners who have rebelled against God. Because of our rebellion we deserve God’s wrath. But God in His grace and Mercy comes on a rescue mission for us, truly saving us.

Every time I read this verse I can’t help but think of a group of Naval Seals sneaking behind enemy lines to rescue a prisoner of war. That image comes to mind because that is what Jesus does. He comes. He breaks into the kingdom of darkness and draws us to Himself. In doing so, He literally transfers us out of one kingdom and into another.

In God’s rescue mission, Jesus is the actor. He is the One who comes. He is the One seeks. He is the One who draws us to Himself and out of the domain of darkness. In Jesus, we are redeemed from God’s wrath. We are forgiven. We are released from the bondage of sin and death. For the first time, we can actually follow Jesus. Not just follow Him out of self will or to gain the approval of others, but we follow Jesus because we desire Him.

Once Jesus draws us to Himself. Once He rescues us out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into His kingdom, our affections are changed and we actually want what He wants. Our desires change so that we no longer desire the things of the world but the things of God. We are no longer self-centered but God-centered.

The only way a church’s attendees and members will see true change is if the church centers on the true gospel, preaching it so that those who hear it experience true conversion, and then true change as they learn about and live out their newfound identity in Christ.