There is a shocking lack of confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. To borrow a phrase from Romans 1:16, it seems that many are “ashamed” of it, or at least doubtful as to whether it is indeed the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This Gospel doubting can be seen in at least two ways.
Some doubt the Gospel and therefore supplement or replace it.
There is no question that the church is embarrassingly pragmatic in our day. Pragmatism is essentially the idea that success justifies strategy—that the end justifies the means. “If it works, do it,” we are told. Thus, in the name of evangelism, we see all sorts of circus-like shenanigans: “preaching” that apes foul-mouthed stand-up comics, shockingly explicit “outreach” to the pornography industry, goldfish-swallowing youth pastors, bait-and-switch outreach efforts, felt-needs preaching, and the like. While the Gospel may be “snuck in” to such efforts, they actually reveal a sad lack of confidence in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Such “evangelists” act as though the Gospel is an impotent thing—a hard sell that has to ride the coattails of more attractive products, not unlike the add-ons politicians tie to bills in order to pass unpopular measures using measures with broad support. But make no mistake—the tacky salesmanship that exists both inside and outside of fundamentalism betrays a lack of confidence in the unadulterated, unadorned Gospel.
Some doubt the Gospel and therefore expect no conversions.
Not all Gospel doubting is as crass as the used-car-salesman tactics listed above. Some have a more respectable shame of the Gospel, but it is a tragic doubt nonetheless. Some are convinced that God is finished, that the conversions we read of in the New Testament and throughout church history are relics of another time, evidences of more receptive hearers and more empowered churches. We shouldn’t expect solid churches to grow, we hear. In fact, our declining numbers are justified and almost celebrated as badges of our faithfulness—as though all growing churches must be doing something wrong.
I disagree with the second concept as vehemently as I disagree with the first. To quote a Christmas hymn, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.” He’s still working. His Spirit is still convicting, illuminating, drawing, regenerating. The Gospel is still the power of God for salvation. The Word is still alive, and powerful, and heart-rending. And thus, I expect to see it work. I pray expectantly. I preach expectantly. And God is saving people—like the deacon who will preach in our prayer meeting in a few hours, like the drug addict whose life has been turned upside down in recent months, like the single mom who has turned from religion to Christ and been eternally changed; like the multitudes that have come to Christ in recent months at Grace Church of Mentor—not because the church is perfect, and not because the church is compromising, but because the Gospel is mighty and they’re unleashing it to one sinner at a time.
One of my favorite hymns about the power of the Gospel is Isaac Watts’ stirring “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” After rejoicing in salvation blessings and marveling at God’s including us in them, the hymn ends with a prayer for the Lord to use His victorious Word to save souls, fill His churches, and glorify Himself.
Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
We mustn’t be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We mustn’t sell it, as though it’s on a discount rack. And we mustn’t shelve it, as though it’s no longer useful. The Gospel is as powerful as ever! God is as alive as ever! Let’s pray and preach like we believe it, by God’s grace.
“Sound Words” is a monthly column in the OBF Visitor, the publication of The Ohio Bible Fellowship. This article was first printed in August 2009. It is cross-posted from the OBF Visitor blog, where many other articles are posted and may be searched by author, category and keyword. Information on subscribing to the Visitor is available here.
Filed under: Bible Exposition, Devotional Thoughts, Evangelism, Ministry Musings, The Gospel, The Lord's Table, Tri-County Bible Church | Tagged: Evangelism, Grace Church of Mentor, Romans 1:16, Sound Words, The Gospel, Tri-County Bible Church |