The Clear and Present Danger of a Truncated Gospel
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations. (Matthew 24:14a)
Jesus preached the gospel (Mark 1:15), and he told us to preach the gospel (Matt. 24:14a). Paul knew that he was under obligation to preach the gospel (Rom. 1:15-16) and he also knew he would be in big trouble if he did not preach it (1 Cor. 9:16). And he was beside himself with grief when the Galatians deserted the gospel for an aberrant one (Gal. 1:6-7). And finally, the gospel is clearly to transform people (Gal. 2:7-8).
The problem today in our Reformed world seems to come down to this – what is the gospel? I suggest we have a truncated gospel which serves as a clear and present danger in our churches. I heard a sermon recently by a ‘Grace Boy’1 from Luke 17:11-19 which illustrates this point. First, his exegesis and delivery were outstanding. He spoke of the cleansed leper who went back to Jesus to give thanks. He rightly showed that the leper was a picture of our estrangement from God and that his cleansing brought him into a right relationship with God. No problem there, but then he said, in addressing his congregation, ‘We are all lepers. We will continue to be lepers.’ Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well’ (Luke 17:19). Is it too much to suggest that Jesus expected a different way of living from the man? Surely he expected it from the man healed at Bethesda (John 5:14), and from the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). If indeed a believer is a new creation in Christ, the old having passed away, and the new having come (2 Cor. 5:17); if indeed we have become united with Christ in the likeness of his death, if the old man is dead and the body of sin is being rendered powerless (Rom. 6:5-7); if indeed his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3); then surely we ought no longer think like a leper, speak like a leper, or act like a leper.
No doubt in a sincere desire to proclaim the good news of the gospel to the lost world, the Grace Boys, nonetheless, seem to be preaching a truncated gospel. It sounds to me like a ‘justification only’ gospel which is not the full-orbed biblical gospel. We find the full gospel prophesied in Ezekiel 36:25-27 where the prophet says, ‘Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.’ That’s justification. ‘Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit with you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.’ That’s regeneration. ‘I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.’ That’s sanctification.
The clear and present danger of a truncated gospel, a ‘justification only’ gospel, is that it promises too much too soon. It promises the forgiveness of sins, right standing with God, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; but seems to ignore the conditional clauses which prove, in due time, true conversion (1 Cor. 15:1-2, Col. 1:23, 2 Pet. 1:10-11). I fear, therefore, that our churches have people who have gladly accepted a ‘justification only’ gospel but who have not been born again, false professors who lack the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
May I suggest, therefore, the remedy – we are to preach the three-fold gospel of regeneration, justification, and sanctification. We are to proclaim man’s three problems – the unregenerate has a corrupt, rebellious heart (Psa. 53:1-4) that loves sin and hates God; he is guilty and under the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18) and is without hope and without God in the world; and he lives a wicked, poisonous, and deadly life (Psa. 52:1-4) which leaves destruction and misery in its path. We are to proclaim that only Jesus provides the three solutions to man’s three problems – he gives us a new heart at regeneration, making us partakers of his divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) so that we can love God and hate sin; he pardons all our sins and gives us his righteousness in justification (Rom. 5:1), removing our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12); and he gives us his holiness (1 Cor. 1:30) so that we might live in obedience to his law (Phil. 2:12), so that we might perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).
So, if we wish to urge our people ‘to preach the gospel to themselves’, then should they not preach the whole gospel to themselves! Should they not remind themselves of their regeneration, justification, and sanctification! Regeneration makes possible repentance and faith which yields justification and adoption. It also will produce, albeit not perfectly, the fruit of the Spirit and progress in gospel holiness.
Can we not, therefore, step back and gain a better biblical perspective! A truncated gospel will only continue to bring confusion and pseudo-conversion. A true, full-orbed gospel of regeneration, justification, and sanctification will result, if God in sovereign mercy visits us, in true lasting conversions, providing us with people who seek first the kingdom of God, who live as becomes the followers of Christ, and who put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
And can we not be more aware of our utter and complete dependence on the Spirit to convict, convert, and sanctify! If the Grace Boys tend to err on the side of antinomianism, those of us with a more historic and Reformed view of sanctification can err on the side of legalism, wrongly assuming that our own self-discipline merits us favour with God. Both groups need a fresh reminder that apart from Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5). Should we not therefore be careful not to grieve the Spirit in whom we have been sealed to the day of redemption? (Eph. 4:30) Should we not walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh? (Gal. 5:16) We daily need his power to live as we ought.
- An article by Terry Johnson, Pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, GA that appeared on October 4, 2011 in The Aquila Report at www.theaquilareport.com. I highly recommend it as an antidote to the licentiousness which is prevalent in so many of our churches.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
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