I’ll be the first to admit that there are ‘levels’, of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I tend to place them into two overall categories; the message needed for the salvation of lost sinners, and the ‘larger’ message(s) that encompasses the entirety of the gospel of the Kingdom in terms of all of the blessings promised to God’s people.
Having said that, I believe it is always important, when discussing the gospel, to define our terms. Especially important is the definition of the gospel message that has the power to save; the message the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 1:16:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Emphasis mine)
Obvious is that there exists a gospel that in itself has the ‘power to save’. Given that the gospel, the ‘good news’ can include quite a lot, what exactly is the gospel that includes ‘power to save’? Since t is Paul who tells us there is one, does he also define it? What did Paul focus on in his preaching and teaching? What does Paul himself have to say?
”For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” – 1 Cor 1:22-23
“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Cor 2:1-2
We can conclude that the crucified Christ was central to Paul’s preaching, but does he define the gospel with ‘power to save’ more precisely? I believe he does. Speaking to the Corinthian church near the end of one of his letters, in his prelude to the importance of the resurrection to our faith, Paul states:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – ! Cor 15:1-4
We can readily see that the death and resurrection of Christ “for ‘our’ sins” was central to Paul’s preaching, and the central issue addressed in the gospel he preached. It is also logical to assume that the gospel we share with those whom God places in our paths for that purpose should be the same as Paul’s message. For many of you it is, but for many others in today’s evangelical climate, sadly it is not.
The gospel Paul preached as having ‘power to save’ has been widely supplanted with a gospel message that focuses on ’abundant living’. It takes several forms, and at times even addresses the issue of sin, but often in a secondary ‘back burner’ manner. What’s wrong with that, if we see sinners ‘accepting’ Christ as Savior? Isn’t abundant living part of the “good news? Yes it is, but is it the primary message we share with those who need a Savior?
Please hear me out.
First of all, remember that our gospel ‘invitation’ is intended for those living lives far away from God and his Son, the Christ. They are ‘by nature’ in rebellion against their Creator, cannot please God and unable to understand Spiritual truth, don’t seek him (See Rom 8:7,1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11, Ps 14), and have as their primary interest in this life, self-gratification, or self-actualization (if you want a ‘softer’ term). They behave with those goals foremost in their minds, not only from a biblical perspective, but also if we are to believe what the behavioral sciences have to tell us (Think Maslow).
Given all that accurately describes those who are apart from Christ, what are we doing if the primary focus of our gospel message is ‘abundant life’, which is actually a valid truth claim? (I hope that question is somewhat rhetorical.) We are feeding their ‘nature’; in effect telling them that the principal message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is their personal welfare and happiness, which is exactly what they want, but not abundant life on God’s terms.
Assume they like it, and make a ‘decision’ for Christ. Sooner or later, especially when their abundant doesn’t work out according to their wishes and desires, we have more explaining to do. What do you say?
"I know I said Jesus promised abundant life, but God’s definition in that John 10:10 passage really means a different kind of ‘abundant’ life." (Bait & switch alert!)
"Jesus did promise the abundant life you want, but maybe you haven’t given up a sinful habit or something."
Now you get to discuss the very real issue of sin you didn’t pay much attention to earlier, and how Jesus died for our sins and that he came to give e abundant life. (Another bait & switch?)
Do you see where I’m coming from? Why not just be lovingly straightforward with Paul’s definition of the gospel? Why not include the issue of sin, as of ‘first importance’?
I can think of several reasons; maybe you’re ashamed of the gospel, afraid someone won’t like you anymore, or maybe you really think offering an ‘attractive’ message is the right way to share the gospel! In that case you would have a lot of company. Most folks think that that we all are naturally seeking God and have the ‘natural’ capability to make the right decision. Well, we already talked about the ‘natural’ man. If you forgot what we said, rewind.
In reality, offering an attractive message denies the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men. If what we said about the ‘natural’ man is true, something has to happen to turn a rebellious heart toward God, and in fact give a spiritually ‘dead’ man life (See Eph 2). The something that happens is God himself. God opens the stony heart and deaf ears to hear the gospel message that at one time was offensive to the listener, and the sinner confronted with the reality of his/her condition runs joyfully and willingly to the Cross!
The apostle expressed that truth quite well when, speaking of his gospel ministry he stated:
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” – 2 Cor 2:14-16
Yes, the promise of abundant life is good news, and part of the overall message of the gospel, but there is only one gospel message that has the ‘ power to save’. Hear Paul one more time:
For I delivered to you as of FIRST importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. . ."
The rest of the ‘good news’, the ‘bigger’ picture of the gospel, begins at the Cross, or it isn’t ‘good’, but merely self-serving.