THE GOSPEL DILEMMA
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
JULY 4, 2012
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14)
How could the “Good News” of the Kingdom EVER be a dilemma? I’m convinced it’s because some have heard it as Law, rather than Grace. Since many of my writings over the years have discussed the difference between Law (religion) and Grace (Life in the Spirit), I was hesitant to write more about it, but the Lord seems to be pressing me to add a few additional thoughts on the subject so dear to my heart. An old adage I grew up with says, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” People don’t seem to be beating a path to church doors, and in fact, mainline denominations are down in attendance (the exception being a few mega churches), so clearly, it is not the GOOD NEWS which is being preached, taught, and lived.
Some of you may remember attending “gospel meetings” in which the visiting preacher harangued the congregation with fear of eternal hell fire and damnation to get them down front at the altar call. There was one preacher in my youth whom I dearly loved, as he was a grandfatherly type gentleman, but when he held a meeting, I dreaded his sermon based on Isaiah 53. He would get into gory, horrific detail about the crucifixion and how it meant that Jesus really, REALLY loved us, and we had to obey Him to show Him we appreciated His sacrifice. It wasn’t appreciation that we sought to give Him, however, because as this dear old soul pointed out with fiery rhetoric and emotionally drenched voice, “God doesn’t want you to burn in hell forever, but if you don’t obey the gospel, you will. Please, please come forward at the invitation hymn.”
Many preachers don’t use these dramatic fear tactics to the degree that the old preacher did, but the inference is there, that if you don’t obey the gospel, you’ll be sorry for the rest of your life, and you will spend eternity repenting of your stupidity. If the Gospel isn’t law, what is it? Paul wrote, “it is the POWER of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew (believer) first and also to the Greek (unbeliever)” (Rom. 1:16). That sounds good, doesn’t it, but those of us who grew up in fear of hell fire wondered if we really did have the faith to attain this elusive salvation. We failed to note that GOD, not man, is the subject of that sentence. A friend wrote this past week that based on how he read the story of Abraham’s calling; Abraham was counted righteous because he made a choice for God. “It was a work,” our friend concluded.
I don’t see it that way, primarily because of two statements by Paul: 1) “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.” (Rom. 4:2-4) If Abraham’s faith, his belief in God was a choice he made, a work he performed, then he wouldn’t have needed God to reckon him righteous. He would have been righteous. No, the righteousness because of his faith was not a wage that he earned, but a gift given him by God. That brings us to Paul’s # 2) “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the GIFT of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
The Apostle John wrote that “when we see Him as He is, we shall be like Him.” (I John 3:2) To me, this indicates that when God shows up and reveals Himself to us, we will believe on Him; and therefore, will follow Him anywhere He wants us to go. Paul made it very plain: “The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13) Perhaps the confusion lies in the fact that many Christians have no idea what grace really is. Lenny and I attended a Wednesday night Bible study at a local church. The preacher asked the class what grace is. A dear old saint sitting on the first row held up her hand and said, “Grace is what God gives you when you obey Him.”
Here’s a simple way to discern the difference between Law and Grace. The Law is man centered (you work for God) and Grace is God centered (something He has already done for us in Christ). Abraham was an idol worshipper when God showed up in Ur of the Chaldees and made Him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Abe chose to follow the Lord, because he had encountered the Living God. He didn’t become a God believer because of works he performed, but rather for the Promise the Lord made to him personally, about what He would do through his descendants, which we are.
Most of us obeyed a pseudo “gospel” based on works; we followed a set of rules in order to persuade God to save us. In my case, there were 5 steps we had to complete: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. Nothing less than that would work (pun intended). Of course, that was just the beginning of the rules we had to follow. Compare that with Abraham’s “conversion.” “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1-3) Notice that GOD is the subject of these sentences.
We’ve already read that Abraham believed God and his faith was reckoned to him for righteousness, but I submit to you that when we hear the Good News, which Abraham surely heard that day, we too will follow Him anywhere and do anything He asks of us. It is why we came to our “far country” (Missouri), in 1998. It is how The Glory Road came to be. Abram “had become very wealthy in livestock, and in silver and gold” (Gen. 13:2), and yet, when God appeared to him, He said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen. 15:1) We are not wealthy in silver and gold, but in God Himself.
Instead of putting conditions upon God’s love, just once, I long to hear a preacher say, “YOU ARE FORGIVEN! Come! Tell Him you love Him.” Period, end of statement. Why? Because Christ already paid the price for us all. If you “obey the Gospel,” as the Fundamentalists say, because you want forgiveness and want to avoid hell, then that puts you on the treadmill of works for the rest of your life, trying to earn what you have already received as a FREE GIFT in Christ. We didn’t earn it because if we did, we would boast, but now, like Paul, all we can boast of is the cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation.
Abraham was chosen by God, and likewise, Jesus chose the disciples, rather than the other way round. He called them, saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It wasn’t what they had to do for Him which drew them, but what He planned to make of their ordinary, often sorry lives. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, yet religion has come along and put conditions and requirements on this GIFT of His love to us all.
This is a difficult topic, because why would anyone come to Christ if everyone is saved already? The answer is just the same as it was when God called Abraham and Jesus called the twelve. It is because of what He has done for us and will continue to do in us. He is the shield and very great reward of all of us.
Father, reveal to us the gospel in its brilliant simplicity. May we accept Your free give of GRACE, Your unconditional love flowing through us, which transforms us into cities set on a hill, reflectors of Your light to the world. We treasure the free gift of salvation which you have bestowed on all men through Christ Jesus our Lord, and we will praise Your holy name forever. Amen.