Second in a Series (January, 2003 POL)
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (
There are a lot of religions competing for your allegiance. It’s always been that way. It always will be.
You and I live in a world of competing truths. As much as we value the freedom of religion and will even give our lives to protect that principle, you and I are called to make a decision as to whether or not we are going to commit our lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We are called to be men and women who believe the Gospel–the Good News that is ours in Jesus Christ.
I know that most of us here have repented of sin and put our trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. So why should we even take the time today to raise the question, “Why believe the Gospel?”
There are two reasons.
First, there are some here today who haven’t repented of sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. In fact, there are some who haven’t really heard the Gospel. This may be that person’s first time in a church. Or, for some, they may have had a lifetime of church attendance but never really heard the Gospel.
Second, some of us who have heard and received the Gospel may very well be seduced by the evil one who is the prince of the present age, who perverts the Gospel, moving from salvation by God’s amazing grace back to a religion of salvation by works. Satan wants to pervert the Good News into bad news.
It is both of these concerns that Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians. So, let’s zero in on this question, “Why believe the Gospel?” Paul addresses this in such a straightforward way in
In this passage, he gives us at least eight reasons to believe the Gospel.
First: We believe the Gospel because it is based on divine authority and initiative.
This is not a human gospel.
Every other religion, at its very core, is human in derivation. That does not mean that there is not truth in other religions. There is much truth.
But every other religion in the world is based on works righteousness. If we work hard enough, do enough good, are loving enough, God or the gods will accept us. Built into our human approach to life is this deep sense that somehow we need to be better than we are. So, we must get to work to improve ourselves.
Even the most laid back, relativistic, minimalistic, accepting religion or philosophical approach to human relations ultimately has, at its core, human effort. At the one extreme, I must work hard enough to win the favor of God. At the other extreme, I must be totally, unconditionally accepting of others, no matter what they do, what they think, or there’s something terribly wrong with me.
The Apostle Paul puts his finger on that which makes the Gospel so unique as he writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (
See, this is Good News. No human being could come up with news as good as this. Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (
That is a message that comes with divine authority. That is a message that is initiated by God, not by us human beings. We can’t conceive of such Good News on our own and even have a hard time believing it when we first hear it and continue to live by it, even when our lives have been transformed as a result of it.
Second: We believe the Gospel because it is a life-changing Gospel.
There is great power in a personal testimony.
Paul knows that power, and he doesn’t hesitate to use the personal pronoun “I” to talk about himself and how God changed his life through the Gospel.
He describes his previous lifestyle as rigid, legalistic Judaism. He relates how intensely he persecuted the church of God, trying to destroy it. He writes, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (
He goes on to tell how radically his life was changed. Instead of continuing on to Damascus to destroy the church, he went and was embraced by these followers of Jesus. Fleeing for his life, he went out into the desert of Arabia to commune with God and reflect on the Old Testament Scriptures and to get his bearings in this newly discovered faith. Then he went right back to Damascus, in a daring way, to engage the very environment of both his conversion and those adversaries who were determined to kill him. It was a three-year odyssey. Then he went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter, the one who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He stayed with him 15 days, meeting only with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. Then he went to Syria and Salicia, basically dropping out of sight, as far as the biblical record is concerned, for 14 years, except people continued to hear a report, “‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy'” (
This is a life-changing Gospel.
For a number of years now I have been on the Board of Christianity Today, International. We publish some 11 magazines, plus books, tapes, and on-line information. Our board meetings are twice a year at a hotel near O’Hare Field, Chicago. My pattern has emerged of flying out on a Wednesday morning, attending the executive committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon, board dinner and program that evening, the official board meeting the next morning and then driving out to Carol Stream, Illinois, to spend four to five hours with my mother and father before flying home on Thursday night.
One of the executives of our organization volunteered to drive me that half-hour drive to the retirement home where my parents live. Although I had known him for a number of years, I had never heard his story. I asked him a few key questions, and he told me how his life had been changed by the Gospel.
Raised in a Christian home by godly parents, he rebelled. He described the double life he lived, being president of the Youth for Christ club and, at the same time, running with the wrong crowd at school. For two years he was in a Christian high school until he and some of his friends were kicked out. By age 21, he was a full-blown alcoholic, repudiating the faith in which he was raised, and sinking deeper into a lifestyle of alcohol and drugs, while maintaining a job with a major steel company in the Chicago area. His pattern was to polish off at least a fifth of whiskey every night until he suddenly he came to a low bottom. He realized the error of his ways and the fact that God really did love him and had created him for a much different lifestyle. He described how he turned his life over to Jesus Christ and how immediately his life was changed.
He became involved with a group of believers in Jesus Christ. He shared his problems and dreams with them. He and his girlfriend were married. Then God opened up a position in Christian publishing. He told a story of heartfelt gratitude to God for the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then he dropped me off at Windsor Manor Retirement Home where I witnessed another miracle of God’s grace. I spent the rest of Thursday afternoon with my 88-year-old mother, who is faithfully standing by my father, who lives in the total health-care unit, suffering from dementia. Faithfully she visits him, grateful that he still recognizes her, my sister and me. He cannot carry on a linear conversation, but with gratitude to God for His sustaining strength, she stands at the side of this man who, for 68 years, has been faithful to her. She refuses to come to visit us on vacations on the basis that, as long as Dad can recognize her, she wants to be there with him. Each day she prays with him, tells the stories of their life together, and they sing hymns together, although they cannot maintain the intimacy of conversation and affection that for so many years was theirs. Hers is a powerful testimony of God’s grace and capacity to hold the life of a Michigan farm girl, who in her childhood gave her life to Jesus Christ. She went on to a university, married, raised a family, and today could stand here and give testimony of God’s faithfulness through these years.
There is power in a personal testimony. We are engaged in a life-changing Gospel. What is your testimony? Do you share it?
Third: We believe the Gospel because grace, not works, is at its core.
We live in a highly competitive world. It’s a world of winners and losers.
A week ago, playing in a tournament in Ireland, Tiger Woods, in the first round, came within one stroke of breaking the course record with a 65. He complained to the reporter about his swing and went to the driving range to make those corrections that would aid him in his quest of perfection. Now, this weekend, we watch the Ryder Cup, where the world’s best face off in team matches, the United States against the Europeans. Already there are winners and losers. Even in that select company, the finest golfers in the world, one missed putt can doom one’s team to defeat and dog that player throughout the rest of his career.
That’s the nature of a competitive life, one that is based on rules, legalism, no grace.
Wouldn’t it be amazing how your golf game would change, how much better it would be, if you were entitled to two hits on every shot, and you would record the best of two? You say, That’s not the way the game is played? You are right. There are rules. A perfect shot, held back by a gust of wind, drops six inches short into a lake, involves a costly penalty and loses the match. No grace in this competitive world. You can’t tell that player he gets an extra shot because that gust of wind came up, treating him unfairly. There would be an outcry of protest, and rightly so.
But we carry that same mentality into our relationship with God. Somehow we have to earn His favor. Somehow we have to make perfect shots. Second chances don’t count. Mulligans are illegal. Are they? Not for a moment.
Our God is a God who gives mulligans. Our God is a God of the second chance, and a third chance, and a fourth chance and a fifth chance. Our God has devised a life lived in gracious, dynamic relationship with Him, in which you and I don’t have to earn our salvation. It’s one of grace, God’s unmerited favor, freely given. This grace, this unmerited favor, had changed Paul’s life. No longer was he bound by legalism. No longer did he have to live in that competitive world, proving over and over how good he was, how faithful he was to God.
Malcolm Muggeridge, that British writer and agnostic broadcaster, was captured by God’s grace through the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The beauty and charm of her simple goodness and self-giving service to the poor, led to his conversion. In the book he wrote about her life, titled Something Beautiful For God, he wrote:
I ran away and stayed away: Mother Teresa moved in and stayed. That was the difference. She, a nun, rather slightly built, with a few rupees in her pocket; not particularly clever, or particularly gifted in the art of persuasion. Just with this Christian love shining about her, in her heart and on her lips. Just prepared to follow her Lord, and in accordance with his instructions regard every derelict left to die in the streets as him, to hear in the cry of every abandoned child, even in the tiny squawk of the discarded fetus, the cry of the Bethlehem child; to recognize in every leper’s stumps the hands which once touched sightless eyes and made them see, rested on distracted heads and made them calm, brought back health to sick flesh and twisted limbs. As for my expatiations on Bengal’s wretched social conditions – I regret to say that I doubt whether, in any divine accounting, they will equal one single quizzical half smile bestowed by Mother Teresa on a street urchin who happened to catch her eye.
You see, this is God’s grace personified. His goodness, His charm, His beauty both touches our life and is communicated through us.
Fourth: We believe the Gospel because it is universal in its outreach.
God did not come in the person of Jesus Christ to found a small sect within Judaism. He died on the cross bearing the sins of all humankind, and He rose from the dead in victory over sin and death for all persons, whether Jew or Gentile.
It was this conviction that motivated the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Paul was convinced that God had set him apart from birth, giving him all the experiences leading up to his conversion for the purpose of carrying the Gospel not just to Jews but to Gentiles. He writes, “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . . (
Imagine the life you and I would have today if this Gospel was not universal in its outreach. Imagine if the Judaizers had carried the day and crushed Paul, forcing any Gentiles who were interested in the Christian faith to first become Jews, be circumcised, and abide by the rest of the Old Testament laws. Where would that leave you and me today?
Far from being a sub-cult of Judaism, Christianity functions on the mandate of Jesus Christ in those final words He shared with His disciples, “‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.'” Paul had heard from the Apostles what Jesus had said just before His ascension into heaven: “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth'” (
As a result, you and I are here today.
Fifth: We believe the Gospel because it involves accountability to community.
You and I are not designed to be “Lone Rangers.” You and I are given brothers and sisters in the faith. None of us is given all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each of us is to function with the gifts that we are given in relationship to others who have additional gifts. Each of us is given a particular perspective on life, an individual temperament and set of abilities that enable us to function together as a community of faith, not one that is competitive but one that is complementary.
Paul was assertive. Paul was dynamic. Paul could easily have assumed that he could strike off on his own, carrying out his passion to share the Gospel with the Gentiles. But, according to his own testimony, he submitted himself to the community of faith. He went to Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion to interface with those who “seemed to be leaders,” those “reputed to be pillars.”
He knew in advance that they would have their differences. And he knew that there needed to be mutual accountability. He knew it would be unconscionable for him to be out there, all on his own, preaching a Gospel that was not confirmed by the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem. In a straightforward way, he says precisely why he went to Jerusalem. In
I received an e-mail this week from someone who describes the restlessness with which he moves from church to church. God is speaking to that person. He is expressing his frustration with this kind of restlessness. We are now engaged in e-mail conversation in which I am trying to share with him the importance of being part of a community in which he can exercise his gifts and find encouragement in his Christian growth that then authenticates him for what he does “out there,” day in and day out in the world.
The Apostle Paul needed to live a life of accountability. How much more do you and I?
Sixth: We believe the Gospel because it holds strongly and openly to truth. In
Not only does Barnabas, a Jew, go with him to Jerusalem. He also takes along Titus, who was a Gentile. Those Judaizers had declared that Titus should be circumcised. Paul was determined to stand firm in the faith, to argue this case with the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Then he could go out through the rest of his missionary journeys, declaring that we settled this matter, once and for all.
Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
You and I will always have those to the right and to the left of us who are trying to distort the Gospel, so as to water down the truth. Whereas Paul was dealing with the Judaizers on the right who were trying to drag Christianity into legalism, Jude, on the other hand, addresses the pressures of godless men and women in the first century who were trying to pervert the Gospel into license for immorality. They were trying to water down the doctrinal truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Jude writes:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (
Seventh: We believe the Gospel because it has a strategy.
God’s strategy is to deploy us, recognizing what particular spiritual gifts, passions and abilities He has invested in us.
Paul outlines this strategy, making clear at that fateful meeting in Jerusalem, that they all bought into this understanding that God was going to use varied ways of disseminating the Gospel. Paul describes this strategy in the following words of
As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
You see how this strategy comes to full fruition? Paul earlier, in
One of the most difficult mission fields in the world is the task of bringing the Gospel to those living in the Moslem world. Early in my life I thought God might be calling me to be a missionary to Arab people. As a youngster I read the great biography titled Borden of Yale, the story of a bright ivy-league young man, who gave himself as a missionary to the Middle East. As a youngster I was privileged to know Dr. Samuel Zwemer. He was referred to in one biography as the great Apostle to Islam. And, through the years, I was challenged by the missionary example of Dr. Christy Wilson and his son, Christy Wilson, Jr., who ministered so lovingly and eloquently as missionaries in the Moslem world. Dr. Wilson, Senior, for 20 years was a missionary in Iran and then taught missions at Princeton Theological Seminary. Christy Wilson, Jr., did strategy for missions in which he enlisted “tentmakers,” highly qualified persons with secular skills who loved Jesus and dedicated their lives to the country of Afghanistan and, for decades, had a quiet witness for Jesus Christ until they were ultimately thrown out of the country. To this day, they continue their witness of friendship evangelism, both when possible within Afghanistan and, strategically, to expatriates outside of the country.
I continue to have a special affection for the people of the Middle East and the unique challenges of sharing the Gospel in these countries so dominated by the varying sects of Islam.
The church has just begun to support a unique outreach referred to as SAT-7. It is a ministry of Christian television changing the face of the Middle East. Monday evening a number of us met with representatives from SAT-7 to hear stories of how, since 1996, the Christian message is being made available to millions of homes throughout the Middle East, with the creative use of news, weather, drama, cooking shows and children’s television. Homes, even tents, that once would have been so remote from the Gospel, have satellite dishes. Thank God that there are Middle Eastern men and women, Egyptian, Lebanese, Palestinian and other backgrounds, able to convey the Gospel in relevant ways through this vehicle.
Even as Paul and Barnabas set out to preach to the Gentile world and Peter, James and John directed their messages initially to the Jewish world, today God has His strategy for Gospel proclamation that is relevant for people uniquely gifted to reach certain types of people.
Eighth: Finally, we believe the Gospel because it combines both doctrine and practice.
Paul concludes this particular passage with the words, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (
Correct doctrine is not a substitute for Christian duty. A strategy that wins souls to faith in Jesus Christ is not a substitute for being concerned about the poor. Spiritual action in evangelism and mentoring must go hand in hand with social outreach in which we give a glass of fresh, pure water and food to meet the physical needs of men and women who are created in the very image of God. Followers of Jesus cannot luxuriate in the material benefits which are ours without allowing “our hearts to be broken by those things that break the heart of God.”
Even the greatest critics of Christian missions have to admit that wherever men and women have gone with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they have set up hospitals, dug wells, established educational institutions, developed literacy programs and helped in agricultural development. They have worked for women’s rights, the abolishment of slavery and shown great concern for children.
For these eight reasons, and many more, we believe the Gospel.
What are you going to do about it?
In your bulletin is a box with four questions. I urge you, get in the custom of answering each of these questions every time you hear the Word of God preached.
Question One: What was God’s subject for me today? What’s your answer?
Question Two: How does God want me to respond? How does He? What is your answer?
Question Three: How do I do it? How will you implement what God wants you to do? Be specific.
Question Four: How long will it take me? Have some short-term goals, have some long-term goals to facilitate what the Holy Spirit is saying to you.
Thank God for the Gospel and the privilege of having our lives changed by it and the privilege of sharing this Good News with others!