Guard the GospelPastor Lutzer | April 3, 2016
The slide away from the Gospel always begins with neglect.
Selected highlights from this sermon
The life-giving water of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be guarded so that it may go forth with clarity and vigor. The Gospel is attacked and undermined daily. Even in today’s evangelical world it is often lost to political correctness or social justice.
The Gospel in our world—and even in our churches—is slowly slipping away. Are you ready to defend it? Do you know it? Do you share it?
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Peter Marshall, who at one time was the chaplain to the United States Senate, told the story entitled The Keeper of the Spring. According to Marshall there was a town in Europe that was at the base of a mountain range. And the people received very clear water as it ran down the tall mountains. On top of the mountains there was a man known as The Keeper of the Spring. It was his responsibility to make sure that the stream at its source was clear. He took away dead leaves and dead twigs, and particularly dead animals, so that the townspeople would have clear water to drink, and of course, to water their lawns. But the town faced a budget crisis so what they decided to do was to cut the salary and to fire The Keeper of the Spring. They said, “It will probably be clear water anyway.” Well, it was for a couple of days. But then green foam began to develop along the edges of the stream, and pretty soon people were getting sick. They said, “You know, we’d better reinstall The Keeper of the Spring,” and when they did that within a few days they had clear water again.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ must constantly be guarded. We have the responsibility of being the keepers of the spring, to make sure that the clear water of life, and the clear message of the cross, about which we have sung today, continues to go forth with clarity and transforming power.
Throughout history there have been many attacks against Christianity, many ways in which the stream has been polluted and become unclear. For example, in the early centuries there was Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a synthesis between Greek philosophy and Christianity, and we saw it in the DaVinci Code. Gnosticism!
We saw also in the early centuries sacramentalism. Sacramentalism had the idea that grace is communicated through the sacraments, and so in a sense the church held the salvation of the parishioners in its hands. As long as you participated in the the sacraments, as long as you then did that, you received certain benefits, but you never knew whether you had done enough for God. What’s the difference between a venial sin or a mortal sin? There were differences of opinion and people didn’t know how to keep score.
And then you have other things such as scientism, and rationalism. We don’t have time to list them. So attacks against the Gospel have often been made in different ways.
What I’ve decided to is to ask you first to turn to Galatians 1 because I believe that the Apostle Paul was the keeper of the spring. This is what he says about the Gospel. I’m in the book of Galatians first of all and I’m in verse 3. He says to the churches of Galatia: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Then he continues: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Is Paul passionate about this or what?) If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Paul says, “Keep the stream of the Gospel pure.”
I have so much to say in this message I was going to go from here to various distortions of the Gospel, and then I realized that since this is a message on guarding the Gospel maybe I’d better spend some time explaining what the Gospel is, because we can’t take it for granted.
So I’m going to give you four or five statements, important enough for you to write down somewhere. You might even want to use that offering envelope you should have used for other purposes a few moments ago. (laughter) I want you to see if you can write these down – five statements regarding Paul’s Gospel that he’s talking about, drawn, of course, from various passages of Scripture.
First of all, God took the initiative to reconcile us to Himself. We already read that really in verses 3 and 4. It is God who gave Himself in Christ for us. God took the initiative. And the reason God had to is that you and I are sinners who cannot save ourselves. And our goodness cannot be added to the Gospel because it’s good to be good, but only the goodness of Jesus is received by God. That’s critical because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Come with me to Home Depot Thursday evening. On the way home I decided to buy something and so I pulled up to the checkout counter. I never do these self checkout things. I have no idea how that works, but I pull up and I buy what I’m buying, and I look behind and nobody’s behind me. Very lax evening at Home Depot, so I ask the clerk, “Hey, you know, do you have any spiritual input in your life? Do you attend church anywhere?” She said, “Oh yeah, I attend (and she mentioned the church).” I said, “Well, isn’t it wonderful to know that when Jesus died on the cross, He died so that we as sinners could be saved, and it’s the only way to be saved?” And she said, “Oh, but I’m an honest woman.” She said, “God knows how honest I am. He sees it in my heart.” And she’s pounding her chest like this. I said, “You know that’s wonderful. If I had a store I’d hire you and put you in charge (because I think she was probably very honest), but,” I said, “your honesty will not get you to heaven unless you realize that only Jesus Christ’s righteousness is received by God. And therefore it is good that you are good, but it won’t do it.” She said, “God knows, God knows that I am honest. I have never told a lie,” and on and on she went.
Well, a couple of moments later somebody pulled up and wanted to buy something so I thought, “Well, okay, that’s as far as I can take this lady today.” Not very far! I left Home Depot thinking, “You know, there’s probably somebody who is drunk walking along State Street who, when he is sober, may be closer to the kingdom of heaven than this woman. Isn’t that what Jesus said? He said, “Even the prostitutes go to heaven ahead of you religious types.” Why? It’s because you are so absorbed by your own self-righteousness. You cannot see that you need a Savior to save you from your sins.” Wow! (applause)
So, statement number one: God took the initiative to reconcile us to Himself, and He had to because if He hadn’t, we’d be lost. We can’t save ourselves.
Second, Jesus came to earth to die, and when He died, on Him was laid God’s judgment for all the sins of those who would believe on Him. He took the entire hit – the whole thing. That’s why He could say at the end, “It is finished.” Peter in the New Testament put it this way. “He died,” it says, “the just one for the unjust, namely us, to bring us to God.” Paul says right here (I was reading it), “who gave Himself for our sins.” Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe, as we frequently sing. And as a result of that He not only took it entirely, He took it eternally upon Himself. And that’s why we are so desirous about singing about the cross because it was there that my sin was laid on Him. There was no sin in Him, but my sin was laid on Him, and the sin of all those was paid for totally, completely and eternally – all those who would believe on His name, which leads to number three.
The third statement is: This gift (and obviously it has to be a gift because you and I can’t contribute to it)… Our righteousness is good but it has to be put on a shelf, and God says, “Your righteousness is on a shelf unusable.” The righteousness that I receive only is my own so it has to be a gift. This gift is received by faith. It is received by faith, and this faith is not just merely an intellectual faith. It is a transfer of trust.
May the Lord help me so that I can say this with such clarity that those of you that have never believed on Christ, it would be shown to you that you have never really believed on Him.
What about this? First of all, it is a total trust. When you are coming to Jesus to be saved (and that’s one expression. Sometimes it’s referred to as being saved. Sometimes it’s referred to as being born again.), you don’t say, “Well, I’m trusting Jesus a little bit, but I’m also trusting myself some.” Oh, I’m sorry. You know, it has nothing to do with you. You have to take it from Jesus entirely, completely from Him.
“Well,” you say, “what’s my contribution?” Well, I’ll tell you exactly what it is. It is your sin. You’re bringing all that to the table and there’s a whole lot more there that you don’t know about.
So first of all, it is a total trust. It is an exclusive trust. Anyone who receives Christ as Savior recognizes that He is the only way. There’s no other option out there. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. And so our transfer of trust is complete, and it is a recognition that we need a Savior and an acceptance of that Savior. It is total trust. It is exclusive. It’s individual. Your parents can’t do it for you. And it didn’t happen when you were baptized. It’s not as if, you know, that was the entry point and now you kind of coast along. No, there has to be a point in your life when you recognize that your righteousness doesn’t cut it, and you come to Christ for His exclusive righteousness.
And what happens afterwards – this is number four now – this gift results in a transformation because it not only means that God declares me to be righteous, though thankfully He does, as righteous as He is because it’s all about the righteousness of Jesus. But in addition to that, the Holy Spirit of God comes into our lives and changes us from within. It may not always be an immediate change, though most people recognize it immediately. There’s a new love for Christ. There’s a transformation of desire. Suddenly we love Jesus, and we love His Word. There is a transformation that takes place.
You know, the Gospel is offensive. It really is. And when you preach it, if you preach it well… Let me say this, and I agree with Colin Smith here. You have not preached the Gospel unless you have preached a message that will get you thrown out of the synagogue or out of a mosque. Until you preach a message that will do that you aren’t really preaching the Gospel.
So let me add something that is offensive so that I fulfill the requirement, and that is this – that if you don’t believe on Jesus, according to Him, the wrath of God abides on you. That’s what it comes down to. It’s all about Jesus, all about the work that He did, all about what He completed for us as sinners, that we in faith receive.
Now, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, even where you are seated, or where you are listening to this, you could in your heart indeed say, “Okay, I receive what He did on my behalf. I bring nothing to this except my great need,” and you believe on Jesus, and you can be saved.
Now, that’s the Gospel, and today, of course, we have all kinds of aberrations even within evangelicalism. You’ll notice what the Apostle Paul says: “There are those who distort the Gospel.” Well, the folks in his day were distorting it because they were mixing it with works, but let me give you just a quick list, a quick rundown, of examples that I see happening within evangelical ranks.
For example, you hear about the social justice gospel. Whole conferences are held on the social justice gospel without the Gospel even once being preached. In the social justice gospel, sin is defined in corporate terms. It’s racism, materialism, economic diversity. Should we be interested in this? Absolutely! Should we be involved in helping people economically and bringing justice? You’d better believe it. Christians should be on the forefront, but that is a fruit of the Gospel. It is a result of the Gospel – our concern for humanity – but it is not the Gospel. If it isn’t Jesus dying on the cross for sinners who need to believe on Him in order to be saved, it isn’t the Gospel even if it’s a good thing. So you have the social justice gospel. And young evangelicals especially are buying into this as if it is “the” Gospel.
Next (I’m skipping some here), the ecumenical gospel. There’s so much pressure. What do you mean other religions are wrong? How arrogant can you get? How prideful? Why are you so full of hate to think that only you have the truth? And so there’s pressure for people to say, “Well, you know, maybe that door to heaven has to be pried opened just a little wider to let other religions in.”
Let me speak to you candidly. Christians should be the least prideful people in all the world. If you and I come across arrogantly we don’t represent Jesus well. The reason that we believe it’s the only way is because we follow Jesus. And guess what? He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” And the reason it’s all about Jesus (I’ve explained this to this congregation dozens of times throughout the last thirty-some years), is because He’s the only Savior. There are other gurus and prophets, but He’s the only one who can take away our sin.
About ten days ago I was in a situation with someone. I won’t tell you who because you wouldn’t know the person anyway, but I don’t even want to describe the situation. He said that he doesn’t attend church. He raised his children without religion, he said, and so forth. And I just looked at him and smiled and said, “I feel so sorry for you.” He said, “Why?” I said, “That means you have nobody to take away your sins.” And he looked away for a moment and said, “Yeah, well, I sort of believe on Jesus.” Imagine! Nobody to take away your sins!
So, it’s all about Jesus, and we cannot open that door. We can’t open the door. We should be the most humble broken people. I mean, we are… All that we are is we are beggars, telling other people we found some food. That’s all we are as Christians, but nonetheless there’s the pressure of the ecumenical Gospel.
And then we have such things as the sophisticated gospel. We can’t believe the miracles. For those of you who struggle with belief and you think, “Oh, it’s a bunch of fairy tales,” have you ever read the Bible? For example, have you ever read the Gospel of John? Oh, this could lead us afar, but quickly wherever the Bible can be tested historically, it comes out fantastic. Of course we can’t prove that Jesus walked on the water or that He fed five thousand people with a boy’s lunch. We can’t prove that. What we can prove is that wherever the New Testament touches history and archeology, it checks out. And then we begin to ask the question, “Why the miracles?” And we discover that there was a purpose in them, that every miracle that Jesus performed had a specific purpose. And then, after all, He was Jesus. You know there’s quite a difference actually between us and Him. So there is the sophisticated gospel.
And then there’s the neglected gospel in evangelical churches. A Muslim family at great personal cost received Christ as Savior, and they went to a large church, hoping to hear some word of encouragement, some doctrine, some hope, and… I don’t want to be too hard on this, but the pastor preached on nutrition. Now nutrition is very important. My doctor tells me that I should put it up on the priority of importance. Less chocolate, less this, less that! Do you know what my doctor actually told me? He said, “If it tastes good, spit it out.” (laughter) That’s what he told me. So nutrition is good, but may it never be said that somebody comes to Moody Church to hear a sermon on nutrition. May it never be said! (applause)
Now here’s my prayer for you - Philippians 1, which was the passage I intended to preach a whole message on, but clearly God willed otherwise. This is my prayer for Moody Church. Verse 27 of Philippians 1. Underline this in your Bible. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent (either way), I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, that you might indeed live worthily,” as Paul says, “that you might stand unitedly and fight willingly.”
Listen, the Greek word for striving is composed of two words. One is soon, which means with, and the other is athleto. What does the word athleto sound like? It’s the word from which we get athlete. The Apostle Paul seems to say that you were there as a gladiator in the midst of all of this opposition, all of the opposition of ideas, all of the criticism. You know, you’re not following the laws of hate speech, etcetera, etcetera, or you are hateful. Whatever, and you’re standing there and you’re saying, “With brokenness and humility, I am standing there for the cause of the Gospel, and we are standing unitedly for the cause of the Gospel.”
May it ever be said, because that is the desire of the Apostle Paul, and that is my desire for Moody Church. Let me say this as we go now to three conclusions here that I want to give you as we begin to think about bringing the plane down. First remember this: The slide away from the Gospel always begins with neglect. It begins with neglect.
A church historian said this, having observed movements and various things that God has done throughout the years with denominations. He said the first generation is Gospel-centered. They preach the Gospel. They tell their children that they need to believe the Gospel. The second generation takes the Gospel for granted. They say, “Oh yes, we believe the Gospel and sure, we know that Jesus died for sins. Sure, we can tell you that much.” What they don’t understand is the implications of the Gospel. They don’t really think deeply about all the doctrines that cluster around the Gospel, but “Yeah, we know that Jesus died for sinners, but now let’s get on with something more important.” That’s the second generation.
And then the third generation comes along and they totally neglect the Gospel. They can’t even articulate it because they are so inundated by popular culture and what have you. They cannot even articulate the Gospel. And by the time you get to the generation after that they disbelieve the Gospel and think that it’s really a bunch of foolishness.
My friend, today, as long as Moody Church exists, and I hope that is till the coming of the Lord, may it be said from this pulpit and elsewhere that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only believed, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and deeply believed in its transforming power from this pulpit and from this congregation. May it ever be! (applause) And if the Gospel ever ceases to be front and center at The Moody Church and if I’m still alive and I hear about it… And come to think about it, I’d have to be alive to hear about it. (laughter) I want to take it one step at a time here. If I hear about it, I’m coming here and I’m going to make a lot of noise – a lot of noise. (applause)
It’s the Gospel that has changed our hearts. It’s the Gospel that is the most precious possession. It is the Gospel that America needs – that there is a God in heaven with whom you can be reconciled if you humble yourself and receive the gift of His Son. But first of all, the slide always begins with neglect.
Secondly, the Gospel has incredible implications. Even though it is a free gift, it has incredible… Listen, the Gospel affects the way in which you treat your children and raise them, the way in which you treat your wife or husband. It affects the way in which you do your job. You want to do it with integrity – absolutely – to represent Jesus well. You’re willing to sacrifice on His behalf. You are willing to invest financially in His work because it informs the way in which you use your money, the way in which you invest it.
The Gospel touches all of life. It’s free, but once you get it, it has transforming power. God accepts you as you are, but loves you too much for you to stay where you are at, and works in your heart and mine to bring about the sanctifying powerful work of the good news of Gospel.
Finally, Jesus is the way. I’ve already emphasized that. This past week those of us who were at the Moody Business Club heard a marvelous testimony of transformation. It is amazing. Here’s this man who was a deacon in a church, but was never saved. He was confronted by a secretary and couldn’t get her words out of his mind. He was living, he said, in adultery for nine years. His wife was there when he gave his testimony of transforming power and renewed love. But he said this at the end. He said that somewhere in Michigan as you drive along a turnpike, there is a sign – a huge picture of Jesus – and it says under it, “Are you on the right road?” That’s a good question. That’s a question I’m asking you today. Are you on the right road, by the way?
A couple of weeks ago I heard Alistair Begg over the radio tell a story about how he and his wife were on vacation, and they were in the south, and they were going somewhere. And then Alistair said to his wife, “The sun is setting in the wrong place.” So they checked the map and discovered that they had made a wrong turn very slowly, but very wrongly. And you know, that’s the way some people are. “Oh, you know, I just love this road. I love my sin. I love who I am. I don’t need to change.” And someday they are going to discover that they’ve been on the wrong road. I mean, what a thing to come to the end of your life and you realize the sun is setting in the wrong place.
How would you know if you are on the wrong road? Well, look at where the sun is. (chuckles) Look at where the S-O-N is, and follow Him. And He has a right to the reward of His sacrifice. “The night on which He was betrayed He took bread and said, ‘This bread represents my body. This cup represents my blood.’” This is what I am doing for you to redeem you from your sin.
May I read the words of the Apostle Paul here that we just read at the beginning of the message? He says, and I’m actually now in Philippians, but in Galatians it says: “He sent his Son to deliver us from this present evil age.” There you have it. And He said, “I loved you this much,” and he stretched out His arms and died. Thankfully He was raised again, and that’s why we have such a great celebration at Easter. It’s all about Him.
Have you believed on Christ? Do you understand the Gospel? To the extent that you understand it do you believe it? Are you saying, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. Right now I’m going to receive Him as my Savior because I am a sinner who needs a Savior. This is what I’ve been looking for – somebody to take away my sins. Scoop me up. Bring me into God’s presence and declare me as righteous as God.” Only Jesus!
Father, I ask in Jesus’ name that Your Holy Spirit would use this message. Especially, I pray, that you might uncover the deceptions of some who think that they have believed in Christ but really haven’t. It’s all about them, and oh it’s all about Jesus too, but Father, overcome that, I pray.
And now, before I close this prayer, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, now would be a very good time for you to pray and say, “Jesus, save me. I want to believe the Gospel.”
Cause people to believe, Father. Overcome their natural reticence, the pride and darkness, and show them the beauty of a Savior who can actually save. In His name we pray, Amen.