Is the Gospel about Social Change?

The Great Commission commands the Christian to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15) To fulfill the Great Commission the believer must understand the gospel. Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it might seem. The political and social turmoil of recent years has given renewed urgency to certain ones who teach that the gospel is about social change. Tony Evans said, “There’s the content of the gospel that takes you to Heaven, but there’s also the scope of the gospel, which brings Heaven to earth.” His perspective is widely held by Evangelicals. But it is not held by all evangelicals. John MacArthur spearheaded a group that issued a lengthy statement opposing making social reformation a part of the gospel.

The social gospel is a version of the gospel that makes the reformation of society, the promotion of social justice, provision for the poor and the advancement of equity in societal systems to be integral to the gospel message. According to this view a gospel that does not include the call to renovate culture is an abbreviated gospel. Does the gospel message include the renovation of culture?

The discussion of the social gospel is not a question of whether the gospel produces change in a society. Few would deny the profound impact salvation has upon the individual and, as a result, on society. The issue is whether the gospel message demands a call to bring about cultural change. When Tony Evans said the scope of the gospel brings heaven to earth, he is saying the gospel is designed to transform the world to be more like the kingdom of God. In many minds, a gospel without a call for social renovation is not the gospel.

The Bible gives a very clear definition of the gospel. Scriptures presents the gospel in many places and teaches the gospel in a variety of ways, but only one place in the Bible specifically sets out to define the substance of the gospel. “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) This passage must be the final authority when creating a definition of the gospel because it is the only place in the whole Bible which intends to define the gospel.

1 Corinthians 15 lists several key facts of the gospel. First, is the person of Jesus- He is Christ. Second is His death. Third is the reason for His death- our sin. Fourth, is the fulfillment of God’s promises- according to the Scripture. Last, the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel message is a message of individual sin and of God the Son who died to save us from our sin. The Bible never presents societal change as a component of the gospel. The Bible does not teach that man’s chief problem is an unjust political system or income inequality. The problem of man is not external to him. The problem of man is not social. The problem of mankind is internal to each individual. The problem of man is sin that resides in every human heart. The solution of the gospel is the forgiveness of sin, which makes each one who believes a new creature.

When enough people are saved and live in obedience to God society will change. This change is not the message of the gospel, but the result of the gospel. The distinction between of cause and effect must not be ignored. To confuse the results of the gospel with the gospel itself is to risk creating a false gospel.

Do Christians have to keep the Mosaic Law?

The earliest threat to the unity of the church was teaching about the believer’s obligation to the Old Testament law. As the gospel spread out from Jerusalem, more and more Gentiles began to believe and come into the church. Some Jews taught that the believing Gentiles had to keep the law to truly be saved. The apostle Paul and others began to argue strongly against this teaching. As a result, a council was convened in Jerusalem to discuss this question.

Acts 15 summarizes the discussion. Four men spake. Paul and Barnabas then told of how they had taken the gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor and how God had blessed their ministry. James spoke of how God had foretold the conversion of the Gentiles. The plan to save Gentiles was God’s plan all along. Peter told of how he had first taken to the gospel to the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household. Those Gentiles were saved by faith while Peter was preaching. They received the Holy Spirit without doing anything instructed in the Mosaic Law. The conclusion of the council was that the law is unnecessary for salvation and that Gentiles are under no obligation to keep the law of Moses.

The question of the believers obligation to the law did not go away. The question is addressed in the book of Galatians. The simple, clear answer given in that book is “no.” If salvation begins by faith and the Holy Spirit is received by faith without the keeping of the law, then how could keeping the law be necessary for the Christian life? Salvation and sanctification are accomplished without the keeping of the law. (Galatians 3:1-3)

The New Testament is clear that the law has been done away with by Jesus. First, the law is a unit. If a person is under obligation to keep one part of the law, then he is obligated to keep all the law. (Galatians 3:10, 12) The separating out of the law into civil and ceremonial portions is not a valid division. If one part of the law is done away with, then all the law is done away with. The book of Hebrews makes a strong argument that the priesthood formed by the law of Moses was changed by Jesus. (Hebrews 7) The sacrifice of Jesus took away the sacrifices under Moses’ law. (Hebrews 10) Since the law is a single unit, the doing away of the priesthood and the sacrifices means the entire Mosaic Law has been done away with. Second, the law has been abolished by Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11) Hebrews 7 says the Mosaic law was put away because it could not save. In Hebrews 8 we are told that the Old Covenant under the law of Moses was replaced with a New Covenant in Christ. The New Testament could not be more clear. The law has been done away with by Jesus. “There is a truly a setting aside of the former commandment.” (Hebrews 7:18) The Old Testament law is abolished by Jesus. No one, not even the Jews, are now required to keep the law of Moses because it’s purposes have been fulfilled in Jesus.

Does this mean Christians are not under any law at all? Of course not. The Christian is under Christ’s law. His commandment is simple, “love one another.” (John 13:34) The command to love one another is explained in Romans 13 and James 2 as a keeping of the last six of the ten commandments. Galatians 5 and 1 John 3 describe loving one another as selfless, Spirit-filled living that ministers to those in need. The Christian is under a law. The law of Christ is not the law of Moses but it does shares some commands in common with the Mosaic law. Though there is similarity between the two laws, the Christian must not imagine he is obligated to keep the Mosaic law. The Christian is under obligation to a great law, the law to love God supremely and to love others sacrificially.

Why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

A question came up at church Sunday that offers helpful distinction from the often asked, “Why does God allow evil to continue in this world?” This other question is much more specific and focuses on those who are followers of Christ. A preacher once said to a group of Christians, “You are either facing a trial in your life, just coming out of one or about to go into one.” While such a statement may be overly pessimistic, it does seem to many that following Jesus is the beginning of difficulties, not the end. So why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?

The Bible offers several reasons why Christians must endure intense trials. Contrary to much popular preaching, the Bible never promises the Christian that faith will lead to an easier life. Instead, “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) and “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) The apostle Paul told newly formed churches, “That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Suffering should not surprise anyone, least of all the Christian.

The Christians suffering is never pointless. James says that the trying of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3) Romans says that tribulation produces patience. (Romans 5:3) Second Corinthians says, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Suffering for the Christian always has a good purpose. The New Testament teaches that tribulation is permitted by God to produce Christlikeness in His children and to bring them eternal benefit.

Sometimes God brings suffering on a Christian to chasten them for sin. This chastening is Divine correction that brings punishment on His children for persistent sin. God disciplines His children in the same way loving parents discipline their children. “For who the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6) God does not punish in anger. God does not punish His children because they are irritating Him. God’s brings painful correction for the good of His children. “He (chastened us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. . . afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) The chastening of God is painful, but it is profitable because it produces righteousness in His people.

God also allows suffering in the life of Christians to make them more fruitful. This suffering is not punishment for sin, but preparation for more fruitful service. In John 15 Jesus likens His followers to branches. The fruitless branches will be cut off and the fruitful branches will be pruned so that they will be more fruitful. The fruitful branch does not escape the cutting, but it will not be entirely cut off. Instead, in God’s grace He cuts away much that is unnecessary and hindering the productiveness of the Christian.

The Christian’s suffering is never pointless. Trials in the believer’s life are never an indication that God has forgotten His child or that His love has decreased. The Christian’s suffering is always a part of the gracious working of God to purge from sin and produce greater Christlikeness. Suffering is never fun, but it is always a cause to rejoice.

What does repentance look like?

Repentance is a change of mind and heart that produces a change in behavior. In real life it is not always easy to know when a person is genuinely repentant. In Second Corinthians the apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow may produce a change in actions, but that change will not continue. True repentance will not be repented of. (2 Corinthians 7:10) The chief evidence of genuine repentance is a persistence in forsaking the sinful behavior.

However, everyone falls into sin. Those struggling with addictions or other life controlling sins may find the process of repentance to be full of successes and failures. When someone says they are repentant but then fall back into sin, have they truly repented or not? Are there other characteristics of true repentance that enable a person to distinguish between godly and fleshly repentance?

2 Corinthians 7:11 lists seven characteristics of Godly repentance. Godly repentance produces a carefulness to not return to the sin again. The repentant is not lazy about his transformation. He is diligent and anxious to change. True repentance will not toy with sin. The repentant will set up safeguards and take precautions against falling back into it.

Godly repentance produces a desire to show that sin is being avoided. The repentant will be transparent about his transformation, allowing others to look into his life to see that he has truly turned away from sin.

Godly repentance produces a deep grief over sin. The repentant soul is troubled by the sin they committed. Their sin will not be a source of pride. The repentant will not regale others with stories of his sin. True repentance sees sin as a shameful thing. The repentant is upset by his sin.

Godly repentance produces fear. This fear is a carefulness which is deeply concerned about sin. The repentant one will no longer view their former sin as pet to be pampered, but as a poisonous serpent to be avoided.

Godly repentance produces a strong desire for holiness and righteousness. Godly repentance produces zeal- an intense passion for good. Godly repentance produces a readiness to see justice done. The repentant accepts the consequences of his actions and is anxious to be vindicated from any further association with the sin.

These characteristics of repentance will not always be evident, especially when someone is just beginning to work through the process of repentance. However, if these characteristics do not become evident there is reason to question the validity of a profession of repentance.

Understanding repentance is important so that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we are repentant of sin when we are not. The addict may convince himself he has turned over new leaf, but his habit and his attitude towards his habit show he is still in bondage to his sin. Understanding repentance protects us from bondage to sin and the consequences sin brings. For the unsaved, the consequences of sin will be eternal punishment. For the Christian, the consequences of sin may be the chastening of the Lord or the loss of rewards in heaven. Repentance is not easy, but it is far better to endure the sorrow of repentance than to suffer the sorrow of Divine judgment.

What is love?

With Valentine’s day less than a week away, love is on many minds. Love is a topic of great concern in our culture. Hundreds of songs have been written about love. Love is the subject of hundreds of books, the discussion of philosophers, the study of scientists, the concern of philanthropists and the desire of everyone. The universal fascination with love has produced a myriad of definitions and descriptions of love. From the unclear, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” to the comedic, “Love: a temporary insanity curable by marriage” to the serious, “There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” love has been defined thousands of ways.

The Bible commands Christians to love God and love offers, but it does not give a definition of love. What the Bible gives is numerous examples of love. The most important example being God’s love for fallen humanity. The most important passage describing human love for others is 1 Corinthians 13.

First Corinthians 13 does not define love, but describes fifteen key characteristics of love. A person who is practicing Biblical love endures the wrongs of others against them, is benevolent towards others, does not covet the good others have received, does not boast, is not puffed up with pride, acts appropriately towards others, is not self-seeking, does not have a quick temper, does not keep a record of wrongs done against them, does not delight in sin but delights in truth. The person who practices Biblical love is patient and trusting, he does not lose hope and he does not quit when things are difficult.

Love, like faith, can only be known through actions. A declaration of love that is not joined by loving deeds is not Biblical love. The book of First John insists that love works. Love does not just wish someone well it does well for them. First John also insists that love is sacrificial. Love gives- even at great personal cost. Biblical love imitates the God who loved mankind and gave His life for their salvation. Biblical love is willing to give of itself, even to the point of death. Biblical love gives with no thought of what it will get in return. Biblical love gives even if those being loved do not respond with love or appreciation. “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (2 Corinthians 12:15)

The Biblical description of love and the example of God’s love for humanity leads us to a definition for love. Love is a commitment to do what is best for another person no matter the cost or how they respond. A key component in the Biblical depiction of love is commitment. Biblical love is not an on again/off again feeling. It is a willful mindset that perseveres through negative feelings and difficult times. Biblical love is not devoid of feeling, but it is not defined by feeling. Further, Biblical love is sacrificial in nature. It gives of itself freely for the benefit of others. Love is an unwavering commitment to the good of another.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Are Christians Forbidden to Judge Others?

Possibly the most widely known Bible verse in America is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” The verse is often quoted when one person declares the actions of another to be wrong. Was Jesus saying that no person should ever tell another person they are doing something wrong?

A recent conversation is a good example of how this verse is commonly used. A man claimed to be “a Christ” and then claimed that everyone who believes also become Christs. He was informed that he was not Christ, Jesus is the only Christ and Christhood is not conferred upon any believers. The immediate response was “Judge not.” Many use the verse in the same way in situations where they feel like their decisions or actions are being attacked. The two words are wielded as if they are a magic shield able to deflect every attack, criticism, question, confrontation or uncomfortable conversation.

To bowdlerize the famous words of a Hollywood sage, “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The Bible says, “Judge not.” The Bible also says. “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) “Prove all things.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Each one of those verses requires a judgment that discerns between right and wrong.

If the popular view of Matthew 7:1 were correct, then Jesus Himself would be guilty of violating it’s command. Jesus judged people. He told an adulterous woman to stop sinning. He called religious leaders white washed mausoleums, poisonous serpents and hypocrites. The Apostle Paul judged the Apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11). Paul also judged Alexander, Hymaneus, Philetus, Demas and various other unnamed teachers. Jesus and the Apostles often committed the cardinal sin of the 21st century. They judged people. They did not violate the command of Matthew 7

“Judge not” is a warning to not judge superficial, self-righteous judgment. Jesus condemned the condemnation of others based upon personal preferences and shallow relationships. The self-righteous, malicious condemnation of another person because they do not meet your own opinions of what they should and should not do is forbidden. The irony of the misuse of Matthew 7:1 is the majority of the people who attack others with “Judge not” or its derivatives are disobeying the command of Jesus. They are guilty of condemning the actions of another based upon nothing more than their own personal preferences. The Bible condemns self-righteousness which replaces the Biblical standard for a cultural or personal one. The Bible commands Christians to evaluate the actions, beliefs and motives of ourselves and others according to the standard of the Word of God. Christians are not forbidden to warn others about sin, call a person to repentance or confront a false gospel. They are commanded to do those things.

Why did John the Baptist baptize?

Baptism is a practice familiar to many people today, but it was unknown to the Old Testament Israelites. When John the Baptist began to baptize, he did something different from anything practiced by Jews in Old Testament times. Under the law of Moses the Israelites had regular ritual cleansings, like hand washings and foot washings, but the law gave no instruction for ceremonial bathing or for rituals involving immersion of the entire body.

The Old Testament is silent about baptism, but history gives some insight into when baptism began to first be practiced in Israel. Apparently, the Jews in the time period between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus began to engage in immersion as a form of ceremonial cleansing. This ritual bathing is still practiced by some Jews today as a rite of purification. John the Baptist was not the first to baptize. He appears to have taken the practice and administered it as a sign of repentance among the Israelites.

In Matthew 3 John preached a message of coming judgment. The nation of Israel had been through times of judgment before. The last Divine judgment cut them off as a self-governing nation. From the beginning of the Babylonian captivity all Jews were subjects of other nations. First they were subject to Babylon, then Persia, Greece and finally Rome. Israel suffered six hundred years of subjugation because of their disobedience to God. John’s warning of impending judgment affected many hearts. Those who believed the warning repented of their sin and were baptized. “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Acts 19:4)

John’s baptism was not Christian baptism. John did not baptize those who confessed Jesus as their Savior. John baptized those who were looking forward to the coming Messiah. Jesus is the promised Messiah, but when John’s ministry began very few people in Israel knew this fact. John preached that the Messiah was coming, but did not point Jesus out as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” until Jesus began his public ministry. John’s baptism was given in preparation to receive the Messiah.

John’s baptism was also directly related to his ministry as the forerunner of Christ. John’s baptism was a picture that pointed the Jews to the greater work Christ would do for those who believe. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

John’s baptism did not bring salvation to anyone. It was a sign of repentance and of readiness to receive the coming Savior. John’s baptism also provided an important transition to the practice of baptism in the church. The baptism administered by John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christian baptism that today testifies of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for our sin. The baptism of John the Baptist was a testimony of readiness to receive the Messiah. Christian baptism is a testimony of having received Jesus

Did Jesus promise to answer every prayer?

“If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:14 seems like a very straightforward promise. Anything you ask for, Jesus will do. Did Jesus give a blanket promise to do everything that people pray for? Any one who has done much praying knows we do not always get what we ask God to give. Does God not keep His promises or is there something else in John 14:14 that shapes the nature of the promise?

The overlooked phrase is one of the most important of the verse. Jesus said if you pray “In my name.” That is much more than ending prayer with, “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.” Doing anything in the name of someone means acting as an official representative of that person. John MacArthur says that praying in Jesus name is asking for things that are consistent with who He is and asking for what Jesus would want. In other words, praying in Jesus’ name is praying selflessly for the will of God. Jesus will not answer the adulterer’s prayer for another partner. The person praying selfishly for a brand new sports car is not promised to have his prayers answered.

The book of 1 John spends a lot of time discussing certain key aspects from the Upper Room discourse, including John 14. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The book of 1 John says the condition of answered prayer is asking according to the will of Jesus. Praying in Jesus’ name is asking in earnest desire for His will to be accomplished. It is not saying, “God I really want this, but if it’s not your will I really wish you would make it your will.” Asking in Jesus name genuinely desires the accomplishment of His will. It is saying, “God I would like this, but what I really want is your will to be done, your kingdom to be increased and your glory to be revealed.” When we pray this way, we know He will give us what we ask for. The remarkable testimony of those who have learned to pray this way is that when we learn to ask for what God wants then we find God is incredibly generous to His people.

This does not mean we cannot pray for things that we do not know if they are His will. We can ask or healing, a job, a spouse and many other things that we cannot know for certain if we are praying according to the will of God. In those situations where we do not know the will of God, we pray making our desires known and also knowingly submitting our desires to the will of God. We bow before God to ask His favor. We specify what we would like to receive of Him while confessing that we trust Him to do what is right and best. We confess we trust God if it is something different than what we requested. The promise of God is we will have what is good for us and what is in accord with the character and plan of God.

This principle of praying in Jesus’ name finds its Old Testament parallel in Psalm 37:4, Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”