We Christians get caught up in a variety of ideas, causes and activities, some of which actually reflect Biblical principles. And honestly, the busy pace of 21st Century western culture brings its own distractions, so that we often have little time for spiritual nourishment. I confess to occasionally rushing through my personal Bible study times so that I can read blogs about popular evangelical trends that challenge the sufficiency of Scripture and/or present a compromised Gospel. (Don’t try this at home.)
Busyness, and I think especially church-related busyness, can often numb us to the very Gospel we claim to believe. Additionally, the secondary and tertiary doctrines, as important as they are, can displace the basic Gospel.
I worked in full-time ministry for 12 years, plus engaging in drama ministry, youth group and teaching Sunday School (among other things) before, during and after that 12-year period. I never actually rejected the Gospel message in the midst of all my ministry, but I ignored it and sometimes misapplied it to temporal matters.
The Lord, in His gentleness and forbearance, permitted me to neglect the Gospel for a number of years, but finally He woke me up to its importance. On September 9, 2001, I returned home from a friend’s 50th birthday party to learn that one of my mom’s closest friends had died unexpectedly. To the best of my knowledge, the lady didn’t have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (only God really knows), which of course would mean she went to hell.
The next morning, in talking to a friend at church about it, I admitted that I hadn’t thought about hell much in years. Since no one else in my family knew Christ, I’d gotten to the point of not praying for their salvations so that I could avoid thinking of hell. By extension, I also rarely thought about the Gospel.
Yet without the Gospel, Christianity has no point. Using Jesus as a means of financial prosperity and physical health, a wellspring of emotional fulfillment or aid to behavior modification misses the whole reason for His death, burial and resurrection. Paul made it clear, however, that Christ’s death for sinners and His resurrection constitute the very core of the Gospel.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~~1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)
To understand why Christ died for our sins, of course, we obviously need to first understand that those sins condemn us to eternity in hell. We simply can’t appreciate His death of atonement unless He opens our eyes to see how desperately we need that atonement. The Gospel can’t be good news until we acknowledge the bad news.
I don’t believe that I was a false convert during those years I’d been distracted from the heart of the Gospel, but now I pay more attention to the significance of Christ’s death on the cross. The events of that terrible day, when the Creator of the Universe voluntarily suffered and bled and died to accept the punishment for my sins, changed my life so radically that I can no longer keep from talking about their effect. Not that Christ’s death inspires me to avoid sin (although it does), or that He makes me a “better” person (although He gives me His righteousness). My response to His crucifixion must never take center stage.
Jesus’ death accomplished the transformation in my life. Even my ability to trust that His blood atoned for my sin comes as a precious gift from Him!
Paul’s letter to the Colossians best explains the power of what Jesus did on that Friday that He took my place on that hideous Roman cross. Read this passage carefully, asking the Holy Spirit if you have applied this glorious transaction that annuls your debt to the Holy God.
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. ~~Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)
I know that my debt of sin went far deeper than I could ever begin to imagine. They rendered me dead in this present life, and assured me of eternal damnation upon the Last Judgment. But the Lord, Who rose from the dead, paid my debt as He shed His blood on the cross! He did so much more than inspire me to behave in accordance with His Holy standard; He actually assumed full responsibility for my sin so that He could declare me righteous.
The Gospel should never be buried under other doctrines, ministry activities, or the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life. In fact, all of Christian life absolutely depends on the Gospel! Some aspects of it cause pain, certainly, but that very pain enables us to joyfully embrace His wonderful blessing of salvation.