Have We Believed a “Different Gospel”?

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Paradigm shifts are life-altering, mind-changing ideas of which we are unaware when we are experiencing them. In my spiritual autobiography, Waiting for the City,  I realized when I wrote the book the Lord has taken me through ten of those during my lifetime. Last week I shared one of those paradigm shifts in my blog posting, which happened to be an indispensable foundation stone for what I believe is the biblical view of the kingdom edge of the sword of the word of God—postmillennialism. 

This week I would like to share another such paradigm shift in my life, this time concerning the other edge of the sword, the gospel. “What can change about the gospel,” you may ask. “Jesus died for our sins, bringing us forgiveness and eternal life when we accept Him as our Savior. So? What can change about that?”

And you would be right. This is knowing the gospel intellectually (oida) “by observation” of what the Bible teaches it is. However, knowing” the gospel with my heart (ginosko) is a completely different way to “know” and opens up a whole new world. In a real sense, one could say this way of knowing represents a brand new gospel. 

For example, the gospel is not only WHAT I think about Jesus and salvation, but HOW I think about them as well. Since the Fall, we have all been programmed to think in one way—according to our addiction to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that we inherited from Adam. We always evaluate everything we do, naturally, spontaneously, and  unconsciously, by asking ourselves “Is it good or is it bad?” “Is it right or is it wrong?” “ Should I or should I not?”  We are addicted to “good” performance and we don’t even know it!

“What’s wrong with that?” you may be thinking. “That’s just living the Christian life!” That would have been the response of the 28 year old campus evangelist in January of 1967 who attended a meeting of the five campus leaders of the nation-wide evangelistic organization in which he worked. The field-coordinator of the group (Jon) entered the room with this statement: “Guys, listen to this verse” and then shared a Bible verse with this little group that changed the life of one of them forever. That young evangelist was Robert Andrews. Here is the verse, followed by Jon’s comment:

“For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Romans 7:5). “Guys, don’t you see what we are doing? We are killing our new converts!” 

I saw it in a flash. Jon was right. When we witnessed to students on campus, and our prescribed method to get them to pray with us to “invite Jesus into my heart” was successful, and they did so, we would immediately give them “follow-up.” This included “assurance of salvation” and making an appointment to meet with them again in a week. Most of them were genuinely sincere and eager to meet again.

At that second meeting we would  introduce them to our “five-finger” program, a method for them to grow as a Christian: 1. Bible study (getting them started in our beginner’s Bible study booklets), 2. Daily prayer time (setting a time to be faithful to pray every day)  3. Fellowship with other believers (come to our weekly “College Life” meeting on campus where the whole campus ministry came together to sing and hear a message). 4.Obey the law of God (as a Christian, you now must start trying to be obedient to God’s law). 5. Witness to others (“When we meet again next week, bring your roommate along and I‘ll share with him what I have told you”). 

This was all meticulously thought out, organized, and packaged, along with creative ways to make the initial contacts. It was easy to master for young, inexperienced staff members, and was unprecedented in its success. Literally thousands of college students “prayed the prayer” with our staff members, and many of them actually started their Christian journey as they did so. My seven years in this organization were invaluable in the beginning of my subsequent “Journey to the City.” 

However, Jon was right. We were inadvertently “killing our new converts” with a gospel that reduced Christianity to a series of buttons to push, levers to pull and lists to follow, all to feed our addiction to being good, growing, and getting more holy by climbing the ladder of performance to get as close as possible to the top rung, which was perfection.  This is living by the law, and as Jon said, it will indeed kill you: “Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter (the law) but of the Spirit; for the letter (of the law) kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). 

The gospel of the grace of God, however, is not keeping the law of God; it is the opposite. The law tells us what God demands we do; the gospel is what God Himself has already done because we all fail miserably at doing what He demands! They’re like two fraternal twins, with two completely opposite personalities and two exactly opposite but extremely necessary assignments that God has given them to do in our lives. 

Next week we will investigate how our open hearts of faith release both twins to do their work in us. When they do, we lay aside the different gospel of performance and embrace the true gospel of the grace of God, that makes us dangerous warriors—naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously (NSU)—of whom Satan is deathly afraid!

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