Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Gospel that is Not.

This week I had the opportunity to do a guest post on It had to be edited down for the sake of space. This is the extended version of that post.

We live in a time in history where, more than ever, it seems that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is assumed. We Christians pay so much attention to what we need to do for God and do not put nearly enough emphasis on what Jesus has already done on our behalf. Therefore, in the church today we often move beyond the gospel and turn instead to what Christian Smith has termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. In its basic form, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” says to try harder, be better, pick yourself up from your bootstraps, and use God as an enhancement tool towards living a better life. We prefer to see Jesus as our life coach who helps us be better people, rather than the Savior who saves wicked wretched sinners by doing something for us that we could not do for ourselves. So rather than motivating people with grace, we motivate them with works. Even if we ourselves think that we understand the gospel, when we assume that our congregations, small groups, and friends understand grace and therefore skip right past it and go straight to application, then we are still motivating them by works and not the gospel. MTD is a subtle heresy that plagues the church of Jesus Christ.

Many of us have experienced this- a church where the gospel was not taught. I have seen countless kids grow up in the church and go through youth group, hearing so many rules and commands without hearing the explicit motivation and reason behind the commands. Christianity becomes “being a good person who follows the rules”. Topical sermons are preached on money, marriage, and relationships, but Jesus is completely absent from them. This breeds Christians who try really hard to be a good person and follow all the rules. When we succeed, we become full of pride and look down upon those people who are not doing as well. But when we fail, stumble, are struck by tragedy, dominated by habitual sin, or are crushed by life’s circumstances, we become angry and bitter with God because he is not treating us fairly for our good works and giving us what we “deserve”—failing to realize that apart from Christ, what we really deserve is eternal separation and torment. So we either try even harder to be better, or we despair and give up all together. We leave the church without ever experiencing a true relationship with Christ.

Whether it is from the pulpit, from across the coffee table, or in the mirror, we must always remember and proclaim what Christ has done for sinners. When the Gospel is not explicit, we will all turn to MTD.

Those who want to motivate us solely to good works, not done in light of the gospel, are using works-driven obedience rather than grace-driven obedience. Preachers, Teachers, Mentors, Evangelists, Christians—give the people you minister the GOSPEL.

A few examples from Scripture:

In Deuteronomy, the Lord has just brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, and has given the gift of the law to set them apart from all other nations and to show them how to live as God’s people. Over and over in this book, we see the repeated idea of “remember”.  The Lord does not want his people to forget where they have come from and what He has done for them. Their motivation for obeying the law comes from a remembrance of what God has done for them. When giving the Ten Commandments, God declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt” - reminding them first of his amazing, gracious, and saving character.  Why? So that their heart motivation is in the right spot before they ever attempt to keep his commandments.

As another example, in John 8, Jesus’ command to the women caught in adultery comes after the grace that he gives to her. He doesn’t forgive her conditionally based on her promise of better behavior, but instead her motivation for behaving better comes from the free, unmerited gift of grace that he gives her. She is not obligated to live this way so that God will love her, but she is free to live righteously because God has already loved her. (for more thoughts on John 8 read my blog (

Are you with me?

In Ephesians 3, Paul has a beautiful prayer for the believers. Those in the Ephesian church were mostly Gentiles, new Christians coming out of a culture where sex and sensual pleasure played a vital role in worship, including temple prostitution and cults that were violent, orgiastic and ecstatic. To consider nothing wrong was the highest form of religious devotion among them- this isthe lifestyle these people are coming out of, and probably still struggling with. If there was any church that seemed like it needed the most “behavior control”, it was these guys. Yet check out what Paul prays for them:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.... that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:14–19

Do you see what Paul just did? He didn’t pray that they would try harder to be better people, but he instead prays that they can BELIEVE better. Only in understanding the love of Christ can we truly be motivated in our hearts to be harsh with sin and kill it.

Christian: God has done something in Christ that you could not do for yourself. While you were dead in your sin, rebellion, shame and depravity, He sought you, pursued, lived the life you did not live, died the death you should have died, and he gives you the gift that you could never earn. While you were still spitting in his face by either your lawlessness or “good works”, he died in your place for your sin. While you were unlovable, he loved you. While you were unclean, he made you clean. While you have sin, he gives you his righteousness. This is good news. This is the gospel.

So in light of this amazing, marvelous good news, what are you going to do about it?

Let’s start by preaching Christ crucified and not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism- the gospel that is not.