I once heard a preacher say. “80 to 90% of Christians are unacquainted with the gospel of grace.” That estimate is probably not far off the mark as evidenced by the large numbers of believers who are still trying to earn what God has freely given them. If you were to ask these people about grace they would declare, “Yes, I am saved by grace! I thank God for His grace!” But by their works they testify that God’s grace is still not enough. Grace may have gotten them started, but now it’s up to them to finish. Having begun with the Spirit they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort (Gal 3:3). Instead of working out what it means to be saved, they are working hard to stay saved.
How does this happen? Usually someone tells them that God won’t accept them or bless them or be pleased with them unless they perform for Jesus. Dead religious works are sold in every religious marketplace with respectable labels like “responsibility,” “good works,” “mission,” “sowing,” and “investing.” I am not against any of those things! What I am opposed to is the diabolical lie that says God’s favor depends on me doing them.
Do you know that you are saved by grace and kept by grace? “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.” (Col 2:6) How did you receive Him? By faith! How should you continue to live in Him? By faith! It’s faith in God’s grace from start to finish. Are you living by the faith of the Son of God? Or have you taken out a little works insurance? “…the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2:20-21. As Watchman Nee put it, the choice is between trying and trusting. You can try or you can trust but you can’t do both. So, are you a tryer or a truster?
A couple of years ago, I read a simple test to help us determine whether the gospel message we’re trusting in is the same gospel that Jesus revealed and Paul preached. It’s a simple test. Just ask yourself the following four questions. If your answers are all yes, then rejoice, for you are living on pure, undiluted grace!
1. Does this gospel cause me to fix my eyes exclusively on Jesus?
Does this message focus on me or does it cause me to fix my eyes on the Author and Finisher of my faith? Does it emphasize what I’m doing (or not doing), or does it emphasize His finished work on the cross? Does it make me introspective and anxious or Christ-conscious and grateful?
The true gospel will always seek to reveal more and more of Jesus. It took me years to realize this. When I began preaching in the 1970s, I preached the message of faith and all its benefits – if we build enough of it and use it properly (whatever that means). In the 1990’s I began to preach on the kingdom. I loved the kingdom and I still do. But I now realize that my love for the kingdom was really a love for the King. Now I just preach of this Great King who loves me and gave Himself for me. Now I just preach Jesus.
If you are a preacher and you need a message on healing? Then preach Jesus! Do you need a series on overcoming, giving, wisdom, holiness, faith, warfare, marriage, family life, outreach, helping the poor, deliverance, Leviticus, the Tabernacle, etc.? Then preach Jesus!
Whatever your need, your answer is found in Jesus and His finished work. That’s why Paul resolved to know nothing but “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Any message that doesn’t reveal Jesus will likely be a powerless substitute, a flesh-trip, and a wasted opportunity. Jesus is the supreme manifestation of the character and purpose of God. Any message that diminishes Jesus, insults the Spirit of grace. Jesus is peerless and nothing compares to Him. He has become for us wisdom from God and I will boast (preach) of nothing else (1 Cor 1:30-31).
2. Does this gospel increase my dependence on Jesus?
Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Sadly, much is being done apart from Jesus and most of it will amount to nothing! Instead of healing the sick, raising the dead and driving out demons – the very things Jesus said His followers would do – we’re doing other stuff. And because we’re so busy doing other stuff we’re worn out and missing opportunities to do the works and greater works of Jesus.
Let me put your mind at rest right now: I guarantee that in your own strength you cannot heal the sick and raise the dead. Don’t even try. But Christ in you can do these and greater things! Do you trust Him? Working out your salvation with fear and trembling describes the adventure of learning to do impossible things with Jesus. Here’s the test: The true gospel will always inspire you to take risks in His Name, but a false gospel promotes activity in your own name.
3. Does this gospel empower me to overcome sin?
There are two ways to deal with sin; (1) preach law or (2) reveal grace. A law-based message will stir up the flesh in a human-powered quest for a change in behavior. This approach is inherently flawed – for the purpose of the law is to inflame sin (Rom 7:5). Thus, any “success” with this approach will only lead to the graver sins of pride, self-righteousness, and the truly fatal sin of unbelief in the grace of a good God. Ultimately the law is powerless to deal with sin because it leaves the heart untouched (Col 2:23). Worse, it releases condemnation (which some mistake for conviction) and ministers death, just as it was designed to do (2 Cor 3:7,9).
Grace declares that Jesus conquered all sin on the cross (Heb 9:26). You are not holy because of your behavior but because of His (1 Cor 1:30). A preacher of grace will deal very practically with sin by seeking to reveal your true identity in Christ. You are a new creation with a new nature. Your old sin software has been nailed to the cross and you are no longer sin’s slave (Rom 6:6,20). Appetites are dealt with by recognizing who you are in Christ and reckoning your old self as dead. Again, the focus is on Jesus, not you. Jesus was tempted in every way yet was without sin. As you rest in Him, you will find grace to help you in your time of need (Heb 4:15-16).
The law does not provide useful guidelines for Christian living. We turn rules into idols when we put our faith in them instead of Christ. The Bible is very clear; the law empowers sin (1 Cor 15:56) and only a revelation of God’s grace can teach us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:12). Here’s the test: a false gospel will keep you sin-conscious, but the true gospel will make you Christ-conscious. Which describes you? Are you sin-conscious or Christ-conscious?
4. Does this gospel release peace and joy?
The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). If the gospel you’re listening to doesn’t reveal Jesus and the gift of His righteousness, then you will never experience the peace and joy that comes with it. It really is all about Jesus. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). This is what the gospel reveals: a righteousness that is from God and that is received by faith from first to last (Rom 1:17). When you know that God has made you as righteous as Jesus, you will be empowered to reign in life (Rom 5:17).
This test is actually about righteousness: Are you resting in His or are you trying to impress Him with yours? A false gospel will seek to manufacture righteousness through works and holy living. By prescribing a course of action for you to take, it will instantly fail the above three tests. It will burden you with loads you cannot carry and expectations you cannot live up to. Before you know it, you will be as stressed and joyless as Martha.
Here’s the test. If you stopped doing the things you are doing for Jesus, would you feel guilty? What if you sinned, stopped giving, or skipped church? I’m not encouraging you to do any of these things – sin is stupid. But someone who knows they are clothed with His righteousness will never battle guilt and condemnation. Even when they sin they will sense the Holy Spirit convicting them of their continued righteousness in Christ (John 16:10). Conversely, one who’s bought into a false gospel will never know lasting peace. Even when they have performed there will always be a sense of “but have I done enough?”
Paul began every one of his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father.” It is only a revelation of God’s favor that brings true peace. Know grace, know peace. Worldly peace is temporary, but the peace of God – that sense that everything is coming together for good because you belong to Jesus and His favor rests on you – passes understanding (Phil 4:7). It fortifies your heart and mind so that in all circumstances you find yourself overflowing with thankfulness (Col 2:7). No matter how severe your trial, you will be able to find rest – indeed, even joy – in His mighty, loving arms (Phil 4:4).
So how did your gospel do? If you honestly answered no to any of these four questions, then I have Good News for you…