The Offensive Gospel

It’s hazardous to preach the Gospel these days, as any offense made in our culture of “openness and toleration” will eventually get you canceled. We see this happening where Pastors are imprisoned for preaching the Word of God, calling all sinners (including those caught in sexual sin) to the grace of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. We read of people being silenced on Social Media for holding to Biblical teaching on morality and decency, while pornographic messages are freely displayed and celebrated. Faithfulness to the Gospel will win you no friends in this world today.

But this cancellation doesn’t necessarily come from those outside the Church. Preach the Gospel faithfully, consistently, and boldly, and there will even be some within the pews that will not like what they hear, and will either leave or work to push the pastor out the doors. The Gospel, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians is folly to those who are perishing.

On this note I wanted to share something that I read in D. Lloyd-Jones’ message on Romans 1:16-17 on the Gospel of God. Lloyd-Jones writes,

The gospel of Jesus Christ is always offensive to the natural man. If you find the natural, unregenerate man praising either the preacher or his message then, I say, you had better examine that preaching and that preacher very carefully. There are many ways in which we gospel is presented which are not offensive. Have we not read or heard sermons from those who depict Christ as a great hero and example? No one has ever been offended by that; in fact the world likes it. You present Christ as a great exemplar, and people will say, “That’s fine, that is marvelous.” What they are really saying is this: “Now I am going to follow Him; I am going to be like that. I can, of course! I have simply to make the effort.” There he I, rise up and go after Him. And the people are ready to do it because they think they are capable of doing it. When you tell them that He is One whom they cannot imitate, that He condemns all, then they will begin to show their teeth and hate your for it; but present Him as a hero, it will not annoy them.

Or again, take Christ’s teaching. The teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is presented by some people as the most beautiful teaching in the world. The world likes it for that reason; it believes that it can take it up and put it into practice. But when the Sermon on the Mount is truly preached, when a man begins to know that it is to be “pour in spirit” and to “mourn,” and to have a “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” when he faces the real spiritual exposition of the law, he hates it because it condemns him; he does not want to feel “poor in spirit.” If we preach the gospel as beautiful teaching it will never annoy; it will never hurt.

Or how often is the Lord Jesus Christ presented as someone who can help us with our problems? “Are you in trouble? Is some sin getting you down? He is waiting for you, and He will take all your troubles away.” That never offends anybody. Such a “gospel” cannot offend people, because they are in trouble and they want help, and here is someone who is ready to help them at any moment. They only have to come to Him and He will do everything for them. Oh, how often has the Christ, the Son of God, been preached as if He were but a super-psychologist, who can help people to resolve their difficulties and to solve their problems and put everything right, and make them happy once and for ever! That does not offend anybody.

Do you know it is possible to preach the cross of Christ in a way that makes people applaud it? It is possible to preach it in such a way that it does not offend anybody. When the cross is truly preached it is a stumblingblock to Jews; it is folly to the Greeks. They hate it. It is an offense. And it is an offense to the natural man today.

The offense of the cross is this – that I am so condemned and so lost and so hopeless that if He, if Jesus Christ, had not died for me, I would never know God, and I could never be forgiven. And that hurts; that annoys; that tells me I am hopeless, that I am vile, that I am useless; and as a natural man I do not like it.

D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 1, The Gospel of God. (The Banner of Truth Trust; 2020) Pages 26264-266.

What we have to come to terms with is the humbling, wounding, offensive reality of the Gospel. We must come to see it as God’s merciful truth, painful though it may be. Only then can we understand the fact that, though I am hopeless, vile, useless before God in my sins, God has laid upon Christ my sin so that through faith in Him I have forgiveness and peace.

Though the world will certainly block their ears and cover their eyes, though the Church will certainly face growing tribulation because of it, we must never be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is an offense to the natural man, but there is no shame in it, for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

SDG

Church Health Check

I have recently finished reading Harry Reeder’s “From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church,” and I wholeheartedly recommendembers it to you. Reeder has served as a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, a seminary teacher, and a conference speaker, specializing in church revitalization.

 

Church revitalization is a necessary ministry, but one that is often overlooked.  We spend a lot of time and energy on planting new churches and on moderating fighting churches, but very little time or attention is ever given to the longstanding church that seems to find itself unable to grow.  “Embers to a Flame,” doesn’t offer a program to launch church growth, but brings the church back to its foundations to fan the ember to a flame.

Reeder presents 10 strategies for revitalization:

  1. Connect to the Past: Learning from the Past without Living in the Past
  2. A Call to Repentance: Cover Up or ‘Fess Up
  3. Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered Ministry: The First of the First Things
  4. Personal Gospel Formation: The Discipline of Grace
  5. The Priority of Intercessory Prayer: The Ministry of Prayer
  6. The Primacy of Preaching: The Ministry of the Word
  7. Staying on Mission with a Vision: Simplicity in Focus in a Day of Complexity and Chaos
  8. Servant Leadership Multiplication: An Effective Yet Neglected Strategy for Church vitality
  9. Small-Group Discipleship: The Biblical Delivery System for Effective Discipleship
  10. A Great Commitment to the Great Commission: The W.E.L.L. Church.

What I thought I’d share here is a brief overview of the wellness check of the Church. If you see your church in this, perhaps it’s time to pray for and work toward revitalization. Here are some of the symptoms of a sick church:

A Focus on Programs – Dying churches tend to be focused on programs, pinning their hope for success on the latest organized ministry for pre-packaged church-growth plan.

Nostalgia and Tradition – Dying churches are often living in the past… People are hoping that the pastor will move the church backward, to recapture the “glory days.”

A Maintenance Mentality – Hoping to just hold on, replacing the people they lost just so they can meet budget. They are merely polishing a monument rather than building a movement of God’s grace.

Distraction from the Gospel – Churches have grown ineffective in reaching the world around them because they have lost sight of the centrality of God’s grace. Something else has become more important than living according to the gospel and sharing it with others.

Do you see these symptoms in your church? How can you address these problems? If these are the problems your church faces, what is the solution?

I encourage you to get a copy of “Embers to a Flame” and see how revitalization is possible, and let us pray and work to that end.