The Strength and Simplicity of the ( fulfilled ) Gospel Message
I think that the strength of the Gospel message is, first and foremost; it's simplicity: Believe and receive! Sounds simple enough; does it not? But wait: it gets even better!
Probably THE most familiar verse that people use for evangelistic purposes is John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This is probably also one of the most misused and misquoted verses in the Gospels! How is it misused; you may ask? First of all, Jesus told Nicodemus ( I assume that He was still speaking with just Nicodemus ) that 'whoever believes' would inherit eternal life, right? This verse is most often used to convey the idea that it is ALL dependent upon our choice ( true, to a point ); IF only we would believe, then our belief would make the love of God, for which cause He sent His Son to die on the cross ( for the ( whole ) world ), effectual ( for us? )!
The first problem that we should see with this idea, is found in the Old Testament Scriptures, or rather, the Old Covenant Scriptures; in Jeremiah 17:9:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?
This is also a well known and oft-quoted ( not as often as it used to be, I think ) verse, and, in context, is speaking of the vanity of the man who trusts in his own worthiness to accomplish his own deliverance, or salvation! Now, I know that in the immediate context, Jeremiah is speaking to his own people, the Israelites, but I think that, as typical of men, as a whole, this applies to un-believers today as well as yesterday.
One of my favorite passages pertaining to this subject ( the 'heart' of salvation, you might say ), is Ezekiel 36:25-27, but for our purpose here, I'll only quote verse 26:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Two things immediately jump to attention here: first, 'I ( God ) will' is a statement that is most prevalent throughout; and two, this passage speaks of the need of a new heart, a heart of flesh that is pliable, able to be shaped by ( God's ) hand, rather than a hardened heart of stone that is not open to outside ( God's ) influence, and only able to be broken, or crushed in His judgment ( Romans 9:22, James 2:12 )!
The second problem that should immediately jump to our attention is also found in the Old Covenant Scriptures, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 11;
'So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return void, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it”.
(Another reading of this passage might be; “So shall My Son do, that I send forth; He shall not return to Me empty, but shall fulfill the Purpose for which I send Him.” )
The problem, which I have outlined in these two passages, is this: since God must first grant us the 'new heart', which He told Old Covenant Israel through Ezekiel; 'I will', and since He sent forth His Word ( John 1:1-3 ), which will not return to Him void, or emptily/ineffectually: IF indeed, as some would posit; God's Word DOES return void for those who choose NOT to accept, or receive His wondrous Gift; we have a problem, and a very serious one at that, for we have called God a liar and His Word is not in us! ( I John 1:10 )
Now an argument that I've heard, with which some suppose to lessen the effect of Christ's sacrificial work of atonement and redemption on the cross, is “Christ came to die for sin”, which is true enough, I suppose; but that's a very vague statement, because God told Matthew to pen these words, in Matthew 1:21;
And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sin.”
Is it unreasonable to assume that 'His people' of Matthew 1:21 and 'the world' of John 3:16 are both speaking of the same people: are Matthew 1:21 and John 3:16 contradictory? God forbid!
I said before, that John 3:16 is also miserably misquoted often, by taking passages like Revelation 22:17 ( 'whoever desires, let him take of the Water of Life freely' ), and transcribing that, over passages like John 3:16, etc.
So; one might now be thinking, “What does this have to do with that?”, or, “What do all these reasonings have to do with the title that he's given to his paper?” Well; I'll tell you! If John 3:16 ( for example ) is telling us that God loved everybody in the whole wide world ( individually ) so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for their sins ( meanwhile; in His omniscience knowing that some would reject Him, thus making His precious blood-sacrifice ineffectual for them ); that whoever chose to believe in Him, would not perish, but have eternal, everlasting life; then we not only have a simplistic Gospel: we have a very simplistic view of God, and the Love which He showed us in sending His Son to save HIS PEOPLE from their sins! If the aforementioned explanation is true; then we have a God who is impotent to effectually save us from our sins UNLESS we will believe in Him!
Here; I think, is a much simpler ( and plainer ) explanation of John 3:16, in the context of passages like Matthew 1:21:
“ For God so loved the world ( His people-Matthew 1:21 ) that He gave His only begotten Son ( Jesus ), that whoever ( 'His people'-Matthew 1:21, 'My sheep'-John 10:27 ) believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life ( eternal life-John 10:28 ).”
I think that the biggest mistake that some people make, is to look at passages like John 3:16, and, not only pull them out of their context ( the context of Scripture-comparing Scripture with Scripture ), but they attach a 21st century, English meaning to it!
By reading ( out of context ) passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world........”, one could easily assume that God DID send His Son to shed His precious blood for the sins of every individual person on planet earth, but when read in context with passages like Luke 1:21 and John 10:27 ( for instance ), we plainly see that God did not send Him for the purpose of dieing for EVERYONE'S sins, but only for those of His people, or His sheep, especially when read in the light of Isaiah 55:11!
When I speak of simplicity being the strength of the Gospel message; I'm not talking so much of the plainness of the message, but of the simplicity which is inherent in the Gospel.
He says, in Micah 6:8;
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.”
Compare this with Hosea 6:6;
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Compare this again, with Christ's words to the Pharisees, in Matthew 12:7;
“But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice', you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
Compare this once again with His words in Matthew 23:23 ( also to the Pharisees );
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Yes; it is important that we make the right choice, as Joshua said, in Joshua 24:14 and 15;
“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
As Jesus said, in Matthew 23:13; it is MORE important that we serve Him, as Joshua also said, by dispensing justice and mercy to our brother, thus proving, or showing our faith in and commitment to Him! Jesus told them ( and tells us ) that these things ( justice, mercy, and a saving knowledge of God ) are the weightier matters of the Law, rather than 'simply', or woodenly, obeying it's plain precepts! Now, this may not sound like such a simple thing to do ( show justice and mercy to our brother ), sometimes; but I find simplicity ( and comfort ) in the fact that God gives us, through the 'new heart' that He promised in Ezekiel, the ability to choose the right, to show mercy toward our brother, and to know Him; but also in the fact that He promises, in Ezekiel 36 that “I will”, and also, in speaking of this New Covenant; in Jeremiah 31:31-34:
'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-not according to the covenant which I made with your fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts: and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord', for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Here again, we should notice the prevalence of the 'I will' statement, thus putting it ALL on God, and off of our ( rather their ) feeble shoulders,and not to say that we shouldn't strive to show mercy and justice to our brother; but God has forgiven our sins, and forgotten our iniquities; that we might be free to show justice and mercy to our brother, for we are recipients of His great Justice and Mercy ( I John 4:19, Matthew 6:12 )!
The simplicity of this message is also that we have God's perfect law written in our minds ( consciences ) and on our hearts, rather than on tablets of stone ( or on scrolls of papyrus-as the case may be ) which are rigid, and immovable. The simple fact that, in the New Covenant; God, rather than the law written in stone, and certain men-even ourselves, is our Teacher: should be of the greatest comfort to us; Jesus said, in John 6:45;
“It is written in the Prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God'. Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
The prophetic utterance that Jesus spoke of is in Isaiah 54:13, where God spoke these words concerning the inhabitants, or inheritors, of the New Covenant;
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.”
No longer 'must' we worry about obeying every precept, following every 'jot and tittle', and teaching our brother to do the same. Christ did it all for us! He fulfilled the 'handwriting of requirements' that was set in stone; that He might become for us the 'law written in our hearts'! In John 13:34, Jesus gave us a new commandment;
“A new command I give you, that you love one another; As I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
John further writes, in I John 3:14;
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.”
He tells us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God; that, not only does our love for the brethren show us that God has forgiven our iniquities and forgotten our sin, it also shows us proof that we are saved! How simple is that?!
I mentioned previously how some people attach a 21st century English ( or American ) meaning to passages like John 3:16. What I meant by that, is that some forget the fact that, not only were these words penned centuries, even millennia ago; but that they were originally penned in the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic languages, to a Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew audience! Others might call this 'audience relevance'. Although this is not to say that these Scriptures are not somehow applicable for 'us' today, I think we can safely say that the hope that Jesus gave His contemporaries in passages like Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Revelation 1:1-3, 22:6,7,12, and 20, were realized by His generation ( else, as above; we make Him a liar ), and are for us in the sense that we can have a greater peace knowing ( realizing ) that our salvation is complete!
Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, penned these words, in the context of the more immediate command to love each other;
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed”
The writer to the Hebrews corroborates this, in Hebrews 9:28;
“So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”
To get to the point of what I am saying: if the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul said, “ was preached to every creature under heaven”, thus fulfilling Jesus' words in Matthew 24:14;
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world, as a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”:
has NOT been fulfilled ( ie., Christ has not fulfilled His promises yet ); then we still await our full redemption and salvation! Now; wouldn't it just be simpler ( and a whole lot easier, theologically speaking ) to believe that Christ did what He said, when He said He would; rather than trying to apply all those promises to some future generation, thus implying that Christ, John, Paul and the apostles were all wrong, or simply mistaken about these things; or coming up with ( wrangling ) a whole system of theology to try to prove that He really didn't mean what He said ( audience relevance )?
As always, I recommend ( plead with you, really ) that you not simply take my word for it, but that you be a Berean, and 'search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things are so'!
In His ( fulfilled ) Kingdom,
and to His Glory,