As I have preached what I believe to be the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, it has not always produced a positive response, even among committed Christians. As a matter of fact, as I have come to understand more clearly the grace of God extended to mankind through the cross and resurrection and therefore expressed it more clearly in my preaching in recent years, there has often been more resistance to this message than there has been enthusiasm.
I have asked myself why this has been the case. Sometimes I’ve been aware that it has been my own sin that has hindered those who have heard; I know that my pride and arrogance erects barriers that limit the effectiveness of the message. But even after recognizing this besetting sin and repenting openly when I am aware of its presence in my life, there is still resistance. This had been a source of gnawing fear just below the surface of my consciousness for some time.
If a majority of sincerely committed Christians respond negatively to a message preached by a repentant preacher, isn’t there something wrong with the message? Though a majority vote does not determine truth, if one is preaching something most other preachers don’t seem to be preaching, then what one is preaching is probably not true, because there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). However, I was sure that the gospel I was presenting was not only life-changing for me but many others who heard it were similarly affected. More importantly, I could see that it was solidly biblical.
As I have read the theology of the Reformation over the past several years, particularly the writings of and about Martin Luther, my fears have been alleviated. The gospel of complete salvation in all its aspects, totally by the grace of God through faith, without any help from us, is the gospel that was preached by Luther—the gospel that changed the face of Europe in the 16th century and eventually led to the founding of our country.
Why then does this gospel create such controversy even among Christians? Why do so many Christians get angry when they hear it? In 1 Corinthians 1:23 Paul says “(W)e preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block (Gk., skandalon, i.e., a scandal) and to the Greeks foolishness.” In other words, the religious people of Paul’s day, the Jews, were scandalized, or offended, by the gospel of the unmerited, free, undeserved grace of God extended to sinners at the cross. Non-religious people, the Greeks, simply dismissed the gospel as foolishness and worthy of only contempt.
This was certainly true during Jesus’ ministry. He did not come to make a name for Himself, to prosper materially at the expense of others, to overthrow the existing political order or to compete with the contemporary power structure. He did nothing that would justify the vicious anger directed at him and that would eventually cost him His life. All He did was come as God’s representative to mankind to forgive their sin, unconditionally, freely, without requiring that they perform any good works whatsoever to prove their sincerity or to make themselves worthy to be forgiven. He forgave all those sinners who would receive that forgiveness, without exception.
But a huge portion of those to whom He spoke did not want to be loved and forgiven unconditionally, with no strings attached, by grace alone. They were enraged at the idea that their good works did not make them holy, did not count as righteousness before God. Jesus’ evaluation of them was, “Even so you outwardly appear righteous to men, inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). This assessment was a scandal to them and they killed Him.
Wherever the gospel of the grace of God is preached today it elicits the same response. Mild-mannered mercy-extenders become ferocious tigers, and those who would not hurt a flea become violent, just as did the Pharisees. Yes, it is true—we crucified Jesus, just as surely as if we had driven the nails. This gospel is just as scandalous to us today as it was to the Pharisees.
Furthermore, the vehemence of the opposition to the gospel you will read on the following pages increases in direct proportion to the degree of religious involvement of the opponent, with the “full-time religious professionals”—those who make their living preaching the gospel—sometimes even being the most antagonistic. Often rebellious sinners who have no doubt about the reality of their own sin and hence their great need for a Savior are the most responsive.I want to explore why this reaction to the gospel of the grace of God occurs, and in the process proclaim with clarity this life-changing gospel that is often such a scandal to the “good Christian” who appears to have his act together.
I am sure the articles posted in this blog will stir controversy and debate; however, the objective is not to do that, but to present the true gospel of the grace of God in all its glory. Those who see that gospel with opened spiritual eyes will fall on their knees in worship and adoration of the One who has saved us definitively, continues to do so experientially, and who will one day return to save us ultimately as He destroys our last enemy, death.
This article was adapted from Robert Andrews’ book, The Scandalous Gospel of the Grace of God, Sentinel Press, 2008.