Does the Gospel Make Demands?
Hello Church Family,
I love the staff of Northpoint. We have such a great group of humble servants and leaders. And it helps that we get along famously, as we have an occasional “debate” or two. Not long ago, a question was posed in staff meeting: Does the gospel make demands? Here’s how I answered:
The law is what makes demands (and by “law” I’m referring generally to all the commands of Scripture). And not only does the law demand, it’s never satisfied with anything less than absolute and complete perfection. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3 that “Cursed is every man who does not abide by everything written in the book of the law to perform them.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the law is bad. To the contrary, it is good, in that, it reveals our sin, points us to Christ, and subsequently teaches us how to live in such a way that we honor God and (largely) spare ourselves many consequences of sin.
The gospel, on the other hand, doesn’t make demands. It is an announcement. The gospel declares what God has done (in Christ) for the dead, broken, crushed, rebellious, disobedient, beaten down, and exhausted. Certainly Jesus makes demands. And, to be sure, the Scriptures make demands. But the gospel is, by definition, good news. Not good news that if we do certain things we will be loved, accepted, received, and forgiven by God. But good news that because of what Jesus has done, we can be loved, accepted, received, forgiven: by faith alone. Confusing these categories, Martin Luther said, is the worst thing that a preacher can do. And I tend to agree.
It sounds like an argument of semantics (and perhaps it is on some level!) but here’s why this matters: If Christians get a steady diet of law, they will become exhausted, hopeless, guilty, and depressed, and completely miss out of the joyful freedom that God has saved us into (Galatians 5:1). Or a second thing that happens if Christians are bombarded with the law is they become arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental, as they look down at others who aren’t keeping the law as well as they (think) they are. (How often do we see this?)
However, if Christians hear the gospel regularly (the news that God saves unworthy sinners and is redeeming a broken world), they become grateful, joyful, loving, worshipful, and free! How else could Jesus say to people that His yoke is “easy”? To the self-reliant, Jesus preaches law (“unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees … you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:20), but to the broken ones at the end of their ropes, Jesus gives them gospel (“come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest … take my yoke upon you … and you will find rest for your souls” Matthew 11:28,29).
A man said to me earlier in my ministry here that he wanted from my preaching “more lists of things to do” (i.e., more law). After I listened to him for about thirty minutes, he said to me abruptly, “I just wish I had your self-confidence.” Holding out his arm he motioned, “Give me just a just a small injection of your self-assurance and I’ll be fine.”
I explained to him the great irony in what he was saying to me, namely, that it wasn’t self-assurance that he truly envied in me, it was my restful confidence in what Christ had done for me. His addiction to the law was the very thing that was wearing him out; he just felt like he could never be what God wanted him to be, so he spoke on and on about his failures and inadequacies. What he needed to do was stop focusing on what he could never do (law), and focus on what Jesus has completely done for him (gospel).
Sometimes, people say, “Well, doesn’t the gospel tell us what to do?” And the answer is: “No!” It tells us what’s been done. We often hear people say, “I’m just trying to live out the gospel.” Well, sorry, that’s impossible. The gospel is news. Anything that tells us how to live—and certainly there is a place for such instruction!—is not the gospel.
The great Australian theologian, Graeme Goldsworthy, says: “If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus two thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot ‘live the gospel’ as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another.”
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that they gospel shouldn’t impact our lives. Absolutely, it should. If we truly grasp it, it must!
But if we want to see our friends, our children, ourselves transformed, we need to stop focusing so much of our attention on what they and we need to do, and instead, keep our eyes on Christ and His completed work for us.
Then, we might just see our hearts explode in gratitude, love and obedience to the One who gave everything to accomplish what we had no hope of accomplishing: purchasing our salvation.
(If you want to encourage your soul in three quick minutes, check out Voddie Baucham’s take on this subject by clicking here.
Resting in Him,