DON’T HIDE THE GOSPEL
The Gospel message is the most wonderful thing in all the world, for at its center is Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen—man’s only hope.
How important it is that the Gospel be not hidden by, of all people, its friends, for such a thing can and does frequently happen.
The Gospel is hidden by inconsistent lives. Why should the pagans about us believe in or desire a Gospel that does not transform the life of a believer? Why should one become a Christian if it amounts to no more than church attendance on Sunday while the rest of the week he may live like any other man of the world?
Christians in early Rome were surrounded by a paganism hardly more blatant than that of twentieth century America. Paul pleaded with them: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”
What if every Christian in America were to heed this warning today? One result would be a freeing of the Gospel from the handicap of those who in matters of purity of life, honesty in business, truthfulness in word, and attitudes toward others are little removed from the a abominable standards that Satan has set for the world.
The Gospel can be hidden also by a cold orthodoxy which accepts the letter of the truth but ignores the spirit of all divine revelation.
The spirit of the Inquisition continues today in the hearts of some who take a smug satisfaction in “believing” the doctrines of Christianity while neglecting to exhibit the transforming effect that the evangelical faith has on personal life and attitudes.
How often we hide the Gospel because of a twentieth century pharisaism that merits our Lord’s rebuke as fully as it did in the days of his flesh.
Nothing hides the Gospel more than lovelessness. Christianity and Christian love should be synonymous, for they center in the One who is altogether lovely and loving.
But how often is the glory of the Gospel hidden by bitterness, malice, carping criticism, gossip, or even hatred on the part of Christians for other Christians! It is one of the scandals of the Church today that many Christians lack even the elemental graces of courtesy and consideration for the feelings of others.
Nothing would do more to unmask the wonder of redemption and show forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit than a renewal of the spirit of love which characterized the early Christians and distinguished them from other men.
To many people the Gospel has been hidden because of crippling presuppositions. Rejecting its clearly stated truths in favor of theories that rationalize them away, many theologians have caused a different gospel to emerge, and the good news of man’s redemption from the guilt and penalty of sin has been replaced by concepts of God which reject his holiness and justice and admit only his love and mercy. There then comes into view a blurred image of God, a deformed caricature of him who in all of his attributes is perfection and beauty.
Further, we can hide the Gospel by depicting God in terms that we choose for him and not as he has revealed himself. There are people who reject the idea of eternal punishment because it conflicts with their concept of God. In so doing, of course, they attack, sometimes zealously, the trustworthiness, honesty, or understanding of the Old and New Testament writers.
The Gospel can also be hidden by man’s cleverness. Paul knew the danger: To the Corinthian Christians he wrote: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.… And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
Why so much concern, so much repudiation of attempts to be clever? “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
Cleverness hides the Gospel because it is the clever one who is magnified, not the message.
The Gospel can also be hidden by enigmas which “darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge,” or by theological phrases such as “totally other,” “the existential moment,” “Christ-myth,” and so forth, which convey exactly nothing to a man needing salvation.
The Apostle Paul, writing to his spiritual son, Timothy, warns of this danger: “O Timothy, guard most carefully your divine commission. Avoid the godless mixture of contradictory notions which is falsely known as ‘knowledge’—some having followed it and lost their faith” (1 Tim. 6:20, 21—Phillips).
There is always the danger of hiding the Gospel behind good causes or by theological or other hobbies. Secondary or peripheral phases of Christianity, when stressed out of proper place, may become walls shutting out the true gospel message.
The Gospel is always hidden when the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ are downgraded, when the universality and effect of sin are minimized, or the potential goodness and achievements of man are magnified.
Our Lord’s essential and unique deity is the foundation of the Gospel. He is the eternal Son of God who became incarnate in the flesh, and there is no Gospel of redemption without firm acknowledgement of this.
Because of who he is, we cannot help but view with awe what he did. Paul declares the meaning of the Gopsel: “… that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Woe to us, then, if we hide the Gospel or substitute for it something more palatable to the human ego or agreeable to sophisticated reason. It is not for man to question or alter that which God has ordained, and the way of salvation is stated so clearly in the Scriptures that a little child can understand and believe.
The need for the Gospel is hidden when the sinfulness of man is minimized. Sin is rarely the topic of some preaching today. There are explanations for the human dilemma which fit in more perfectly with psychological research. It is more pleasant, for example, to regard drunkenness as a disease than as sin; sex obsession as a psychiatric rather than spiritual problem; dishonesty as a “confusion of values” rather than stealing. Once we fail to appreciate that sin is an offense to a holy God, the implications of the Gospel become hidden in the miasma of human excuses.
Finally, we hide the Gospel when we magnify the potential goodness of man. That there is good within all men is the mark of divine creation, but the image has been marred and while the will to be and do good may lead to self-reformation, only the Gospel leads to redemption and regeneration.
L. NELSON BELL
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