I don’t usually respond to current issues online, but a recent discussion on social media has made me stop and think about the dangers of offering a half-baked Gospel. One such trend preaches a Gospel with a message of freedom, emphasis on grace, personal empowerment, and the belief that God has only good plans for your life. Alternatively, another Gospel preached focuses on taking up your cross, denying yourself, embracing hardship, and perpetuates the image of a sober-yet-slightly-grumpy mature believer. Neither is correct.
We tend to forget the Gospel is much broader and more complex. Through God’s flawless design, it straddles the perfect balance between the Law and the Cross, between grace and justice. We, however, tend to err on one side more than the other. We struggle to live in the balance and tension of both and embrace the side that most appeals to us.
As a child growing up in a very theologically conservative church and home, I remember a popular vhs series portraying the terror of hell. It scared the heebie jeebies out of me - which was exactly what it intended to do! Scaring the unsaved into heaven seemed a popular preaching technique and required focusing on parts of the Gospel that were dark, hard, and scary. It took many years for me to understand the love God had for me and to trust in his kindness, so hidden were they beneath the weight of fear.
Many friends raised in the same environment either left the church as they got older, never having understood the grace and acceptance that Jesus offered. Or, they found ‘freedom in Christ’ and lived it to the max embracing once forbidden pleasures. Eventually, they, too, drifted away from the church never quite understanding that freedom came with responsibility.
Ultimately, the problem came down to hearing a gospel preached Sunday after Sunday that never fully explained the weight of our sins, the gift of the cross, the cost of following Jesus, and the full and abundant life that is found in a surrendered life. Either a church focused on the sin of man and the fear of hell, or the love of God and freedom in Christ. Both left the listener with a gospel that was incomplete and anemic.
A half-baked Gospel leaves out key areas of Scripture that don’t suit the presenter’s purpose.
A half-baked Gospel focuses on favourite passages while ignoring the context in which it is presented.
A half-baked Gospel tickles the listener’s ear without requiring any evaluation of the heart or revealing the need for repentance.
It is unkind and unloving to preach a half-baked Gospel. Telling a half-truth is almost as bad as an outright lie. Imagine my neighbour leaves to go on a holiday and asks me to watch over his home while he is away. At some point, he calls to inquire how things are going, and I tell him his house caught on fire. Imagine his panic because I neglect to mention that I found the fire in the nick of time and extinguished it with my garden hose. How unkind is it to have information that would ease his grief but I refuse to give it?
Or perhaps I tell my neighbour that the roses in his garden look lovely without confessing my dog dug them up. He would eventually find out the truth and be angry with me for withholding important information. If I share only the good news, he is unprepared for hard truths. If I share only the bad news, I leave him in a state of despair.
If I love my neighbour as myself, I will give him the information he needs to make the right decision and leave him fully informed. If I love my neighbour, I will not withhold life-giving truths. And so it is with the Gospel. If I love my neighbour, I won’t offer a half-baked Gospel slathered in my favourite Bible verses while ignoring the parts I don’t like or understand. I don’t own the Gospel, and therefore, I have no right to decide what parts can be added or omitted. It is to be given freely to all and with all its parts intact!
The complete Gospel carries the hard message of repentance (Matt 4:17), taking up the cross (Matt 10:38), losing your life to find it (Matt 10:39), loving your enemies (Luke 6:27), walking thru the narrow door (Luke 13:24), and counting the cost (Luke 14:25).
Jesus himself lost many disciples after preaching a message considered too harsh (John 6).
The complete Gospel also shares the love of Jesus (John 3:16), reveals his compassion for the downtrodden (Psalms 145:8&9), reminds us that we are free of condemnation (Romans 8:1), calls us to a purpose (Ephesians 2:10), invites us to enjoy the freedom found in Christ (Galatians 5:1), and establishes our salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8&9). Many popular ministers focus on messages of encouragement and peace while avoiding the more difficult truths of following Jesus.
Half a Gospel preaches grace while ignoring the need for repentance and confession.
Half a Gospel preaches rules and regulations while leaving out Scriptures that allow for freedom in Christ.
As he prepared to return to Jerusalem and an unknown future, the Apostle Paul had these words to say to the elders in Ephesus:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Acts 20:27 (emphasis mine)
In response to Satan’s attempt to coax him into turning stone into bread, Jesus replied, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 (emphasis mine)
In both cases, the Greek word used is ‘pas’ meaning each, every, any, all, the whole, everything!
If your Gospel is missing words of Jesus, it is incomplete. If your church is only preaching half the Bible, it is incomplete, An incomplete Gospel leads to hungry souls looking to fill the void with something…anything….that will ease the aching pain inside. Jesus is the Bread of Life, but what good is the bread if it is kept away from the starving masses?
The world is craving for love, meaning, and truth, and only the full Gospel will adequately fill their empty hearts and weary souls. We have the means to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so let’s honour it with full disclosure – the good, the bad, the ugly. Jesus came to die for it all. We who hold the truth in our hands must impart it with accuracy and leave nothing out. Our obligation is to speak truth in love and allow the Holy Spirit to stir the hearts of men.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-7