Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Gospel Delusion - Part 4

The Gospel Delusion

A review of John MacArthur's The Gospel According To Jesus 20th Anniversary Edition

Part 4: Tall Orders

Please begin with Part 1 of this series.

Part 3 responded to Dr. MacArthur's claims that it has become popular to leave the lordship of Christ out of the Gospel presentation in modern times as a way of making the salvation seem as pleasant and easy as possible. We discussed how in the Bible the Lordship of Christ was only ever proclaimed in a Gospel presentation as a qualification of Christ to save people and never as a requirement for the sinner to attain Salvation. But it's not just the Lordship of Christ that the Doctor says is missing.

Dr MacArthur writes “The cost of discipleship; the need to hate one's own sin; Christ's call to self-denial; His command to follow Him; and (especially) every mention of submission to Him as Lord were systematically expunged from the message Christians proclaimed to unbelievers.”(1)

The message Christians proclaimed to unbelievers Dr. MacArthur is talking about is the Gospel as per his discussion on page 10 of his book. In Part 3 we looked at three clear Gospel presentations given by the Apostles that God sent to the world and gave to the Church to proclaim the Gospel. We know that the Gospel Paul preached was received directly from Christ Himself, not through man, and that this is the same Gospel that Paul preached and every other Apostle preached as well. Gal 1:1, Gal 1:11-12, 1 Cor 11:23, 1 Cor 15:11

Since we know there was perfect unity in the Gospel presentation by all the Apostles and since we've previously looked at these presentations in Part 3 we can without doubt state that the Gospel never included these things that Dr. MacArthur claims have been “systematically expunged” from it.

This is all well and good, but the title of his book is “The Gospel According To Jesus” (TGATJ) so did Jesus preach a different saving message to sinners than the one He had His Apostles preach? Hardly. I can not tell you what Dr MacArthur's motives in choosing a title were. But there is an intense emotional blackmail that comes with the statement that “Jesus said” this or that. What Christian would dare contradict Jesus, or even be seen in the appearance of contradicting Him? Surely not this believer.

So what did Our Lord preach as the Gospel? Well first we must recognize that the Lord first preached and sent His disciples out with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Which was not a salvation message at all. The word Gospel means “glad tidings” or “good news” not “salvation message” though if you were telling the good news of salvation through Christ that would be a gospel, because that IS good news. But it is also good news to some, though surely not to the same degree that there's a sale at WalMart. The book There Really Is A Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology by Renald E. Showers is one of the few books that will whole heartedly recommend to any and every believer. I highly suggest the reader pick this book up (which you can conveniently purchase by clicking on it's link at the top right of this blog) for a much more complete discussion of these things.

The Gospel of the Kingdom, or the Good News of the Kingdom can be found in Mat 9:35, Mat 10:7, Mark 1:14-15. It was simply, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” We see that the Disciples were sent to Israel with this Gospel. In Mat 10:5-33 we read that the Lord sent them to the “lost sheep of Israel” and explicitly not to the Gentiles and Samaritans. Pay attention also to the preparations to be made, and the provision to be brought with them. They were to supported by the people they were sent to.

But Israel rejected this Gospel. She did not believe it. So the Lord then began to show His disciples the Gospel that He told Paul to preach directly. We read in Mat 16:21

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. NKJV

Now this Gospel message was to be preached to all the world, not just the lost sheep of Israel. Mark 16:15. We also know that though they had been sent out to Israel previously with the Kingdom Gospel that this information was new to them because Peter reacted strongly and immediately to the idea that the Lord was going to die. Mat 16:22 It would hardly make sense for Peter to have gotten so upset about this information if he had already been preaching it all over Israel. Besides the fact that the Scriptures say that “From that time Jesus began to show His Disciples that...” As for the preparation and provision the Lord instructed the Disciples to make and take we can read in Luke 22:35-36 that hostile opposition was expected and that they were to provide for themselves, not have the world provide for them. The Gospel of Grace, that of Christ's death, burial and resurrection on our behalf is free. The Kingdom on the other hand is rewarded to those who work. It is so even in Christendom. Salvation is absolutely free, but we will each be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ where we will be rewarded or suffer loss based on the things we do whether good or bad. 1 Cor 3:11-14, 2 Cor 5:10

I bring all of this into the discussion to show the importance of knowing what the Lord is saying when He's saying it. As this series progresses we'll be discussing some of the quotes Dr. MacArthur uses to justify his assertions in depth. I'm confident that the reader will come to a strong awareness of the dangers of Proof-Texting theology.

In John 3 we read what the Lord preached about salvation directly. He preaches that one must be born again, and this is accomplished by seeing your sin held up as the serpent was on Mose's staff in the wilderness. He explains that He, the Son of Man, must be lifted up as the serpent was and that those who believe will be saved, and those who don't will not be. There is no mention of discipleship. There is no mention of submission to His lordship. There is just the explanation of His qualification and the example of satisfaction, or God being propitiated for the sins of the world. When we see our own sin judged as per the Scriptures requirements and Christ raised up from the grave as effectual for us then we are saved.

We've seen that the items Dr. MacArthur claims have been “expunged” from the Gospel were never part of the Biblical Gospel at all. We've shown, albeit briefly, that it's easy to misinterpret Scripture when we think we know what it says before we read it. The example given was that the Lord God wasn't always talking about how to be saved. In light of this example we ought to be all the more careful how we read the Lord's words to be sure we are not applying His explicit teachings on another subject to the subject of the Gospel of Grace. For to do such is great error.

Before I close off this installment I ask you to consider these few thoughts.

When a student is applying for a school they are told what the requirements are in order to graduate. The student is not expected to be able to fulfill these requirements at that moment. He is not told to pledge to fulfill them. He's told that he'll be paying for the education that will enable him to be able to fulfill these requirements. Big difference. He's being told what he's going to be able to do, not what he has to do or even be willing to do to get in.

When a person considers joining a profession he is not told to accept and declare that he will fulfill all the complicated tasks that the profession will absolutely require. For example I have been employed as an Avionics Technician for nearly 18 years. It would have been completely unreasonable for the person who hired me to have asked if I would be willing to diagnose and repair the airborne SONAR system that I am now (after these 18 years) a “subject matter expert” on. I simply would not have been able to even conceive of what such a question would mean, let alone be able to honestly answer him. Any mention of my future employment was to show me the opportunities choosing this profession would offer.

When a person applies to the Canadian Forces (and I suspect any military) they are not asked if they would be willing to give the “ultimate sacrifice.” The person is not required to be willing to serve for years on the front lines of a war. No these are the things that the individual gets trained in. The military builds the soldier they want out of the person they get. See the parallel here?

In each of these three examples the person is accepted in and then taught how to, and given the skills to actually be able to perform the basic requirements for the job, school or profession. The Gospel is similar though not exactly the same. Salvation is absolutely free. There is no agreement to perform included in the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and was risen to life to be seen in the flesh by more than 500 people on the third day. The Good News of Salvation by Grace through Faith in Christ Jesus is a declaration of His performance on our behalf. This is received and one is saved, or it is rejected and one is in the end cast into the Lake of Fire for all Eternity.

Christians are justified apart from works. Rom 4:4-8 but we are created as new beings in Christ Jesus for the purpose of Good Works so that the Father will be glorified. Eph 2:10, Mat 5:16 But we are discipled by the Body of Christ and more importantly by the Holy Spirit Himself so that we are conformed to the image of Christ and become fruitful. This fruitfulness, this discipleship or our willingness to be discipled is not a condition of salvation. The condition for salvation is to repent to believe that Christ carried out the Gospel on our behalf. Then Discipleship begins, whether we like and agree to the idea or not.

Please read Part 5: Well if you have to ask...


All references (unless otherwise stated) are from The Gospel According To Jesus: What is authentic faith? Revised & Expanded Anniversary Edition By John MacArthur Copyright 2008

  1. Pg 10-11


Kevl said...

I know this article got pushed down the page by other important events, but I'm still hopeful that it will be of value to the readers here.


Daniel Wilson said...


Instruction to walk even as Christ walked was part of "the word which ye have heard from the beginning" (I John 2:7).

While obedience to God's moral law didn't make every one of Paul's summaries of the Gospel (notably the one in I Cor 15) and wasn't his major point when contending with the Judaisers (as in most of the Epistle to the Galatians), it was something he also taught. Romans 6 and I Cor 6 are just 2 examples.