For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
- Romans 1:16
Paul, the Apostle; the missionary to the Gentiles; the man beaten, imprisoned, chased from town to town, hunted by Jewish zealots, … is still confident that despite these obstacles and challenges, the gospel message contained the mighty power of God to save souls and change lives.
We often use this passage as a rallying cry when launching a mission work, or introducing a program on personal evangelism - the power is in the gospel!
Now there's no denying that the message we are to preach is the gospel and no other.
There's no denying that the good news that there is a God and He has appeared in human form to die for the sins of all; resurrected in order to prove that His appearance and message is true; and that those who respond to Him with faith will also share in a conscious personal resurrection from the dead into an eternal existence in the heavenly realm no longer subject to sin or death … there is no denying that this is a powerful message and it literally transforms lives here even before the final transformation it promises access.
We believe and continue to preach this powerful message but we cannot deny that we also notice that despite its power, this message is often defeated by things that are even more powerful. We don't like to admit that this may be true but we see the defeat of the gospel all the time:
- You make an attempt at sharing the gospel and you are met with cold indifference or impatience or ridicule … that's the defeat!
- Someone you invite to worship comes once out of politeness, but never comes back … that's a defeat.
- You study the Bible with someone, answer all their questions, respond to all doubts and arguments and they reject the entire message and appeal of the gospel and refuse any further discussion of religion … that's a defeat.
It's hard for us to accept that the mighty declaration of Paul in Rom.1: 16 about the power of the gospel can be defeated - but it can, we see it happening every day.
This morning I want to review with you the most common enemy that regularly defeats the gospel. Perhaps if you are aware of this, it will help you to be more successful in overcoming opposition as you share your faith with others - knowing this has helped me to persevere after many defeats in Mnistry.
It may be surprising to note that the key ingredient in the message of the gospel - love (".. for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" John 3:16)
That the key ingredient in the message of the gospel (love) is also the key ingredient in the many ways that the gospel is defeated.
1. The Love of Satan's Lies Defeats the Gospel.
Jesus called Satan the father of lies and the Bible records the first deception coming from him as he lied to Eve in the Garden. That lie (that God wouldn't punish, that God was selfish) seduced her into doing what was forbidden and brought about the terrible consequences of disobedience to God that we still experience to this day. Satan's lies have continued to be mouthed by someone or other ever since.
Some of the "whoppers" that the Bible speaks are:
A. There is really no God
This world came into being by itself and mankind is a product of its natural evolution. People love to believe this lie. The psalmist commented on this lie that was circulating even 3000 years ago. He said, "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.." Ps.53: 1
The reasons for claiming this have changed to suit different societies but this basic lie remains.It is used to justify the implementation of man's will over God's will in the world.
B. Jesus Christ is not God
The first heresies in the Church from the very beginning had this lie as their basis.That Jesus never existed; that He did but was only a man; that He was a spirit but not a man - any distortion of the truth that Jesus Christ is God and came in the form of a fleshly man.
This lie is promoted and supported through any number of philosophies and religions, but the purpose remains always the same - to create doubt about the manifestation of God in human history. If Jesus isn't God then Christianity is a waste of time and effort and we are all fools for believing it..
.. Another Lie People Love to Believe..
C. There is no judgement or punishment
In our age this lie is promoted in the teachings and attitude of post-modern thinkers who not only refuse to acknowledge God but also have contempt for the idea that there is even any such thing as right and wrong. This is a pretty comforting lie because it allows people to choose whatever they want to do without the annoying matter of guilt or final judgement.
Even if I make a "mistake" it doesn't matter because there is no judgement, there is no reckoning. Of course from the beginning the Bible has addressed and refuted all of these lies:
For example: The account of Genesis and Exodus describes in vivid detail the power of God to create, to punish, and to reveal His mighty self to man so that there be no doubt as to His existence and power.
As Paul says in Romans 1:19-20 "..that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."
In addition to this..
That Jesus is the divine Son of God come in the flesh has been more than adequately documented and in such a way that meets the highest standards of proving anything - so much so that Peter is quite confident in saying about Jesus..
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
- Acts 4:12
And Jesus Himself leaves no room for doubting the fact that there will be a judgment and there will be a condemnation and there will be a punishment and the only way to escape this certain event is to trust and obey Him. In preparation for this terrible day He sent out His Apostles saying to them:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
And yet even with the truth clearly stated; even with the truth supported by eyewitness testimony and a record that has withstood every attempt to defeat or discredit it in the last 2000 years - some choose to defeat the truth and choose the lie - why?
2. Loving The Lie.
One of the primary reasons as I mentioned before has to do with love. People essentially love the lie more than they love the truth. Now there are reasons why some love the lie more than they love the truth
A. They love the lie because it allows them to continue enjoying their sinfulness without interference.
And this is the judgement, that the light is come into world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.
- John 3:19
The power that the gospel has (among other things) is the power to shine the light into the dark places of your life. If you're a liar or a cheater; if you are impure sexually; if you're selfish, self-centered, egotistical, stubborn, proud, lazy, violent, cowardly or wasteful - whatever darkness is in your life the gospel will root it out. Not only that, the gospel will also tell you in no uncertain terms what the consequences for your sins are.
Paul says it quite succinctly in Romans 6:23a - "The wage of sin is death." Not just physical death where the soul leaves the body, but spiritual death the soul is separate from God. Of course there is also good news, that even though God will judge, God will punish - "The wage of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23
Faced with this choice many people choose to believe one of the lies (No God, No Christ, No punishment) because they love practicing their sins and would rather do this than believe the truth and abandon their sins in response to God's offer of forgiveness.
Some folks don't want forgiveness; they want freedom - freedom to do what they want to do, when and how they want to do it.
- To satisfy self
- To accomplish my will
- To retain the comfortable familiarity of their faults, habits, and secret sins.
- To live comfortably in this world…
This is what they want and to announce the gospel to them is threatening, annoying, and awkward because for one brief moment they see the truth, they see the light but choose to believe the lie so that their world and their place in it will not be upset. And the victory they gain is short lived because what they've succeeded in doing is defeating the effort to save their own immortal souls.
3. What to do?
So what do we do, those of us who have wielded the mighty power of the gospel but have been defeated by one who prefers to believe the lie? Well whatever we do, let's not invent a new gospel in order to create a manufactured victory out of a true loss.
Let's not begin saying that it doesn't matter what you believe, everyone is going to heaven.
Let's not begin teaching that God chooses some for heaven and some for hell and it doesn't matter what we do.
Let's not begin changing the teachings of the gospel so we can eliminate the more humbling parts of it like baptism; or the more demanding parts like the necessity to be faithful unto death so we can include more people and ideas in the circle of the saved.
Let's remember that we who preach the gospel are also responsible to the gospel and what it says about itself and those who teach it.
Let's remember Paul's warning:
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
- Galatians 1:6-9
Let's realize that we will be defeated at times and when this happens instead of changing the gospel:
A. Let's know when to quit preaching.
Jesus instructed His disciples that they would be defeated at times and when they were, they were to move on to another town (Mark 6:11) We're not all traveling evangelist but at some point it becomes evident that the person you're preaching to no longer wants to hear and no linger cares.
Jesus tells us to accept the reality of this situation and let go! This doesn't mean you quit praying, or you quit loving, or you quit providing a Christian witness. But at some point we need to accept the fact that .. "they've got it, they have the message, they heard you … they just prefer to believe the lie!" Like that new book title says, "They're just not that into Jesus."
B. Let's know exactly what our job is.
We suffer the defeat of the gospel and think we have failed. This thinking happens because we think that the responsibility for the conversion, for the believing belongs to us! Wrong!!
Our job is to proclaim, to communicate, to share, to pass on the message of the gospel -- not to convert. When a person is converted it's because they believe the message and respond to it.
When a person defeats the gospel it's because they believe the lie instead of the truth. Either way our job is to bring the message, not convince others that it's true. We're only guilty if we neglect to bring the message.
Knowing this division of labor helps guard against pride when people are converted, and guilt and depression when they reject the gospel.
C. Finally, in the face of defeat, know what your reward is based on.
Your salvation is based on your faith, not the success or failure of someone else's. (Parents and preachers pay attention). You keep your faith alive and well by proclaiming the message to others whether they believe or not. Jesus said:
For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
- Matthew 7:14
Doesn't sound like we were going to be in a majority position here on this earth. Why be surprised when His words prove true in your efforts at sharing the message of the truth? This knowledge should motivate us to try harder and cast a wider net knowing in advance that the defeats will surely outnumber the successes.
Summary / Invitation
Perhaps there is one other thing to remember in all of this, and that is, let's never be the reason why someone else defeats the gospel.
Sometimes we're the excuse that someone uses to continue believing the lie because they don't see the power of the truth working in us. Oh, they hear the words; they see some form of exterior religious activity; they can conclude that we have a religious point of view that we'd like them to share. But perhaps they don't see, or hear, or experience in us the life changing, hungering and thirsting, radioactive faith that testifies without a single doubt that something powerful has happened to us -- and that same power can change their lives as well.
So let's examine ourselves this morning. All this preaching about the power or the defeat of the gospel. How is it affecting you at this moment? What lie are you believing that is stopping you from believing the truth
- That Jesus isn't God?
- That God won't punish you?
- That you don't have to obey what the Bible says in order to be saved?
- That you can sin and be unfaithful and God won't care?
Will you succeed in resisting the impulse of believing the truth in order to continue in the lie that now dominates your life? Or will you let Christ into your heart by faith and allow his truth to chase away all the darkness that inhabits your soul?
Jesus tells us that the first step in the walk of truth, the first blow in tearing down the wall of lies that separate us from God is to openly acknowledge our faith in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God. From that first Pentecost Sunday when the whole truth was proclaimed until this very day people have done this by acknowledging Christ as Lord in repentance and baptism.
Who will you believe this day? The one who imprisons you with lies or the One who set you free with His death on the cross.
Whatever lie has you imprisoned, don't spend another minute believing it, -- break free and come to Christ.