For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NKJV)
The Safety Gospel
Increasingly, the contemporary Evangelical gospel goes something like this:
- Because of sin, God sent His Son to earth to die. If Jesus didn’t pay the penalty, then everyone would burn in hell forever.
- If you believe in the right description of Jesus, you will be forgiven of your sins.
- Through faith alone you can go to heaven and be safe from hell.
- If you choose to follow Him after receiving salvation, it will be challenging but rewarding.
- Though sin will be ever present, God will forgive you, and the Holy Spirit will abide with you.
This “gospel” mimics a Ted Talk where the audience expects to be somewhat alarmed before being inspired.
The Cruciform Gospel
Here’s a synopsis of the gospel that aligns with the historic apostolic faith:
- God sent His Son to earth (1 John 4:9) to unfurl His true nature and expectations (Matthew 17:5; John 1:18; John 5:19-20; John 8:28; John 9:4; John 12:49; John 15:24; Acts 3:22-23) and institute the long-prophesied kingdom of God (Genesis 17:15-16; Genesis 49:8-10; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2; Psalm 110:1-4; Psalm 132:11; Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 9:24-26; Luke 1:26-35; Luke 4:43).
- Christ’s willingness to bear the cross (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2) and His “firstfruits” resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20) exemplified His most essential teachings (Matthew 5:44-45; Matthew 16:24; John 11:25; John 15:13; John 16:1-3) especially the summation of the law: loving God and neighbor as self (Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 10:25-28).
- The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves He is the anointed King and Lord of all (Acts 2:36; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:40-42; Acts 13:32-33; Philippians 2:8-11; 1 Peter 3:21-22) and completely vindicates His claim to authority (John 10:34-38).
- Believing in [the name of] Jesus Christ (John 1:12; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 John 3:23) means accepting the authority embedded into His name (Matthew 16:16; Matthew 23:8; John 1:49; Acts 2:36; Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Colossians 2:6).
- Such faith necessarily involves repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30-31) and the fruits which must follow it (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8-9; Acts 26:20).
- We must be immersed (baptized) into Jesus’ death (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 12:50; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 15:31; Colossians 3:3; 1 Peter 4:1) to be raised into His life (Luke 3:16; Romans 6:4; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 2:24).
- God showers believers with power (Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:3-4; John 15:5; Romans 5:5; Ephesians 1:19-20) to understand (John 14:16-17,26), follow and love Him (John 14:15-18; Philippians 2:13; 1 John 5:4-5).
- Ultimately, you will inherit the kingdom for eternity (Matthew 25:34) if you patiently continue to do good (Matthew 24:12-13; Luke 8:11,15; John 5:28-29; Romans 2:5-10; Galatians 6:9; Revelation 22:14).
Notice the emphases of the two versions of the gospel. The modern rendition reassures adherents of their safety. The historic faith, meanwhile, resounds with power because it is the way the Lord Jesus traveled to secure victory (Philippians 2:5-11)!
How is the Gospel Presented to the World in Scripture?
In reading through the New Testament, you will not find a presentation of the gospel to unbelievers in which Jesus or His apostles key in on the sin of the world. Instead, they expose the specific sins of those in authority and those who blindly followed them who refused to listen to God’s anointed ones (Matthew 20:18-19; Matthew 23:29-32; Mark 8:31; Acts 3:13-15; Acts 5:22-32; Acts 7:51-53). Unfortunately, that same kind of stubbornness and blindness continues to this day when we present a different gospel — one more to our liking.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (Rom 10:3 NKJV)
God has never arranged for the safety of His people without any expectation of allegiance to Him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20; Joshua 24:15-22; Isaiah 56:4; Jeremiah 7:23; John 14:23; James 2:21-24; etc). If we are truly concerned for the safety of our souls, then we MUST obey Jesus who said:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)
God’s vision for the kingdom is that He would finally have a people who would be faithful to Him and know Him.
Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
“I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them — My servant David [the reference here is to Jesus, his descendant]. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34:23-24 — written ~400 yrs after David — see Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:31-33; Romans 1:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8)
“I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD…. And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, “You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:20,23)
We are Endued With Power from on High
Toward this end, Christ has broken our bondage to sin (John 8:32; Romans 6:22; Romans 8:2; 2 Corinthians 3:17), liberated us from death, fear & Satan (John 14:30; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 15:55; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 2:14-16; 1 John 3:8-10) and enabled us to live righteously (Luke 1:74-75; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
Has He not already done “exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think”? (Ephesians 3:20)
Reordering the gospel into Christ preaching safety (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35-37; Luke 17:33; John 12:25) and lawlessness (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 24:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 John 3:4) renders it accursed (Gal 1:8-9). Yet it perfectly dovetails with the itching ears of worldly consumer culture (2 Timothy 4:3).
I think the following is as decent a gospel for initiates in the faith as anything else in the Bible:
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2)
10 responses to “The Power of God Not the Safety of Man”
In the light of this, and other things you have said, what is your opinion on assurance of salvation? By this I don’t mean eternal security, but rather a peace and confidence that you are in right standing with God, and that if you were suddenly to die that you would not receive a damning judgement?
I have struggled with this for the best part of 15 years. Even today, I can’t confidently say that I am a Christian despite believing the core doctrines of the faith, and attempting to follow Christ in the ways I can.
I have wrestled with the theology of it all including (but not limited to) interacting with the work of a mutual (albeit virtual) friend, Paul Pavao.
Still, I would say that on the whole my faith brings me more misery than joy at the moment.
Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
Jon, thank you for your comment. I will reply to this within the next 24 hours!
Jon, it is with trepidation I attempt to answer your concerns. Please realize that no one is equal to this task. For, indeed, only “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
What does it mean to “walk in the light”? It means we continually expose our darkness to His light. So, for example, if you believe you are separated from Christ by your own sin or weakness, step one is to confess it before Him. Just keep doing it and requesting His grace (power) to overcome.
Jeremiah said this too (29:12-14). As did the psalmist (Psalm 119:2). As did Solomon (1 Kings 8:47,48). It should, of course, remind us of the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength which Jesus noted in all 3 synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke).
The quick way to determine if you are obeying the greatest commandment is to ask yourself what, if anything, do you desire or enjoy above the Lord. Whatever comes to mind, you should forsake it (a living being under your care or the means by which you provide for them should be prayerfully submitted) until it can be brought (assuming it is not inherently sinful) under the Lordship of Christ.
Empty yourself just as Christ did (Phil 2:5-8). You may feel bored or even despondent during the adjustment period. Sometimes the flesh must be starved — this is the wisdom behind fasting. Thinking only of food in relation to fasting is a strict, letter-only interpretation. The spirit of fasting is that we are baptized into His death (Romans 6:3) and the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith to the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Everything must go except “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
I want to address that word translated “faith” at the end of Galatians 2:20. No small amount of exegetical scholarship has revealed that in the context of royal power, the Greek word “pistis” (which usually gets translated into “faith”) should be read as “allegiance”. Since Christ is the ultimate royal power in the universe, this is how, I believe, we should read Galatians 2:20b:
And do you see why? It’s right there in that verse. Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us. The verse is commutative (both halves mirror each other). We must take up our cross (Mark 10:21). We are to have the same mind or approach as Christ (Phil 2:5; 1 Pet 4:1-2).
Jesus taught us that the cross is the ultimate, if absolutely the most counterintuitive, source of power (John 8:28; John 12:32; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18).
I believe we are saved by grace through allegiance (Ephesians 2:8). You could also swap in the word “faithfulness”. This interpretation will ruffle feathers, to be sure. Stay with me, please.
If our word “faith” was understood to be active faith as defined by Hebrews 11, then no new word would be needed. But because “faith” has come to mean mental assent in a list of propositions that have no real bearing on the life of the “believer”, it is time to read those verses differently. The people reading the Greek in the ancient world would have assumed that faith was inseparable from faithfulness when contemplating even an earthly ruler and his commands.
Jesus said His yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30). Being allegiant to Him, which He commanded (Matthew 4:19, Matthew 16:24; Mark 1:17; Luke 9:23; etc, etc), does not require sinless perfection or no High Priest would be appointed to us (Hebrews 10:19-23).
The “red line” is that God does not enjoy being mocked (Gal 6:7) when we consciously and consistently hold back things for ourselves while wearing the name of Christ (2 Timothy 2:19 cf John 8:34; 1 John 3:8). We must haul our hidden stash(es) of sin before the throne of grace until the stash is destroyed (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 1:9)!
I will now give you the “secret recipe” that my wife & I deploy daily. This is courtesy of Matthew Bryan and his book “The Forgotten Gospel”. You need to reckon (or consider) yourself dead to sin before you even leave bed in the morning. This is based on Romans 6.
Do that sincerely for a month and see how it changes your life. It took only a few days for us to recognize a major difference in our sin deaths (not lives, deaths, since sin always produces death). Don’t be surprised if people in your nice, respectable, Evangelical church look at you sideways when you report this victory. Speaking from experience here….
Finally, I think it’s best to leave you with the following passage which says, essentially, that if we are seeking assurance before God we should love others as it covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8):
Proceed in the love and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace to you!
Hi please delete my first reply there as I hit post comment by accident and it is formatted terribly!
[this one is better]
Thank you for your swift response. If I could reply on a few points.
1. (walking in the light) Your description of what it means to walk in the light it something I try to do pretty much every day. What I really struggle with though is believing that God has forgiven me. There are some occasions when I stop praying because of an overwhelming sense of condemnation I feel when I try to confess before God (It happened this morning, even). This wasn’t due to a particularly grievous sin I had done, but more like a general sense of unworthiness and awareness that I am not very good at being a disciple. This is also related to your second point:
2. (loving God, starving the flesh etc.) I understand your point about fasting. In fact, there something recently that I have decided to cut out of my life for partly this reason. When it comes to loving God, though, it’s a bit of a downward spiral, compounded by all the years I have struggled with all this. In a nutshell, I doubt that I love God (and certainly don’t feel it), which leads me to think that God is against me and hates me because I don’t love him (1 Cor 16:22). That in turn makes it even harder to love Him – It’s hard to love God when he seems, first and foremost, harsh, mean, cold and unforgiving in my mind. I’m not saying I always think and feel this, but it has often been the impression that rushes to my mind when considering the take on the gospel that people like yourself and Paul Pavao espouse (and I have had much, much dialogue with Paul about this over the last ten years or so – he has been very patient with me).
Indeed I sometimes wonder if God has deliberately made salvation extremely difficult because he doesn’t really want to save many people. It’s as if the Christian life is like a strict, brutal training regime where only the toughest and most harshest on themselves get through. I have a very hard time loving such a figure.
3. (Faith, Faithfulness and Allegiance). I have a basic understanding of this notion, and have read a little of Matthew Bates work on it. I am not totally convinced that pistis always means allegiance (e.g. Mark 5:34 “your allegiance has saved you” doesn’t work with the context) , but I can agree with the broad point of faith leading to action.
The sort of question that comes to my mind, then, is how do I know if I’m being allegiant enough?
4. (the red line) Paul Pavao says something similar here and I agree. I don’t believe I am mocking God. I’m also somewhat relieved to hear you repudiate any requirement of sinless perfection (I have come across some online who insist on it).
5. (secret recipe) I’d be interested to know more here. What would you say “reckoning” ourselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ looks like on a practical (and mental) level?
6. (loving others)
I try to do what’s best for others but I know that I have tendencies to selfishness. I suppose, again, the question that comes to mind is how do I know when I’m being loving enough to warrant assurance?
Another issue that has perplexed me (and stunted my growth as a Christian) is the role of experience and the witness of the Spirit. I read on your page your short but powerful testimony of how you were overwhelmed by God’s love while sat at the computer. I wish I had such an experience and pray for it often – the lack of such an experience causes me to doubt that I’m a Christian.
I hope I don’t come across as insincere – I really am not and I’m genuinely desperate to make my faith sure. I just can’t seem to stop being overwhelmed by doubts).
I want to address the most important point first: your conception of God. I think this answer should trickle down to most, if not all, other issues you’ve presented.
So, if you feel otherwise about God’s love and what He asks of us, then please understand that your feelings are lying to you. I would, respectfully, ask you to stop trusting your mind and start giving allegiance to the Word of God! Let the Truth set you free. And whenever your mind returns with doubts, demands, and condemnation, cease giving your allegiance to the flesh of your mind!! Make no provision for it (Romans 13:14).
This may well be your unique application of starving the flesh. Whenever you recognize a low opinion of God re-emerging or you picture a labyrinth instead of the STRAIGHT if narrow road leading to life (Isaiah 42:16 cf Matthew 3:3, Matthew 7:14), then calmly return your mind to the truth. In so doing, you are bringing every thought into captivity to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If the mind says “see the text says ‘difficult is the way’” then know it is only difficult for those who want to trust in themselves to find and maintain the way (Psalm 73:24; Proverbs 3:5-6; Proverbs 28:26; Isaiah 26:3; Jeremiah 17:5; Luke 12:16-20; 1 Corinthians 8:2).
I, too, have a very active mind that wants to make sense out of what I am reading and feeling. Immediately after the Spirit overtook me and repentance occurred, however, I was told by God — in no uncertain terms — that my days of trusting my mind had to end. I was to put full confidence in the scriptures. This took some adjustment! But as I stepped off the cliff of my mind into the “evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1) everything started to come together for me in a way that it never did before when I questioned everything. See, I was my own god and there was no room for another. Everything had to make sense to my mind or it was rejected.
Ultimately, this comes down to a headship issue.
So, what we have here is: God > Christ > man > woman. Don’t read those angle brackets as “better than”. It is not about who is “better” because we all are one with God through Christ (John 17:20-23). This is one of the great unexplored truths of the gospel that dovetails into “partakers of the divine nature” (which Peter alludes to in 2 Peter 1:4). I’m not going to get into that in detail here (see 1 Corinthians 15 for a sneak peak), but just understand that God’s vision for the gospel was reconciliation and communion (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 12:13), not flexing authority like his enemies, “the nations” (Matthew 20:25-26). For now just think of it as an order to the universe.
Why would God arrange things thusly? As a dancer, I can answer this question very confidently. In a partner dance, there is one leader and one (or more) follow(ers). There can never be two leaders or the dance becomes chaotic and form is destroyed (literally that particular universe disintegrates).
Another reason for headship is that conflict is inevitable and we must have a means to resolve it. What you’ve been describing to me (and before that, Paul Pavao) is a conflict between what you believe about God and His requirements versus what the Word of God says (see very first block quote of verses). There is a way to resolve this! What God requires of you is to submit your will to Christ, just as Jesus did to God when He wanted out of the cross (Matthew 26:42,44). In other words, it’s time for your mind to get nailed to the cross of Christ so that order can be established in your universe. Your mantra will need to be “not my understanding, but yours be done”.
Whenever you feel the need to say “But what about…?” I would strongly encourage you to submit that next thought or series of thoughts to Christ and let it go. Be an “unprofitable servant” (be sure to read Luke 17:7-10 to understand this reference) and simply obey to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about assurance. If the poison of Calvinist soteriology hadn’t been dropped into the water supply of the church in recent centuries, you would never even worry about such a thing. How do I know? Because I’ve studied early church historical documents. I don’t ever recall someone needing to be reassured of their salvation. Maybe I have yet to run across it. Then again, people were much different in the ancient world. They were grateful for even the hope of salvation. They also knew their place in the order of things. We need to return to that mentality. It is like a child with strong parents. There is a safety and peace there even if there is upset and conflict at times.
You asked how, specifically, do I reckon myself daily. I simply repeat parts of that passage in Romans 6. I say something like “today I reckon myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus my Lord.” I also use the terms “led by the spirit” (Romans 8:14) or “today I will walk according to the spirit” (Romans 8:1) or “I will sow to the spirit” (Galatians 6:8). There are multiple ways to announce your intention and ask God to fulfill that desire (1 John 5:14).
Also, I disagree about Mark 5:34 not comporting with allegiance. Here’s the passage (about the woman with the issue of blood):
First, and most importantly, the woman put herself under His headship (authority) and assumed He could help her rather then, perhaps, giving allegiance to the opinions of the Jewish leaders of the time. She also “walked in the light” by telling him the whole truth. That’s embodied faith otherwise known as allegiance!!
Abiding in Christ may seem difficult if you think of it as being done in your own power, rather than His (Zechariah 4:6; John 16:7) and/or lose sight of the fact that His mercy (loyal loving-kindness is another interpretation) endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 118; Psalm 136; etc, etc, etc).
To see the kingdom of God, Jesus requires his followers to become as children (Matthew 18:3-4)… innocent, unassuming, trusting in Him.
May God richly bless you and grant to you the knowledge of Him who performs exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we could imagine!
Hi John, thanks for getting back so quickly again.
I’ve had exchanges with many people about this over the years, but I don’t think anyone has put it quite like you did here. Thank you – I think I will need to copy and paste your response so I can repeatedly read it in future.
This notion of not trusting my feelings is something I have wanted to try and deal with, but have sometimes had doubts about whether it is the right thing to do. The temptation has always been to think something along the lines of “it’s not true for you unless you feel it to be the case”. Indeed, my reading of some writers (such as some revivalists) has caused me to think in such a way.
You are saying I CAN lean on what is written, not relying on my feelings, which is very encouraging.
Your suggestion that this might be what it means to starve the flesh for me (or even something to repent of) I find quite mind-blowing (in a good way). Thank you for also giving me some very specific practical strategies for dealing with thoughts that are unworthy of God.
I’m still not 100% sure on the allegiance translation (at a purely textural level), but perhaps that is a conversation for another time.
Once again, I really appreciate you taking your time to encourage me here, thank you. I would also appreciate your prayers if you are willing?
I’m delighted that you found that useful. I already had started praying… that you would accept this response if, indeed, it was driven by the Spirit of God. So God is already at work! I will continue to pray for you, of course. Blessings to you!
This post explains the problems with the evangelical gospel and the obvious points of the true Gospel really well. This is so well-written!
Thank you John! (and Hi Paul)