Simplicity Series #36

The Gospel and Culture

In May, I will be speaking at a large Theological Conference in Asia, and I have been asked to present a series on the impact of the Gospel message on culture along three lines: “The Gospel and Culture,” “The Gospel in a Changing World,” and “The Gospel and Missions.”

I thought it would be worthwhile to present these ideas in the Simplicity Series. I will attempt to get at least three posts out before I leave for South Asia, where I will do a series of conferences on Romans, before I move on to the Theological Conference.

We ask that you remember believers in these areas in your prayers, as the persecution of Christians continues to increase at an alarming rate. Again, I do not refer to the specific countries or dates, because many are now employing agents to check the Internet and track any missionaries coming and going into these places. Covert ministry is essential—both to continue this work and to protect indigenous believers from harm.

In order to understand the impact of the Gospel on culture, we first need to ask two questions: What is the Gospel message? And, what is culture?

What is the Gospel Message?

It seems ridiculous to have to ask this question, but there is a great deal of confusion about it today. Not too long ago, I asked a group of pastors in a third-world country how anyone could gain eternal life. As they answered, I wrote on the blackboard until we had 26 entrance requirements. When I challenged them on the sheer numbers and asked how many of them used all of these in evangelism, they began to suggest subtractions, until we finally came down to one: faith. There is only condition, as sustained by the Apostle John who, in his gospel, states 99 times that we are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone. It is not insignificant that John’s specific purpose in writing his gospel was to lead people to eternal life through faith (John 20:30–31).

The Gospel is about God, Christ, and Man

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” 1 Tim. 2:5–6

The one and only true God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Mediator—the go-between, between God and men. This mediatorial work required that Jesus offer Himself as a ransom for all mankind. The word for “ransom” (antilutron) speaks of the price paid for the release of a slave. This is called redemption and was portrayed by the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the application of its blood (Exodus 12). It is worth noting that this momentous transaction took place because God the Father, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). This passage parallels the same truths set forth in John 3:16.

The Gospel Presents Christ’s Victorious Work

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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.” 1 Cor. 15:3–4

The victorious work of Christ consists of His death on our behalf, His burial, and His resurrection. The reason this was required is stated to be “our sins.” The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was required to deliver sinful men. The death of Christ involved both spiritual and physical death. The spiritual death was His separation from the Father and the Spirit during His agony (Psalm 22:1; Matt. 27:46). The physical death was His voluntary surrender of His spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46; John 10:18). His spiritual death paid the penalty for our sins; His physical death confirmed that the payment was complete, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

The Gospel Contains Both Good and Bad News

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36

Unless the bad news of man’s hopeless, spiritually dead condition is first understood, there is little motive to receive the Good News. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ as Lord (God) and Savior (Redeemer), there can be no hope for either time or eternity. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope, no life, and no escape from the ultimate penalty of the wrath of God.

The Gospel Proclaims the Grace of God

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph. 2:8–9

This passage, like so many others, is often deprived of its true meaning by shoddy exegesis. The contention that faith is the gift, and that God only gives it to those “predestined,” is demonstrably false. The word “faith” is feminine in gender. The word “that” is neuter, grammatically forbidding it to be referring to the word “faith.” Rather, it is looking back to the three-fold list of accomplishments found in Eph. 2:5–7. Even though we were spiritually dead, God “made us alive together with Christ … raised us up together [with Christ], and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ.”

It should be a hint in that Paul parenthetically says, “by grace you have been saved,” which he then repeats in verse 8. It is the comprehensive work of our salvation that is “the gift of God,” and can only be received by faith alone. And if anyone should ask how this “gift” is received, Paul has already told us.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Eph. 1:13–14

Again, it is important to pay attention to detail. The correct order is: (1) hearing the Gospel, (2) believing the Gospel, and (3) being sealed by the Holy Spirit.

The very same formula is given in Acts 15:7–8, where Peter relates his experience at the house of Cornelius. The reason this needs such emphasis is that there are those who say that God first regenerates the soul, then gives faith to believe. There is not one passage of Scripture that supports such a claim. As Paul declares in Rom. 10:17:

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

This verse summarizes Rom. 10:13–15, in which we can see the very same formula. The Bible is one book, having one Author, and it does not contradict itself!

The Gospel Offers Life to All Men

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself.” John 12:32

The Lord Jesus Christ died for all men, and by His mighty power, He is able to draw all men to come to Him. It is clear from passages like Matt. 23:37–39 and Luke 7:30, that many will harden their hearts and refuse to come to Him. But by the witness to God through creation (Rom. 1:18–21), combined with the inner witness of conscience (Eccl. 3:11; Rom. 2:14–15), the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–11), and finally the proclamation of the Gospel message (Rom. 10:13–15), no one will ever have an excuse for not coming to the Savior. Men are not condemned for their sins, because the debt of sins was paid at the cross. Rather, men are condemned for rejecting the Savior who died for them (John 3:16–19).

The Gospel is So Simple, even a Child Can Understand and Believe

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3–4

The word Jesus used, “converted,” is strepho and means “to turn about or turn around.” It is in the passive voice, and thus should read “be turned about.” We are “turned about” by the hearing of God’s Word and the convicting of the Holy Spirit. This turning is back to something we once had—the innocence and simplicity of a “little” child. A small child has the unique quality of simply believing what it is told. A child who has never seen an elephant, after being shown one in a picture, will always believe it is an elephant. Little children are trusting, and this trusting nature is based on their humble attitude and the realization of how little they know. They trust their parents, and believe what they are told.

There is ultimately one thing that stands in the way of a return to child-like humility and faith. That is pride, or better, arrogance, in being impressed with who we are and how much we know. This is why pride is called “the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6–7; 2 Tim. 2:25–26). This is why it is so often the intelligent of this world who reject the simplicity of the Gospel message. Never forget …

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Pet. 5:5b

In the next post, we will look at five essential elements of the Gospel in Romans. We will then be prepared to consider the next question: “What is culture?”


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