Losing the Gospel By Being “Missional”

“Missional” seems to be the new shibboleth for “Hey, we live for Jesus, and we think we’re cool.” The problem isn’t the emphasis on discipleship, but the emphasis on what we do instead of what Christ has done.

Theologians have warned over and over (and over and over) and over and over again that Christianity will always tend to return to works rather than grace. This is plainly true throughout Scripture and history. When the emphasis lies more on what we do than on what Christ has done, we are preaching man-centered works rather than Christ-centered grace.

Scan the blog posts, books, sermons, and Twitter feeds of our modern “missional” teachers, and you’ll see that many are more obsessed with the day-to-day of individuals living “missionally” (even going to lengths to show how “missional” their own churches are) than the age-to-age of Christ’s accomplishments in the gospel.

The proof is in the pudding. We can talk all day long about the gospel being great; but, until we preach it with great weight, urgency, and emphasis, we really don’t believe in its greatness. We’d simply rather talk about us.

The defense generaally comes back that such preachers are just “trying to help people” and “recover what’s been lost” in Christian discipleship. The funny thing is that’s not how the Bible does it. The Bible relentlessly, unapologetically, directly preaches Christ and Him crucified. Too often, Christian leaders don’t.

I appreciate the heart behind wanting to be “missional,” but only to a point. As C.S. Lewis cautioned, however, if we put second things first, we lose first and second things.

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Dear Pastor, Do Your Job

What do I do with this?

What do I do with this?

According to a multiplicity of biblical texts like Mark 1:15, Ephesians 4:10-15, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and Hebrews 13:7, the pastor’s job is to preach the Bible for the glory of God:

  • His job is not to be a community organizer; his job is to preach the gospel that might get him stoned.
  • His job is not to meet with other pastors and become well-known; his job is to teach the Bible so well that every man under his charge might well become a pastor.
  • His job is not to counsel the hurting sheep but to feed all the hungry sheep, including the hurting. Counseling may follow preaching, but it must not precede it.
  • His job is not to attract unbelievers; his job is to preach the gospel and believe that God will bring whomever He may will.
  • His job is not to manage services, though the preaching ought to well flow in congregational worship. His job is to preach the gospel as an act of worship both to the God who spoke His Word and to bring the people to worship this same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • His job is not to manage the church like a business; His job is to lead her by speaking the Word of God to her.

Often when we see churches going astray and becoming diseased, it is simply because her pastors have forgotten these basic principles. God’s Word never changes, dear pastor, so there’s no need to innovate with bells, whistles, and rock-and-roll show tactics. As Andrew Peterson sings to his son, just “stick to the old roads.”

The Foundation and the Fire

What Gospel Preachers, Pastors, Leaders, and Teachers Must Understand

Gospel teacher, the Bible teaches that your work will sooner or later be exposed. Whether you build a true building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, build a weak building on Jesus Christ, or teach an altogether false gospel (and those are the three categories), God will expose your work sooner or later – and that with fire. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says:

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw–
13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

However you teach, preach, minister, and lead, you are accountable to God for it: “the Day will disclose it.” Paul writes the same earlier, “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” Every minister is the same: an underservant accountable to God alone – not to numbers, not to other ministers, not to evangelical organizations, not mainly to the congregation, but to God alone.

So ask yourself two simple questions:

  1. Do I believe verse 11, “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ,”? Do I believe that Christ, not my words nor my ingenuity nor my attendees, is the foundation? Do I feel that deeply in my soul? Do I live and teach and preach that fact? If I do, servanthood and accountability in the ministry will flow out of that Spirit-filled fact.
  2. Do I believe 1 Corinthians 2:2, Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44, 2 Timothy 3:16, and a host of other passages which teach that teaching and preaching Jesus Christ alone from all the Scriptures for the salvation of sinners is the central, foundational, essential criterion by which all “Christian” ministry will be judged? If I do believe this, teaching Christ from the whole Bible will be not a chore, not a boredom, but a blessing of the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15).

If, however, you believe #1 but not #2, then your work will soon be exposed by the purifying fire of God Almighty.

If, even worse, you believe neither #1 nor #2, then verse 15 doesn’t apply to you, because you are not a Christian. Your life, rebelling against Jesus Christ’s lordship from head to toe, is no Christian life at all and will be consumed with fire.

We see then that this passage is not about heretical teachers but weak ones. Heresy – including the prosperity “gospel” lies (1 Timothy 6:6-10) – kills both the teacher and its believers.

Dear Pastor, Why Not Preach the Word?

One of my favorite radio hosts is always reviewing sermons, and I love it. So it made me wonder: why don’t you, dear pastor, preach the Word?

  1. Do you think that your ideas are wiser than God’s? No? Then preach the Word.
  2. Do you fancy your stories to be more entertaining than God’s Word? No? Then preach the Word.
  3. Do you find your topical sermons to be more directly applicable to people’s lives? Never! It canot be that you are a better exegete than the Holy Spirit! Preach the Word.
  4. Do you think your pop culture references are better connections than those inspired of the Spirit? No? Then preach the Word.
  5. Do you long to see souls saved from sin, death, and hell? God promises only one means, so preach the Word.
  6. Do you want to see Jesus Christ exalted over your own means, methods, and mole-hills? If not, leave the ministry. If so, preach the Word.
  7. Do you want to see Christ’s church upbuilt? Then preach the Word.
  8. Do you want to see your wife and children saved, strengthened, and sustained until the end? Your family vacation stories won’t do it. Preach the Word.
  9. Do you struggle with pride in your ministry? Only one means slays pride, so preach that Word.
  10. Do you care about the gospel ministry more than anything else you could give your life to? You’d better, so preach the Word.

Hiding Behind Conservatism

On “Christian” Cowardice, the Lukewarm “Church,” and False Converts

In my state, we’re in the midst of a popular vote on whether or not we should exclusively define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Several professing “Christians” have posted statements like this:

  • “Love is love is love.”
  • “Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love each other?”
  • “Legal marriage and spiritual marriage are two different, unrelated things.”
  • “I’m not sure this law should be in the state constitution.”

What troubles me more than the muddled thought processes behind such statements is the fact that they reveal an ignorance of the whole of Scripture. Such words have yanked passages out of context, used them in ways God never intended, and thrown them aside.

Such issues shine spotlights on our supposedly converted Christians and evangelical churches. If someone has no concern for God’s Word as He wrote it, is that person converted at all? Has he truly been transferred from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son? Wouldn’t it show in the way he looks at the world?

A converted man would he care more for people’s souls than for the supposed pillars of conservatism. A converted man would stand up against evil, even when everyone else stood against him. A converted man would preach this gospel, live this gospel, and die for this gospel.

“Hold on, that seems harsh.” Is it? When professing Christians cajole, contort, and apologize to get around God’s Word, do they really love God?

The way that Christians respond publicly to abortion and marriage will be one true test of our faith. Do we believe God’s Word or do we care more for other man-centered issues? Do we fear God or man? Indeed, who is our God?

Are You a Christian Coward? Am I?

A quick scan of Scripture’s calls to boldness in the gospel quickly reveals that the swath of American Christianity just doesn’t measure up:

  • Boldness is one distinguishing mark of righteousness: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion,” (Proverbs 28:1).
  • The early church prayed first for boldness following persecution: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,” (Acts 4:29).
  • God answers this prayer immediately by sending His Spirit: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness,” (Acts 4:31).
  • Because of the resurrection of Christ, Paul boldly fought with wild beasts at Ephesus: “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
  • In Christ, we have bold access to the Father: “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him,” (Ephesians 3:12).
  • Christians are meant to preach the gospel boldly: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” (Philippians 1:14).
  • Again: Paul was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance,” (Acts 28:31).

Recently, my state had a much-discussed vote on a marriage amendment, and, though I won’t be discussing that amendment directly here, it did shed some light on a particular subject. Many Christians are afraid (read: opposite of bold), sinfully afraid, to speak out against sin.

Jesus was bold. He told sinners they were vipers, children of Satan, lost, rebels, worse than prostitutes, and the like. And many sinners didn’t like that. By their will, that’s why He got killed. He was bold, too, in death and resurrection.

Because He’s risen, we’re called to be bold lions, not cowards. So let us ask ourselves, maybe for the first time, “Am I a Christian coward?”:

  1. Do I take every opportunity to preach the good news, when people lead me to it (in season) and when they don’t (out of season)? If not, why not? We may find that our reasons are couched in fear: fear of losing friends, fear of losing popularity (worship of fame), fear of the government, fear of exalting God’s Word over other words, and the like.
  2. When I do speak the gospel, do I emphasize sin, righteousness, judgment, and hell, before I even get to the cross? If not, it could be that I am too afraid of those “negative” topics and their potential effects on my hearers.
  3. Do I speak boldly when someone is sinning boldly? (Think here of public child abuse, misogyny, abusive speech, stealing, reviling God’s Word, and the like.) The Bible says that the righteous rebuke the wicked. Do you?
  4. Do I speak publicly on moral issues? This doesn’t mean we become Bible-thumping hate-mongers. It means that our country is constantly discussing moral issues, particularly two at this time, marriage and abortion, and we have a social and moral mandate for God’s glory to speak His Word. Do you do it?

To the degree that we do these things, our hearts are trusting in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, we become bold, gracious, gospel-dependent, and alive.

To the degree that we do not do these things, God says we are cowards, afraid to trust in Christ and valuing our own sinful culture over the riches of the God of heaven.

God forgive us and help us.

No Other Message

Thomas Jones, from a 1976 lecture, “Preaching the Cross of Christ”:

True Christian preaching must center on the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. All other revealed truths either find their fulfillment in the cross or are necessarily founded upon it. Therefore, no doctrine of Scripture may faithfully be set before men unless it is displayed in its relationship to the cross. The one who is called to preach, therefore, must preach Christ because there is no other message from God.

[Quoted in Bryan Chappell, Christ-centered Preaching, p.271]

The Proof is in the Preaching

Lots of us (sinfully) enjoy moralistic sermons (“do good,” “be a better person,” “take care of your finances,” etc.), but Bryan Chappell warns that no preacher accidentally omits the gospel:

A message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.

(From Christ-Centered Preaching, p.268)

So give your favorite works-preacher a close listen, and see if he gives weight to the weighty gospel or to the weak man.

The Redeemer > The Redeemed

In his recent post,”What Does It Mean to be Biblically Balanced?” Tullian Tchividjian explains how the Bible places a premium on the gospel:

The emphasis of the Bible is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed.

The Spirit and the Bride Say, “Come”

I love the simple beauty of the Scriptures. Today I was struck by this simple phrase, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come,’ ” (Revelation 22:17).

Just a few amazing things about this little passage:

  1. Call: After all the judgments, warnings, exhortations, proddings, visions, terror, and joy of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (aka, “Revelation”), the Holy Spirit and the Bride speak together. They say, “Come. Come get some living water. It’s free. Come on, come now, come all.”

    Not to make the Bible out to be merely a book of God’s pleadings, as though (like J.I. Packer so deftly put it in his excellent essay-introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ) God were pathetic and wringing His hands at how sinners reject Him, but God’s Spirit and His church here close the entire Bible by pleading with sinners! “Come!”

  2. Church and Spirit: The church and the Spirit speak in agreement here. The church and the Spirit are on mission together. The church and the Spirit speak the judgments and the joy of God, then they call, “Come. Come to Jesus. Come take His free water. Come.”

    This must give great hope to missionaries the world over. Wherever we work and whatever we do, we are called to call others to Jesus. It can be as simple as explaining the end of the world and commanding, “Come. Come to Jesus.” His Spirit is speaking with us!

  3. Word: The church says what the Word says, the Spirit says what the Word says, the Spirit says what the church says. The local church is meant to be in full agreement with God’s Spirit and His Word. There is no division. United are the three.

    Hope must spring from knowing that God’s Word, Spirit, and church cannot fail. His Word won’t return empty, His Spirit moves and saves wherever He wishes, and His church even stands against the gates of hell!

So say it with the Spirit and the Word. “Come. Come, take the water of life, without cost.”

Thirsty for Real Bible

This is what African-American men need: they need an affirmation of gospel-centered, biblical intellectualism that is contextualized, yet biblical, and that shows the connection of the entire breadth of the Word of God.

Eric Mason, in a conversation with Lecrae and Trip Lee on “Theological Imperialism and the Black Community”

Theological Imperialism and the Black Community from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

God Doesn’t Depend on Our Arguments

Sometimes we think that the effectiveness of our prayers, preaching, or evangelism depends on our words, our thoughts, or our faithfulness. Doug Wilson reminds us, that, while God uses arguments, He isn’t subject to them. Remember, when using God’s means, God will come.

Every Command is a Gospel Command

A few years back, I remember hearing a young man ask the question at a youth retreat, “How far is too far to go with a girl?” The other leaders answered, “Well, you know when it’s too far,” or, “I wouldn’t even touch the girl until we got married,” and on and on.

But God reminded me at that moment that we aren’t primarily commanded to “do stuff” in the Bible, for doing stuff can never save us (not even from staining our purity before God). Lots of folks think the Bible is a list of rules (“DO pray; DON’T sleep around”), and that’s true to a point. There are lots of good rules. But it’s not ultimately true or good without the gospel.

Take John 20:30-31 for instance,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John could have written down a lot of other things for a lot of other reasons, but he tells us that by the Holy Spirit he wrote down what he did “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”

“But wait,” you say, “There is something there that we’re supposed to ‘do.’ It says we will have life.” Yes, I say, it does say we’ll have life “in [Christ’s] name,” and by particular means “by believing.” Whatever things we have or do is by trusting on Jesus and living by faith in Him.

This is not “Do Stuff.” It is the gospel.

Take again for an example Colossians 3. Paul will go on in verses 5-25 (and into chapter 4) to lay out several specifics in how Christians are to live: kill your own immorality, stop lying, be humble and kind to each other, forgive each other, live thankfully, work hard. But the way God lays those commands out and frames them in the gospel is utterly important.

Notice the first four verses:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Under God’s Spirit, Paul begins the section by writing, “If then you have been raised with Christ.” The command of seeking heavenly things is couched in the reality of being raised with Jesus. Knowing His resurrection is the foundation of the command. The command is a gospel command.

Paul goes on to say that our lives are dead to this world and hidden with God because we died with Christ and He is hidden with God. We are to live out the truths of the gospel by believing these facts. Jesus is risen; all who believe are His.

These are gospel commands.

We could multiply examples:

  • In Ephesians 4:32, God tells us to forgive each other and be kind, as He in Christ forgave us.
  • Hebrews 10:19-25 tells us to draw near to God, hold fast to the faith, stir up each other to love, and continue meeting together because Jesus gave us entrance to God by His shed blood and constant intercession as high priest.
  • Even as Jesus commands anyone who would come after Him in Luke 9:23 to deny his own self, take up their cross daily, and follow after Christ, He is demanding that we believe His reward is better than life. Even in semi-cryptic terms, we must believe in the cross and the resurrection.

Sooner or later in the Bible, every command is a gospel command. The whole book is about one main event – the cross and the resurrection – in the life of its one main character, Jesus Christ.

So don’t believe those little children’s ditties and inscriptions on Christian paraphernalia that tell you the Bible is a list of rules. That looks true on the face but is rotten to the core. It only produces Pharisees. The Bible is a book about Jesus, and even when it tells us to do what is right, it is really telling us to live out what we believe and who we believe.

So back to my example (and you may be appalled that I left it alone for this long – what an issue!) – I did tell that young man that there were commands and standards, but I told him there were clear orders because of Jesus. Not because I say so or somebody else does, but because Jesus is risen. If you are to make a claim on Christ, you have to walk with Him by faith. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because His commands are built on the gospel.

Help for Preaching Christ in the Old Testament

Jesus Christ is all over the Old Testament. He said so Himself many, many times.

But sometimes we have a hard time seeing it. We prefer to preach moralistic, legalistic, or self-help messages out of the Old Testament, leaving the “gospel” messages to come from the New.

The leaders of the Gospel Coalition pray and work for that to change. To that end, they have an entire subheading on their site called “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” replete with commentary helps, articles, and sample sermons to help you, your pastor, and your church teach the gospel faithfully from every page of Scripture. Here is a sample from their Leviticus page, with Christ-centered sermons from Leviticus by pastors like Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, and Ligon Duncan.

The Gospel Coalition also recommends BibleMesh for the same purposes, and pastors can sign up for free.

Works-Teachers, Don’t Forget Sin

When I listen to many evangelical teachers, I hear a similar refrain: “Just do what Jesus said to do, and then you’ll be like Him.” This appears true, but so does every false teaching on its facade.

There are several problems here. This works-teaching mangles faith into a “do this, do that, just do stuff” attitude, it ignores Jesus’ teachings on justification by faith alone, and it exchanges atonement for Christ-likeness.

Before all that, however, the “Just do what Jesus said and you’ll be like Him” teaching  misses the biggest problem we have with following Christ – sin. Works-teaching forgets that sin constantly stands in the way of our perfect fellowship with God.

We can never just “become like Jesus” without atonement.

In our sin, we deceive ourselves into thinking we can just up and follow Jesus on our own. But we are never, ever as well off as we think. We must return to the one-time-for-all-time sacrifice of Jesus for sins and kill our sin (Romans 8:1-13), but we must not deceive ourselves and say we have no sin (1 John 1:8-10).

Works-teachers, learn to deal with the heart first, learn to run to the Gospel, then the good works will follow when we have set our eyes upon Jesus.

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