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Do Unbelievers Really Just Not Understand the Gospel?

February 27, 2013 24 comments

From my readings through a devotional book (Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, volume 2), comes this excerpt from the Feb. 21 reading:

Many of the lost fail to embrace the gospel because no one has presented it clearly to them.  That’s because many Christians communicate a muddled gospel that emphasizes lots of secondary issues, thanks in many respects to their leaders’ digressing from the genuine message. A sure way for Satan to weaken the gospel is simply to prevent its clear and accurate presentation.

The devotional’s point was for believers to stay focused on the gospel itself and not chase rabbit trails onto less important, secondary issues. Still, somehow in reading that, I considered the fact that, really (and generally speaking), lost people don’t have a problem of “not understanding” the gospel message.  I’ve been going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, in which he pointed this out, that people don’t have a problem with understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly communicated the saving message, and they understood His message so well that they crucified Him.
Sometimes I think, that people think that if the Lord Jesus were the preacher everyone would respond.  If the Apostle Paul were preaching in Believers Chapel there would be much better results.  Well, I’m willing to grant there would probably be some better results, but let me assure you it would not be because when a man gives a clear presentation of the gospel and gives it in a greater spirit of love, that there must therefore be a response.  Just think for a moment, who was preaching?  The Lord Jesus Christ.  Whoever gave the gospel message more clearly than he?  No one would debate that.  Whoever spoke out of a greater sense of divine love than the Lord Jesus?  What was his response?  Well he was crucified. … The facts are that men are unresponsive to the word of God.  They are unable to come.  They rebel against the Scriptures, for the mind of the flesh is enmity against God.  …  So when those who were listening to the Lord Jesus said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” they were really representative of human nature.
Regarding the idea that believers do not always present the gospel message because they (believers) get side-tracked onto “secondary” issues, and therefore the unbeliever hears a “muddled gospel”: perhaps that does happen, just not within my experience.  Instead, in conversations with unbelievers what usually happens is that the unbeliever likes to throw up objections, and the unbeliever likes to get sidetracked, away from the gospel itself to other unrelated issues.  Here again I recall something that S. Lewis Johnson mentioned sometimes, both from his own experience as an adult unbeliever in conversations with the Christian people around him (including his wife and mother-in-law) as well as the similar advice he was given on this very issue soon after he was saved.  Here is one excerpt from SLJ, describing this:
This reminds me of something that the man who led me to the Lord said when I was just a brand new Christian.  I came to him and spoke to him about a friend of mine with whom I had spoken about the Lord Jesus, and whom I’d sought to bring to faith in Christ, and was totally unsuccessful.  And then he said, Lewis, you’ll notice this about dealing with the lost.  They frequently will come to you with six or eight intellectual reasons why they should not believe the gospel.  He said, you ask them to list them, and they do, and you answer the first objection, and the second objection, and so on down through the six or seven.  And he said, “Lewis, you will notice that when you finish answering the seventh, the last one, they won’t say, ‘well then I’ll become a believer’; as a general rule, they’ll go back to number one again.”

From SLJ’s own experience:

I can remember when I was like that.  Whenever spiritual things would come up, and I would get involved in the conversation, I had about half a dozen things that I thought were things that prevented me from responding to the gospel.  I was in the insurance business, and I prided myself on thinking fairly logically.  And so I had a series of reasons that I would lodge against the Christian faith as it was understood by my mother-in-law and by others.  I usually reduced her to tears.  I won the arguments, and lost the ultimate battle of course.  But anyway, this is what I would do.  I would start with reason number one, why is the Bible the word of God?  How can we know the Bible is the word of God?  And I would go one, two, three, four, five, six.  And if we were in a large group of people, everybody would pounce in and they would answer my question.  So I would move on to number two, number three, number four, number five, number six.  And when I finished number six I would go back to number one again, number one, two.  That’s the way we are.

Unbelievers don’t have a problem of not understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly explained it and they still rejected it.  The greater issue is not so much that Christians do not clearly present the gospel and instead present a “muddled gospel” due to being sidetracked into non-essentials, but that unbelievers themselves, by nature, do not want to hear the gospel and will use such “defensive” tactics to distract away from the presentation of the gospel message.

Non-Essential Doctrines: The Test of Obedience

September 11, 2012 17 comments

In response to the many compromisers, who want to pick and choose which doctrines to believe – or even to rank the doctrines in importance by tiers, finding the “essential” things a person must believe in order to be saved — comes this great answer from Charles Spurgeon.  Such unbelief is nothing new, the same today as in Spurgeon’s day, and still so relevant and true in every area of biblical doctrines, where professing Christians sin in unbelief by rejecting “part” of what God says.  So the next time a liberal-minded preacher uses the line that “not all Christians believe this” or “it isn’t essential to believe this” in regards to what the Bible reveals to us (including such things as the Genesis 1 creation, and many other doctrinal points), remember this point and illustration from Spurgeon.

From sermon #359, “The Tabernacle—Outside the Camp”:

Some will say, “You make too much of non-essentials.” That is a thing I frequently hear—non-essentials! There are certain things in Scripture, they tell us, that are non-essentials, and therefore they are not to be taken any notice of. Doctrinal views, and the Baptism of Believers, for instance—these are non-essential to salvation, and therefore, is the inference which follows according to the theory of some—we may be very careless about them!

Do you know, Believer in Christ, that you are a servant? And what would you think if a servant should first wittingly neglect her duty, and then come to you and tell you that it is non-essential? If she should not light the fire tomorrow morning, and when you came down, she were to say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential; you won’t die though the fire is not lit”—or if, when she spread the breakfast, there was no provision there but a crust of bread, and nothing for you to drink; what if she should say, “Well, Sir, it is non-essential, you know? There is a glass of water for you and a piece of bread—the rest is non-essential.” If you came home and found that the rooms had never been swept, and the dust was upon them, or that the bed had not been made, and that you could not take an easy night’s rest, and the servant should say, “Oh, it is non-essential, Sir; it is quite nonessential.”

I think you would find it to be non-essential for you to keep her any longer, but extremely essential that you should discharge her! And what shall we say of those men who put aside the words of Christ, and say, “His precepts are quite non-essential”? Why, I think because they are non-essential, they therefore become the test of your obedience! If you could be saved by them, and if they were necessary to your salvation, your selfishness would lead you to observe them; but inasmuch as they are not necessary to your salvation, they become tests of your willingness to obey Christ!

Unbelief: Those Who Say “It is Not Necessary to Believe . . .”

December 27, 2010 Comments off

From listening to S. Lewis Johnson teaching through Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, comes the following gem:

You’ll notice also as you ponder ways in which men have attacked the faith, when they are guided by Satan, they do not, as a general rule, attack point blank the revelation that is found in the word of God.  They usually come with some kind of questions that suggest doubt concerning the Scriptures.  Ordinarily, you do not have a man who does not believe in the virgin birth stand in the pulpit and say, “I do not accept the biblical accounts of the virgin birth; the Lord Jesus was not born by a virgin.”  They do not normally say that.  They usually will say, “There are those who believe the Lord Jesus was born of a virgin, and there are those who believe the Lord Jesus was not born of a virgin; it is not necessary that we believe this doctrine.”  That is the usual way in which unbelief appears.  It is the kind of expression that casts doubt upon the word of God:  “it’s not necessary.”

How true this is:  the real enemy of biblical Christianity is not the overt anti-Christian message of atheists — it is those who come in among the church and take issue with some of the doctrines of the faith.  Where the scripture itself is clear and to the point, such individuals will come in and declare that belief in such-and-such a doctrine is optional — “not all Christians believe this,” and “Christians can believe this other way…”  It goes back to Satan’s word to Eve in the garden — questioning God; did God really say thus?

I can especially relate this to the so-called “second order” doctrines — truths clearly revealed in Scripture, part of God’s overall revealed word yet not part of soteriology — nonetheless doctrines that all true believers will love because they are in God’s book the Bible.  “God’s people are not offended by God’s word.”  Yet how many professing believers will come forth and proclaim that, because such doctrines are not “necessary for salvation” therefore these are really fringe issues and thus we can treat these as optional.  I have in mind specifically the doctrine of biblical creation, something clearly taught (not at all vague or unclear language) in Genesis 1 — and explicitly affirmed again in Exodus.  Yet I still recall the satanic words of a local church preacher on this point:  that not all Christians believe in a young earth, and we can still be Christians even though we don’t believe this.

Some might object to my calling this “satanic words.”  But what else can this really be called?  How is this any different from the example quoted above, or from the spirit of Satan’s words to Eve?  Even Peter once said the words of Satan, and Jesus rebuked him appropriately:  “get thee behind me, Satan.”

ICR’s (Institute for Creation Research) recent devotional also addressed the matter of “fringe issues” as compared to secondary doctrines that are revealed in scripture, observing that “Perhaps the rule might be, if it’s an essential doctrine, teach and defend it at all costs; if it’s a secondary doctrine, teach it in “meekness” and love (2 Timothy 2:25).” and concluding:

Is creationism a fringe issue? No! Few doctrines are so clearly taught in Scripture. Is it crucial to salvation? No! But it is essential to adequately understand the great primary doctrines for it is foundational to them all. Furthermore, it is the subject of origins which the enemy has identified as a major battleground, vowing to destroy Christianity over this issue. Here we must stand, if we are to guard our faith.