Your answer to that question says a lot about your views on the finished work of the cross. For instance, whenever I proclaim the good news of God’s unconditional love as revealed in Jesus, I can just about guarantee that some serious person will pull me up for not preaching the whole gospel.
What they say: “We’ve got to preach the whole counsel of God, brother.”
What they mean: “You should tell people they need to do stuff – repent, confess, turn from sin, work, etc. – to earn the free gifts of grace.”
Earn the free gifts of grace?! What an absurd thing to say. It’s like saying, “Now children, pull out your piggy banks because Mommy and Daddy expect you to reimburse us for your Christmas presents.” This is just so ridiculous I’m speechless. How can you compensate God for his priceless gifts?
I am a big fan of repentance, but repentance may not be what you think it is.
I’m also a big fan of confession, but confession may not be what you think it is either.
And turning from sin? Well any time you turn to Jesus you automatically turn from sin. It’s inevitable. The issue is not what you are turning from but Who you are turning to. The Pharisees turned from sin every day but they never turned to Jesus. Turning from sin doesn’t make you righteous, just religious.
What is the “whole counsel” of God?
Paul told the Ephesians “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Some translations say, the whole “will” of God. The whole counsel and the whole gospel are the same thing because God’s will is always good news. He is not willing that any perish. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost but desires all of us to come to him to receive new life.
So what is the whole counsel of God that Paul proclaimed? He tells us just three verses earlier:
I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
The whole counsel of God is the unmixed gospel of his grace. Period.
“Just grace?!” says the serious man. Yes, grace and nothing but. Not grace-plus-your-confession, nor grace-plus-your-repentance – just grace.
“I can’t accept that,” says the serious man. Well, you wouldn’t be the first religious person to have a problem with grace:
The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God… (Luk 7:30, KJV)
Isn’t that interesting. Those who loved the law rejected God’s counsel. Who else did the Pharisees and law-teachers reject? Jesus (see Mark 8:31)! Indeed, Jesus is the whole counsel of God. If you would preach the counsel, the whole counsel, and nothing but the counsel of God, then preach Jesus and nothing else. He is both the will of God made flesh and the means by which God’s will comes to pass. Jesus is the Good News!
In my next post I want to give you some practical handles on how to proclaim the whole gospel, but let me finish here by showing you how not to preach the gospel:
Add stuff to it.
If you take all the blessings of God – his love, favor, forgiveness, acceptance, healing, provision, deliverance, etc. – and tell people they must do stuff to merit them, then you are diluting the gospel of grace. You’re preaching a mixed gospel of grace-plus. Grace is no longer the whole gospel; it’s only part of the gospel.
Whenever we add things to the gospel of grace we dilute its strength and empty the cross of its saving power.
What do these gospel additives look like? I am sure you know them. They are called prayer and fasting, Bible study, the spiritual disciplines, tithes and offerings, Christian duty, the virtues, works of service, ministry, self-sacrifice, helps, missions, outreach, submission, sowing, etc. In the hands of graceless religion these good things become death-dealing burdens. If you think you must do them before God will bless you, you have fallen from grace as hard as any Galatian.
Religion is cruel
Imagine a man crawls out of the desert in desperate thirst and you say to him, “Drink this, it is pure spring water.” That’s good news for the thirsty man. He doesn’t need to do anything except receive what you are offering. But if you ask that man to do something before you give him the drink, then it’s no longer good news. It’s cruel torture.
Telling a thirsty man he must pray for an hour before he can drink is not good news. Nor is telling him that he must keep the rules, play the game, and do what he’s told. This isn’t good news; it’s bad news. It’s the religion of this world that derailed the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Laodiceans and thousands of other churches since.
And telling him that the drink is free now but he must pay later is no different. In fact it’s worse because you given him a taste of real freedom before binding him with cords of obligation.
The good news is that grace is always free and if we drink it daily it’ll change us from the inside-out. You want to see change in your own life and the lives of others? Then follow Paul’s lead and preach the whole gospel of grace adding nothing to it.
This emphasis on what we must do before God will bless us is a doctrine of demons. It’s poison in the water. The true gospel is additive-free and it’s grace from start to finish.
Look to the cross – God has blessed us already! Look to the empty tomb – the work of saving you is finished! Believe it! Reach out and receive by faith the gift God has already given.