The word gospel refers to the good news about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
But exactly what did Jesus do for us?
Sadly, the gospel that has become increasingly emphasized in our churches turns the saving work of Christ into a therapeutic focus on a Jesus who meets my felt needs in a way that keeps me at the center of life.
It’s a kind of Jesus who is there to serve you by giving you peace and love. He’s the Jesus who died to heal your broken life. I wrote about this in my previous post.
The true gospel will not reach us until “me at the center” is understood to be an affront against almighty God.
I must acknowledge that my sin is on full display when I want the glory and honor that belongs to God. When I focus life on myself — on my feelings and desires as most important, I show the ugliest side of the sin Christ died for.
Jesus Christ died for my sin, for my willful preoccupation with myself. A gospel message that invites me to stay at the center is not the true gospel.
Listen closely to the emphasis when you hear someone invite people to follow Jesus. If it is on a Jesus who gives you peace and meaning; who gives you better relationships and takes away your feelings of guilt, you’re hearing a distortion of the gospel or a therapeutic gospel. You’re hearing a sales pitch for Jesus the personal therapist rather than Jesus the Savior who rescues me from my sin.
But wait! Doesn’t Jesus give peace, meaning and forgiveness? Doesn’t Scripture emphasize God’s love for us? “Yes” to both of these questions. Yet these are the benefits of the gospel, not the gospel.
The gospel reminds us that God’s love is so amazing because it is offered to sinners. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He died for undeserving, self-centered people like me.
“The emphasis of scripture is on the godless self-centeredness of sin. Every sin is a breach of what Jesus called ‘the first and great commandment,’ not just by failing to love God with all our being, but by actively refusing to acknowledge and obey him as our Creator and Lord. We have rejected the position of dependence which our createdness inevitably involves, and made a bid for independence. Worse still, we have dared to proclaim our self-dependence, or autonomy, which is to claim the position occupied by God alone. Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God (Rom. 8:7), issuing in active rebellion against him” (John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 90).
Accepting the verdict of Scripture about my sin and the judgment it deserves is essential if I hope to experience the benefits of the gospel.
If the Church fails to truthfully present the bad news about sin, there will be no true gospel. For the gospel to be the good news God intended, I must acknowledge the following verdicts:
- I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving God’s judgment (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
- I cannot by any effort of my own improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6;Galatians 2:16, 21; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
- Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Titus 3:5-7).
- What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ bore the judgment my sin deserved (Galatians 3:13;Romans 5:8; 8:3-4;II Corinthians 5:17,18,21).
- There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39;John 1:12;3:16-18,36; 10:27-28).
Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas exposed the error behind the therapeutic gospel.
“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”
People do not seek God unless His Spirit first works in their hearts and Jesus revealed the kind of work the Spirit would do when he said, the Spirit will “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (see: John 16:8).
I am not sure these would make good themes for a therapy session but they are essential for understanding the gospel.