Therapeutic vs. True Gospel

Gospel_20Banner_20511x213The 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:

  1. I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving God’s judgment (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. 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).
  3. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Titus 3:5-7).
  4. 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).
  5. 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. 

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Belief, Christian worldview, Christianity, Church Leadership, Church Planting, Confession, Depravity, Disciple-making, Doctrine, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Evil in the world, Faith, God's Love, Gospel, Gospel-centered, Hamartiology, Kingdom, Poor in spirit, Pride, Reconciliation, Religion-not the answer, Repentance, Salvation, Seeker Services, Seeking God, Self esteem, Self love, Self-deception, Selfishness, Sin and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Therapeutic vs. True Gospel

  1. Robyn says:

    “But doesn’t Jesus give peace, meaning and forgiveness? Doesn’t Scripture emphasize God’s love for us? “Yes” to both questions.” The problem is that after we’ve answered “yes” to that question – we remain where we are. In truth, “yes” is only the first half of the answer of the truth. In order to answer it fully we need to ask why? Was it for self or for God (and others)? The answer is obvious.

    • Maybe I’m thick. I have read your reply several times and I really can’t see why the answer is obvious. Care to explain?

      • wellsbunch2014j says:

        In reply to my own comment: Since it’s been about 8 months since I asked for an explanation and no one has explained, maybe I should have a go. The question was: “Was it for self or for God (and others)?” And the first part of the answer is that the word “or” is incorrect (or inappropriate). I am assuming here that Robyn is referring to the two questions at the beginning of her comment. So, “Was it for…?” The answer is all. First, it is for God the Father: John 4:23 says that the Father seeks worshipers. (And I’m sure that there are some who would immediately jump in and say that it says more than that. True, but at the moment, the main point is that the Father seeks worshipers.) So, it was for the Father. Second, it is for Jesus. In John 14 & 15 Jesus made many statements about preparing a place for His disciples, coming again to receive them, His love for them, that He chose them, and so on. So, it was for Jesus. Thirdly, it is for us. Galatians 4 tells us that we (who believe in Jesus) are adopted children of God. Jesus paid the price for our sins (many references), and so we are free to approach God’s throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). So it was for us, too. Therefore, “Was it for self or for God (and others)?”. It was for all. The only requirement is that we accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. So it was for the Father; Jesus; the Holy Spirit too, I’m sure; and for all who believe. I’m still not sure why Robyn would say the answer is obvious and leave it at that.

  2. Pingback: What kind of Savior do you want? | WisdomForLife

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