POP GOES THE GOSPEL
What Are We Really Saved From?
In Part III of “Pop Goes The Gospel”, I described the pop gospel’s appallingly superficial response to the question, “What does Jesus save us from?”. It is a response rooted in pop psychology and crafted to dress the gospel in language that appeals to a self-focused generation. The true gospel, however, as proclaimed in the Bible, portrays Jesus as dealing with a deadly problem, the solution to which required the most drastic of actions. The pop gospel’s appalling distortion of the truth is best demonstrated by comparing it to the biblical gospel.
THE BIBLICAL GOSPEL
The biblical gospel starts with profoundly bad news:
- We are sinners. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). All of us break God’s commands regularly. We covet, lust, envy, gossip, lie, cheat, steal, murder, hate, slander, hold grudges, dishonour our parents and swear. We are greedy, proud and selfish. We regularly fail to do the good we know we should. We do not love our neighbour as we should. And, worst of all, we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. There would be very few people who would not break at least one of the 10 commandments almost every day of their lives!
- We are profound sinners. According to the Bible, we aren’t merely good people who slip up occasionally. We are inherently evil. Even our best actions and efforts are tainted with sin; pride, greed, envy, lust and selfishness underscore even our most noble actions. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). The Bible’s condemnation of our true natures could not be expressed more clearly than in Genesis 6:5; “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time”. This is why even the great Apostle Paul described himself as a “wretched man” (Rom 7:24) and as the “worst of sinners” (1 Tim 1:16).
- We are hopeless sinners. The news gets worse: We are completely powerless to change our inner natures. Our evil is so deeply embedded within us that no amount of effort or New Year’s resolutions can bring about true reform. The Bible describes us as “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:20), hopelessly chained to our sinful natures. In fact, this is our predicament from birth; “Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Just as a lawn bowl is incapable of rolling straight because of its inbuilt bias, our own inbuilt bias makes it impossible for us to break free from our sinful nature and live a life pleasing to God.
- We are condemned sinners. We stand already condemned before God, guilty of gross disobedience and only awaiting the final proclamation of our sentence; spiritual death – eternal separation from God in hell. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The final judgment will see us face the wrath of God for our disobedience; “You are storing up wrath against yourselves for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom 2:5). Any person who optimistically believes that their “good” life warrants some kind of ticket tape parade as they enter the pearly gates has completely failed to comprehend the extent and seriousness of their sin: “There is no one who is righteous; not even one” (Rom 3:10).
This is a truly bleak picture. The gospel starts with the worst possible news: we are profound sinners, unable to reform ourselves, already condemned and awaiting the final execution of our eternal sentence. This is what Jesus saves us from! Not from shame or a broken heart or unfulfilled dreams or unrealised potential, as the pop gospel would have us believe. Only once we have grasped the enormity of our problem can we fully appreciate the extraordinary nature of the salvation that Jesus offers. Jesus, the sinless one, took our sin upon himself, suffering God’s wrath in our place, so that we, the guilty ones, could go free. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). Not only that, but, for those who turn to Christ in faith and repentance, he indwells us with his Holy Spirit, and sets us free from the enslaving power of our sinful natures. “So, if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed!” (Jn 8:36).
This is the biblical gospel. It is incredibly bad news followed by amazingly good news! C.J. Mahaney, author of “The Cross Centred Life: Keeping The Gospel The Main Thing”, declares, “Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.”
The reluctance of many modern preachers to talk about sin, judgment and hell, is an inexcusable and fiendish dilution of the gospel of grace. The pop gospel’s self-focused message of Jesus as the fulfiller of dreams, healer of broken hearts, remover of shame and the one who can provide us with a fresh start in order to reach our full potential, is criminally negligent! It is akin to a doctor who fails to advise his patient that he has cancer and, instead, treats him for influenza.
Like every good lie, the pop gospel’s message contains just enough truth to make it convincing and appealing. For example, Jesus does give us a fresh start – but not a fresh start to reach our awesome potential! The new beginning he provides is a restored relationship with God – transforming us from condemned enemies to friends and dearly loved adopted children!
By understating the deadly nature of our condition and, instead, pandering to our self-focused natures, the pop gospel’s “inoffensive” message dilutes the true gospel of its power and, at best, produces shallow, self-centred Christians. At worst, its slippery-tongued message completely obfuscates the message of salvation, providing false comfort and assurance for unrepentant pew sitters.