What is the Gospel

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of conducting my “In Light of the Cross” gospel seminar in New England. While there, a kind and gracious member of the Adventist Church I was speaking in, gave me a tour of the region and several old New England churches. Being a history buff, and realizing that the religious awakening, which spawned the Advent movement began in New England, created in my heart a deep appreciation for these old churches, some built in the early 1700′s or before.

New England Churches 100

I walked into one sanctuary, built in 1732,and sat on a pew deep in thought, contemplating the hundreds of people who had sat in that sanctuary over the last 280 years! I admired the pulpit from where the gospel was preached to weary sinners for centuries. Yes, I realize these churches were not Adventist churches, but they still preached the cross to sinners, and I imagine over the centuries many a sin weary pilgrim has laid his burden down on the altar and taken up the cross of Jesus. For that I am very thankful for these churches of various denominations. Each of these churches of various denominations were fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus that,

  ..this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, in [into] witnessing to all folks; and then the end shall come.Matthew 24:14 WYC (In my previous posts I often used the NLT Bible translation. However, writing about old churches and the religious awakening has me in a Wycliffe version frame of mind.)

When we think of the gospel we think of “good news.” Paul defines the gospel more specifically as the good news of the cross. The gospel is the cross.

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of word, that the cross of Christ be not voided away. 1 Corinthians 1:17 WYC

Protestant churches rose out of the dark ages with the light of the gospel. John Wycliffe is remembered as “the morning star of the reformation.” If the sun rose up all at once it would blind us. God first sends the morning star to pierce the darkness so we become accustomed to a little light, and the sun gradually rises until noonday when the  darkness is gone and

the earth was lightened of his glory. Revelation 18:1 WYC

So while many think there are many different church denominations because everyone interprets the Bible differently, truth is, each Protestant church has discovered different points of light about the gospel, leading us gradually out of the Dark Ages. It is not so much about interpreting things differently as  it is about progressing as we have more light, with each ray of light leading us farther and farther out of darkness into the full light of the cross.

God has always had a people in every church, and the Protestant reformers were a light in the their time, leading to the Protestant Reformation, which brought us to the religious awakening and Advent Movement.

So the question is, what new light has the Advent Movement shined on the gospel of the cross?

1. The Gospel saves us from death instead of eternal torment.

 For the wages of sin is death.. Romans 6:23 WYC

The wages of sin is death and not eternal torment. As we study the doctrine ofthe punishment of the wicked, in the light of the cross, we get new light not only on doctrine but more importantly on the character of God. God is not a psychopath wanting to torture people because they did not love Him, and make them wish they had. He is a God of love. The purpose of hell is not to torment sinners (Though there will be torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth for a time) but rather to put sinners out of their misery.

For God loved so the world [Forsooth God so loved the world], that he gave his one begotten Son, that each man that believeth in him perish not, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 WYC

The most popular verse of the Gospel tells us Jesus saves us from perishing and not eternal torment in hell.

2. Jesus really died for us.

The Biblical teaching of the state of the dead changes how we view the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. If we believe in the immortality of the soul, and that one does not really die, then Jesus never died and we are still without a Savior. However, the Bible teaches us that Jesus did not only truly die, but He died the second death for us. He faced not only death but the death of the wicked, which meant He loved us so much He was willing to go into total oblivion and be totally separated from God. He did not save us from the death of the righteous. He experienced and saved us from the death of the wicked – being totally separated from God, which has the effect of eternal oblivion.

..all the heathen shall busily drink, and they shall drink, and they shall swallow it all down; and then they shall be as if they had never been. Obadiah 1:16 WYC

3. Jesus saves us from our sin, not in our sin.

I once heard a Protestant preacher on the radio say, “In order for you to be able to call Jesus your Savior He has to actually save you from something.” The preacher went on to talk about how Jesus saves us from sinful addictions. Seventh-day Adventists understand that on the cross Jesus freed us from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

God the Father made him sin for us, which knew not sin, that we should be made [the] rightwiseness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 WYC

And he himself bare our sins in his body on a tree [Which he himself suffered, or bare, our sins in his body on the tree], that we be dead to sins, and live to rightwiseness, by whose wan wound ye be healed. 1 peter 2:24 WYC

Okay I think that last one needs a little help from the NLT!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

The gospel that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is taking into all the world not only gives us a clearer vision of the cross, but an even clearer vision of the the character of God.

God is a loving God who is not going to torment the wicked for all eternity because they did not love Him. He is a God of love who does not wish for us to perish. By understanding the Bible truth about death we understand the depths of Christ’s sacrifice and what great depths he was willing to go to in order to save us. We understand that He saves us from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin, so that we don’t have to be slaves to the sinful addictions that hurt us over and over.

This is the gospel that pierced the dark ages until it will one day be preached all over the world and then the world will be lightened with His glory. May we engage in the work of spreading this Good News!

You may study this week’s Sabbath School less here. 

Discipling or Cloning?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

While living in Texas I was taking a Texas history class at a community college. In writing a paper for class, I mentioned a political figure who was assassinated. I contrasted the pomp and circumstance of his funeral with the plain funeral of the man who killed him and was killed shortly after. I pointed out in my paper that, humanly speaking, the political figure was not any more of a saint than the man who killed him, yet he received greater honor. I then feared that my opinion might cost me a grade. Yet when I got my paper back, the professor had circled where I had written my opinion, and he wrote “Good point!” I got an “A”.

Later I told my friends that maybe the professor was not a big fan of the political figure I referred to. He agreed that that was probably why I got the good grade. Another friend responded, “Your professor may or may not have agreed with your statement. He did not give you an A because he agreed with your thinking. He was just glad to see you thinking!” In other words, my history professor was not trying to clone himself. He was trying to get people to read, study and think for themselves.

In evangelism it is very easy to try to clone people instead of making disciples for Jesus. Sometimes, while telling people to go by the Bible and the Bible only, we are blinded by our own traditions and can’t see to separate our traditions from plain Bible teaching. We end up teaching our view of what the Bible says instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to others.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A while back I was working as a Bible worker in a church out in West Texas. A young man from a nearby college would visit our church and attend prayer meetings. We were glad to have him! He would come wearing a t-shirt and shorts. One night after prayer meeting an elder came up to me and said, “You need to talk to that boy and tell him we don’t dress like that for church.” There was only one problem. I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible where it said you can’t come to church dressed like that. Sure there is counsel that we should wear our best and so forth, but who was I to decide what this young man’s “best” was?

Once a lawyer asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus, while being God, set us an example on how to answer such theological questions. Jesus did not give His personal opinion or philosophy. He directed the man to the Scriptures.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Luke 10:25-26 NKJV

Notice Jesus pointed the man to the law in the Scriptures and then asked him how he understood it, instead of telling him how to understand it. Jesus was allowing both the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to do their work. We mustn’t think that people have to think just like we do in order to be led by the Spirit.

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.-Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

Did you catch that? They were all led by the Holy Spirit even though they were not thinking exactly like each other.

I have met too many Christians who believe that if you are led by the Spirit that you will think exactly like them, because, of course, they are led by the Spirit. I have heard people say, the Holy Spirit will lead everyone to become vegan because that is what the Holy Spirit led me to become, and so if they are led by the same Spirit they will do the same. But consider this, Jesus was led by the Spirit and never became vegan! He did, however, practice a Bible principle of eating and drinking only to glorify God. See 1 Corinthians 10:31. Jesus followed the Bible principle of eating the best foods available, which were also biblically clean, in His time and place. We are to do the same. In some places that may mean eating vegan. In other places it may not.

We need to be careful not to confuse our personal preferences with biblical truth. While the Bible teaches religious liberty, many think that means they can just follow their personal whims and tastes, instead of real personal convictions of Bible truth. This is why Ellen white wrote,

Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors than to have sixty make a nominal profession and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  –Testimonies to the Church  Vol. 4, p. 317. 

Consider this,

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 NKJV

 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 NKJV

Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given.-Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 93.

Instead of cloning people to think and act exactly like us, shouldn’t we rather train them to study the Bible and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth? When they study the Bible, the same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago is right there with them to help them understand those words today.

We need to remember that we all are human, and we all have human philosophies and traditions, no matter how biblically sound we think we are. Our job is not to clone people to be exactly like us, but to point them to the Perfect Example which is Jesus. This example is found in the Scriptures.

Ellen White, one of the primary founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke these as her last words to the church body, as she held the Bible extended on her hands:

“I commend unto you this Book.” – W. A. Spicer, Certainties of the Advent Movement, p. 202.

Our church founder’s job was not to do our thinking for us, just as my professor’s job was not to do my thinking for me.

Let’s exalt the Scriptures as our church founders did and, even more importantly, as Jesus did. As we study this quarter’s lesson together, let’s ask God to show us the difference between just cloning people to be like us, and making disciples for Jesus.