The Preaching of a Lawless Gospel
I wanted to simultaneously vomit and punch myself in the testicles.
That was it?
A couple hundred youth sat captive and all we could muster was that?! The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) had approached me about this particular event. The organizers bring in Christian celebrities who preach to high school kids.
“Do they preach the Gospel or is it motivational-type stuff?”
“Oh yeah, they preach it. Kids get saved!” I was reassured. So I agreed to advocate and support the event and with eager anticipation, attended that night. Two hours later, I was thoroughly disappointed. I looked back at a mentor of mine who sat shaking his head.
We missed the mark. We preached a lawless gospel.
“What about your heart?” the speaker, a coach, queried of the students.
The Importance of the Law
The second thing Jesus mentions, in the Sermon on the Mount, is the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
At Sinai, God gave men the Law. We must account for it.
There is vast confusion concerning the Law.
Most people have at least heard of the Ten Commandments, know that they exist, but what of the other confusing commands. Does God really care about the fabric of my shirt and want me to stone my wayward son? (Deuteronomy 22:11, Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Does He forbid tattoos, interest on loans, or a man with a crushed testicle from entering the tabernacle? (Leviticus 19:28, Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:1)
Many enemies of God wield these same aspects of the Law against unprepared Christians.
“You wearing a synthetic blend? Well, there you go cherry-picking again. Hypocrite.”
As such, apathy governs many Christian’s view of the Law. “It’s irrelevant”, echoing the sentiments of some popular preachers proclaiming that we must “unhitch” from the Old Testament. After all, we’re under grace, not law.
The 2nd century heretic Marcion popularized such beliefs, even going so far as to erase Old Testament quotations from the New and reverse the commands given by Jesus so that it read, “I did not come to [fulfill] the Law, but to [abolish] it.”
As easy as it would be, may we not imitate Marcion, or Stanley, or legions of others who trivialize that which is necessary, vital even.
The Place of the Law
The Law serves a number of functions.
The Law reveals the character of God. The Law distinguished Israel from the Gentile nations. The Law provides useful guidance on how to live but most of all, the Law drives men to Christ.
The moral law, the Ten Commandments, establishes an impossible standard and perfection is that standard!
Jesus confirms this in verse 20 and later as well, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) From James and Paul, if you violate one commandment, you violate them all. (James 2:10, Galatians 3:10) Consider that the Fall occurred because the couple violated a single command.
Allow me to restate: By the violation of one single command, sin doomed billions to death and devastation.
Further, the only suitable penalty for sinning against an eternal God is death, eternal death. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Jesus confirms that this means eternal punishment in hell. (Matthew 5:29-30) John concurs. (Revelation 20:12)
The Law paints man into an impossible corner, a corner from which he cannot escape. The Law confronts man with an impossible standard and inconceivable consequences for failing to meet those same standards.
The Law renders a man helpless and powerless before a wrathful and holy God.
The Law and the Gospel
It is only from this context that the Gospel resonates.
From this foundation, God sends the Redeemer, Jesus, the only One to live a sinless life, to meet the conditions of the Law. As such, Jesus provides a suitable and one time sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe.
Jesus pays the due penalty, propitiating the wrath of God against those who would otherwise be judged. They receive mercy, others receive justice, those who will not believe. No one receives injustice.
It is this base understanding of helplessness, of powerlessness, that drives men to their knees in conviction. That we may be like the tax collector, standing on the corner, who can’t even look to God but can only beat his chest and declare, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” Jesus declares. (Matthew 4:17) How could I repent without first knowing what I must repent from?
The Danger of a Lawless Gospel
“Who owns your heart?”
This question makes sense in terms of the Gospel. If I understand the Gospel, my sin and standing before God, then I understand that my heart is desperately wicked. Who can understand it? I understand that only in regeneration, when the Holy Spirit gives me the promised new heart, may I believe.
He rips my heart of stone from my chest and replaces it with a heart of flesh.
I understand that I don’t give my heart to God. He takes it.
I don’t invite Him into my heart. He kicks in the door.
He crushes it. My heart.
“Who owns your heart?”—a perfectly valid question in the context of the Gospel in its entirety, including the Law. On its own merits, utterly meaningless.
I sat watching. Ten or so youth occupied the table immediately in front of me. “Who owns their heart?” I wondered. They were preoccupied with the chick at the next table, the other guy’s french fries, their shoes, when was this going to be over, anything but the message. The sheer absence of conviction stunned me.
How could anyone believe without the Gospel being preached? (Romans 10:14)
My disappointment was complete.
The celebrity coach issued lots of encouragement. Work hard. Do your best. Set your priorities. Make good decisions. He mentioned his faith, about when he invited Jesus into his heart and got baptized but it was merely in line with everything else, just another way that he excelled, another thing that he did well.
I had a fleeting moment of hope as he concluded. “This is it,” I thought. Now comes the Gospel. I leaned forward in anticipation.
Do your absolute best and don’t forget to be on Team Jesus.
I was crest-fallen. This was an inspirational man.
No one is inspired into the Kingdom of Heaven.
They are convicted into it.
How many false converts occupy American churches as the firstfruits of a lawless Gospel?
The Fruit of a Lawful Gospel
I recall the first time I heard the Gospel, the Gospel message with all of its power, its authority…its teeth.
The Gospel message confronted me with my sin for the very first time. It confronted me with the uncomfortable notion that I was not okay and that I was powerless to change my condition. It confronted me with the wrath of holy and righteous God who was angry at my sin…
…and then it offered me rescue, the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus.
Only when I understand His wrath, does the love of God resonate.
Only when I understand His justice does mercy make sense.
Perhaps so many Christians seem unmoved by the love of God because they are ignorant of the wrath of God. The Law is a hammer that drives us to Christ for justification. A lawless gospel is not really a Gospel at all.
Let us crucify it.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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