MEMBERS: What Is-and Is Not-the Gospel? (Transcript)

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Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members’ podcast. Before we go any further, we want to thank you sincerely for your partnership with us in this ministry to see this message of the sufficiency of Christ and the rest that is ours in him spread as far and as wide as possible. We are excited about what 2021 holds for Theocast, and you are an integral part of that. We appreciate you very much.

We here, and you guys have probably observed this about us, get more worked up over this stuff that we’re talking about today—the nature of the gospel—than we do anything else. We will unapologetically and doggedly defend the objective declarative realities of Christ and the gospel and the sufficiency of Christ to save sinners until the day we die or Christ returns.

So, we’re going to unpack some of these things a little bit more for you. There’s no guarantee that we won’t get fired up in the things that we discuss. Jon is already acting like he’s going to poke the bear a little bit. I don’t even know what to say. Pray for us. Pray this would be edifying.

Jon Moffitt: We, as pastors, day in and day out, have to shepherd people who are so weary, so tired, so beat down, scared, afraid, and angry. I’m actually getting people to admit at my own church that they don’t like God. I know that sounds crazy—and we’re going to do a podcast on it—but I’m telling you right now, if you’re listening to this podcast, I can convince you that you don’t like the God you say you love because the gospel has been confused to you. Someone has confused the gospel. Assuming the gospel to you is the good news that God will fix your life, that’s the good news to you, and then it doesn’t happen—there’s cancer, there’s death, there’s sorrow, there’s constant addiction, there’s this struggle that doesn’t go away and you’re say God is a failure and you don’t really like him. You can’t say that out loud and you can’t verbalize that you don’t like God, but you don’t like him. I’m telling you right now, whatever gospel that’s been handed to you, it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus says, “All of you who are heavy-laden, come to me and I will give you rest.” So, if you’re not resting, if you’re not truly finding the joy of your salvation as David says, then that means whatever you are believing in is robbing you of that.

My entire life existence is centered around—and I don’t care if I was a plumber or a doctor, I want to encourage all of my congregation to think of this way—that my life existence is to lead people to rest in Jesus Christ, no matter what my occupation is. The only way I can do that is through the gospel. If someone has confused the gospel, that means they have confused the only hope and the only reason for living this life.

I’m a little agitated when someone comes in and, and messes with the good news that you can find hope in Christ. It’s probably the only thing that you’re going to see me die for, and the only thing that I’m probably going to fall on my sword for. Everything else, I’m thinking, “Eh… we can talk about those things.” But if you remove hope, there is no reason. I’m just claiming Paul here. If you remove the clarity of the finished work of Jesus Christ, go party. Go do something else. It doesn’t matter. Life does not matter. I know that sounds extreme, but I believe that.

If you want to know what gets a text thread boiling faster on my phone—and we’re on quite a few text threads—is that when some prominent evangelical who should know better, and I say that very gently, puts clutter on the gospel; I would say clutter that absolutely robs people of hope. That’s where the kid gloves come off. There are a lot of things in this world that don’t really get my blood boiling, but the moment someone comes in and adds something to the gospel—and here’s what’s sad: it sounds so right when they say it.

Jimmy Buehler: I have an analogy that I’ve used often. One of my favorite meals is a big hearty bowl of beef stew. You get beef, potatoes, carrots, and maybe some peas in there. Growing up, we had two dogs in our household and my mom would often buy these cans of wet dog food. When I would open these cans and I would pour it out into the bowl, if I didn’t know any better, this just looks like a bowl of beef stew. Literally, it had like chunks of meat in there, brown sauce, carrots, and some other vegetables. If I didn’t know any better, if you were to put that in a bowl, I would take a spoonful of that just thinking that it’s beef stew. Frankly, this is often what I see when people want to attach some sort of qualifier to the gospel; that you have to do this, or you have to say this, or you have to treasure this much, or you have to forsake this much, or my personal favorite: you have to be at least willing to do all of these things. How deep do you want this rabbit hole to go? How much hope do you want to rob off people? All of these quotes that I see from like major evangelical sources, I’m thinking do these people know what good news is?

Think of it like this: imagine I was standing across from my soon-to-be-wife on our wedding day and I said to her, “Babe, you have to be willing to love me above all else for me to love you.” You may now kiss the bride. Is there good news in that? Now, if I stand across from my bride on our wedding day and say, “Hey, I know there are going to be days that you fail and there are going to be days that you kill it. I know that there are going to be days that you sin against me, and I know that there’s going to be days that you love me sacrificially. But in all of those things, I want you to know that you are forever loved, safe, secure, justified, made righteous because I’m committing myself to you.” And that’s what Christ does now. That’s good news. It strips us completely of all of our hopes of being righteous in ourselves and causes us to throw ourselves on the mercy of God and Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.

Justin Perdue: Picking up on things that both of you guys are saying, I think that what gets me really upset when I see articles posted, or tweets, or whatever it may be, is that there is a tendency so often to turn this question of what the gospel is back in on us. It comes across like the good news of Jesus Christ, salvation, heaven and hell, and all of those things, live and die and rise and fall with us and how we’re doing. For our sake here at Theocast, and I know I am to do this unashamedly in my own local church, I rejoice in being able to help people see that the gospel has absolutely nothing to do with us at all. That sounds really insane, and it sounds wrong, it sounds impious or something, to say that the gospel has nothing to do with us, but it doesn’t. The gospel has everything to do with Christ and only him, and what he has done for us that we then received by faith, as we’ve already been clear on it on numerous points.

I sometimes struggle with how anybody could ever read a number of these things that are tweeted or written and think that there’s any good news in it at all. Because as I look at it, I think, “That there is slavery and bondage. I’m ruined and I’m damned if this is what Christianity is. I am wasting my time, I am a moron, and I need to go about doing something else because I will never meet the test.” I get confused as to how anybody thinks they could ever pass something like this, that they could ever clear the bar. I want to say, “Have you people ever looked inside your own hearts for just a moment? The fact that God knows your heart is terrible news for you, and you’re not doing well.”

I think that there are good and bad ways to go about communicating such things. I know that we aim to communicate this stuff in gracious ways, and in ways that are clear, and we want to be nuanced and helpful. But I think it’s a great service that we do for our local churches, as pastors, when we get up and make these things plain: that if this were about us at all, we’re wasting our time, but thank God it’s not. Christ has us and we are safe and secure in him. It’s a reason that I was jaded for a long time. I know many of us were.

Jimmy Buehler: For sure. Because you’re being thrown back on yourself. Anxious people tend to be pretty cunning because they’re scared about something.

Something that a friend of mine in our church said—he said two things from our pulpit and elsewhere that has always stuck with me. He might’ve taken the first one from somewhere else, but that’s fine. All truth is God’s truth. He says the banner under which we live the Christian life is not “do more and be better”, but the banner under which we live the Christian life is “it is finished.” That’s the first one. The second thing is this: he always says, “If I am saved, it’s only because of the mercy of Jesus Christ, because salvation belongs to the Lord.”

Jon Moffitt: “Lest anyone may boast.” That’s the phrase that just frees me because if there’s something I can take credit for, I will. I’ll take the credit. And Paul says, “Listen, there’s nothing left for you to hold onto. You don’t have a reason to boast. You were saved by grace through faith in Christ so that you don’t boast.” And if we’re going to boast, what did he say? “Boast in the Lord.” The hard thing about this is that they will quote that verse and then hand you things and tell you not to boast about it. “Don’t boast about it, but this is still something you need to do.” What? That is ridiculous. You hand me something, not to boast about it, but yet it’s still something I have to do.

Justin Perdue: You’ve referenced Ephesians 2:8-10 and 1 Corinthians 1:30-31. But in Corinthians 1:31, Paul quotes Jeremiah, and says, “So that, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” Because of God, we’re in Christ, and Christ has become to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. In other words, Christ is everything. He is all. I know we say that a lot and we sing, “All I have is Christ,” and, “Hallelujah! Jesus is my life,” and that’s true. We mean that. So did Paul, and so did the writers of Scripture—they mean that when they say he is everything.

Then of course, there are all kinds of implications that come from the gospel and what Christ has done. There are outflows of this, and those things are all great. We want to talk about them, and we want to live in a way that’s good for us in the church, to where we might be safe, loved, and not wreck our lives. But Lord help us when we start weaving these things into the groundwork of what it is to have peace with God.

Jimmy Buehler: Here’s the other thing. Something that you said there, Justin: let’s not confuse the implications of the gospel or the quality of our Christian life, which are things that are just common sense. It’s common sense to love your wife, it’s common sense to be a good dad, or whatever it is that it may be.

Justin Perdue: Or not blow up in anger at other people.

Jimmy Buehler: Right. I lived like this for a long time. If you go back and you just listened to the list of things that we said in our regular portion of the podcast, I lived my life like this for so long that when I would sin, or when I would fail, or when I would have some grievous thought or heart motivation, I would go through that list and think, “I don’t treasure Christ enough,” or, “I don’t love God enough,” or, “I’m not being discipled good enough.” It wrecks you.

Justin Perdue: Jimmy, to that point, I’m tracking with you a hundred percent. I used to live that way, too, and I still fight this. Whenever I know that I’m struggling or sinning in certain ways, I will then fall back into this pattern of feeling essentially like I need to do penance. Like I need to demonstrate to God that I’m sincere. Like I need to, in one sense, throw my stick in the fire and rededicate and get serious about this. Because it’s just how we’ve been conditioned. It’s been spoken over us so much and we’ve been steeped in it, so many of us, for so long. It’s like what we’ve said so many times: pietism and this kind of thinking dies a very slow and painful death in all of us, including the three hosts around this microphone, because it’s very natural. We naturally assume that God deals with us on the basis of our merit, and that He is like us in that how we’re doing affects how He feels about us. He’s not like us in that regard.

Jon Moffitt: Historically speaking, the reason this podcast exists is because of a podcast that came out a while ago on pietism. When the priority of the Christian life is sanctification—or let me just put it this way: when the theological depth is always studying, focusing on what I have to do for God, and that becomes the focus of everything you read, say, do, tweet, meme, or whatever, you are going to lose the priority and you’re going to lose the clarity of the gospel.

I will argue, and I believe this with all my heart, that the primary message of the Bible, around 95% of all that is written, is the good news of how God saved sinners. That’s what it’s about. And then he says, “Oh, by the way, while you wait for me to come back, I need you to act like this.” But what do we do? We prioritize that 5%. We take that 5% and we make it the thing that we focus on and we just ignore 95% of the Bible.

Justin Perdue: We distort that 5% into it being all about our personal disciplines, when in reality, the vast majority of that 5% is love each other.

Jon Moffitt: And this is why I mentioned this: when you don’t focus on the gospel when Paul says, “I want to make nothing known among you, except for Christ and him crucified,” and then I hear the pietist tell me, “Jon, there’s more to the Bible than the gospel,” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” if you don’t have the gospel, you don’t have life. This is Jesus’ own words. Yet, we want to emphasize what we do for God, and God’s book is emphasizing what God has done for us. This is why Theocast exists, this is why we, as pastors, we stand up in the pulpit to clarify Jesus every week because our hearts naturally turn away from him. We pile on Law, and we pile on sin. The preaching of God’s Word in communion is what brings us that focal point and clarity every single week, because the priority is the gospel and nothing else.

Now, hopefully, you understand what we mean by gospel. It’s not what you’re doing for God; it’s what God has done for you.

Justin Perdue: This has been a good conversation, brothers. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been encouraged. We hope that you, the listener, have been encouraged and helped by this as well.

Once again, we’re thankful for you and your partnership with us. We pray that you would continue to support Theocast and the ministry that we aim and hope to do here, by the grace of God. If you’re a pastor and you’re listening to this, consider putting Theocast on your church’s missions budget. We, unashamedly, would say this is a good ministry to invest your dollars in and partner with us in any way that you see fit. We’re grateful for you.

Continue to pray for us as we aim to herald Jesus Christ and his finished work in our place, which is the only source of our peace and rest. We will have another one of these conversations, God-willing, again next week. Who knows what it’s going to be about? You can look forward to that and speak with you soon.

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