Imagine every Christian is standing before a judge. They’re then ordered to tell the gospel, but before the begin they must promise to say the truth. How many Christians would be able to do so? I’m not just talking about lay-members, how many pastors, theologians, mature and new Christians would be able to share the whole truth of the gospel?
In my experience, one of the ways we rate a preacher is based on how they packaged the gospel message. I guess the same is true for conversations outside of the pulpit too. We tend towards extremes, saying that one is a ‘hell fire and brimstone’ preacher and the other extreme is ‘fluffy feel good’ Christianity. One is hard hitting and somewhat ungracious whilst the other reduces the gospel to a comfort blanket.
Broadly speaking, I think that the previous generation did a lot more speaking about hell and judgment. They spoke of the severity of sin and the consequences of dying outside of Christ. They went to lengths to warn people, using all the passion and zeal that they could muster.
But in response to that, and some of the damage that such an approach caused in the lives of some people, there seems to have been a movement away from such preaching. A bit like a pendulum when released from one extreme, it swings in the opposite direction. As a response to the ‘hell fire preaching’ the temptation is to only focus on God’s love. This is a necessary part of the gospel but in my experience of people making such an extreme movement away from the past, there is a danger that such a proclamation of the gospel neglects sin, judgment and the Lord’s discipline.
The thing is, if both of these gospel presentations of the gospel where to be presented before a judge I’m not sure they could say that the were both teaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Both presentations of the gospel have an emphasis on different aspects of the gospel story, but neither extremes faithfully present the whole story.
The presentation of the gospel must come with a warning of judgment together with the hope that Jesus brings. To present the gospel you need to include both the hard news and the good news. Notice how I didn’t say ‘bad news’ nothing about the gospel is bad news so let’s stop saying that people need to hear the bad news before they hear the good news. People need to hear the hard news, the fact that they are sinners and without Christ are alienated from God and under His wrath. Together with that they also need to know the hope that Jesus brings.
Any presentation of the gospel must find the balance between sincerely calling lost sinners from the clutches of Satan whilst also calling them into the living family of God. If you focus too much on either extreme, you’re in danger of presenting a false gospel.
The danger is that you could scare someone into the church out of a fear of hell, which could lead to a life of legalism, moralism and constantly questioning their salvation out of fear. The other danger is that you present a ‘gospel of love’ which doesn’t call the person to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. It could mean that someone might walk around confident of their salvation and yet living completely contrary to God’s Word, but in their minds it’s ok because God loves people.
To stand before a judge and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth would require a full gospel, not a message measured by extremes.
Anytime we share Jesus with people we must present the warning of judgment and death as well as the promise of true forgiveness and every lasting life with our wonderful Saviour.