Monday, July 28, 2008

Realizing the Riches of Christ

“8To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:8; NASB)

Probably one of the reasons that so many of us struggle with guilt and frustration in our lives, is that we truly do not grasp the riches of Christ available to us through the gospel. We all face various problems in life, but the chief problem, the one that underlies all others, is the dilemma of our sin. And by “sin”, I am referring to our sins that we commit against a holy God. And it is the awareness of this sin that brings about guilt, a sense of being alienated from God and an overwhelming sense of deserving punishment as a result of sin.

Paul recognized that God had appointed him to preach the gospel to the gentiles. Here the truth is described as the “unfathomable riches of Christ” or to use another term, “unsearchable riches of Christ” as is translated in some versions of the Bible such as the ESV and the NIV. The Greek word Anexichniastos that is translated unsearchable or unfathomable, means something “that cannot be searched out” or comprehended. This does not mean that we cannot learn about those riches in Christ, but it simply means that they are so great, and the truth is so infinite, that our minds cannot fully comprehend or understand all of it. Those riches in Christ are so great that they are almost unbelievable.

But it is those truths that are instrumental in providing comfort and the means to grow and strengthen us in our Christian walk.

It is tragic that in evangelicalism today, these deep truths are seldom mined from Scripture. Consequently, too many Christians are robbed from the benefits of knowing these rich truths. Many lead lives of doubt and insecurity, troubled by their failures and shortcomings, taunted by the sin that unfortunately creeps into their lives.

But what is the reason for this dilemma? Jerry Bridges in his book “The Gospel for Real Life” sites a couple of reasons for this. One is that we have a tendency to have a “truncated view of the gospel”. The gospel is merely viewed as the doorway to becoming a Christian, and then we just need to focus on discipleship. In other words, once we become a Christian, we can tend to view the gospel as something for unbelievers. It becomes viewed as something that we only share with others so that they can be saved.

The second reason is that many possess a “utilitarian view” of the gospel. This is where people merely seek to find out what benefits they can reap in their daily life. Either they are seeking “fire insurance”, leading a life of ease now and then the guarantee of eternal happiness after this life, or it is looking for solutions to the problems of everyday life and how to be successful. Bridges sites an advertisement in a church flyer that illustrates this. But I think many of us have run across the same thing. I know I have received flyers in the mail showcasing a church outlining this very philosophy. In fact, a number of years ago, I received one from a church just around the corner from us. It follows a similar list of key points that Jerry Bridges gives in his illustration. (Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 14-15)

Their website lists the highlights of their church:

· Uplifting messages featuring “down-to-earth” topics relating to your daily life.
· Enjoy uplifting music and creative, humorous drama.
· Casual dress – whatever you are comfortable with.

I no longer have the flyer from a few years ago, but I remember some of the sermon topics:

· How to make a name for yourself
· How to overcome anxiety and stress in a fast paced world
· How to master your money

And I distinctly remember the phrase, “messages that give you a lift, rather than a let down”.

It is this type of constant, steady “diet” of endless so-called practical topics that ultimately leads to a shallow understanding of the gospel’s implication to our lives. It is not that there are no benefits from some of these topics. Scripture certainly has something to say concerning such subjects as handling our money and about relationships. But limiting our teaching and preaching strictly to those matters deprive believers of knowing the “unfathomable riches of Christ” and I believe it robs God of His glory. And I also believe that it also leads to a general lack of discernment, resulting from a shallow understanding of doctrine, leaving people subject to being influenced by false teaching. After all, Ephesians 4:11-16 describes the general focus of the ministry of the church. Verses 13 & 14 tell us the reason that believers are to be equipped to carry out the ministry, which is to build up the body of Christ, bringing about the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God”, so that we are no longer children tossed about by various doctrines, promulgated by false teachers.

Unfortunately, few evangelicals really realize the incredible riches that we have in Christ. To borrow from Jerry Bridge’s story illustrating this, it is like receiving a $10,000,000 inheritance, going into the bank and asking the teller if you have enough money to cover $150 worth of groceries! (Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 15-16)

Only by diligently studying Scripture can we begin to realize just how incredible and precious those riches in Christ really are. And it is only then that we can begin to appreciate those rich truths concerning what Christ did for us.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Gospel in a Nutshell

With all the distortions in evangelicalism concerning the presentation of the Gospel, it is a wonder that anyone can even grasp exactly what the Gospel message is. As I survey the Christian landscape, it is increasingly difficult to find very many instances where the Gospel is clearly defined. And the ramifications of the lack of clarity can be devastating. I fear that there are far too many who supposedly embrace the Gospel, but in reality have no idea what it means to be saved. This is critical, because your eternal destiny rests on this. There are yet others who actually are saved, but they really do not know enough of the facts concerning the Gospel to clearly present it to someone else. And there are yet multitudes that know the basics, but possess a shallow understanding of the implications of the Gospel in their life. This is certain to hinder their growth and spiritual stability in their lives.

The Gospel is not about finding your purpose in life, becoming a better person or having your best life now. It is most certain that you will have purpose in your life, and there are certainly going to be positive changes as a result of embracing the Gospel. Those, of course, are good things, but they are not by definition the Gospel.

The very core of the Gospel is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15.

“1Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5, NASB)

Jesus came to earth as God in the flesh, lived a sinless life and was delivered into the hands of sinful men. He was mocked, beaten and crucified to bear the sins of man, died and was buried. He arose again on the third day to win victory over sin and death, reconciling us to God the Father, reigning triumphant over His enemies. While this is a brief summary of the Gospel, unpacking the meaning of Christ’s work on the cross is a treasure trove of truth that nourishes our soul and strengthens us.

At the very core of the Gospel, is the fact that Jesus came to die for our sins to pay the penalty that we deserved. We were completely separated from God, spiritually dead, indulging the desires of our flesh and were objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:3). The work of Christ was to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18). It was not to give us our best life now, or to merely provide us with purpose. Yet the Gospel that is often presented today is generally weak in emphasizing these crucial points. Repentance is downplayed or ignored altogether. It is sad that despite the crucial importance of these points, they are touched on very lightly or just ignored.

I believe this is so critical to the Christian life, and the lack of focus in much of evangelicalism concerning the clarity of the Gospel has for all essential purposes, reached a state of crisis. I am going to be writing several posts on the subject of the Gospel, both to be able to clearly present the Gospel and to convey a deeper understanding of its implications to our lives. Not sure how long I will spend on this, but it certainly will take quite a few posts.