THE LOST ELEMENTS OF THE GOSPEL
"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Gal. 1: 11, 12
Paul tells us here that the gospel (good news) which he preached was based upon a revelation he had of Jesus Christ. So here is my question. Is the gospel you have heard based upon a revelation of Jesus Christ? Or is it based upon the evangelical movements of the nineteenth century lead by such men as Dwight L. Moody, Charles Finney, and others?
This is what I call the gospel of the evangelicals and it is very lopsided. It basically says that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you could be forgiven and go to heaven. This is what most born-again evangelical Christians believe the gospel to be. However, one cannot read the letters of Paul without seeing that there was much more to it than that.
In fact, I believe that we have altogether missed the very heart of the message. We have missed the center and core of the New Testament proclamation!
My co-workers and I travel all over this country (and others) to speak to groups of believers who are searching for organic church life. Most of them report to us that they have never heard this part of the message. So I would like to outline the main points of the 'gospel' that Paul preached that are, for the most part, being ignored today.
I. Christ in you - an indwelling Lord
Paul said that he received his gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). Then, he goes on to tell us that this revelation was of the Son in him and that this Son in him is who he preached (Gal 1: 15, 16).
In other words, Paul preached Christ. (I Cor. 1:23; I Cor. 2:2) But he preached the Christ who lived within him. This "Christ in you" revelation was obviously the core of his message (see Gal. 2:20; Gal. 4:6, 19; Eph. 1:22, 23; Eph 2:22; Eph. 3: 16-19; Col. 1:27; Col. 3:11; I Cor 3:16; I Cor. 6:19; I Cor. 12:27; I Cor. 4:7; Rom. 8: 9-11).
This part of the message is actually the essence of the New Covenant. (Jer. 31:33) In the old covenant everything was external (i.e. - the tablets of stone, an external priesthood, tabernacle, law). In the New Covenant, everything becomes internal - Christ in you, the law and lawgiver comes to live within you. And now you learn to live by the life of Another.
Jesus Christ came to initiate and walk out the New Covenant right in front of his disciples. He lived by the life of his indwelling Father! This changes everything. This means no longer living by an external code of behavior but by the life of another Person. Do you see it?
This is the main element in our following the Lord. This is true discipleship. It's all about learning to follow an indwelling Lord! But how many books are written about this? How many people are telling us how to live by an indwelling Christ? How many people even tell us that we have an indwelling Christ?
II. The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ
This is one element that every believer and Christian worker would agree is essential. We must be Christ-centered. But what does that mean? To most, it means that the life (earthly life) and teachings of Jesus must be taught and held in the highest regard. In other words, being Christ-centered means that you adhere to the correct doctrines. It's mostly a matter of proper theology and teachings.
But Christ is not a teaching. He is a Person. He is both God and Man. This divine Person is to be the preeminent one in all things (Col. 1:18). It is a Person who is to be the Center, the Head, and the Life of all we are, and all we do. Paul said that he preached Christ (I Cor. 1:23) crucified. This means that he preached the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Have you ever noticed that in Paul's writings he very rarely refers to the Lord's earthly life? That's because Paul was proclaiming an eternal and glorified Christ. He preached the all inclusive, full, ascended, and glorified Christ. He preached a Christ who is the All in all!
III. The Eternal Purpose of God
". . . according to the kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth." Eph. 1: 9, 10
This element of the eternal gospel flows right into our last element of the centrality of Christ.
The gospel that is preached today is mostly man-centered and based upon our western culture which is based upon human need. We live in a society of consumerism. Everything revolves around our own needs. This environment has bled into our "churches" and into our message. The gospel we preached is founded upon the need of humankind. Jesus came to save us, heal us, deliver us, teach us, etc. Man has a need - God came to fill that need. That, in a nutshell, is what most Christians believe is God's eternal purpose. But that is not what Paul tells us.
The letter to the Ephesians (especially chapters 1 and 3) tell us another story. Paul tells us that God's purpose is centered in His Son, not in human need. You could even say that God himself has a need. Oh I know, God is all sufficient within himself and has no need within his nature. But God (in a sense) does have a need pertaining to his purpose. Maybe we should call it a passionate desire. He has a great passion, a will, a purpose, a goal. And that goal has to do with his Son. He wants to make his Son the Center of everything! But he has chosen a unique way to do this. He will make his Son the center or sum of all things by expanding or increasing the Son until he fills all things with himself. He increases his Son by making him the firstborn of many brethren (Rom. 8:29) through his death and resurrection. The Son increases through the growth of the Body, his Church (see John 3:30; Eph. 1:23). And Christ becomes the All in all.
This is a most glorious purpose! But how often have we heard this preached in any of its many forms and expressions? In the last century there were three men who shared this message by spoken and written means. They were: T. Austin-Sparks, Watchman Nee, and Devern Fromke. But where are the men and women who will take the baton from these brothers and bring this message today?
The three missing elements of the gospel that I have shared in this article all require two things for understanding. Revelation and the work of the cross. These are absolutely necessary for understanding to come. However, this is costly and therefore not very popular in our consumerism society. The work of the cross in the life of the believer takes time. But as consumers, we want things to be done instantly. Revelation happens slowly as one yields and breaks before God. But as consumers, we want to read a book and have the message.
Where are the brothers and sisters who are willing and passionate about allowing God to break their soul lives so that his life can flow out of them? Where, oh where, are the brothers and sisters who are willing to get to know an indwelling Lord, the centrality of Christ, and God's eternal purpose, and then preach the whole counsel of God?
My prayer is that God will raise up some of these men and women in our generation and the generations to come so that he may have his house, his bride, and his body. And that his Son may be increased and expanded to fill all things with himself.