I don’t claim to have in any way arrived in my understanding of things, and I still have a long way to go. I’m just writing what I’m observing within the church.
It seems many Christians in America only seem to know John 3:16 as a defense of the Gospel, but then don’t even know really what all that entails (sure they may know the very basic premise of the Gospel, but don’t know it in its fullness). While this is an excellent verse (and God-inspired, infallible Scripture), almost everyone and their dog, including unbelievers, already know this verse in our culture, and it does very little to convey the entire message of the Gospel. It does in a general sense convey it, but that’s it. This verse, by itself, doesn’t communicate the entire message, and can mislead people immensely (i.e., well God loves me so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing without any regard to Him as the source for my entire existence and experience). Which leads me to my point: The American evangelical church is making the message of the Gospel so simplistic now that the message doesn’t communicate the essence of the entire Gospel, with all its peaks and valley’s. The church is also watering down the Gospel even when preached in its fullness, but that’s another issue I’ll talk about some other time. We must preach the Gospel in its fullness, with all of it’s rough edges, and amazing grace, or we may not be preaching the Gospel at all. We must preach the Gospel as it is conveyed in Scripture, or we may be falling in to grievous error. God has given us a whole big book that conveys God’s redemptive plan throughout history, specifically wrought in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Quote some other verses that show the whole message. People know John 3:16, but does anyone know what it says right before and right after that verse? There are some really hard things Jesus says! For instance, right before John 3:16 is the whole section where Jesus is speaking of the new birth, that we must be regenerated in order to be saved. (Now here I would argue for the monergistic view of the new birth, that regeneration precedes faith, but I’ll leave that alone too and stay on topic). Also, in John 3:36 Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Whoa. The wrath of God remains on a person if they reject the Son of God? And what is the wrath of God? It is the everlasting torment of God for the unrighteous. This is not temporal … it’s eternal. But who are the unrighteous? I claim to be unrighteous all the time if you read my blogs; I am indeed a sinner, an awful sinner! So how is it that I think I’ll escape this wrath of God? Am I claiming that I’m righteous? No way! I’m a wicked man. We’re all unrighteous though. The only reason I am righteous at all is because of Jesus, His death of resurrection of my sins. It is because I possess a righteousness that is not my own, paid for in the Son of God on the cross, that He has freely given me, His own righteousness, like a robe that covers me, not owing to anything within me. So here is the message we need to preach, even if it makes people uncomfortable, annoyed, and possibly persecute us:
1) God is the Lord of heaven and earth, the great Creator of all things (Genesis 1-2).
2) God has spoken to us in His creation, showing His divine nature and eternal power (Romans 1:20). But more specifically, He has inspired His word, the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, infallible and without error, as a means of knowing Him better and coming to see and believe in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16).
3) All mankind has sinned (Romans 3:10-18). There is no one that doesn’t sin and there is no one that escapes the wrath of God as a result of that sin, apart from Christ (Romans 3:23, 3:19). We are by nature slaves to unrighteousness (Romans 8:7-8). We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5), sinful even from birth. Naturally, we rest under the condemnation of God because of our sin (Ephesians 2:3b). Our sin separates us from God, and not only that, the wrath of God abides on us even while we’re alive, apart from faith in Christ. And how many sins have we all accumulated over the course of our lives? Makes me sick to even think about. Both the self-righteous (those who think that just being good and obeying the law of God will earn them salvation) and those who totally reject the law of God altogether, living in lawlessness even, are all under the condemnation of God. Every mouth is silenced before the great judgment seat of the Lord God almighty. There is absolutely no one righteous. We are ruined before Him in our sin. Doing good works to try and justify yourself before an almighty, holy, perfect God is pointless. And those of you by living your life in rebellion to God you are simply storing up wrath for yourself when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed with fire. God hates sin. And those without Christ will be consumed by His wrath for all eternity (Revelation 20:11-15). He is just, and cannot be in the presence of sin. He will punish it. Our offense is against the infinite, eternal God, and therefore the punishment will be so. And there is no hope to escape His wrath, except in …
4) Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26, one of the most important sections of the Bible in my estimation). God exists in Trinity, or God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One God in three persons. Jesus became a human, both fully man and fully God. He lived a life of perfect submission and righteousness before the Father, something we could never do. Because of this, He became fully qualified to become a sin sacrifice, blameless and spotless, on behalf of anyone who believes in Him. He allowed Himself to be subjected to death and gave Himself up by dying on the cross. He shed His blood, becoming an atonement (or propitiation, i.e. wrath bearer or deflector) for any who would believe in Him. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert, that any who looked to the snake would survive their snake bites and be healed (Numbers 21:4-9), so also Jesus was lifted up on the cross, that whosoever believes in Him by faith should not perish (eternally) but have eternal life (John 3:16). However, if you reject Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, you will be eternally condemned and in fact stand condemned already (John 3:18)! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Romans 10:13).
We must use Scripture as our source for preaching the Gospel. And we must use Scripture in preaching the Gospel. These are the very words of God breathed out. John 3:16 is an amazing verse, and I even used it above. But don’t just tell someone that without giving them whole story. It’s indeed a difficult thing to do because the message of the cross is offensive to the world and there is a high chance you will be persecuted for preaching it. In giving people a very very simplistic message though, you are doing them a disservice by not giving them all of the truth. And this is highly dangerous.