Are There Problems With Today’s Gospel? — Part 3

There is valid evidence suggesting reasons to doubt the life-changing effect the Gospel has in the evangelical church today, as I tried to note in Part One. Since I do not believe the problem is with the Gospel of the Bible, in Part Two I suggested the source of the problem may be with how we evangelize and disciple children today. Here, I will conclude with some thoughts on why our greatest problem may be with what we believe about, and how we communicated, the gospel.

I fear many people in America (in many cases with proper motives) have communicated the Gospel in a way that misrepresents the Gospel of the Bible. Because the church in America longs to everyone come to faith in Christ, Christians have attempted to make it easier to be identified with Jesus Christ, and in effect, created an unscriptural way to evangelize.

One example of an easy and unbiblical way to invite a person to Christ in our day is to present Christianity as a life enhancement. Today many  come to Christ because they were told they will have a fix to their  life’s problems or an improvement to life as they know it. Is the church right to present Christianity as a life enhancement?

Though to some extent true converts experience life benefits, never in the Bible are sinners invited to Christ by way of life enhancements. Fruits of the Spirit are indeed benefits to the believer. Yet, they only benefit us from a Godly perspective, not a sinful perspective (i.e. the perspective of the unconverted).

Some come to Christ believing “to be a Christian means life is better, more successful, and an answer to all life’s problems,” only to find in time that this is not true. Eventually they stop attending our churches, or they never really become more than an attendee, and they are eventually labeled “backsliders.”

Ken Keathley, professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes salvation is offered as a commodity when evangelism methods use life-enhancement to draw people to Christ.[1] “Salvation is not a commodity,” explains Keathley.[2] He points to First John 5:11 as the basis for a biblical theology of salvation, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”[3] Keathley defines salvation as “the work of God that delivers us from sin and its penalty, restores us to a right relationship with Him, and imparts to us eternal life.”[4] Salvation is not a life enhancement; but a restoration with God through Christ.

The concept of salvation as a commodity reveals the motive of why people come to Christ. Under the commodity mentality of presenting the gospel, the chief motive behind a “decision for Christ” is because of some benefit or life enhancement added to the responder’s life through belief in God. Motive is paramount. If one comes to Jesus as the solution to all life’s problems, the need of restoration to Christ because of the penalty of sin is minimized, if existent at all.

The Gospel, therefore, is diluted and becomes an answer to all life’s problems, instead of a solution to a person’s sin problem and the coming judgment (Acts 17:30-31). A commodity-minded salvation is more like adding an additional insurance policy with added benefits, without inconveniencies. This is an extremely different motive than one coming to Christ because there is no other way to be saved from the penalty of sin.

Consider for example a popular evangelism Gospel tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” The first spiritual law is “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.”[5] In the Bible, does God ever offer a wonderful plan for your life? It is understandable that “a wonderful plan for your life” could mean many things. However, what does an unbeliever who loves his sin and does not fear God think would be a wonder plan for his life? The statement in this tract is supported by two verses.

The first Scripture reference is John 3:16. Clearly God loves us and demonstrates His love through Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The second Bible verse referred to, however, is John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Greek word used in this verse is perissos and means “exceeding some number or measure or rank or need; over and above, more than is necessary, superadded; something further, more, much more than all, more plainly; superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.”[6] If we understand the life Jesus is referencing in full context, it is plain to see He is describing a life that is saved (John 10:9) from God’s judgment (John 3:18).

The Apostle Paul warned his listeners that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). Although there are temporal benefits described in Scripture, one would be hard pressed to find a place where the Bible uses these benefits to appeal to the motives of someone who needs salvation. The best biblical description of a proper motive for salvation is found in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” We come to be saved recognizing our unrighteousness in God’s sight and in desperate need of His righteousness found only through salvation in Jesus Christ.

God’s plan is wonderful from His perspective. Sinful man, however, whom salvation is offered to, has a completely different perspective of what a wonderful life means. It is possible for sinners to hear of “God’s wonderful plan for their life” and erroneously come for a life enhancement, not seeking to be made right in God’s sight. The “wonderful plan” motif is not found in Scripture. It was crafted by a man (a godly man in my opinion) as a way to appeal to a sinner’s desire for God (a noble motive I might add), but is not found in Scripture. It is an example of salvation as a commodity, a major reason why churches need to reexamine the common practices of evangelism today.

Evangelism discussions in contemporary circles are facing the danger of revolving around methodology, without a healthy understanding of Gospel theology. If this proves to be true, then we have forgotten that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). Some contemporary discussions can sometimes appear to focus on what works, and not enough about what is right and guided by Scripture. What we may be seeing today, such as the fall out of so many churched youngsters, could be teaching us that what we once thought worked isn’t really working.

The power of God in the Gospel is what works, giving a person salvation from God. The gospel is what works! Methods are not irrelevant, however, our theology of the Gospel should be “the infrastructure to one’s methodology” of evangelism and discipleship.[7] If our Gospel is not the Apostle Paul’s Gospel, then there is definitely something wrong with our Gospel.

[1] Keathley, Ken. Lecture on “Why is Theology Important?” DMN 8802 – Biblical and Theological Foundations of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. May 26, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995. All Bible quotes are from this translation unless otherwise noted.

[4] Keathley, “Why is Theology Important?”.

[5] Global Media Outreach. The Four Spiritual Laws. (accessed August 14, 2008)

[6]Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order. electronic ed. Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996, S. G4053

[7] Keathley, “Why is Theology Important?”.


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