Gospel vs. Religion, part 1

Christianity without a desperation for God is just empty religion. Look at Capernaum for example. In Mark 2, Jesus returned to Capernaum a short time after making His purpose on earth known. Jesus “lived in Capernaum by the sea” during His adult life (Mt 4:13). During this time, “many were gathered together” in a house, “and he was preaching the word to them.” “The Word” that Jesus was preaching was the gospel.

There can be gospel ministry, and no gospel transformation. Capernaum had the true gospel being preached to them (v1-2). In fact, they had the best gospel preaching there has ever been. And they also had real healing occurring (v11-12). No one could argue that Capernaum was not seeing and hearing wonderful gospel ministry in their city. Yet they were none the better for it. You can’t just use the Gospel like a fairy wand.

When the gospel goes forth, we’re still fully dependent on God to work. Some are privileged to sit under dynamic gospel ministry and are no better for it. Capernaum is proof. They serve as a wonderful warning to us not to just settle for a ruthless effort to preach and serve the gospel in our homes, in our church, and in our cities. We should never settle with having the gospel. We should also long to see its power.

19th Century pastor J. C. Ryle wrote,
We are all too apt to suppose that it needs nothing but the powerful preaching of the Gospel to convert people’s souls, and that if the Gospel is only brought into a place everybody must believe. We forget the amazing power of unbelief, and the depth of man’s enmity against God. We forget that the Capernaites heard the most faultless preaching, and saw it confirmed by the most surprising miracles, and yet remained dead in trespasses and sins. We need reminding that the same Gospel which is the savour of life to some, is the savour of death to others, and that the same fire which softens wax will also harden the clay. Nothing, in fact, seems to harden man’s heart so much, as to hear the Gospel regularly, and yet deliberately prefer the service of sin and the world. Never was there a people so highly favoured as the people of Capernaum, and never was there a people who appear to have become so hard” (Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 27).

We desperately need God’s spirit to change us, otherwise we’re hopeless; hopeless while attending church, hopeless while hearing preaching, hopeless while reading the Bible, utterly hopeless if the Spirit does not raise our dead souls! God make us desperate for you!

Parents take notice. You can read the bible and teach the gospel everyday to your children, yet they can still be hardened against God and go to hell. The thought haunts me. You can be the best parent ever and have stubborn sinful children. You desperately need God to save them.

Small group leaders, teachers, evangelists, and pastors: you can be the best teacher, and be unable to see people transform under your leading. We should never settle for “just” sharing the gospel correctly. We desperately need God to transform those we serve through the gospel we know and preach.

Allow this to remind us, we are helpless without God’s power. His power will not show up outside of the gospel, that’s clear (Ro 1:16). But just because we have the gospel doesn’t mean we will witness God’s saving power! We must be a people dependent and desperate for God. Otherwise, we’re settling for empty religion.


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