Thoughts to Ponder

What is the Gospel?

Have you ever really thought about what the gospel is? We know that the word means 'good news,' but what does that really mean? How do you explain the gospel to someone? I hope to challenge you with these questions in this article.

I think most of us have a basic idea of what the gospel is, or at least we think we know what we believe. It would go something like this:

(John 3:16-17 NIV) [16] For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us even though we did not deserve it. So when we talk to someone about salvation it is natural to tell them that God loves them and that He wants them to spend eternity with Him, but they must believe in His Son and ask Him to forgive them.

But is that really what we all believe? Just like the last article, I want to address a doctrine that I am sure some of you believe. I want you to look closely at that doctrine and decide if you believe it lines up with Scripture. It is the doctrine of Predestination.

Simply put Predestination says: That man is totally depraved and dead in his sins. Sounds right so far, doesn't it? But let's make sure we understand what those terms mean. Totally depraved means that a person is so evil that they cannot choose to do good, they will always choose to rebel against God. So God can't just give us a choice to either believe in Christ or not, because we would always choose to reject Him. Dead in our sins, means that we are dead, and as the doctrine states, a dead man can't make any choices, he must be made alive first.

So what does this all mean? It means that man has no choice in the matter of salvation. It means that God does not just draw people to Christ, but He regenerates them and gives them the needed faith to believe, in fact He draws them with irresistible grace so they have no choice but to believe in Christ . But He only does this to certain people, those He chooses or the 'Elect' as the doctrine calls them. Man has no choice, we can't reject Christ if He calls us and we can't choose Christ if He has not chosen us.

I have tried to do justice to the doctrine in my explanation, but of course there is much more to it then just the simple things I have stated, but this will give you the basic idea. One of the main passages Predestination teachers use is this one:

(Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV) [4] But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, [5] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.

They use this passage and tell us that we were dead and therefore could not make any choices. After all dead men can't do anything.

I want to look at the implications of this doctrine. As I said about OSAS we need to make sure we check every doctrine against God's word and see if it is consistent with His message to us. Whether a person believes in Predestination or not, most do believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. That means that even though a human wrote a passage and was describing God, we can take that description as truth. So let's look and see how the Bible describes our God.

(Exodus 34:5-7a NIV) [5] Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. [6] And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, [7] maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."

(Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV) Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

(Psalm 48:9 NIV) Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

(Romans 5:8 NIV) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV) [16] I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, [18] may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, [19] and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

(1 Thessalonians 4:9 NIV) Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

(1 John 4:7-8 NIV) [7] Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

(1 John 4:16 NIV) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

What do we learn from these passages? Well for one that God is love. That His love is unfailing, that He loved us while we were still sinners, that we should love others because God loves us. That love comes from God.

We learn that all love comes from God. We would not know what love is, in any sense, if it were not for God, who is love. Let's look further:

(Deuteronomy 10:17 NIV) For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.

(Psalm 116:5 NIV) The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

(1 John 1:5 NIV) This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

(Proverbs 8:17 NIV) I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.

Again from God's word we see that He shows no partiality, is full of compassion, is light and in Him there is no darkness, and He will be found by those who seek Him. So now you have to ask yourself are these descriptions of God consistent with the teaching that God chooses only some people to save while allowing the rest to die in their sins with no hope of salvation.

Or you could state it this way: that God created billions of human beings with the express purpose of sending them to hell to be tormented for all eternity. Face it, that is what the doctrine of Predestination claims. I am not trying to address the question of whether God has the right to do that, of course He does. That is not the question, the question is this: does God say that is who He is, or does He say He is compassionate and wants all men to be saved?

(2 Peter 3:9 NIV) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

This is where the doctrine has to be judged by God's word. God says that He is light and in Him there is no darkness. We will all agree, whether we believe in Predestination or not, that God is holy and does not lie. So we are faced with a dilemma, does God love everyone or just a select few? If He loves only a select few, then is there a darkness in His heart that causes Him to create beings just to punish?

I am not trying to address whether we deserve to be punished for all eternity, of course we do, because we are sinners. But God states in His word that He loves us in spite of our sins, in fact He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for those sins. Now, is it that He only loves some of us, even though we are all the same and have all sinned? Would that not be showing partiality, which He claims He does not show?

This brings me back to the gospel message and what it really is. How do you witness to a person who does not know Christ? I will tell you how I do. First I try to explain to them that they are sinners under judgment from a holy God. But the good news is that God loves them and wants them to come to know Him.

Does that sound like what you would tell someone? If you believe in Predestination, it is not what you should be telling people. You can't tell them that God loves them, because you can't be sure He does. You can't tell them that He wants them to know Him, because maybe He doesn't want them to know Him. So how do you give the gospel message? How do you give the good news to someone you are not sure it will be good news to?

So under this doctrine God commands you to love these people and explain His message of good news to them, even though you don't know if He loves them or not. Look at the last passage I quoted. It says that God is patient not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. Okay, Predestination teachers will tell you that the words "anyone" and "everyone" only apply to the Elect. Does that make sense? Think about it. Why, if Predestination is true, would God be patient? He is the one who chooses who believes and when they believe, so He would have no need to be patient with anyone. This is why I say you have to judge all doctrines by God's word. People may twist a passage so that it does not appear to say what it says, but God's word is living and sharper then a double edged sword and it will now allow itself to be perverted totally. So even if you change the meaning of "anyone" and "everyone", the verse will still show you the truth if you are willing to look and think about it.

Let me show you some more examples:

(Isaiah 55:6 NIV) Seek the LORD while he may be found;

(Revelation 3:20 NIV) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

(1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV) I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- [2] for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [3] This is good, and pleases God our Savior, [4] who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

(Ezekiel 18:32 NIV) For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

(Matthew 21:32 NIV) For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Each one of these passages shows choice on the part of the individual, which is exactly what Predestination teaches is not possible. So what should we believe, the doctrine of Predestination or God's word?

Let me give you one last implication of believing Predestination. Say you are one of the Elect, you love God, not because you want to but because He has forced you, although He did it in a way you don't think about. Now say that you have a spouse and children. You love them too and as any good parent or spouse you pray for them to come to know Christ and follow Him. What if God has not chosen them? What if He created your children just so He could send them to eternal torment? All your prayers are worthless, because God is sovereign and has made the choice for them in eternity past and will not change His mind. Would that change your mind about God being love and having no darkness in Him?

I am often told that I am making God less sovereign by claiming that He loves everyone and allows us to make our own decision. I am told that if man can choose something that goes against what God would like to happen then that is making man more powerful than God.

That is a ridiculous idea. Which God is more sovereign; the one who makes all the decisions or the one who allows His creation to make some decisions? Here is my point, they claim that God is so sovereign that He can't allow us to have a choice, and I say He is so sovereign that He can even allow us to make our own decisions. Which one is more sovereign, the one who can't do something or the one who can? Don't let words like sovereign cloud the subject so that you can no longer judge it logically.

God is sovereign and can do anything He pleases, but He can't lie and He can't go against His own nature. So when He tells us who He is in His word we can count on that being true. God says He loves everyone. He uses not just the words anyone and everyone, but He uses terms like the whole world. If you have to twist what a passage says to make it fit with your doctrine then you need to rethink your doctrine.

The bottom line is this: do you believe that God loves us all or do you believe that God enjoys the idea of some people being tormented for eternity?

(Matthew 25:41 NIV) "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'"

Prepared for the devil and his angels, not for man. There will be many men and women who spend eternity there, but it is not God's choice for them to do so, it is their choice. God does love everyone and wants everyone to come to know Him. You can give the gospel message just the way Jesus taught us as good news to every living human being.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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August 2003