Protestants! Recover the Biblical Gospel!

November 5, 2006 / No. 3331

Dear radio friends,

     Nothing is more important in any generation than the maintenance of the truth of the gospel.  We read in Roman 1:16 this statement of the apostle:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  Why?  He goes on to say, “For it is the power of God unto salvation.”  “I’m not ashamed of the gospel—for there is nothing in it to be ashamed of.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

     By gospel we refer today to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  The word “gospel” in the Bible can be used in a broader sense and can include all of the good news revealed in the sacred Scriptures.  It is called the gospel of God, the gospel of grace, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of peace.  The full-orbed good news of God, His works, His purposes, and His glory—that is the gospel.

     But we mean today the gospel in its most basic sense—the good news of how the holy God has made the way by which sinners can be made right with Him.  The answer is the gospel, the gospel of justification, to be made right with God by grace for Christ’s sake, through faith as an instrument, not the cause, and apart from the works of the law.

     The gospel is beautifully stated in Romans 3:24, we are “justified freely by his grace.”  God has made us righteous by His grace, by His own unmerited favor, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  That is the legal basis of our justification—the redemption, the purchase that was made by Jesus Christ.  Because Jesus Christ purchased us upon the cross, we are justified freely by His grace.

     The church refers to this as the glorious truth of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.  The Bible teaches that the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that is, what He did—His perfect work on the cross, His innocence—has been legally reckoned to our account, to the account of His elect.  God has imputed that righteousness to me legally, so that (and now I am using the words of a very beautiful creed called the Heidelberg Catechism—Lord’s Day 23) the perfect righteousness of Christ, without any merit of mine, out of mere grace, is mine so completely as if I never had nor had committed any sin; yea as if I had fully accomplished all obedience to the divine law.

     That is the gospel.  The gospel is:  Jesus has made me righteous before God on the basis of His work on Calvary.

     It was this truth of the gospel that both Martin Luther and John Calvin called the article on which the entire church would stand or fall.  Martin Luther, in a preface to forty-five theses that he wrote in 1537, wrote the following:

The article of justification is the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines.  It preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God.  Without this article the world is utter death and darkness.

     John Calvin agreed with that.  In his reply to a Roman Catholic clergyman named Sadoleto he wrote:

Whenever knowledge of it [he is referring to justification] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion is abolished, the church is destroyed, and the hope of religion utterly thrown down.

     But why?  Why is this gospel so important?  I began by saying that there is nothing more important in any generation than the maintenance of the truth of the gospel.  Why is that?  Because the gospel is the exclusive divine remedy for man in his sin and lostness.  Romans 1:16 stands as a beacon light, reminding us of this basic truth:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel … for it [the gospel] is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”  The gospel, it alone, is the answer to man in his sin and damnworthiness.  So nothing is more important than the maintenance of the gospel.  For it alone is the power of God unto salvation.  Apart from this gospel no one can be saved.

     It is for this reason that the apostle Paul says in Galatians 1:8, when there were those who would tamper with the gospel that he preached:  “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”  That word is “anathema.”  The apostle uses a holy invective:  Let him be damned if he dare tamper with the gospel!

     Why is Paul so severe?  Because only the gospel, undiluted in its truth, maintained in all of its truth, is the power of God unto salvation.

     The Protestant church, which is the heir of the gospel, the heir of the Reformation, is called to maintain that gospel of justification by faith alone.  We are called to maintain it as the holy deposit from Jesus Christ.  In the words of Paul in II Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.”  It is urgent.

     Why is it so urgent?  Because, in the words of another Reformed creed, there is abroad today a too gross blasphemy.  The other creed to which I am referring now is the BelgicConfession, another beautiful Reformed creed.  I am referring to Article 22 of that confession.  Let me read to you a few words:

For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or, if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him.  Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

  Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works.

     That “too gross a blasphemy,” namely, that something more is required besides Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is not sufficient—that “too gross a blasphemy” is living in Protestantism today.

     But you might say to me, “Wait a minute.  Isn’t all well in Protestantism on that issue?  Isn’t justification by faith alone synonymous with Protestantism?  Surely every Protestant, at least every Reformed, Calvinistic Protestant, though they may differ on the spectrum of the truth of sovereign grace, surely they all know that justification by faith is the Protestant gospel, the gospel of God.  What soul in their right mind,” you ask me, “would want to go back and to teach that salvation is based upon one’s own works or based upon the merits of a priest or a dead saint or the virgin Mary?  Yes,” you might say, “there are differences among Protestant churches.  There are differences among Reformed churches.  There are differences on the idea of creation, whether it is six days or long periods of time.  There are differences on liturgy and how God is supposed to be worshiped.  There are “user-friendly” services, and all the rest.  But surely, Presbyterian, Reformed, Protestantism is one here, aren’t they?  Don’t we all sing with enthusiasm, ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand’?  Do we not all recite with emotion the words of Toplady:  ‘Not the labor of my hands could fulfill Thy law’s demands; could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no respite know, these for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone’?  Is not Protestantism one here?”  The answer is:  No.

     If we take the approach that all is well here, and if we willfully bury our heads in the sand and cry, “Peace, peace, this is all a matter of semantics, a matter of understanding,” then we will have to answer in the last day to the Lord of the church for treason.  Then the blood of our generation will be upon our hands because we did not defend and teach the gospel.

     Yes, in Protestantism, gaining in its impetus, is the teaching that a man is justified by faith and works; that faith-produced works add to one’s righteousness; that the grace of justification can be lost; and that the covenant, the fellowship of God, is after all a matter of keeping conditions.  It is a bargain between God and the sinner.

     These voices have come forth in Protestantism.  In the 1990s there was the movement called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” in which a statement was arranged among evangelicals according to which we may say that we are accepted of a holy God without personal merit or we may believe at the same time that we are accepted as a result of a meritorious cooperation of the sinner with grace.  This was followed up with a statement that says that a purely gracious declaration based upon an imputed righteousness is not central to a true understanding of the gospel.  Evangelicals said to the Roman Catholic Church that a right understanding of imputed righteousness, of a righteousness that Christ gives solely of grace, reckoned to the account of the elect sinner, is not central to the true understanding of the gospel.  That was selling out the gospel of grace to the gospel of works.  And under the gospel of works no soul can find a moment’s peace.

     There is also today a movement among those who call themselves Reformed Protestants, who have in their history a glorious creed called the Heidelberg Catechism.  In the Heidelberg Catechism there is question/answer 80 in Lord’s Day 30 that asks:  “What is the difference between the Lord’s Supper and the popish mass?”  In its answer, the Heidelberg Catechism calls the popish mass a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and an accursed idolatry.  Now there are many Reformed Protestants who are expressing great concern whether the catechism actually is correct and whether or not the catechism is being too severe and whether or not that question and answer should be removed.

     Still more.  There is the movement called “Neo-legalism.”  This is the idea that one’s works, or the deeds of faith, the works of the child of God, the obedience of the child of God as he is renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that his works of obedience affect his legal standing with God; that how God then views the sinner is in some way influenced by the sinner’s obedience, by the sinner’s faith, by the sinner’s work.  In other words, that the works of the child of God, as he is renewed in Jesus Christ, add to and form part of his basis of pardon for sin.

     The teaching of the Scriptures is that the works of the child of God do not add to his standing before God; that our standing with God is based solely upon the work of Jesus Christ; and that the works of the child of God are the response of thankfulness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  But now it is being taught that the works of the believer become the instrumental cause [I’m quoting] of justification.  This is to say that the works of the believer add to their righteousness with God.

     There is the need, Protestants, there is the need to maintain the gospel of the grace of God.  There is the need to maintain the gospel of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.  There will always be that need because man, by nature, always seeks to earn with God.  The theology of merit is inbred.  We come by it naturally.  What I am saying is that it is a spiritual problem.  When the teaching of justification by faith and by works is suggested; when the truth of the gospel is played with and compromised, it is a spiritual problem.  It is not an intellectual problem.  It is a deep spiritual problem.

     What was the devil’s inner conviction as found in Isaiah 14?   “I will ascend.”  What was Cain’s offering?  “I will pay with the fruit of my own efforts.”  Always it is in the heart of the sinner, in your heart and in mine, that the relationship between the sovereign and the creature is of merit.  Fallen man hates to hear the gospel of grace alone because we are proud.  And it is too much for our proud nature to be told that we are nothing, can do nothing, deserve nothing.  Grace, saving grace, must first come and bend our knee.  It must humble us.  Saving grace brings this word to your heart (a beautiful word):  Not only do you not merit with God, but forever you cannot merit with God, because you are a creature; and the creature cannot earn something from the Creator, period!

     What will you bring to Me, says God, that I have not first given to you?

     So, Protestants, there will always be the calling to maintain the glorious gospel of justification by faith alone.  We maintain that gospel by knowing it, by being associated with it, by coming under the preaching of it, by having the wonder of it burn within our hearts.  We maintain it by knowing it the way the apostle knew it:  I am not ashamed of the gospel.  Why?  For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith.  In the gospel is revealed the righteousness that God has provided, with which He is pleased.

     How do we maintain the gospel?  We must maintain the gospel by knowing that gospel.  We must maintain it by preaching it.  That is the means that God has given.  We read in II Corinthians 5:19-21 that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now we beseech you, in God’s name, be ye reconciled to God.  The apostle says, “For we preach Christ and Him crucified.  The gospel of God’s grace, the gospel of justification by faith, the gospel that the sinner is made right only upon the work of another (Jesus Christ), is maintained in the church by the faithful preaching of that gospel.  We live in a day of gospel-acting troops, of gospel bands, of gospel crowns, of gospel circus-plays.  Has God determined how the gospel shall be embraced, how the gospel shall be promoted?  Yes, He has.  Through the preaching of His Word.

     We maintain the gospel by defending it.  That means that the church must have creeds.  The church must know her creeds.  And the church must be faithful to her creeds.  Creeds are the statements, taken from the Scriptures, of what the Scriptures teach.  Creeds are the statements of the church throughout the ages as that church has had to fight the same arguments that are being raised today concerning the gospel.  We must maintain those creeds.

     We must maintain the gospel by living in its comfort.  Only those who experience the comfort of the gospel will ever defend it.  Only those will ever defend it who know personally and profoundly that their salvation is a matter of God’s grace and that none of their works can be the basis of their salvation and that, when they go to heaven, it shall be Jesus:  all hail to His name and not to me!  Only those who know all of that profoundly in the depths of their soul and in the depths of their being, only they shall stand up to defend the gospel.

     Do not think that the gospel’s battle is going to be lost.  It will not be lost.  For this truth is unassailable.  This truth is God’s truth.  God’s truth is this:  He has redeemed for Himself by His grace a people in Jesus Christ.  He has done this entirely by His own power.  And that is comfort.

     I cannot stand for a moment without the gospel.  I have no reason to live without the gospel.  But with the gospel I have a reason every day to live and to praise God.  He has redeemed my soul from death.  He is my Savior.  Jesus is my righteousness alone, a righteousness that shall stand before God.

     That is the gospel.  Protestants, it is time to arise and to defend the gospel.  It is time to arise and to herald the truth, the only truth in a world of misery and woe.  And that truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the perfect and finished work of Christ in the behalf of elect sinners, which has surely secured salvation.

     Let us pray.

         Father, we thank Thee for Thy word.  Give us that humility.  Give us that comfort in the gospel.  And give us zeal for the glory of Thy name, to defend the precious gospel.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.