Wednesday, May 14, 2008

RECOVER THE GOSPEL of the most urgent needs facing the church today

The following is an excerpt from J.I. Packer's powerful introduction to John Owen's classic sermon: "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ."

Also, there is a wonderful website dedicated to great theological works like this one, called
Recover the Gospel. They not only have very helpful articles, but also audio and some video as well. I would highly commend them to you.

Dr. Packer's words really capture the passion of my heart in guarding the content and character of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does a masterful job in comparing the old gospel to the new gospel. I remember reading them years ago, and they are just as powerful and stirring to me now as they were then. I pray they are just as meaningful in your hearts today.

Glory in the cross,

Galatians 6:14

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness,
but according to His mercy, by the washing of
regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs
according to the hope of eternal life.

-Titus 3:4-7

by J.I. Packer

"There is no doubt that evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor's dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and or equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.


We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content.

It fails to make men God-centered
in their thoughts

and God-fearing in their hearts
because this is not primarily
what it is trying to do.

One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be 'helpful' to man - to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction - and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was 'helpful', too - more so, indeed, than is the new - but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God.

But in the new gospel the center of reference is man

This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of 'helpfulness'. Accordingly, the themes of man's natural inability to believe, of God's free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not 'helpful'; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered: it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) However this may be (and we shall say more about it later),

the result of these omissions
is that part of the biblical gospel
is now preached as if it were
the whole of that gospel;
and a half-truth masquerading
as the whole truth

becomes a complete untruth.

Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had made it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God's love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence 'at the door of our hearts' for us to let them in.

It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need."


Gordan said...

This was a great line, the idea that Christ and His Father are "waiting in quiet impotence 'at the door of our hearts' for us to let them in.

It reminds me of Tozer's rebuke that such preaching pictures Jesus as a vacuum-cleaner salesman who can do nothing more than wait outside the door, hat-in-hand, for whatever crumbs of grace may be dispensed from within.

SJ Camp said...

Man loves to make much of himself while lowering a high view of God; but will do this as an act of worship failing to see that man's free will has become nothing more than an idol and God's sovereignty in salvation of His elect pooh-poohed as an infringement of our rights.

There is a word for this kind of twisted thinking: sin.

Eph. 1:4-14

John said...

What, you don't sing "The Savior is waiting to enter your heart--why don't you let him come in?...Time after time he has waited before, and now he is waiting again, to see if you're willing to open the door..."

Excuse me while I go throw up!

Steve, Mark Dever has put together a great book, In My Place Condemned He Stood, which has several chapters by Packer on the Atonement--one of them being the passage you mentioned.

Thanks for the good work!

The Spokesman said...

To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need.

See Jude verses 3 and 4.


A recovery of the Gospel (soteriology) is necessary before there can be a recovery of the Church (ecclesiology).

SJ Camp said...

I agree.

The idea that Jesus simply died on a cross and is helplessly waiting to see who accepts or rejects Him as their Savior is foreign to Scripture. That kind of thinking is a spiritual romanticism that again makes man in control of his destiny as opposed to the sovereignty of God.

Thanks for your post.

SJ Camp said...

the spokesman
A recovery of the Gospel (soteriology) is necessary before there can be a recovery of the Church (ecclesiology).

Well said! This is so essential when dealing with the emerging/emergent church today. Getting the gospel right is paramount to all other concerns.

Justification by faith alone is the Atlas upon which all other doctrines rest... as Packer has asserted.

Grace and peace,

Anonymous said...

All over the Church today there are people callimg the law...the gospel, and the gospel...the law.

What a wonderful day it will be when they (by God's grace) figure out which is which.

- Steve M.

SJ Camp said...

All over the Church today there are people callimg the law...the gospel, and the gospel...the law.

This is where it really helps to have a covenantal view of theology and a strong biblical theology.

Among many things, the law is part of the gospel in that it brings conviction of sin (see Romans 3:19-20; 7:7); the law is also a tutor pointing us to Christ (see Gal. 3:24). Grace then is that which in Christ Jesus satisfies the demands and the penalty of the law fully and completely.

So when we by grace through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord by the regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit and God's sovereign electing love place our eternal trust in Christ as Lord for our salvation, the law no longer is our judge and jury; for the law has been completely fulfilled in Christ (Roms. 10:4). But, we can now say that the law is holy, righteous and good (Roms. 7:12). As the Apostle Paul has said, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."

Hope this helps in this discussion.
Romans 3:21-31

Terry Rayburn said...


While your comment contains much truth, I'm not sure it addresses the confusion that Steve M. was remarking about, namely the confusion of Law and Gospel.

You said that it's important to have a "covenantal view of theology". If by that you mean what is commonly known as Covenant Theology, I would disagree.

It's Covenant Theology which is often responsible for a Law-based view of Christian life that focuses more on Performance than on the free nature of Grace.

It often distorts the Gospel of INITIAL salvation as to make it some exchange of what a man GIVES to God in return for salvation (confusing salvation with discipleship and denial of self).

Then it goes on to distort the Gospel of CONTINUING salvation, which is just as much by Grace as INTITIAL salvation, having NOTHING to do with works (though works will naturally follow in the regenerate life -- I'm not talking about Zane Hodge-ism here).

Anyway, it also leads to an erroneous statement like "the law is part of the gospel", which is not correct.

It's akin to saying that an infection is "part of" the penicillin. The penicillin is strictly and exclusively Good News, and the infection is not at all part of the cure.

The Law is not part of the Gospel and vice versa.

As good and pure and spiritual as the Law is, it serves only to condemn us without the Gospel.


SJ Camp said...

It's Covenant Theology which is often responsible for a Law-based view of Christian life that focuses more on Performance than on the free nature of Grace.

I wouldn't affirm a performance based faith at al. In fact, the reformed faith emphasizes a grace-based faith in salvation; a grace-based sanctification; and a grace-based view of glorification. It is what my friend Jerry Bridges has written so faithfully about in his books.

Covenant theology in how one views God's unfolding plan of redemption I think takes one out of a works righteousness centered view of the gospel.

Here is a fitting example I think: Justification is not sanctification; and sanctification is not justification. But they are inextricably linked and inseparable from one another though distinct.

The Law is not the Gospel; and the Gospel is not the Law, they are different but yet inseparable from one another though distinct. The Law has a purpose in the proclamation of the gospel; though in and of itself it is not the gospel.


Terry Rayburn said...


1. I don't mean to make too intricate of a point, but you are mixing "Reformed" with "Covenant Theology" as though they were the same.

While most Reformed are Covenant Theology guys, many who are Reformed in their Soteriology (including me) are not Covenant Theology guys.

2. Covenant Theology guys are certainly not the ONLY ones who inject Law-based or Performance-based Christian living into their teaching. But they are often at the forefront, confusing salvation with discipleship.

A common example of this is in the use of Luke 9:23-24 in connection with salvation, which is a bad and confusing interpretation.

For example, on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, we read:

"That is, we firmly assert that one must have Jesus as Lord in order to have Him as Savior. The New Testament could not possibly be clearer on this matter."

So far, so good, but then the common confusion is shown by the very next phrase to follow the above quote, namely,

"-- see Luke 9:23-24..."

But the truth is that Luke 9:23-24 has nothing to do with salvation. Jesus speaks of discipleship of someone ALREADY SAVED when He speaks of "deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me".

3. Even Dispensationalists who are Calvinistic in their Soteriology are often influenced by Covenant Theologians in this confusion of salvation and discipleship.

For example, John MacArthur, who is non-Sabbatarian and otherwise New Covenant Grace oriented, nevertheless confuses the free nature of salvation with Luke 9:23 discipleship, even going so far as to make his famous statement reflected in a song of yours, "To give all that you are for all that He is, this is the Gospel according to Jesus."

That is *not* the Gospel, according to Jesus or any Scripture writer. One doesn't "give" anything to receive a gift.

This is further reflected in MacArthur's mis-interpreting the parable of the pearl of great price as a sinner "selling" all that he has to "buy" the Kingdom or salvation.

Again, one doesn't "sell" anything in order to "buy" anything, when it comes to salvation by Grace through faith.

4. This Performance-based coloring of Grace has bled over into Christian Counseling, particularly Nouthetic Counseling.

Founded by Covenant Theologian Jay Adams, Nouthetic Counseling denies that it is merely a sanctified Behavior Mod technique.

Yet it mostly reduces Christian Counseling to "admonishing" (Gk. noutheteo, from which the practice derives its name) the counselee for his sinning, and exhorting him to get back on the obedient path, with appropriate "homework" for practice, and of course, "in the power of the Holy Spirit".

Thus it is essentially a Law-based, Performance-based system, no matter how vehemently that is denied.

5. Finally, I don't deny that the *official* teaching of Covenant Theology is Grace-based for both salvation and sanctification.

But in *practice*, the lack of discernment in rightly dividing the Old Covenant from the New Covenant causes them to fall into Law-oriented Christian living, instead of Grace-oriented.

This is reflected in the often-stated point that the Ten Commandments are our "rule of life".

This stifles true sanctification by putting a wet blanket on the glory of Romans 6:14, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."

Our "rule of life", if we must use the term, is "Faith", not the least of which is faith in the radical Grace of God, apart from the Law, both for initial salvation and for our ongoing Christian lives.

Or to put it another way, our "rule of life" is the very Life of Christ, living through us, a la Galatians 2:20.