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The Functionality of the Gospel – An Intro

September 16, 2009

“One of the greatest challenges, yet one of the most important tasks of the pastor is to help people actually see the connections between the gospel and the thinking and behavior that make up their everyday lives. We know well the centrality of the gospel message but in order for it to have a functional centrality it must be clearly and carefully connected to the real issues – issues of thought and conduct-of people’s lives…”(Mike Bullmore, The Functional Centrality of the Gospel in the life of the local Church).

The Gospel must become “functionally central to the individual Christian and the local church” (Mike Bullmore). Okay, so you know the Gospel must be kept at center stage, but how then does it become functional at center stage? How does this truth leap off the stage and into my life and invade my heart? This question and the tireless search for its answer has been at the forefront of my mind for the last 2 years. I want to share with you why, in my opinion, this question is one of THE most important questions a Christian could answer. Because answering it will effect your entire Christian walk, specifically the manner in which you act, react, think, and feel about everything.

I want to begin before I make my case with some legitimate reactions in response to this plea for a functioning and practical Gospel: (both are extremes to fit the way my mind typically works)

1. Extreme Skepticism – “Make the Gospel practical? no way! The last thing we need is a watered-down, simplistic, dumbed down, child-like, easy-to-believe Gospel. The Gospel is challenging, powerful, lofty, theological and divine!”

This would be an understandable reaction. However, this person misses the point and goes to the extreme in their perception of the words “functioning and practical”. They fear this would make the Gospel basic and everydayish in concept and application, thereby causing the Gospel to be stripped of its divine power to save. But what they don’t understand is that God’s Gospel was not designed primarily to benefit us in the beginning by our faith, but is to function daily throughout our walk with Christ. The skeptics’ “hard-to-reach only-for-mature-deep-thinking-Christians” Gospel should not be simplified or made ‘user-friendly’. So he can only view an attempt to functionalize the Gospel as hostile to its very nature. These skeptics may be trusting in a “Jesus + Gospel”, works based righteousness, or their own rigid, pragmatic, and stuck-in-a-book Gospel. To them, the Gospel is indeed the “power of God to salvation”, however it never functions in any other aspect other than adhering to a list of facts or dutifully reciting some creed.

2. Extreme Acceptance – “Yes, yes, yes. This is what I’ve been talking about. The Gospel is so simple and basic. We need to be making it practical and easy for all to understand and accept. The Gospel is not for intelligent, high-minded, intellectuals obsessed with theology and reading, but is for the down-and-out, the prostitute, the tax-evader, the murderer, the rapist, and the child molester. These people need simplistic answers. They need a simple formula. A basic truth. A little nugget of Christ, just enough to chew on and enjoy the taste. Yes, the Gospel must be practical and functional in the most simplist way”.

This would also be an understandable reaction to my argument for a “functioning” Gospel. However, this hypothetical person also misses my point and therefore takes their interpretation to the extreme. He believes the Gospel is simple. He is correct. Simple in that one does not have to study, and study, and study, and study to become a brainiac to be saved or to understand it. This Simpleton person rightly sees the danger of overintellectualizing (I think I made that up) and overcomplicating the Gospel and therefore understandably reacts as they do. He knows that God is not a God of confusion and that the devil is the Father of all lies. So he deducts from those truths a line of reasoning that says that God would not complicate His message so it must be easy. He also believes that God is pleased to reveal this to babes and to conceal it from the wise (Matt 11:25; Lk 10:21). And he would be right. He is also right in that the Gospel is not just for smart men. Most of us would be in trouble if it was; it is for the down-and-out too. Its simple in that the humble, lowly, poor in spirit and those thirsting for truth will receive it. The high-minded and prideful, those trusting in their righteousness won’t. He is confused about what I mean by a “functioning” Gospel. Functioning doesn’t imply dumbing it down. It doesn’t imply making it so base that a brick can comprehend it.

Functioning means the Gospel must be living and active in the life of the believer. But we cannot make the Gospel simple or acceptable for man to understand. No amount of our simplifying it for the lost man will do much good if we strip it of its power, the content, namely the work, person, and words of Jesus Christ. But the Gospel is not simple as far as responding to it. It is impossible for man to heed the commands of the Gospel, namely to repent and believe, in order to be saved without the regnerating work of the Holy Spirit. Our part as Christians is to faithfully present the Gospel as it truly is, foolishness to those who are perishing, and God will give the growth as He sees fit. Its simple because we plant or water the seed, but God gives the increase. Yet the Simpleton must understand that to the unregenerate man, this Gospel is utter foolishness (1 Cor 1:18, 21). So it is complicated and illogical to the lost man. And to the saved man, it makes perfect sense. Despite the saved man’s limitations in fully understanding the whole counsel of God, for him the Gospel is simple in belief and to believe.

Isn’t there a midpoint or a compromise between these two extreme reactions to desire a functioning Gospel? What’s the appropriate response to understanding “the Gospel must be fully functional”? I am going to argue liberally and hopefully charitably that the proper understanding of a “functioning” Gospel is one that is…

  • Theologically Deep
  • Purposefully Practical
  • Powerfully Performing
  • Faithfully Fruitful
  • Heart transforming
  • Truth Revealing
  • Christ Conforming
  • Church Reforming
  • Culture Reshaping
  • Community Reviving

The Gospel is so perfect in its design because its designer, God, is so perfect. It functions for what it was designed to function for: bring people to God to know and enjoy Him forever. So, the question is how does this Good News, the Gospel, function to do this in every aspect of the life of the believer?

Tune in next time and see.

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