What is the Gospel? - Lesson 9

Challenges to the Gospel

In this lesson, you will gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges to the gospel and how to respond to them. The lesson covers historical and cultural context, as well as modern challenges and their roots. You will learn about common challenges like pluralism, relativism, and secularism, and their characteristics. The lesson also provides guidance on how to respond to these challenges using biblical foundations and practical strategies for sharing the gospel in a challenging world.
Marc Cortez
What is the Gospel?
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Challenges to the Gospel

TH106-09: Challenges to the Gospel

I. Understanding Challenges to the Gospel

A. Historical and Cultural Context

B. Modern Challenges and Their Roots

II. Common Challenges to the Gospel

A. Pluralism

1. Definition and Characteristics

2. Responding to Pluralism

B. Relativism

1. Definition and Characteristics

2. Responding to Relativism

C. Secularism

1. Definition and Characteristics

2. Responding to Secularism

III. Defending the Gospel in a Challenging World

A. Biblical Foundations for Apologetics

B. Strategies and Techniques for Sharing the Gospel

  • Through this lesson, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the gospel's significance, its historical context, essential components, and implications for Christian life and relationships.
  • Through this lesson, you'll understand the importance of Creation, the biblical account in Genesis, the Fall's consequences, and the Gospel's role in restoring creation.
  • By studying this lesson, you learn about the biblical perspective on sin, its origins, effects on human nature and society, and the restorative power of the Gospel message.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into God's faithfulness in both the Old and New Testaments, from covenant relationships with Israel to the fulfillment of promises in Jesus Christ, guiding your life and encouraging others.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jesus as the Messiah, His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and the profound impact of His life and ministry on humanity's salvation.
  • Through this lesson, you gain a thorough understanding of the atonement, its theories, biblical basis, and practical implications for personal salvation and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the Gospel, its power in salvation, and its implications in your life, emphasizing the balance between God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • Through this lesson, you'll learn how the Gospel shapes all aspects of life, from personal relationships to societal issues, and fosters spiritual growth, ultimately guiding your approach to evangelism and social justice.
  • This lesson equips you to recognize and address challenges to the gospel, including pluralism, relativism, and secularism, and offers biblical guidance for defending your faith.
  • Through this lesson, you learn effective strategies for communicating the Gospel, addressing objections, and building bridges between your message and your audience.

This course is designed to help believers reconsider their understanding of the Gospel. What is the Gospel? How is the Gospel related to the eternal plan of God? What does the Gospel mean to each believer today? Dr. Cortez answers these and other critical questions.

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What Is the Gospel?

Dr. Marc Cortez
What is the Gospel?
Challenges to the Gospel
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] The following lecture is provided by biblical training. More information is available at WW w dot Biblical training dot org. Hopefully by now, through the course of these lessons, you've developed a better sense of what the gospel is. And the gospel, as I've defined it, the gospel as the Bible unfolds it for you in the narrative and the story that we've talked about, the gospel that climaxes in Jesus Christ and the gospel of your salvation and salvation, that comes as a gift of God by grace through faith. So hopefully we've developed a better a deeper appreciation for the gospel, but we want to be very aware of the fact that we live in a world that doesn't understand the gospel. It's a matter of we live in a world that doesn't want to understand the gospel. Remember, think back together. How does the Bible describe this world for us? It's broken. It's darkness. It's the shadow side of shalom. It's sinful. And what happened when the light entered into the darkness? Well, the darkness rejected it, despised it, loved the darkness. So we live in a world that does not want to understand the gospel. And that's a difficult place to be if we want to hold on to the gospel, because it means we're constantly surrounded by messages that are not consistent with the gospel, messages that are going to provide us opportunities to misunderstand the gospel, to misconstrue it, to tweak it in ways that are not appropriate to the gospel. So we want to spend a little bit of time in this lesson coming to appreciate some of those challenges, some of those messages that we receive that might cause us to move on from here and misunderstand the gospel in damaging ways that we can't cover all of them.

[00:02:06] And sinful humans are amazingly creative in coming up with ways to distort the gospel and undermine the gospel. We couldn't possibly hope to cover all of them in one lesson. Particularly, there are many lessons that come that are pretty external to the church, messages that come really from outside the church and threaten the gospel. And we get messages of materialism. Hey, really, why worry about all this spiritual stuff anyway? Anyway, everything is material. And so our goal needs to be material well-being and material success and material comfort. There is no spiritual reality. There is nothing transcendent. So why worry about all of it anyway? A message that fundamentally undercuts the gospel. Because, of course, we're talking about a story that is much bigger than that. But it's a consistent message that we get from the world that we should focus and concern ourselves with material things. We get messages about of of secularism and secularism, which suggests that we should just radically divide the religious from the secular world. You can have religious people and they can go off and go do the religious things in church. But really, what really matters, what's really rational, what's really reasonable, the true things of life, those are all over here in the secular world. And that completely undermines everything that we've been saying about the gospel and its all encompassing significance. We live in an entertainment world that really sends us messages of as long as you're happy, as long as you're content, you're enjoying yourself, you're fine. If you're not happy producing it will make you happy. And whatever entertainment, whatever leisure, whatever recreation necessary to make you happy, pursue that chase that that will solve the problem. Those are powerful messages that we receive constantly from the surrounding world, from our cultural context, and all undermine the gospel.

[00:04:08] But we want to focus our attention in this lesson specifically on some challenges. Some messages that we receive even within the church, that can threaten to undermine our understanding of the gospel. What are those messages that we might receive? Well, the first one that we're going to talk about, I will call the Gospel minus. The gospel minus. And what is that? And what do I have in mind by this one? Well, this view of the gospel is going to tell us that salvation is by faith alone. Salvation is by grace, through faith alone. I many times communicated this understanding of the gospel when I was working as a youth pastor with some of my junior high students. And we would go on a retreat together and we'd spend a weekend off, separated from the distractions of life. And some of these would be non-Christian students. And oftentimes during the course of the weekend, we would sit down together and I would tell them the gospel. And actually I would tell them that version of the gospel that I unpacked for you way back in the first lesson, kind of the abbreviated form of the gospel, and I would explain that to them. And then I would often lead them through a prayer. They would pray the prayer and I would be satisfied because they had prayed the prayer and because salvation was about faith. And faith is sufficient for salvation. And so I would be happy. And there is tremendous good in this way of telling the gospel, because, of course, salvation is by grace through faith alone. We have talked about that together, and we do not need to add to the gospel. As a matter of fact, that will be the next challenge that we'll talk talk about is the tendency to add to the gospel.

[00:06:12] We'll call that the Gospel plus, and it's very creative. So there's a lot of truth here. Salvation is by grace through faith alone, and we do not need to add to the gospel. So what's the problem? What's the minus, What's missing that I'm concerned about? We're really what I'm concerned about is I think oftentimes this way of understanding the gospel has a really inadequate view of faith. Now, let's rewind back a couple of sessions and remind ourselves of what faith is biblically speaking. If you remember, we unpacked three pieces to that. We said that faith, really true faith involves understanding, ascent and trust and true faith. There's something that is known and there is a knowledge component to faith. It's not just an attitude or an emotion, a feeling or experience. There is something you need to know for it to be faith. It is faith in something. So we talked about that. We also talked about the fact that faith involves assent. You remember the idea of the saying not just I know that the Bible teaches this, but I affirm that to be true, I assent to it. And so I'm not just like, say, a non-Christian Bible scholar, and there are non-Christian Bible scholars who spend their lives teaching the Bible. They have tremendous knowledge of the Bible, but they don't assent to it. They don't say, Yes, that's true. They look at it as a cultural artifact, something to look at. It's interesting. So they have understanding. They have no assent. That's not faith. Faith understands that to be true and looks at it and says, Yes, I believe that to be true. And then third, faith trusts. Faith doesn't just say, Yeah, I know that's true. Faith says, I know that's true, and I know it.

[00:08:13] To the extent that I'm willing to place myself in the hands of God. Faith. Trust. Faith looks at the person who has communicated the gospel. Faith looks at God and says, I understand. I assent. And now I trust. And that's why we talked about once we get a fuller sense of faith. That's why we talked about that faith and repentance really go together. Repentance isn't some separate thing that you do. And I have faith here, and I'll repent later when I get around to it. Repentance is really a part of faith. I call it the flipside of faith, because if you understand who God is and how He has communicated in the Gospel, and if you assent to all of that, you're saying, Yes, I believe that God exists and I believe that this gospel message is true. And if you believe it to the extent that you place yourself in it, you come to trust it. That is repentance. That is the process by which you say, I'm no longer looking to myself for my own direction, my own well-being. I'm now looking at God and I'm saying yes. So faith and repentance together. That is the response to the Gospel that the Bible calls for, understanding it, assenting to it, trusting in it, trusting in him. So when I talk about the gospel minus, my concern is not the statement that salvation is by grace through faith alone. My concern is that they haven't unpacked the faith enough. There's often an inadequate view of faith. Sometimes I led students through the prayer, and I'm not sure they ever got past simply understanding. I'm not sure that I took sufficient time to really process with them and make sure that they weren't just saying, Well, yes, I understand that.

[00:10:10] I honestly think many of the students that I took through the prayer understood it and assented to it. But I'm not at all sure that many of them were. Let me rephrase that. I'm not sure that all of them placed their trust in God. As a result, so many of them understood it and they were convinced by it at an ascending level because I communicated it to them in a convincing way. So they said, I understand that. And yeah, that sounds right. That's not faith, and I can lead them through any number of prayers. But if they're just descending and saying, Yeah, I think that's right. That's not the faith response that God is looking for. See the faith, the gospel minus robs faith. It takes away from faith some aspect of what really makes it a biblical response to the gospel. Yes, I understand. Yes, I believe that to be true. Yes. I place my trust in you, God. That's a faith response to the Gospel. So if that's faith minus, what is it? If we move to the second challenge, the second message that we can receive oftentimes from the church itself, that can cause us to misunderstand and misconstrue the gospel? Well, as I mentioned, I'm going to call this one the Gospel Plus. Well, what's the gospel plus? The gospel plus is the idea that God has done amazing things in Jesus and faith is an important response to what God has done. But we shouldn't emphasize only faith. See, that's reductionistic. To really reduce this whole salvation thing, to just faith. Because there's more to the story. There's more to being saved than just having faith. God calls us to live out our faith. God calls us to have works.

[00:12:09] God calls us to live holy lives. God calls us to do things like go to church and read your Bible and pray. God calls us to obey the commandments. See, there's more to the story than just faith. That's a reductionistic that's too small of a gospel. We need a bigger gospel than that. We need a gospel that includes the idea that we need works and we need obedience and we need commandments and we need law. And there's good in that message. The gospel is absolutely the good news that God transforms his people. The Gospel is absolutely the good news that our entire lives are involved in this. But God doesn't want just part of us. God doesn't want to save little pieces of us. God wants to save all of us. And therefore, the good news is that the things that I do are a part of this whole story. There is absolutely good in this way of telling the story. But there are problems as well. We talked about those in the last lesson. So we must see our works as an effect of the gospel, as an effect of the grace of God, as an effect of the love of God poured out in our lives to the Holy Spirit. If works become part of the gospel itself. So the now responding to the Gospel is by grace through faith Plus. Faith Plus works. Faith plus law. Faith plus certain Christian practices. Faith Plus. Now it's not good news. See, there's no good news in a gospel plus because Jesus is no longer sufficient. Jesus is no longer accomplished. All that is necessary. He may have accomplished most of what is necessary. Jesus may have done some amazingly great things that were necessary.

[00:14:03] But it's not enough. There's some little piece missing and I have to provide it with. That's not good news. Because remember, before I enter into the kingdom, I'm broken, dead, darkness, sinful. If there's anything I have to bring to the table for this to be salvation. That is not good news. That's bad news because I've got nothing to bring to the table. If I have even some small piece that I need to contribute to this story of salvation, I'm lost. I'm trapped in darkness. I never make it out of the shadow side of shadow, separated from God. It's not gospel. Plus, see the good news of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us. That is more than good enough. Don't add to it. We don't need to add to what Jesus did for us by grace, through faith in Christ alone. Absolutely Created for good works. Ephesians 289 are followed by Ephesians 210, but we must keep them in that order by grace, through faith, transformed by grace, then expressing itself through works. So that works are understood to be an effect of the gospel, not gospel plus. So we want to make sure that we're not hearing gospel minus in our churches with an inadequate understanding of what it means to respond to the gospel in faith. We want to make sure that we don't hear or teach a gospel plus in our churches so that we begin to add things to the gospel so that things become necessary in addition to what Jesus did for us on the cross. The third thing that we want to be careful about is we want to be careful that we're not hearing the gospel of our prosperity. What's the gospel of our prosperity? This is going to really emphasize the idea that God wants to bless you, God loves you, has tremendous things in store for you, and God is going to bless you.

[00:16:18] Why would God withhold his blessings from you? If God has tremendous resources, which he certainly does, and if God has tremendous love, which he absolutely does, then of course, God will pour his blessings out upon you so that you will be happy, that you will be fulfilled, that you will be successful, that you will be wealthy because God has tremendous resources available to him and He's going to pour out his blessings on his people. Now, some of you may hear in this the idea of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel has become very popular in certain segments of Christianity. And the idea that God will pour out material blessings on his people so that God's people, if they are living rightly, will receive the material blessings of the kingdom, wealth and possessions. But the gospel of our prosperity is actually bigger than that, because we often hear in our church is not so much that God will pour out financial blessings upon us. Some of us will hear that in our churches. Other of us, Others of us will hear that God will pour out the blessings of the fully fulfilled life. You will be happy, You will be satisfied, you will be fulfilled. God wants to bless you and He will pour these blessings out upon you. And then again, there's good in this way of telling the Gospel, because God absolutely wants to bless you. God does love you. God does have tremendous resources. God does want to bless his people, get his promise to pour his blessings out on his people. We've been talking about that together, the Kingdom of God as the expression of all of God's plans and purposes for creation, so that when we enter into the Kingdom of God, God wants to pour His blessings out upon us.

[00:18:10] The good news is that in Jesus, we are becoming all that God intended us to be. That is amazingly good news. And that's the good in this way of telling the story. But there are things to be concerned about here as well. So the very least, we need to be careful because we tend to use our own concepts of prosperity to flesh this out so that we say, God wants to bless you. Great. What does that mean? What are the blessings that God wants to pour on me? And then we take our own kind of culturally derived ideas of what it means to be blessed. And we read it into what we mean when we say God wants to bless us, so that by that, in some context, we mean God wants to give me money. God wants to give me stuff. God wants to give me possessions so that I'll be wealthy. In other context, what we mean by that is God wants me to be the self fulfilled individual so that I will achieve my full potential, so that I will be happy. So that I will be satisfied. Is that the picture that the Bible gives us when God says, I will bless you? Well, sort of. See the picture when God says, I will bless you is that we will receive all the blessings of the kingdom so that we might image him in creation and be a blessing throughout creation so that we might live gospel centered lives, so that we might be ministers of the kingdom. Will that lead to me being happy? Well, that depends. If I'm gospel centered, and I see that as the fulfillment of what it means to be human is God has created me, then yes, I will be happy.

[00:20:05] Will it be easy? No. Will it be painful at times? Yes. Will it often lead to suffering and self-sacrifice? Quite probably. But I may still be happy because I've got a vision for what God wants me to be and to do. See when we take a biblical understanding of blessing, then absolutely we can say God wants to bless us. God wants to pour his spirit into us, that we might be transformed in his image, not in the image of what our society thinks a good human life looks like, but transformed in his image so that I might become like the son, so that I might become like Jesus. He pours his blessings out upon us, transforming us that we might be empowered from ministry so that I might go live my life in service to others as an expression of the kingdom. God wants to bless me. Yes. An amen. God wants to bless all of His people. But we need to understand by that what the Bible understands by that to mean. The blessing is God loves us and He wants the best for us. We just need to come to understand the best in the same way that God does. This is not a me oriented gospel. Again, I can't say it enough. The story is not about me. The story is not about you got absolutely does want to bless us so that we can be a blessing to others. That's the whole point. So we want to be careful about messages that we get that emphasize the gospel of our prosperity. We want to make sure that that story is turned around so that it becomes a story of God blessing us so that we might be a blessing to others.

[00:21:55] A fourth challenging message that we want to be careful with is the idea of the gospel for all people. Well, that sounds good. What is the gospel for all people? Well, God has given a gospel message that he intends to be proclaimed to everyone everywhere. So we really need to work hard to make sure that people everywhere are able to understand the gospel. And there are lots of things in the gospel that are difficult to understand. They're challenging to understand their words and concepts that people in our culture, they just don't get. As a matter of fact, many people in our culture think the gospel is irrelevant. So we need to work hard to make the gospel relevant so that people can hear and respond to the gospel everywhere, because the gospel is for all people. So we need to do everything we can to make sure that everyone everywhere can hear it and understand it. Well, that sounds good. And there's a lot again in there that's good. The gospel is important. We need to make sure that people everywhere can understand the gospel. And we absolutely should remove any obstacle to understanding the gospel. The gospel is for all people. But again, we want to be careful because sometimes the obstacles that we're talking about are actually a part of the gospel itself. So again, we're communicating the gospel to a darkened land and there are going to be things in there that they're not going to like. There are things in there that we don't like, and they will be obstacles. We don't like to be told that we're sinners and who likes to be told that they're a sinner, who likes to be told that they're broken, Who likes to be told that there's something wrong? We don't like to hear that.

[00:23:47] We're not part of the solution. We love to think that we can accomplish tremendously great things, and in many ways we can. But we don't like to be told that we can't accomplish our salvation. We don't like to be told that we're just part of the problem. At the very least, we want to be part of the solution. We don't like to hear about God's wrath on sin. Wrath is an unhappy thank God should be happy and loving and forgiving. We don't want to hear about a God who gets angry and whose wrath and who's holy. See, there are pieces of the gospel itself that function as obstacles. To the gospel, to understanding the gospel. But we can't simply remove them. What are we supposed to do? Take the message of God's wrath against sin out of the Gospel. Well, then we don't have gospel. We don't have the good news that God is a God who had a plan from the very beginning and will not allow that plan to be undermined and destroyed. The gospel is a story of a God who gets angry when people break his creation, undermine his plan, work to the detriment of his people. We want a God who gets wrathful against sin and makes sure that sin is addressed. You can't simply remove that and still have the gospel. We can't take the pieces out of the gospel that people find offensive and think that we will actually still have a gospel. We need to speak the gospel so that people understand it. Yes, but we cannot alter the gospel to make it more likable. People often think the gospel is irrelevant. Yes. I'm not sure, though, that our job is to make it relevant. We need to believe that the gospel is relevant.

[00:25:48] We just finished talking in the last. The simple fact that the gospel transforms every aspect of our lives. It is absolutely relevant. We don't need to make it that way. We maybe need to work on communicating to people. It's relevant so that they come to understand that the gospel isn't just an abstract story, a nice story about a God who loves us and does neat things for us, but that the gospel is an transforming story that alters our view of reality and changes everything about who we are and what we do. We don't need to make the gospel relevant because the gospel is relevant. What we just need to do is make sure that we're communicating it clearly so that people come to understand that. A fifth thing that we want to be careful about is teaching the gospel of my salvation and don't need to spend too much time on this because we've been addressing it all along. But this is the story that God loves me and wants to save me if He wants me to spend eternity with him. And again, there's good in this story because God does love me and he does want to save me and he does want to spend eternity with me. But again, we want to remember that this story is not about me. It's this way of telling. The story tends to make the church optional to the gospel. Seems as if it's the gospel of my salvation. Then I can respond to the gospel. And on Sunday morning, or on Saturday night, or whenever my church happens to meet, I can stay home and I can pray and read my Bible and I'll be just fine. Because this is a story about my salvation.

[00:27:19] And it's not. It's a story of God's plan for salvation, God's plan to glorify himself through his people, the Gospels, the tremendous news that I get to be a part of that people, the gospel of my salvation, that way of telling the story doesn't give me all of the good news because it's a good news that's locked only to myself. I want to be careful as well. We're going to our sixth and last challenge about the gospel of many salvation. So what is this? This is the idea that God loves everyone. God wants everyone everywhere to be saved in the Spirit as it works throughout the whole world. Drawing everyone to salvation and sincere believers everywhere can come to salvation. Because why would God reject them? If they're sincere in their faith and if they're sincerely pursuing who they believe to be God, then of course God will draw them in because God's a loving God. See, there are many paths up the mountain to God. We call them by different names and we understand them in different ways, but they all lead to the same God. As long as we are sincerely pursuing Him. And again, I want to say that there is truth in this way of telling the story because God does want everyone to be saved. God has thrown open the doors of the kingdom and has extended an invitation to all people to enter in. God is at work throughout the world seeking to lead people to repentance. There is truth to this way of telling the story, but there is tremendous deception here as well, because there is no salvation except through faith in Jesus Christ. And it's a faith that involves a set understanding the gospel assenting to the gospel.

[00:29:11] Trusting in the gospel. There simply is no way up the mountain apart from the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. If we are responding to some other religion, then we are understanding something else and we are assenting to something else and we are trusting someone else. So the gospel of mini salvation distorts the gospel. Undermines the gospel. There are many things that threaten our understanding of the gospel. We have threats outside the church that we need to be careful about. But sometimes we need to be even more aware of those messages that we receive from within the church, because those are the ones that have a tendency to sneak up on us. We need to be particularly careful about messages that we even receive from ourselves when our own pride kicks in and wants us to believe that we're contributing something to our own salvation. When our own salvation kicks in. And we want to believe that the story of salvation centers on us when our own laziness kicks in, we want to believe that the gospel is limited to church and doesn't affect the rest of our lives. We need to be careful what messages that we receive from outside of the church, messages that we receive from the church, and the messages that we communicate to ourselves because all of them threaten to undermine the gospel and all of them might cause us to go on from this series and spin the gospel in a different way so that we end up with not gospel. So let's reflect together on the gospel. Let's reflect together on the challenges, and let's be careful with the gospel in our lives and in our churches. Thank you for listening to this lecture. Brought to you by biblical training dot org.

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