Is Your Gospel Holey?
One of my Seminary professors, Joel Gerlach, sometimes warned about having a holey gospel. Not only is that a catchy phrase it also describes a serious condition many believers have.
What exactly is “a holey gospel”? It’s when people either don’t see or fail to apply the awesome truth that in a very real way Jesus sacrificed his life twice for us. Every believer knows about Jesus’ dying to pay for their sins. That is the basis for every believer’s hope of being accepted by God. We cling to Jesus’ cross for dear life’s sake.
Many fewer believers, however, realize the significance and thus fail to derive comfort from the fact that Jesus not only died for us, but he also lived for us. That’s the hole in many people’s gospel.
And it can cause a lot of problems. When people fail to see that Jesus also lived for them they can easily fall into the trap of bringing their own works into the discussion of salvation. When teaching I use a simple illustration to make this point. On the whiteboard I draw a heart filled with plus signs to symbolize the perfection needed to enter heaven. I then draw a heart filled with minus signs to indicate our sinful hearts. I then ask how our hearts get from that to the first heart filled with plus signs. Without fail, somebody quickly points to Jesus’ death on the cross. Great! What did that accomplish? It took our sins away. So I erase all the minus signs. But that isn’t enough to get us to heaven. Perfection is not just the absence of sin but also the presence of righteousness or goodness. In other words, we need the plus signs.
This is where over 90% of the people get stumped. How do we fill that heart with plus signs? Usually somebody eventually talks about the good works believers do as a result of faith. Do you see the trap? Suddenly they are introducing their works into the equation of being acceptable to God. Suddenly my going to heaven depends on something I do. They have fallen through the hole.
In reality, the plus signs are added immediately when a person comes to faith. At that time, not only are the merits of Jesus’ death applied to the person (the minus signs are erased), but the merits of his perfect life are also assigned to us! Jesus came, not just to die for us, but also to live for us! With his death he paid our debt, but with his perfect life he fulfilled all righteousness for us. His perfect keeping of the commandments is credited to our account. That is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:30, says that Jesus became our righteousness. That is why, when writing to the Galatians, he emphasized: “God sent his Son. born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:4).
This is what I was referring to when above I said Jesus sacrificed his life twice for us. Living for people – especially for people who for the most part don’t appreciate it – is truly a sacrifice. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time living for somebody else just for a day. Much less doing this day in and day out, year in and year out, for 33 years. That truly is a sacrifice. And that is a sacrifice Jesus did for us. All his life he worked hard at perfectly keeping all the commandments – not to gain credit for himself, but to gain credit for us.
Think of the implications that has for you. Think of how that removes any doubt whether or not you are acceptable to God. Think of the confidence this gives you. Think of what a difference this makes as you read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels. As you hear him praying for the Lord to forgive those nailing him to the cross, you realize that you receive the credit for that prayer. Therefore, in a very real way, you can say that you have perfectly loved your enemies – because Jesus’ perfect love has been credited to your account. The same applies to every incident in Jesus’ life. His tremendous prayer life, his fearless witness, his incredible sympathy, his masterful handling of people, all those and more are plus signs written on your hearts through faith. Each act of obedience is another thread in the robe of righteousness that he was weaving during his life – the robe that he now drapes over us through faith.
Think also of the implications this has for your witness – especially as you witness to your LDS friends. Because of their emphasis on righteousness and perfection, it is extremely effective for you to focus on Jesus’ second sacrifice. I can guarantee you that this will be a new thought to almost all of them. They might have had Christians talk to them about Jesus’ death for them. But the fact that Jesus lived for them – that his perfect law-keeping is credited to us through faith – that is a gigantic hole in the witness of most Christians.
“Holey gospel” is more than a catchy phrase. It is a sad condition many Christians have. For your own confidence, for your own reassurance, for your own joy, and for a more complete witness, make sure that you don’t have a hole in your gospel. Always remember that Jesus sacrificed his life twice for you. He not only died for you, he also lived for you.