The Lost Elements of the Gospel

Paul tells us here that the gospel (good news) which he preached was based upon a revelation he had of Jesus Christ. So here is my question. Is the gospel you have heard based upon a revelation of Jesus Christ? Or is it based upon the evangelical movements of the nineteenth century lead by such men as Dwight L. Moody, Charles Finney, and others?

 

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”    Gal. 1: 11, 12

 

Paul tells us here that the gospel (good news) which he preached was based upon a revelation he had of Jesus Christ.  So here is my question.  Is the gospel you have heard based upon a revelation of Jesus Christ?  Or is it based upon the evangelical movements of the nineteenth century led by such men as Dwight L. Moody, Charles Finney, and others?

 

This is what I call the gospel of the evangelicals and it is very lopsided.  It basically says that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you could be forgiven and go to heaven.  This is what most born-again evangelical Christians believe the gospel to be.  However, one cannot read the letters of Paul without seeing that there was much more to it than that.

 

In fact, I believe that we have altogether missed the very heart of the message.  We have missed the center and core of the New Testament proclamation!

 

My co-workers and I travel all over this country (and others) to speak to groups of believers who are searching for organic church life.  Most of them report to us that they have never heard this part of the message.  So I would like to outline the main points of the ‘gospel’ that Paul preached that are, for the most part, being ignored today.

 

I.                   Christ in you – an indwelling Lord

Paul said that he received his gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12).  Then, he goes on to tell us that this revelation was of the Son in him and that this Son in him is who he preached (Gal 1: 15, 16).

 

In other words, Paul preached Christ. (I Cor. 1:23; I Cor. 2:2)  But he preached the Christ who lived within him.  This “Christ in you” revelation was obviously the core of his message (see Gal. 2:20; Gal. 4:6, 19; Eph. 1:22, 23; Eph 2:22; Eph. 3: 16-19; Col. 1:27; Col. 3:11; I Cor 3:16; I Cor. 6:19; I Cor. 12:27; I Cor. 4:7; Rom. 8: 9-11).

 

This part of the message is actually the essence of the New Covenant. (Jer. 31:33)  In the old covenant everything was external (i.e. – the tablets of stone, an external priesthood, tabernacle, law).  In the New Covenant, everything becomes internal – Christ in you, the law and lawgiver comes to live within you.  And now you learn to live by the life of Another.

 

Jesus Christ came to initiate and walk out the New Covenant right in front of his disciples.  He lived by the life of his indwelling Father!  This changes everything.  This means no longer living by an external code of behavior but by the life of another Person.  Do you see it?

 

This is the main element in our following the Lord.  This is true discipleship.  It’s all about learning to follow an indwelling Lord!  But how many books are written about this?  How many people are telling us how to live by an indwelling Christ?  How many people even tell us that we have an indwelling Christ?

 

II.                The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ

This is one element that every believer and Christian worker would agree is essential.  We must be Christ-centered.  But what does that mean?  To most, it means that the life (earthly life) and teachings of Jesus must be taught and held in the highest regard.  In other words, being Christ-centered means that you adhere to the correct doctrines.  It’s mostly a matter of proper theology and teachings.

 

But Christ is not a teaching.  He is a Person.  He is both God and Man.  This divine Person is to be the preeminent one in all things (Col. 1:18).  It is a Person who is to be the Center, the Head, and the Life of all we are, and all we do.  Paul said that he preached Christ (I Cor. 1:23) crucified.  This means that he preached the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  Have you ever noticed that in Paul’s writings he very rarely refers to the Lord’s earthly life?  That’s because Paul was proclaiming an eternal and glorified Christ.  He preached the all inclusive, full, ascended, and glorified Christ.  He preached a Christ who is the All in all!

 

III.             The Eternal Purpose of God

“. . . according to the kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”   Eph. 1: 9, 10

 

This element of the eternal gospel flows right into our last element of the centrality of Christ.

 

The gospel that is preached today is mostly man-centered and based upon our western culture which is based upon human need.  We live in a society of consumerism.  Everything revolves around our own needs.  This environment has bled into our “churches” and into our message.  The gospel we preached is founded upon the need of humankind.  Jesus came to save us, heal us, deliver us, teach us, etc.  Man has a need – God came to fill that need.  That, in a nutshell, is what most Christians believe is God’s eternal purpose.  But that is not what Paul tells us.

 

The letter to the Ephesians (especially chapters 1 and 3) tell us another story.  Paul tells us that God’s purpose is centered in His Son, not in human need.  You could even say that God himself has a need.  Oh I know, God is all sufficient within himself and has no need within his nature.  But God (in a sense) does have a need pertaining to his purpose.  Maybe we should call it a passionate desire.  He has a great passion, a will, a purpose, a goal.  And that goal has to do with his Son.  He wants to make his Son the Center of everything!  But he has chosen a unique way to do this.  He will make his Son the center or sum of all things by expanding or increasing the Son until he fills all things with himself.  He increases his Son by making him the firstborn of many brethren (Rom. 8:29) through his death and resurrection.  The Son increases through the growth of the Body, his Church (see John 3:30; Eph. 1:23).  And Christ becomes the All in all.

 

This is a most glorious purpose!  But how often have we heard this preached in any of its many forms and expressions?  In the last century there were three men who shared this message by spoken and written means.  They were: T. Austin-Sparks, Watchman Nee, and Devern Fromke.  But where are the men and women who will take the baton from these brothers and bring this message today?

 

The three missing elements of the gospel that I have shared in this article all require two things for understanding.  Revelation and the work of the cross.  These are absolutely necessary for understanding to come.  However, this is costly and therefore not very popular in our consumerism society.  The work of the cross in the life of the believer takes time.  But as consumers, we want things to be done instantly.  Revelation happens slowly as one yields and breaks before God.  But as consumers, we want to read a book and have the message.

 

Where are the brothers and sisters who are willing and passionate about allowing God to break their soul lives so that his life can flow out of them?  Where, oh where, are the brothers and sisters who are willing to get to know an indwelling Lord, the centrality of Christ, and God’s eternal purpose, and then preach the whole counsel of God? 

 

My prayer is that God will raise up some of these men and women in our generation and the generations to come so that he may have his house, his bride, and his body.  And that his Son may be increased and expanded to fill all things with himself.

Root Before Fruit

“I am the vine; you are the branches.”
John 15:5a

My wife and I came to Christ in 1973, when we were twenty years old. It was during the Jesus People movement in Southern California when many young people were coming to the Lord.

By the time we were twenty-one, we were the worship leaders at our church. We quickly got involved as cell group leaders and were having weekly meetings in our home. I also volunteered to take care of the tape ministry for the pastor.

I preached my first message in 1975 and it was on John 15; the vine and the branches. I had no idea what I was talking about! (Back then, of course, I believed I was an expert on that text). In the next fifteen or so years, we were very busy doing Christian work. I served as a deacon, an elder, a worship leader, and a preacher.

I did evangelistic work with street preaching, door-to-door, and tract distribution. I worked helping the poor through World Vision, a local rescue mission, and sponsoring Cambodian refugees. We also traveled and shared our music ministry and ran a halfway house for wayward youth.

By the time we turned thirty-eight, we were exhausted! We left the institutional church because we really felt that there had to be something higher that God wanted.

It was then that we made a startling discovery. After all those years, we realized that we didn’t know our Lord very well at all. Oh, we knew a lot about Him. We knew the Scriptures (at least we knew them along certain lines). But what had we been giving those people to whom we had ministered? Had we given them Christ? Or had we given them doctrines, rules, regulations, and systems of self improvement? Since we ourselves had not experienced Christ in a deep way, how could we give Him to others in a deep way? There was no lasting fruit to show for those 17 years of hard work.

So we dropped all “ministry” at this point in our lives. We were determined to know Him and His church in a whole new way. During the next two years we discovered (by revelation) that we had an indwelling Lord. Christ lived in us and we lived in Christ. And we discovered that we could know and experience the Christ who lived within us in a much deeper way than we ever thought possible.

The Lord then began to give us a vision of His Church. One that was much more in line with what we saw in the New Testament. And it didn’t look anything like what we had seen around us. But we only had a vision. We had not actually experienced it yet. That would not come until several years later. But the one thing we did discover by experience was that:

“Root Must Come Before Fruit.”

The Current Scene 

There are many groups of Christians today within the house church / simple church / emergent church movement that emphasize the mission of the church. These groups are filled with many people in their 20’s and 30’s. They are hungry for authentic Christianity. They are longing for spiritual reality.

Yet, as I see it, many of them are still putting the proverbial cart before the horse. They have placed mission and social action before a deep inward knowing of the Lord. They have placed the fruit before the root. And I can’t help but wonder if this “fruit” will last.

“Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4, 5

The Tree of Life

What the Lord is talking about here is not missions, evangelism, or social action. He is talking about Life! God’s life. Divine life. Where there is life, there will be fruit (at least eventually). We love to focus on the fruit, but it seems to me that God focuses on the life. That is, the life of His dear Son. He knows that if life is flowing in the tree, fruit will be produced naturally, organically.

There is a very important reason why the Lord used the metaphor of a tree (or vine). He wanted to convey the idea of internal life being expressed. There is life flowing inside of the tree! Please don’t get the idea that there is nothing happening inside of that tree. Where there is life, there is motion. The sap is flowing; the bark and the branches are growing. Leaves and flowers are developing. But the fruit comes last.

What is Fruit?

In a word, you could say that a piece of fruit is a “life-pod.” It is a container (pod) that holds the excess life of the tree. This life-pod is for the benefit of others. It is eaten by other creatures for the purpose of providing energy and nourishment to them. Fruit does not benefit the tree itself.

“I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly.” John 10:10b

The fruit contains the internal life of the tree. The fruit will reflect the quality of the internal life of the tree. But it takes time for the fruit to develop so that it is a true expression of the internal life of the tree. In other words, it takes a mature tree to develop fruit. This doesn’t happen overnight. However, if the tree is in the proper environment, and it is properly nourished and develops a strong root system, it will produce fruit much sooner.

Practical Application

Christianity has manufactured a huge “machine” which we call evangelicalism. This machine pumps out instant preachers, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. This is the opposite of organic. It is mechanical. But what can be done to turn this tide? I would like to offer a two-fold solution.

1. Learn to know an indwelling Lord. Before you rush out to the mission field or to the inner city to “minister,” get to know the Christ who lives within you, experientially. Learn to touch Him and fellowship with Him in your spirit.

This is not doing nothing. This is not passivity. This is the tree developing a strong root system. The bark, branches, leaves and blossoms will display the life within as the tree matures. You will not be passively sitting around as the life grows because you are part of the Body of Christ.

How do you do this? First, you need some instruction. As an introduction, I would recommend the books on Spiritual Formation at www.HouseChurchResource.org. Second, you need to find a body of believers who are learning to live by Christ together. That’s the next point.

2. Learn to know your Lord in a shared-life community of believers. We learn to live by Christ by growing in Him together with a group of Christians who are all functioning under the headship of Christ in an organic way. Learn to be a brother/sister in an organic expression of the church where everyone serves one another. If you don’t know of a such a group where you live, then I would encourage you to fill out the “find an organic church” form at www.HouseChurchResource.org

Everyone who was sent out to work for the Lord in the first century was first trained by being a brother or sister in an organic church. Church life itself was their training ground. They were called, prepared, and then sent. Today, if someone feels called to “the ministry” they are immediately shipped off to Bible College. But God uses His church to prepare people for His work.

Now when I say “church,” it’s important that you understand that I mean a group of believers who are all functioning under the headship of Christ in a shared-life community. That’s the only “church” that the New Testament knows.

Our God strongly desires to have a living expression of His Son in every city in the world. This harvest is great, but the workers are few. Where are the men and women who are willing to actively pursue Him within the context of organic church life? Where are the men and women who are willing to learn Christ as non-leaders in a community of believers who are living and functioning under the vibrant headship of Jesus Christ?

God is raising up such young people in our day who want to know Him first before anything else. May He increase this work!