A Timeless Message
Is the Gospel message relevant in today’s society? Does it pertain to our era?
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul the Apostle taught that the Gospel message is relevant, no matter the culture or conditions one lives in. Whether Jew or Gentile, servant or master, weak or strong, loyal to the Law or ignorant of it, the Gospel will find you where you are. And it will make an impact on your life!
Paul’s desire was to help the unconverted in his day recognize the value of the Gospel message. In verse 22, he stated: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Paul observed some aspects of the Jewish Law and customs in order to show the Gospel relevant to the Jews. When dealing with the Gentiles, he chose to ignore the Jewish customs and practices of the Law (though never at the expense of obedience to the law of Christ), in order to show that the Gospel was relevant to the non-Jewish community. He knew beyond doubt that there was nothing more relevant than the message of the Gospel, because it directly addressed the problems and moral issues society faced.
The same is true in our day. The Gospel message is timeless. It still addresses the problems and moral issues of society. It remains relevant even when it is rejected. People may walk away from it, but they will not escape the impact of what they heard. When unsaved people come under conviction, they know they need what salvation offers. Wherever they happen to be in life, they need it. It will change hearts and lives if it is embraced.
What Paul Did Not Say
As we read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9, we notice some things that Paul did not say. He did not say, “To win the sinner, I return to sinning.” He did not say, “To win the poker player, I begin playing cards,” or, “To win the gambler, I begin playing the lottery.” If he were alive today, he would not take up body markings and piercings, cross dressing, or filthy talking in order to appeal to the degenerate society that we live in. Paul did not want to render his message irrelevant by implying that it would leave you as you are—it will not! Salvation will take you from where you are to where God wants you to be. It will change you! There is power in the Gospel.
Paul did not want to render his message irrelevant by implying that it would leave you as you are—it will not!
Paul said that he was indebted, having experienced this wonderful deliverance. To the Romans, he put it this way: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Paul did not say, “To gain acceptance by those of other faiths, I compromise my beliefs.” To gain the acceptance of those of another faith, we would need to compromise our beliefs. However, we know what God put in our hearts. We must be faithful to our commission, which is to deliver to the next generation the same Gospel message the previous generation delivered to us.
Paul did not say, “To win the world, I became like the world,” nor would others who stood for the truth in the time of the Early Church have recommended that course of action. If we were to ask John the Beloved, for example, how he would view the approach to the Gospel in 2013, he would reply with the same words he gave in his epistles: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). God calls us out of the ways of the world. In 2 Corinthians 6:17, we are told, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” We will never win those in the world by becoming like the world. We will win those in the world world by showing that the Gospel offers something better than what the world can deliver.
Some things are viewed as irrelevant because they are outdated. I bought my first car in the early 1970s, a 1969 Mustang Mach I. In that car was an 8-track tape deck. It is irrelevant today, except to a collector, along with electric typewriters, rotary phones, VCRs, encyclopedias, and countless other items. The Gospel message may be old-fashioned—it is far older than any of those items—but it is never irrelevant! In any culture, in any period of time, at any season of life, the Gospel message has power to impact your life if you allow it to do so.
In the church setting, some view prayer benches as being outdated. It is considered more fashionable to stand in a circle and hold hands, rather than kneeling together at a place of prayer. However, there is power in communion—not with someone whose hand you might hold, but with the God who made you. He can transform your life, and no human being can do that.
Thank God for altars of prayer. I had never seen a prayer bench when I came to this church at twenty-one years of age. I had never seen anyone on their knees in prayer. I am glad that the church leaders did not decide sometime in the early 1970s before I arrived on the scene that society was moving forward and it was time to get rid of the altars. No, when I stepped into a Gospel meeting, I heard the simplicity of the Gospel presented, and at the conclusion of that meeting, they said, “You can come and pray at these altars. You can experience this Gospel.”
A number of years have gone by since the day I first saw an altar of prayer, but today I would like to repeat that same message: “You can come and pray. You can experience this.” You can be impacted, not by human beings but by a relevant message, because the message is from God.
Pressured to Change
James, the leader of the Early Church in Jerusalem, and the Early Church converts were pressured by Judaizers to adhere to Jewish rituals practiced in the synagogues. James’ response was, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day” (Acts 15:21). He was saying, “The Jews in the synagogue have a different message. We do not need to be like them. God has called us to be who we are!” Nor do we, in our day, need to be like other churches. God has called us to be who we are. We cannot be influenced by what others teach or how they worship. We do not criticize their efforts or how they operate, but we are confident of what God has called us to be.
We have a commission. Our relevance is found in fulfilling our commission, which is to teach that a sinner can repent and be saved, that a saved person can consecrate his life and be sanctified, and that one who is saved and sanctified and is living a pure and holy life can be filled with the Holy Ghost. That’s relevant, and it can happen today.
The Apostle Jude may have been told, “Just listen to me, and I will bring you into the next century, Jude.” We can conclude that he was addressing a concern about apostasy because he wrote, “It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Earnest effort was necessary because pressure to change existed. And earnest effort is necessary in our day as well. What will take us into the next century is the same Gospel message that brought us from the last century. At whatever point we stop conveying it from century to century, we have become irrelevant.
After Timothy’s friend and mentor Paul died, he may have been told, “You know, Timothy, if you want to be relevant, you need to stop preaching doctrine. Doctrine divides.” Actually, doctrine unites, and Timothy knew that. He remembered Paul’s instruction, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:2-3). He resisted any pressure to adjust his doctrine to accommodate the society around him.
Doctrine is more than the seventeen Biblical truths that are published in the Higher Way magazine. It is all the instruction from God’s Word. It is the kind of teaching that reminds husbands and wives to read the Bible and pray together. It is the kind of teaching that encourages parents to show their children how to pray at home. It is the kind of teaching that instructs children to obey their parents, husbands to love their wives as their own flesh, and wives to respect their husbands.
Embrace Sound Doctrine
We live in a society that clearly has adopted a “create-your-own-spirituality” mindset. A few months ago, it fell on me to pick up one of my grandsons at his grade-school classroom. As I was waiting outside in the hallway, I heard the children singing a song prior to dismissal. The words of that song thanked the handiwork of the Creator—the earth, sun, trees, and water—but failed to thank the One who created them. Many in our society benefit from God but fail to acknowledge Him! Creating your own spirituality is like going to one of those buffets where they have hundreds of items, and you pick and choose what you want. If you don’t like it, you don’t take it. That might work at a buffet, but it will not work for getting into Heaven. We need to embrace sound doctrine—all of the Word of God.
John the Baptist was fearless in proclaiming the need for his hearers to repent. He may have been told, “John, your style of preaching will never work. If you want to draw a crowd, you need to tone down your message. You cannot remind people that they are sinners!” However, when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to hear him, his response was, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7). He kept on preaching the message that God had given him. His responsibility was simply to deliver the message, and he did so.
Perhaps Paul was told, “To be relevant, you need to avoid putting people on the spot.” However, when he appeared before King Agrippa, he said, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” Paul knew Agrippa’s background, and he reminded the king of the understanding that he had. Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Paul responded, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:27-29).
The Gospel demands a decision from those who have not yet experienced salvation.
Notice that Paul used the words, “this day.” The Gospel demands a decision from those who have not yet experienced salvation. The decision will either be “I am going to give my heart to the Lord” or “I am not going to give my heart to the Lord.” It is as simple as that. Those who say, “I am going to do it,” will leave rejoicing. Those who say “I am not going to do it,” will leave the same way that they came, bearing a load of sin.
The Gospel message, with its focus on redemption, is universally and perpetually applicable to humanity. It will never be outdated, superseded, or improved upon. Cultures change, laws are modified and updated, generations come and go, but the Word of God is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Respond today, and embrace its message!