When sharing the truth of the gospel, many Christians today have a tendency to water down the “good news” in an effort to make it less offensive to the listener. To one degree, we can appreciate this desire not to offend. To another degree, however, the attempt to water down the gospel has serious ramifications, some of which actually entail an alteration of the message itself. This can lead to a “false gospel,” which Paul describes as no gospel at all since it has no power to save anyone (Gal. 1:6-7). At the other end of the spectrum are those who embrace the true gospel but who present it in a way that deeply offends. Their presentation can actually stand as a barrier to the listener. They sometimes revel in their brashness and pseudo-boldness.
As Christians, we must embrace a biblical approach—one that recognizes the offensiveness of the gospel yet the simultaneous need to share it in a non-offensive way (as much as this is possible). Paul asked for prayer that he would declare the truth “as I ought to speak” (Col. 4:4). He continues, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6). Jesus urged His disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). We need to understand that the gospel message is, indeed, offensive, but we cannot and must not water it down nor change it. Yet, at the same time, we can share it in a manner that the Holy Spirit can use to convict the sinner rather than in a way that is a barrier to the cause of Christ. Part of sharing the gospel entails understanding it clearly and recognizing the reasons why it is offensive to mankind. When we understand the content and offense of the gospel, we can be most effective in sharing it with others. To the modern man, the gospel is an offense because…
We Are Broken
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive because it tells us that we are broken people (“Christ died for our sins”). Sin is the original problem, and while everyone will admit that sin does exist in some form, most people have an extremely distorted view of it. Some believe that sin is outweighed by good in their own lives. Some believe that sin is simply a low view of oneself. Others think that sin is only committed by the “really bad” people who steal, murder, etc. Still others believe that sin is a human-contrived concept that simply labels and categorizes man’s behavior.
The biblical view of sin, however, reveals that every person born into this world is sinful, broken, and separated from God—no exceptions! Of course, such a reality is extremely offensive to the human mind. People do not like to be told that they are broken and inherently sinful. People do not like to be told that they are separated from a holy God due to their own wickedness. Yet the one, true God has declared this to be true. The apostle Paul reminds us that we all are under sin—Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 3:9). His conclusion: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). He adds, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Jesus did not shed His blood for “okay” people but for the “ungodly”—which includes every person (Rom. 5:6, 12, 18). Yet, the good news is this: Despite our sin and our brokenness, “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Yes, we are sinners, but we can be saved. Praise God!
We Cannot Save Ourselves
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive to mankind because it tells us that we cannot save ourselves. Notice once again the words found in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “Christ died for our sins.” As sinful human beings, we can do nothing to make ourselves righteous. Nothing we could ever do can possibly enable us to measure up to the perfect standard of an absolutely righteous and holy God. We are hopeless and helpless in and of ourselves.
The cry of the secular humanist in today’s culture is this: We do not need anyone—including a Supreme Being—to save us; we can and must save ourselves; we will save ourselves. Consider the words of the Humanist Manifesto 2000: “As humanists we urge today, as in the past, that humans not look beyond themselves for salvation.” The Council for Secular Humanism declares, “Secular humanists do not rely upon gods or other supernatural forces to solve their problems or provide guidance for their conduct.” The Humanist Manifesto 2 similarly states, “Humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No Deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” Clearly, the idea of complete inability according to the works of the flesh is totally offensive to the proud and self-sufficient (yet self-deluded) person who thinks so highly of himself. Yet the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21 are extremely clear: A just (perfect and righteous) One needed to be a substitute for the unjust. One who is dead in sins cannot provide himself or herself with spiritual life. Romans 5:6 also makes it clear that prior to our salvation, we were “without strength.” In other words, it was physically and spiritually impossible to obtain for ourselves spiritual life and peace.
Rather than being full of pride and offense because we cannot save ourselves, our response should be that of gratitude. On a temporal level, we do not find lost hikers who are “too proud to be saved” when they are lost in the wilderness; rather, they are full of joy and thanksgiving for those who saved and rescued them when they could not save themselves. Our response to God should also be one of extreme gratitude. He paid the penalty for our sin. He died for us as our substitute. In other words, He redeemed us when we could not save ourselves!
The Gospel Is Exclusive
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive to mankind because it is exclusive in its remedy for sin. Notice the words of 1 Corinthians 15:3 once again: “Christ died for our sins.” No other person could make salvation possible; no other way to have a relationship with the one, true God exists. Jesus Christ the Messiah died for the sins of mankind.
To our human minds, exclusiveness is offensive because it means some people are right and others are wrong. If we see a sign that says “One Way,” then the fact of the matter is this: If we go the opposite way, we are going in the wrong direction! The issue is black and white no matter how much one may try to rationalize it. And, of course, people despise being told that they are wrong or that their beliefs are wrong.
Yet the very God who created us has set spiritual laws in place that only He can declare and enforce, and the most important law is that spiritual life can come only to those who receive the free gift of eternal life through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus declares that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that nobody can have a relationship with God the Father except through Jesus Himself. In Acts 4:10-12, Peter declares the gospel to the religious leaders and then says, referring to Jesus, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” People can disagree with the exclusivity of the gospel, but their disagreement does not negate its factual reality. Jesus died for our sins, and we gain eternal life only from exercising saving faith in Him.
We Must Take the Word of Another
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive to mankind because it demands that we take the word of another. Consider the following phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “I (Paul) delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.” The gospel was not something the apostle Paul (or any other person) invented. Rather, the gospel was something that was delivered to him by God Himself. God is the Author of this extraordinary truth.
As sinful people, we do not like others to tell us what to do or what to believe; we want to go our own way. We often feel as though we can “figure it out” ourselves or we can devise our own plan based upon our own intellect. In God’s eyes, this is outright rebellion. While we certainly must not listen to the advice or commands of those who are not declaring the truth, we always must heed the Word of God and hear the counsel of those who are advancing the truth. And, of course, God is truth. Therefore, to receive His Word and obey it is the best thing we can do! Read Hebrews 2:1-4. This text is extremely clear—we must take God at His Word and apply that Word to our own lives for our own good. John 1:1-2, 14 reminds us that when we receive the words of Scripture, we are not just taking the word of another fallible person but of the very God Himself—Jesus Christ—who dwelt among men in order to offer Himself a ransom for all.
Of course, pride seems to be the basis for the offense of the gospel in this regard. As sinful human beings, we like to feel as though we are smart and independent; we like to tell others what to do and think, but we do not like others to tell us what to do or believe. However, when God speaks, we must listen. We must take Him at His Word and make much of His Word in our lives—our eternal welfare depends upon it!
Jesus Christ Is Lord
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive to mankind because it demands the lordship of Jesus Christ in the believer’s life. Notice the words in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “Christ died for our sins.” Someone paid the price for our redemption, and He paid this price with His own blood (Eph. 1:7). Therefore, we are not our own master (1 Cor. 6:19-20), nor are we owned by another person (1 Cor. 7:23). Our Lord and Master is none other than our great Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Again, the offense of the gospel here is a result of selfish pride. We naturally do not want to be a servant to anyone (though we often fail to realize that we are slaves to our own flesh). We want to belong to ourselves. We want to answer to no one. Yet as the children of God, we need to realize that the lordship of Jesus Christ is an essential part of our identity. A word of caution is in order, however: The gospel message is not that we must do works, “make Jesus Lord,” or give up things in order to be saved. Good works and a recognition of Christ’s lordship in our life are results of our salvation, not conditions for it. The one who believes the gospel and becomes the child of God has a new Master—whether or not he even fully realizes it.
Many Scripture texts describe believers as “servants” of Jesus Christ, but notice in particular Luke 14:25-33 where we discover that if we are truly disciples of Jesus, then He as our Lord will have priority over three things in our lives: priority over family (Lk. 14:26a), priority over self (Lk. 14:26b), and priority over possessions or things (Lk. 14:33). The lordship of Jesus Christ means possessing the freedom to live a life that brings glory to the Lord. What a wonderful truth!
The Gospel Is No Respecter of Persons
The gospel—the “good news” of eternal life based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ—is offensive to mankind because absolutely anyone, regardless of color, race, social rank, or economic status, can embrace and propagate it. Reflect on the apostle Paul’s words: “Christ died for our sins.” No one is excluded!
The gospel puts every person on equal ground. This is extremely offensive to many people in the world who feel they are superior to others for one reason or another. For one man to be equally guilty and to equally receive forgiveness of sins as any other man does not coincide with man’s sinfully innate belief that he is better than others in some way. Selfish pride and the delusion of superiority are prevalent characteristics of sinful mankind.
The very God who created man and made him in His own image declares the equality of men in several ways: First, He declares that all are equally guilty (Rom. 3:9-12, 23; 5:12). Second, He declares that He is God over all (Rom. 3:29-30). Third, He declares that all can be saved (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:18). Fourth, He declares that all must be saved–all need to be redeemed (Acts 17:30). Finally, He reveals His desire that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). In every one of these biblical texts, it is clear that no one is excluded based upon race or color or based upon financial or social status.
Unlike the many religions of the world that either are rooted in a type of caste system or teach that salvation comes by works based upon one’s ability, Christianity puts all people everywhere on a “level playing field.” All are sinful and guilty, yet all who place their faith in Jesus Christ can have a personal relationship with God.
We Are Not Smart Enough
The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive because it is not something we could devise ourselves. Our text says: “Christ died … He was buried … He rose again … according to the Scriptures.” Man is far too unintelligent and unoriginal to devise such a perfect plan of spiritual salvation, and yet he believes himself to be extremely wise and creative. But in reality, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). In Galatians 1:11-12, the apostle Paul reveals the uniqueness of the gospel in relation to its origin—it is not from man’s mind but rather is received directly from God.
We need to understand today that it does not benefit anyone to “sugar coat” or “water down” the truth of the gospel because to do so actually changes the truth and depth of this incredible “good news.” Rather, we must recognize that the gospel message is offensive and yet, at the same time, do our best to considerately communicate its truth in a way that people can understand. As evangelistic Christians, we must do three things: First, we must let people know that the gospel is universal and non-discriminatory in its scope. This allows us to speak the truth in love and grace and, simultaneously, allows the Holy Spirit to accomplish His convicting work in the heart of the listener. Second, we must make sure our listeners know we are genuine and sincere in our love and concern for them. We should never push the gospel off on people as if we were selling them something. People can tell whether we truly care for them or whether we are just going through the motions due to our own feelings of guilt or obligation. Third, we must actually show our love through our belief and behavior. Hypocrisy is not an option for the Christian. We must have earnest concern for the unsaved and then manifest our love and concern through our demeanor, words, and actions.