The Seed is the Word of God (2)
The Power of the Gospel in
In our last article we considered the power of the gospel in the
mission field in its ability to convert the lost and guide them in
the ways God would have them to go. In this article we would
like to look at that power in the protecting, correcting, and
equipping of God's people. The purpose of both of these articles is
to show how the gospel can do today what it did in the first century.
Just as the gospel is all-sufficient in converting the lost so does
it contain everything necessary to the needs of the growing Christian
(2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:21). It is especially important to
remember this in our day in light of the drift of some towards a
subjective approach and others into emphasis on psychological needs
of people (this is not to question that people have psychological needs).
It is the will of God that those converted by the gospel be taught to "observe
all things, whatsoever [Jesus has] commanded" (Mark
16:15; Matthew 28:20). Let us now study some applications of these requirements.
The Power of the Gospel to Correct Misconceptions
Born of the Past Lives of Christians
The spread of the gospel in the first century resulted in the
conversion of people from almost every conceivable background (Acts
2:5, 41; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). The Bible shows
that many of these converts came with baggage from their past lives
that had to be dealt with in order for them to continue to grow and
serve God. Let us look at a few examples of how first-century
preachers handled such matters.
The belief that the gospel was only for those of Jewish background.
In giving the great commission Jesus clearly stated that his
disciples were to take the gospel to "all nations,"
to "every creature" (Matthew 28:19; Mark
16:15). In spite of this it is not until Acts 10 that we read
of the first Gentiles obeying the gospel. Acts 10 and 11 also
tell us of the reaction of Peter and other Christians of Jewish
background to this event. As they had restricted the preaching of the
gospel to Jews and Samaritans up to that point, all of them had to
learn and consent to God's will on the matter in spite of previous
convictions and prejudices (10:9-16; 11:1-18). While Peter learned
directly, through revelation from God, other Christians came to the
truth on this matter through Peter's teaching (Acts 11:1-18).
Once revealed, the gospel's message was sufficient not only to
correct wrong thinking on this matter (Acts 11:1-18), but to rebuke
those who backslid into practicing what they had formerly renounced
(Galatians 2:11-17). Such a study can be helpful in dealing
with ethnic or racial prejudices we might encounter today. However,
the main point we make here is with regards to the sufficiency of
God's revelation in this matter.
The belief that one could have fellowship in idolatrous feasts.
Some brethren at Corinth had no problem in partaking of a feast in
an idol's temple (1 Corinthians 8:10). Obviously, such meals had been
a part of their previous lives and they saw no harm in participating
in them after their conversion to Christ. While Paul's teaching
allowed for the eating of meat sacrificed to idols in a non-religious
setting (1 Corinthians 10:25-27), he instructed such brethren to
abstain from all participation in idol religion (1 Corinthians
10:14-22). The gospel was sufficient for instructing and correcting
such erroneous thinking and practice. These passages, as well as
others we might cite, can help teach Christians the danger of
participating in both unscriptural worship and the works of false religion.
The Corinthians dividing up into sects behind a favorite preacher.
Paul relates the problem thusly: "That each one of you
saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I
of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12). The Corinthians were
obviously viewing ministers of the gospel as they might view the
different philosophers of Greek society of that day. This led
to sinful division among them (1 Corinthians 1:10). In chapters
1 through 4 Paul dealt with the misconceptions that lay behind the
Corinthians' actions. His example of appealing to divine
revelation (in this case his words came by inspiration from God, 1
Corinthians 14:37) teaches us today of the power of the gospel in
helping brethren to renounce the remnants of erroneous thinking from
their past lives.
These points all show the danger that concepts from one's past can
pose to one's life as a Christian. Both in the mission field and at
home we will meet brethren who have been negatively influenced by
their upbringing, past religion, culture, etc. As we deal with
such misconceptions let us continually focus on the message of the
gospel to correct erroneous thinking, guard brethren against its
influences and help them go in the way truth guides (James 5:19-20; 2
Timothy 4:2-4; Acts 2:42).
The Power of the Gospel to Ward of Erroneous Teaching
After the establishment of the kingdom the Bible records a number of
efforts to misinform and mislead brethren (Acts 15:1; 1 Corinthians
15; Colossians 2:8, 16-23). Such false doctrines threatened to
overthrow their faith in the simple gospel of Christ (Galatians
5:3-4; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). The correctness of the original
message of the gospel was affirmed and defended in each case.
Please note the following instances.
Denial of the resurrection. The promise of resurrection
is a fundamental teaching of the gospel (John 5:28-29; Matthew
25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). To deny it is to deny the
truthfulness of the gospel. Paul's answer to this false
teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 not only shows the error of holding it;
it also establishes the necessity of continued faith in the pure
message of the gospel as being essential to the salvation of the lost
and to those who were already Christians (1 Corinthians 15:1-3, 12).
The original message of Christ that the dead would be raised was true
and deviation from it was recognized and rebuked by the apostle.
As we continue this study we next note that the error at Corinth was
not the only error Paul faced relevant to the resurrection.
Assertion that the resurrection was past. In 2 Timothy
Paul mentions two men whose teaching had the same consequences as
denying the resurrection: "Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who
concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past
already, and overthrow the faith of some" (2:17-18).
One thing Paul wrote in response to this error is "the firm
foundation of God standeth" (v. 19). The original
teaching of the gospel that all the dead, righteous and unrighteous,
would be raised stood fast in spite of the false teaching of these
men (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). All teaching on the subject of
the resurrection, therefore, needed to be compared with the original
message of the gospel. Christ has "brought life and
immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
Judaizing teaching. After the gospel began to spread
among the Gentiles an attempt was made on the part of some to bind
the law of Moses as a condition of salvation upon these converts
(Acts 15:1). The churches of Galatia, fruits of Paul's first
missionary journey (Acts 14), were infected by this teaching.
In beginning his refutation of this error, please note how Paul
emphasized the all sufficiency of the gospel to these brethren:
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you
any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema"
(Galatians 1:8; cp. Acts 15:1-29). Paul had preached the gospel to
them. It had the power to save them from past sins and lead
them to final salvation in heaven (Romans 1:16; James 1:21).
God's people need to recognize the all-sufficiency of the gospel
today. The revelation of the gospel as found in the New Testament
contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness"
(2 Peter 1:3). In light of this additions to it are not only useless,
they are specifically forbidden (2 John 9; Revelation 22:18-19).
All teaching concerning man's relationship with and service to God
and man today must be measured by the original message of our Savior
(Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 2:14).
Some Applications Needed Today
How do these facts apply to the work of preaching the gospel today?
While we write herein with regards to foreign evangelism the
following points apply to efforts to teach the gospel at home as well
We must have faith in the power of the gospel to change minds and lives.
Elsewhere in this article we have touched on the backgrounds out of
which the Corinthian brethren came. Manifold are the sins and
problems gendered by their past (see above on 1 Corinthians
1:12; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 12; 8:7). Further, compromise with
or giving heed to those in error also caused problems with that
church (5:1; 15:12, 33). In light of these facts let us
remember two prominent facts from Paul's letter to them: (1) Paul had
simply preached the gospel at Corinth upon arriving there (1
Corinthians 2:1-3); (2) He continued to appeal to the gospel as the
solution to the various errors in the church there (1 Corinthians
2:4-16; 15:1-3). As we consider the manifold problems Paul faced at
Corinth let us not fail to appreciate his faith in the completeness,
power and sufficiency of the gospel. It is a worthy example for us to
follow today (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9).
The gospel is sufficient in meeting the spiritual needs of those
seeking salvation today. While some issues may have changed, the
above examples from inspired history have been replayed in many
places throughout the modern world. I have seen people in different
cultures recognize truth and error with regards to such subjects as
baptism, the church, divorce and remarriage, eating blood, etc. The
seed sown on good and honest hearts will both convert the sinner, and
nourish and correct the Christian (Acts 2:36-41; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We should put our finger on the verse or verses needed by the
alien sinner and erring or mistaken saint. When a brother
or any other person brings forth misleading or erroneous teaching or
is confused on some subject, let us have confidence in the gospel to
decide the matter. There is nothing more effective in
correcting such things than the method of the inspired men of the
first century. They constantly appealed to the revelation of
God to settle matters of controversy or error among brethren (Acts
11:1-18; 15:6-21; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; 15:1ff; 2 Peter 3:1-9).
Beware of those among us who have left the faith. John wrote
concerning such brethren (1 John 2:18-19). While confessing a belief
in Jesus and some tenants of the gospel, these brethren were not
abiding in the teaching of Christ. Such men, whether they admit it or
not, deny the power, sufficiency and completeness of the gospel. John
warns us against fellowshipping them (2 John 9-11). The Gnostics
about whom John wrote denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. Hence,
he instructed those to whom he wrote to ask relevant questions of men
who might come to them (1 John 4:1-3). Today, we should not fear to
ask questions regarding issues of our day. This is needed as some
teachers of error are readily accepted among some foreign churches
today (as well as some in our country).
We must exhort people not to be moved away from the hope of the
gospel (Colossians 1:23). Legion are the teachings and
temptations that subvert souls in our day. By teaching lessons on the
problems mentioned above regarding misconceptions and false teaching
in the first century we can help brethren today (cp. 1 Corinthians
10:11). They can be led to understand the dangers that the devil, in
the form of the world and the religious world, presents to their
spiritual lives. In countries around the world we have seen souls and
even churches depart from the faith as the Colossians were in danger
of doing in the first century. The simple message of the gospel must
be set forth as the spiritual lifeline that it is.
Let us not fall prey to the temptation to compromise that can come
when someone embraces error. It may be a prospective convert or a hard-won
brother in Christ that breaks our heart in this way. When we see
such things we may be tempted to justify the one in error or overlook his/her
sin. At such times let us remember that we can not desire someone to
be saved more than do Jesus and our heavenly Father (John 3:16). The
appeal and conditions of the gospel must be preached and adhered to
if we are to show the love of God to others (John 14:15). It pained
Paul to think of the state of the lost (Romans 9:1-4; Philippians
3:18). In light of this, his steadfast appeal to the gospel in the
face of erring brethren shine as a beacon for us today (1 Corinthians
15:1-12; Galatians 2:14). As much as we need to love others, our love
for God and adherence to his ways must guide us in showing love. Not
every one liked first century Christians. They had to turn some
people away (2 Thessalonians 3:6). All of this requires determination
and sacrifice, a willingness to "spend and be spent"
for others (2 Corinthians 12:15).
The gospel is yet sufficient today in meeting all the needs of all
who seek the Lord (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). As preachers of
the gospel let us cast all our cares upon the Lord and make his ways
our ways (1 Timothy 4:16). The examples reviewed in this article of
first-century preachers helping Christians to both overcome mistaken
ideas and repent of error are lessons for us today. May they
encourage us as we seek to serve God no matter where we may find