A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you
The Demise of Gospel Preaching in the Modern Evangelical Church
A Call for Evangelicals to Return to Gospel Teaching According to the Terms Laid Out in the Bible
by Bob DeWaay
“For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach
Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but
to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and
the wisdom of God.” (1Corinthians 1:22-24)
An alarming convergence of theological and cultural trends in contemporary
evangelicalism is pushing gospel preaching out of many churches. Even in “Bible
believing” churches, people are being asked to make a “decision for Jesus,”
without being told who Jesus is, what He has done, or why they need Him.
Furthermore, in the Bible conversions through faith by God’s grace are the
goal, not decisions.1 In many cases, those who are
failing to preach the gospel vehemently deny that they are so failing. In this
article I will show from the New Testament what the gospel is, how it was
preached by Christ and His apostles, and how contemporary evangelism often
fails to preach the gospel. I will suggest a simple remedy to the problem:
The Gospel in the New Testament
The word “gospel” is a translation of the Greek work euaggelion from which we
get our English word “evangel.” By definition “evangelical” means those who are
committed to the gospel. Therefore, to claim that “evangelicals” are not
preaching the gospel is a strong indictment. However, the sad fact is that many
are not. To show this we shall examine New Testament gospel preaching and
compare it to today’s popular messages in many evangelical churches.
Mark begins his Gospel using the word “gospel”: “The beginning of the gospel
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Right here we learn
something about its content - Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah and the Son
of God. “Christ” means Messiah. This calls to mind the Old Testament promises
such as the one given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. The Jews were looking for one
from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and from the lineage of David (2Samuel
7:14; Jeremiah 23:5) who would bring salvation. So the gospel of
Jesus Christ includes the idea of the fulfillment of ancient Messianic
Mark also claimed that He is the “Son of God.” Jesus existed as God and with
God from all eternity. The gospel writers used Old Testament scripture to prove
this. For example, Psalm 110:1 was quoted several times to prove this: “The
Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a
footstool for Thy feet.’” Jesus quoted this Psalm in Matthew 22:42-45 to refute
the Pharisees. Jesus asked that since David called Messiah “Lord,” how could he
then be David’s son? The answer is that in His deity Christ is pre-existent,
thus was David’s Lord; yet in His humanity he was born of a virgin, and was the
legal descendant of David. This argument is expanded fully in Matthew, but is
contained in Mark’s brief statement about the gospel. Do modern hearers of the
gospel need to know who Jesus is? Of course they do! Man’s need has not
changed. Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 when he preached on Pentecost (Acts
2:34-36) making it clear to his hearers that Jesus was “both Lord and
Modern Gospel hearers must learn these truths about Jesus: He existed with and
as God from all eternity (John 1:1), had a supernatural, virgin birth, and
lived a sinless life. Thus Jesus is God and man. Just citing the name “Jesus”
does not fill in all this information in the minds of contemporary listeners.
Perhaps there was a time in America when most people grew up in churches that
taught all their members the facts about Jesus. Even then it was not safe to
assume that in a large crowd there would not be people who had false ideas
about Jesus or no idea at all. Today, given the paganization of America, it is
safe to assume that most people hearing the name Jesus do not know the facts
that are necessary for believing the gospel. Mark says that He is the Christ,
the Son of God. These terms need to be explained. It is commonly believed that
there are many “Christs” (anointed ones) and that all humans are sons of God.
We need to show that only Jesus is the Christ and that He uniquely is the Son
of God. Sinners do not come pre-equipped with this knowledge.
The resurrection of Christ was mentioned 19 times in the book of Acts.2
It was the main theme of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost.
The fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ was the reason why Peter’s
hearers were told to repent (Acts 2:32-38). When Paul described the
content of the gospel, he referred to the resurrection. This passage is
fundamental to the Christian gospel:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which
also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you
hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ
died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1Corinthians
Without the resurrection of Christ there is no gospel! Paul was so emphatic
about this, that he also explained the consequences if there were no
resurrection: “[If] Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you
are still in your sins” (1Corinthians 15:17). Faith that is not based on
the truth of the gospel is worthless.
Paul ties belief in the resurrection of Christ with salvation: “[I]f you
confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God
raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). Christ in His
resurrection conquered sin and death. Therefore we cannot believe that His
death avails for our sin problem if we do not believe in the resurrection. When
Paul preached the resurrection to the Athenian philosophers they responded
negatively: “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some
began to sneer, but others said, we shall hear you again concerning this’“(
Acts 17:32). This negative reaction did not cause Paul to change his
message. As shown in the 1Corinthians 15 passage cited above, Paul preached the
resurrection of Christ in Corinth, his next destination after Athens. Whether
sinners like it or not, they cannot be saved unless they trust Christ whom God
raised from the dead.
Christ’s Substitutionary Death
I mentioned the resurrection first because of the primacy the New Testament
gives it in explaining the gospel. Christ’s resurrection proves all His claims
and demonstrates the efficacy of His death for sins. That Jesus died is not
unique. All other founders of religious movements died. Only Christ proved His
claims by predicting His own resurrection and then emerging from the tomb and
appearing before many credible witnesses. The others died because all sinners
die. Jesus was not a sinner and proved it by His resurrection. He died for
sins, but not for His own sins - He had none (Hebrews 4:15). He died for
our sins: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the
unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the
flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1Peter 3:18).
The idea that Christ’s death was for our sins is a necessary part of the
gospel. In Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1Corinthians 15, he said, “Christ
died for our sins.” (Verse 3). The Bible teaches throughout that the penalty
for sin is death. This includes eternal death, away from the presence of God (
2Thessalonians 1:9). When the gospel is preached, it must be made clear that
all are sinners, have broken God’s Law, and are liable for eternal punishment.
If people do not believe they are truly lost and headed for hell, then they
will see no need for Christ’s death on their behalf. This is particularly true
in our day. People think they have many needs, but they do not think that they
are actually headed for hell. Therefore they do not see their true need for the
gospel. It is the preacher’s duty to make this need clear. Paul preached coming
judgment and repentance to philosophers in Athens: “Therefore having
overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all
everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the
world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished
proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30,31).
The need for a payment for sins is revealed in the blood atonement. Christ’s
shed blood averts God’s wrath. Christ paid the penalty that we owed to God for
our sins. This is foundational to the gospel and God’s means of justification.
Paul makes clear the role of Christ’s blood: “Much more then, having now been
justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (
Being saved from God’s wrath is every human being’s most urgent need. How
ironic that many fail to preach this for fear of being “irrelevant” to “felt
needs.” Suppose a man was living in an upper floor of an apartment building and
did not know that the building was on fire. Someone who was aware of the fire
knocked on the man’s door and said, “Sir, I am a Christian and would like to
meet your needs, so please tell me what they are.” The man says, “Well,
actually, I am out of milk and have no transportation. Could you run to the
store and get me a gallon of milk?” Would the Christian leave him in danger of
perishing while the Christian went off to meet this more “practical” need?
Clearly not. How much greater is the danger of facing God’s wrath at some
unknown but imminent time? We want to be kind to our fellow humans in meeting
their needs, but we are cruel if we fail to tell them of their real danger.
When Paul preached, “Christ crucified” (1Corinthians 1:23), he included the
key facts about who Christ was and what He did, but also included the reason
why it was urgent that the facts be believed: we have offended the most holy
and awesome God; His wrath is revealed from heaven against our great sin (
Romans 1:18); Jesus took that wrath upon Himself so that all who believe in
Him would be saved from it. Even the most famous verse in the Bible about God’s
love mentions averting judgment: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have
eternal life” (John 3:16). “Not perishing” is about averting God’s
wrath as is clear from this verse in the same chapter of John: “He who
believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall
not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Notice that
according this verse, failure to believe is to be disobedient. The gospel
commands people to believe under threat of wrath; it is not some paltry
invitation to a happier life.
Many preachers who would cheerfully cite John 3:16 simultaneously deny
that people are in danger of perishing. While visiting another city, I was
invited to attend a church service. The pastor confidently assured us that,
“God does not punish sin.” Evidently, there are people in churches singing
hymns and citing creeds, who are there to be religious, but have no idea of
their need for the gospel. If we never were in danger of perishing for all
eternity, then what was the point of God sending Jesus to die for us? Although
the church mentioned above was obviously a liberal one, far too many
“evangelical” churches today simply neglect altogether the truth that God does
punish sin. To fail to deny something is not the same as to preach it. “God
does punish sin and you need a savior,” is the message that ought to be
The term “repent” means more than merely changing one’s mind. Some assert that
to repent is no more than to change one’s mind, based on the word’s etymology.
But context, not etymology, shows the author’s meaning.3
The Biblical idea of repentance is to turn from serving self to serving God.
Repentance in the New Testament has to do with conversion.4
Paul’s concept of what true repentance looks like is shown in his description
of the effects of the Gospel in the Thessalonian Christians:
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and
Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that
we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what
kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to
serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He
raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. (
Conversion is turning to God from idols. The self is the universal idol of
fallen man. To repent is to be converted.
Some accuse those of us who teach the necessity of repentance of teaching
salvation by works. Nothing could be further from the truth. By preaching the
gospel and including a call for repentance, we are appealing to the need for
grace, not to human ability. The New Testament sees repentance as something God
And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all,
able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are
in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the
knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the
snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2Timothy
Preaching human guilt before God’s holy law shows people their need for the
gospel. By including the preaching of repentance, we show the sinner his utter
need for God’s grace. One must be fully converted, turned around completely -
made to serve God rather than self and the world. Preaching anything less than
this gives the sinner hope for self-improvement through works. Preaching the
whole demand of God’s righteousness shows that outside of God’s gracious
provision through the gospel we are all hopeless sinners. Preaching repentance
is central to the message of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus preached repentance: “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus
came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is
fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel
’“(Mark 1:14, 15). When the gospel spread to the Gentiles, here is how the
apostles responded: “And when they heard this, they quieted down, and
glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the
repentance that leads to life ’“(Acts 11:18). It is obvious that the
gospel is not “self-help.” God “grants” repentance, but through His ordained
means - the preaching of the gospel. Preachers who do not make the gospel clear
and do not preach repentance are not preaching for conversions. They may be
preaching to get people interested in joining a church, or being religious, but
the idea of a radical conversion that turns a hell-bound sinner totally around
to being a heaven-bound saint is absent in many supposedly evangelical
What is amazing about the resistance to preaching repentance in order to
convert sinners through the gospel is the fact that preaching repentance in
included in the Great Commission: “He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that
the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and
that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all
the nations, beginning from Jerusalem ’” (Luke 24:46,47). C.F.W. Walther
comments on this section of Luke:
Why is repentance required as well as faith? Our Lord gives the reason in these
words: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick . . .
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matt. 9:12,
13. With these words the Lord testifies that the reason why contrition is
absolutely necessary is that without it no one is fit to be made a believer. He
is surfeited and spurns the invitation to the heavenly marriage feast.5
If the need for repentance is never placed before the perishing, we do a
disservice to the gospel and the Great Commission. Walther also asserts that
repentance is not the cause of forgiveness, but is what happens when the Law
shows the sinner the need for forgiveness. God graciously opens one’s eyes to
this need. Walther writes, “As long as a person has not been reduced to the
state of a poor, lost, and condemned sinner, he has no serious interest in the
Savior of sinners.”6 Forgiveness is received by faith.
I see repentance and faith as two aspects of the same conversion experience.
Repentance is turning from self to God. It emphasizes the turning away from our
previous sin of trusting self. Faith is trusting God through the gospel for our
salvation. The whole of conversion is granted by God’s grace and is not a
meritorious human work. John MacArthur explains:
Conversion occurs when a sinner turns to God in repentant faith. It is a
complete turnaround, an absolute change of moral and volitional direction. Such
a radical reversal is the response the gospel calls for, whether the plea to
sinners is phrased as “believe,” “repent,” or “be converted.” Each entails the
Repentance cannot be taken out of gospel preaching without
changing the idea of what it means to come to Christ. Without repentance we are just
adding Christ to the self we intend to continue serving.
The Failure to Preach God’s Law
Paul wrote three chapters of Romans about man’s failure before God’s law before
he explained the doctrine of justification. He obviously thought that sinners
needed to know the true nature of their lost and fallen condition. Sinners need
to know what it means to be lost, and that one day they shall face the holy and
righteous Judge. They need to know clearly that they have disobeyed God’s law
and desperately need a savior. Those who preach the law and the gospel are
preaching for conversions, not just religious followers.
Evangelist Ray Comfort interviews people he is preaching to and finds that the
vast majority do not believe they are sinners heading for hell.8
Comfort points out that when we tell sinners, “come to Jesus and have a better
life” we are likely to create disillusionment. He calls this “life enhancement”
preaching. I call it “better living through Jesus.” Whatever it is, it is not
the gospel. The gospel is “good news,” not “nice news.” The “nice news”
approach offers the possibility of things going better in this life if one
becomes religious. The good news is that hopelessly lost, hell-bound, sinners
can be saved from the wrath of God through the finished work of Christ on the
cross. All this is a gift of grace, received by faith.
The sad fact is that few who hear Christian preachers on radio and TV ever hear
the gospel. We evidently have millions of dollars to spend putting out
Christian material, but very little time to use these resources for gospel
preaching. This statement sometimes shocks people. You can see for
yourself is this is true. Turn on a Christian TV network like TBN, and listen.
Check out the Angel Network on satellite TV. Take my challenge. Listen to the
preachers. Count how many times you hear the gospel preached, if ever at all. I
have done this myself and rarely have heard the gospel even after dozens of
hours of listening. The demise of gospel preaching is not just a melodramatic
statement: it is the sad, harsh reality.
The Christian media most people see and hear is not the gospel. The preachers
mention Jesus, but they do not tell us who He is or what He did. They preach
about better living, but never tell us how to escape God’s wrath against sin.
They rarely explain the cross and its implications. They preach a morality of
sorts, a Christian morality of works righteousness that is not derived from
God’s grace. The implication is that we can be better people than those around
us by being Christian. But this is more the preaching of a Christian culture
than a gathering of redeemed sinners whose only hope is in Christ and His
The Humanistic Gospel
At the heart of the demise of gospel preaching is what may have begun as a
subtle shift. In Jonathan Edward’s day, evangelical preachers preached for
conversions. They believed the lost were truly lost and powerless to do
anything about their wretched condition. The only hope was the grace of God
through the gospel to convert sinners. The nineteenth century marked a major
turning point in American evangelicalism. The turning point is epitomized by
Finney’s “new measures.”9 Because Finney believed in
human ability (as Edwards did not), Finney preached to “arouse dormant
powers.”10 From Finney’s day on evangelism changed and
has continued to change. We have gone from belief in conversions through gospel
preaching to “decisions for Jesus.” This seemingly subtle shift is actually a
major chasm that is as deep and wide as the chasm between heaven and hell.
If this shocks some people that may be what is needed. I have recently attended
several evangelistic functions. In each case I did not hear the gospel. I heard
stories about people who had made decisions for Jesus and now had better lives.
Who Jesus is, was never explained. Why do we need Jesus? - to find meaning in
life that we are now missing. We did not hear about the resurrection. We did
not hear about the blood atonement. We did not hear the demands of the Law or
the promise of the gospel. But every one there was given an opportunity to make
a decision for Jesus.
I do not say this to criticize the motives of those who organize such events or
many others who approach evangelism the same way. I know many of these people
and believe that they truly love God and want to reach the lost. However,
well-motivated or not, there is a huge difference between the gospel as
preached by Jesus and His apostles and the idea of “making a decision for
Jesus.” Some are converted through the efforts of such evangelicals. If
somewhere, somehow, buried under the many layers of activities and evangelical
culture, those who get involved eventually do find out who Jesus is, what His
claims are, and their need for the blood atonement, they may indeed be
converted. But why should the conversion of sinners be pushed to the background
so that a slick, user-friendly Christianity is all that is apparent to most
There are problems even when some are actually converted through the popular
“decision for Jesus” approach. If they eventually do find out the true nature
of the gospel, those truly converted then realize that they have been sold a
bill of goods. The gospel does not promise better living in this world through
a simple decision. The gospel calls us to take up our cross and live in this
world as ones already condemned to die. Furthermore, the truly converted who
are in the evangelical culture soon find themselves dying of spiritual
starvation because the Word of God is not being preached. How much better to
tell our hearers up front what the gospel is, and then when they come on that
basis they can, like the early Christians in Acts, “rejoice to be counted
worthy to suffer shame for His name.”11
There are a number of problems with the “decision theology” of modern
evangelicalism. The most prominent one is that the Bible knows nothing of,
“inviting someone to make a decision for Jesus.” The main proof text used by
the teachers of decision theology is Joel 3:14: “Multitudes, multitudes in the
valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”
The valley of decision in Joel is eschatological and has to with Israel and the
surrounding nations who would destroy her. The context of Joel 3:14 shows
that God as the Judge makes the decision! Charles Feinberg comments, “The
prophet sees the nations assembled in innumerable hosts in the valley where God
(not they) will make His decision.”12 This is a
description of the judgment of nations. God is about to arise and come forth
from His chamber and issue His decision.
The idea of imminent wrath is clear in Joel, and that is surely something that
ought to be preached. God’s coming judgment is reason to repent and flee from
this perverse, sin cursed world system. But the only escape is through the
gospel. So far from teaching “decision theology” the key passage used by its
proponents teaches the coming wrath of God. Only the gospel offers a way of
escape from this horrific valley of decision.
The misuse of the Joel passage illustrates what is wrong with much modern
preaching. What is portrayed is the idea that God is awaiting our decision. We
go into our chambers to issue our verdict based on whether we find God to our
suiting or not. We make our decision about God and tell Him the verdict. This
is dishonoring to God. The Biblical teaching is that we should fear God’s
verdict and find a way of escape from the wrath of the Judge. James wrote, “
[T]he Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). We make ourselves the
judges and put God on trial. This is not Biblical.
Another problem with decision theology is that it discounts the sin nature and
appeals to non-existent human ability. No sinner in his or her natural state
finds the cross appealing. Here is Paul’s description of the fleshly mind: “
[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject
itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who
are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7,8). God’s Law makes
sinfulness and inability evident, but only the gospel can change them. Decision
theology has the fleshly man deciding if he will “accept Jesus” while totally
in his unregenerate, fallen condition.13 True gospel
preaching shows sinners their lost condition and the reality of God’s wrath
against sin. Convicted before God’s Law and found guilty, their only recourse
is to repent and believe the Gospel. God uses gospel preaching to bring His
gracious gift of faith to those who will be saved: “So faith comes from
hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Decision theology comes in various packages. What they all have in common is
that God has to await man’s determinative decision. Many times sinners are
told, “Jesus stands at the door of your hearts; you must decide to let Him in.”
This is based on a passage in Revelation and the famous painting of Jesus at a
door. Decision theology proponents even use details of the painting to build
their theology. They say, “When you look at the painting of Jesus at the door,
you notice there is no door knob on the outside; you have to let Him in.” I
wonder if those who preach like this realize what they are doing. They have a
strong, decisive sinner and a weak, needy Jesus. The sinner has the final say.
Jesus is portrayed as standing “out in the cold,” wanting in but unable to
enter. What a sad and pathetic contrast to the preaching of Peter on the Day of
Pentecost: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God
has made Him both Lord and Christ- this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts
2:36). Peter had just told them that Jesus was raised from the dead and seated
at the right hand of the Father, in all authority and majesty. They were
accountable to Him for their sin. What a far cry from Jesus out in the cold
hoping that the sinners would be nice and let Him in.
The passage in Revelation about Jesus knocking at the door is given as an
ironic rebuke to a church. The Laodicean church had become complacent and
self-satisfied. Jesus would “reprove and discipline” those He loves (
Revelation 3:19). Jesus tells them to repent and open the door and so
restore fellowship with their Lord (Revelation 3:20).14 This
was written to a church, not the lost. Its misuse in evangelism obscures
the true nature of the gospel and the power of God. When Jesus saved Paul in
Acts 9, He did not knock on Paul’s door to see if Paul would decide whether or
not to let Him in.
The Problem with “Wooing”
Another belief system that hinders gospel preaching in evangelical churches
concerns “wooing.” This means that God is doing all He can to attract people to
Him; and He needs our help. God is portrayed as a suitor who desires the
affections of a potential spouse, but is being rejected. The reason for the
rejection is that “seekers” have not seen the right portrait of who God is.
Christianity must be made more appealing, they say, if we want people to
On the surface of things, there is something very wrong with the wooing
approach. Why should the only perfectly beautiful being in the universe have to
be “dressed up” to look good to sinners? The problems are many: 1)
Sinners by nature are attracted to sin, and God is perfectly sinless. 2) Wooing
requires that the needs and concerns of the unregenerate determine the message
of the church: thus the movement to preach to “felt needs.” 3) The Bible says
that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Greeks and offensive to the
Jews (1Corinthians 1:23). Furthermore, it is considered foolishness to
the perishing (1Corinthians 1:18). The perishing are supposedly the
target of God’s wooing. 4) God chose to bring salvation to the Jews first
through a Jewish Messiah. The world has hated the Jews since the beginning of
their existence. A Jewish Messiah would hardly “woo” the world.
As with the other perversions of the gospel, those who promote the wooing idea
have a proof text: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men
to Myself” (John 12:32). They interpret this as follows: “all” means
universally all people, and draw means “attract.” Thus the lifting up of Jesus
attracts all people to Him, in the sense of wooing. Let us study this verse in
its context to see if it supports this idea.
First, it is clear that the phrase “lifted up,” means crucified. We know this
because the next verse tells us: “But He was saying this to indicate the kind
of death by which He was to die” (John 12:33). So the claim this
interpretation makes is that the crucifixion of Christ would attract all the
inhabitants of the earth to Jesus, universally. However, this is in direct
contradiction to what Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 1:23: “but we preach
Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.” The
message of a crucified Jewish Messiah is not attractive to either Jew or
Gentile. Plus, it is clear from the facts of history that the cross does not
attract all people universally to Christ.
Second, the word “draw” does not mean “attract” or “woo.” It means “drag.”15
The idea is that the cross is the means God would use to bring
(by God’s gracious means) people to Christ who by nature would be repulsed by
the cross. Since this “dragging” is effective, the “all” cannot be universal.
Not all come to Jesus. The context of John 12 shows that the appearance of
Greeks asking about Jesus on the occasion of the triumphal entry causes Jesus
to give these teachings about this death bringing “all” to Him, i.e. Jews and
Therefore John 12:32 does not teach wooing. It teaches God’s grace through
the cross to take dead rebellious sinners and bring them to Christ. The irony
is that many who believe the wooing doctrine have fallen into the “seeker”
movement and removed the preaching of the cross from their churches. If they
really believed that the cross “woos” people to Jesus they would preach the
cross with great boldness and clarity. If they did so, God would indeed save
people through the gospel in spite of their misinterpretation of the passage.
The preaching of the cross is effectual in saving those who will be saved. This
is so not because it “woos” them, but because it is God’s ordained means
whereby He calls forth His elect out of the mass of perdition.
What Must We Do?
We must be confident in the effectiveness of God’s ordained means. The pressure
to lay aside gospel preaching is all around us. We are bombarded with
everything but gospel preaching. However, God has sovereignly ordained the
means by which He will save all who will be saved. In Romans 10:14-17 we see
the call to send preachers of the gospel so that people will call upon the Lord
and be saved by faith. The insidious forces inside and outside the church to
lay aside gospel preaching must be resisted at all costs.
We must not allow the fear of man to become a snare for us. We naturally want
to be accepted, so it is a difficult thing to preach what people naturally do
not want to hear. Yet in the face of this rejection, Paul said, “For I am not
ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who
believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The
gospel is the power of God for salvation, and thus must be preached with all
fervency. People must hear that they have offended the Holy Judge, broken God’s
Law, and desperately need a savior. They need to know who Jesus is, what He
did, and how His death on the cross can avert God’s wrath for those who
believe. They must know that God raised Christ from the dead. These are strong
words, but they are the gospel.
By believing in God’s sovereignty, we have full assurance that if we preach the
gospel faithfully and accurately, God will always use it to save all who will
be saved. It is not our business how many that turns out to be. It is our
business to be faithful; God will save all those He has chosen from all
eternity. We must preach to all because we do not know who they will be. They
will be saved through the gospel, not apart from the gospel. May God give us
boldness and grace in proclaiming the only way whereby we must be saved.
Issue 73 - November/December 2002
- See John F. MacArthur, Jr. The Gospel According to the Apostles, (Word:
Dallas, 1993). MacArthur writes, “Decisionism is the idea that eternal
salvation may be secured by the sinner’s own movement toward Christ. “‘decision
for Christ’ is usually signified by some physical or verbal act --
raising a hand, walking an aisle, repeating a prayer, signing a card, reciting
a pledge, or something similar. If the sinner performs the prescribed activity,
he or she is usually pronounced saved and told to claim assurance. The ‘moment
of decision’ becomes the ground of the person’s assurance.” 196,197. MacArthur
rightly rejects this approach as unbiblical.
- Acts 1:22; 2:24,31,32; 3:26; 4:2,10,33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:22,30,33,34,37;
17:18,32; 23:6; 26:23.
- See John F. MacArthur, Jr. The Gospel According to Jesus, (Zondervan: Grand
Rapids, 1994) 38.
- see Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; G. Kittle ed.;
(Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1967) s.v. metanoeo_ 1000 - 1006. It is argued that
the idea is conversion, which is a radical, once for all change that is caused
by God’s grace.
- C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel,
(Concordia: St. Louis, 1986) 249. Originally published 1897. Walther is the
founder of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.
- MacArthur, Apostles, 33,34.
- Ray Comfort, Hell’s Best Kept Secret, video; available at:
http://www.crosstv.com Look for video #wp0017.
- see CIC issue #53, July/August 1999.
- Finney wrote: “There must be excitement sufficient to wake up the
dormant moral powers, and roll back the tide of degradation and sin.” Lectures
on Revival, Lecture 1, 8. Ages Software, CD ROM (Ages Software: Rio, Wisc.;
2001). After writing this Finney goes on to claim that revival is not a miracle
or act of God, but the right use of means. Here is what he says: “revival is
not a miracle according to another definition of the term ‘miracle’ --
something above the powers of nature. There is nothing in religion beyond the
ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the
powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. Page 9.
- Acts 5:41; see also what was in store for Paul; Acts 9:16
- Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, (Moody Press: Chicago,
1948, 1990 edition) 84.
- John MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan:
Grand Rapids, 1994), writes “It may surprise you to learn that Scripture never
once exhorts sinners to ‘accept Christ’ . . . The great miracle of redemption
is not that we accept Christ, but that he accepts us.” 113.
- See John Owen, Communion With God, 54. Ages Software, CD ROM (Ages
Software: Rio, Wisc.; 2001). John Owen often cited this passage about the
blessed communion the Christian has with His Lord. For example, he wrote:
“Revelation 3:20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my
voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he
with me.’ Certainly this is fellowship, or I know not what is. Christ will sup
with believers: he refreshes himself with his own graces in them, by his Spirit
bestowed on them. The Lord Christ is exceedingly delighted in tasting of the
sweet fruits of the Spirit in the saints.” Also, John Gill writes in The Cause
of God and Truth, Part 1, Section 60: “This church was in a sleepy, lukewarm,
indifferent, secure frame of spirit, as appears from (vv. 15-18). Christ will
not suffer her to continue so, and, therefore, takes his rod in his hand,
stands at her door, and gives some severe knocks and raps to bring her to
herself, and out of this indolent, supine, and self-confident state and
condition she was in; which sense is confirmed by the preceding verse, as many
as I love, I rebuke and chasten be zealous, therefore, and repent. Gill
rejects the interpretation that applies this to the unregenerate.
- The same word in the Greek is used in John 21:6&11 for drawing in
a net full of fish; John 18:10 for Peter drawing his sword; in Acts 16:19 for
being dragged into the market place; Acts 21:30 for being dragged out of the
temple; and James 2:6 for being dragged into court. It hardly means, “attract.”
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