A Gospel without Final Judgment Is Not the Gospel

There is a tendency in our presentation of the Gospel to stick with what makes people feel good. God loves you. He gave His life for you. He wants to be in a relationship with you. These are wholly true. But they are not the whole Gospel.

There is a part of the Gospel that many shy away from. We don’t like to talk about it. Even many churches avoid the subject. But when it’s left out, it leaves people without a complete understanding of the Gospel.

I’m referring to final judgment.

We would rather talk about God’s love, grace, and mercy. Of course, these are essential to the Gospel message. But they aren’t sufficient. Something is missing. It’s not enough to tell people they can be saved. We are commanded to tell them what they are saved from.

The Gospel Message Includes Judgment

When the apostle Paul stood before Felix, procurator of Judea, he had the opportunity to speak “about faith in Christ Jesus.” Fortunately, Luke tells us specifically what that looked like:

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (Acts 24:24–25).

Please don’t miss the significance of this text. Paul is summoned to speak before a great government official. This is his opportunity to carefully communicate the Gospel. And, as part of the Gospel, he includes “the coming judgment.”

Furthermore, take note of Felix’s reaction to Paul’s message. He was alarmed. He was afraid. In fact, Felix tells him to go away. He cannot bear to hear anymore.  

Some of us might think that Paul should have softened his message. Do we really want to frighten people with our message? Obviously, Paul was more concerned with accurately communicating the Gospel than compromising the Gospel to make people feel good.

Lest you think that this was a one-time occurrence, consider Paul’s words to the Church in Rome. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read these words and missed a key phrase. Paul writes,

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14–16)

Here, Paul is even more explicit. He tells us that God’s coming judgment through Jesus is “according to my Gospel.” Final judgment is part of the Gospel. It’s not a peripheral issue. It’s not an add-on. No, it’s fundamental to the Gospel.

Moreover, this is not unique with Paul. In his sermon to Cornelius and his family, Peter says,

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:39b–43)

Again, the Gospel is preached. Peter proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus. He preaches the forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in him. But Peter doesn’t stop there. In fact, Jesus wouldn’t let him stop there. Read those words in verse 42 over again. Peter tells us that Jesus commanded the disciples to testify about the coming judgment. Specifically, Jesus orders His followers to tell people that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.

God’s Love and Judgment are Presented Together

If we are to remain faithful to Christ and His teaching, then there must be room in our message for the wrath of God that comes at the final judgment. True enough, God is kind and loving. But He is also just and holy. Presenting one without the other isn’t the Gospel. Both of these truths must be held together if we are to communicate the glorious Gospel revealed in Scripture.

A careful reading of the New Testament demonstrates this approach. God’s love and justice aren’t at odds with each other. In fact, they are often presented next to each other. For example, Paul writes,

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:4–5)

Within the same breath, Paul speaks of God’s kindness and His righteous judgment that comes on the day of wrath. Or, again, John writes,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:16, 36)

We must push back against the drift towards a seeker-sensitive Gospel. As faithful followers of Jesus, we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which parts of the Gospel we will communicate.

Always remember, the Gospel is denied if it is changed or compromised. These aren’t my words. Paul boldly states, “As we have said before, so now I say it again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

blog post |
Tim Barnett

Dec2017

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