Don't Geld the Gospel

We are big on the Gospel at Refuge Church. In fact, you could say it's our thing. We aim to herald it in everything we do and in every passage of whole books of the Bible. We've been trying to figure out how much weight it can hold since this thing was the size of the average Mormon family meeting in an apartment. So far, it can take (checks figures) all of the weightI know there are churches out there that only blow the dust off of the Gospel on Easter and Christmas, but we are about as interested in that sort of thing as gluten-free doughnuts (not very, if you missed my point).

The Gospel is the glory of God, the salvation of men, a supernova of joy like wedding wine and toddler laughter and the smell of old books on a rainy day. You should make its enjoyment and proclamation your life's work. But one thing you should never do is geld it.

First, we should probably define the word "geld" for all of us city folk. When I say geld, I mean castrate (Yes, I know; it's a vivid illustration, but an appropriate one, trust me). So how would you geld the Gospel? Two ways to consider:

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1. Preach a Gospel with no battery.

One way to geld the Gospel is to present it as a car with no battery. "It just needs a little jump, that's all. Here, hook it up to your best efforts and it'll purr like a kitten. Make sure you don't mix up the willpower terminal with the law-keeping terminal!"

This is Mormonism and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and every other ism that preaches some kind of equation of salvation with "Your Work+Jesus Work" on one side of the equals sign. This is a Gospel in which Jesus' grace is pretty impressive, but not bottomless. It's a Big-Gulp, but it's not a spring. I mean, his arm is only so long, people. He needs you to reach up a bit if he's going to pull you out of the river.

But that's a gelded Gospel, one that can bear no fruit. If the Gospel is a car, it's a car with a battery, a full tank of gas, and 800 horses under the hood. Buckle up. The Gospel isn't here to help you; it's here to save you. It's not here to reform you; it's here to resurrect you. It's not sitting around looking glum, just hoping you'll contribute what it needs to save.

2. Preach a Gospel that is terrified of Paul.

The second way to geld the Gospel is to act like it's terrified of Paul. Paul was a grace-a-holic. His testimony basically starts with Jesus reaching down and backhanding him as he's on his way to a Let's Murder Some Christians! themed party. When Jesus saved Paul, he added him to list of Christian "heroes" that includes Abraham the Adulterer, Moses the Murderer, and David the Rapist. Paul got grace. He wrote things like, "For by grace you have been saved through faith! And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." 

But just when you think you've got him figured out, Paul goes and writes things like, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Or there was that one time when he said that perpetual perverts won't get keys to the Kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 6:9–10). 

See, Paul didn't just preach a Gospel that gets things going, but a Gospel that finishes. All over Paul's letters is a Gospel that saves and sanctifies; you can even see it in the shape of his books. The first half of many of Paul's letters is all about the glory of the grace of God in Christ, all about the slain-for-sinners Lamb of God, all about this way of salvation that is all of grace, all of Christ, for bad people like us.

But then, in the second half of the letter, Paul would move to descriptions of what happens when Jesus saves a sinner. He gives commands, rebukes, and reproves, expecting Christians everywhere to respond with obedience. He sketched a portrait of human flourishing that looks like humble men and a neighbor-loving Christians and hospitable dinner tables. See, Paul knows that Grace is strong. And he knows that you haven't preached the fullness of grace until you've told God's people how to flourish, that is, until you've told them how to live, until you've taught them the difference between wisdom and folly.

It is therefore a castrated Gospel that cannot handle Ephesians 4-6, that cannot handle the book of James, that cannot handle the Proverbs. It is a castrated Gospel that cannot preach full-throated commands to live righteously, to walk wisely, to repent and grow and run the race to receive the prize. We don't geld the Gospel or castrate the commands of Christ in the name of grace, we obey the commands of Christ by means of grace.

We don't have a halfway sort of Savior, who saves us from our sin and then leaves us in its awful power. No, we have a Savior who saves all the way. He doesn't just forgive sin; he breaks the power of it. He doesn't just pry sin's fingers from around your neck; he smashes its fingers with a ball-peen hammer and sends it off howling scared.

We don't preach a Gospel that is scared of the second half of Paul's letters. We don't preach a Gospel that makes no demands of us. We preach and we wait with expectancy for the Gospel-seed to bear Gospel-fruit. 

Is your Gospel allowed to raise its voice?

So here's the question for us: Is your Gospel allowed to raise its voice? Can it get in your face? Can it slap you around from time to time? We geld the Gospel when we reduce it to some kind of hands-in-its-pockets, noncommittal, non-confrontational personal assistant. We geld the Gospel when we strip it of its authority to make demands of us, to look us in the eye and tell us what to do, to point at something in us and say, "That's killing you!"

The real Gospel is 100-proof. It has a firm handshake. It is gentle and meek, but with a meekness that looks you in the eye without a flicker of fear. Its gentleness is stronger than steel plate. The true Gospel saves and sanctifies. The true Gospel is the lamb for sinners slain and the voice of wisdom crying in the street, "If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you!" (Proverbs 1:23).

Let us together see how much weight this thing can hold, shall we?