The Simplicity Of The Gospel
The Bible is addressed to every man. When Jesus sent out the apostles on the Great Commission, they were sent to take the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15) of every nation of the whole world (Matt. 28:18). The invitation was extended to every man. "And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
In order for the word of God to be received by the average man, it had to be a simple message which was easy to be understood and which could be universally obeyed. The gospel was addressed to all men and designed so that it appealed to the common man. God made it that way. "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe .... For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:21, 26-29).
One must remember that men have not always been exposed to as many educational opportunities as our children in America have in the twentieth century. When the gospel spread in the first century, it spread among people with little or no formal education. Many people did not even know how to read, much less possess a personal copy of the Scriptures which they could peruse at their leisure. Many of the first century people were slaves who were unlearned and had little hope of ever attaining a good education. Nevertheless, these men and women could hear the gospel, believe and obey it because it was simple enough for them to understand.
The Gospel Is Easily Understood
Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Mt. 7:7-8). In the Beatitudes, He said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Mt. 5:6). The Savior emphasized that men who seek to know the Lord's will can find it and that those who hunger and thirst after the Lord's righteousness shall be filled with it.
The apostle Paul emphasized that men could easily comprehend the message of the gospel of Christ. In the book of Ephesians, he stated that God's saving gospel came to him by revelation. However, he wrote this message to the Ephesians in such language that when they read, they could comprehend his knowledge in the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:1-5). Consequently, he commanded, "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17, NASB). Has God commanded the impossible of His children? Obviously not! God would be unjust were He to command of His children that which was impossible for them even as it would be unjust and unfair for a parent to demand of his two-month old child that he dress and cloth himself.
In 2 Corinthians 1:13, Paul added, "For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end" (NASB). The first century saints, with their limited educational opportunities, were able to comprehend the message which was written to them by an apostle.
Evidences Of The Simplicity of the Gospel
There are other evidences of the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consider the following:
1. Jesus conditioned salvation upon one's knowledge of the gospel. He said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32). This passage implies (a) that there is a body of absolute truth, (b) that one can comprehend that truth, and (c) that freedom or deliverance from sin is conditioned upon one's knowledge of that truth. Any teaching which implies that man is not able to comprehend the gospel undermines man's opportunity to be redeemed from sin.
Jesus later added, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16:16). "He who believes 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" (Jn. 3:36). Jesus obviously thought that one would be able to understand the gospel when it was preached, believe it, and obey it.
2. Warnings not to pervert the gospel presuppose man's ability to understand the gospel. Paul wrote, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). Compare John's similar warning at the close of the book of Revelation (22:18-19). How can I know if a man has perverted, added to, or taken from the revelation of God through Jesus Christ if I cannot understand it? Jesus apparently thought that the revelation was so clearly revealed and easily understood that men were expected to be able to detect doctrinal departures from it.
Sometimes brethren act like the gospel is so complicated that we should not expect men to be able to detect doctrinal apostasies from it. They have written that men could worship with the Christian Church for a whole lifetime without ever perceiving anything wrong with the worship and work of that church. Similar things have been said about those brethren who worship with liberal churches of Christ. Such statements imply that the gospel is too difficult for men to comprehend.
Brethren, the revelation from God is simple and clear. Even as we have every reason to expect the alien sinner to be able to understand and comprehend the simplicity of the message of what one must do to be saved, we have every reason to expect the child of God to be able to comprehend and understand how he must live to stay saved, how he must worship God, and the nature and characteristics of the New Testament church.
The Preaching of the Gospel Confirms Us Simplicity
One only needs to read the cases of conversion of the New Testament to be impressed with the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot consider every case of conversion in the New Testament in this article; however, the principle which is briefly stated below can be illustrated time and again by a consideration of the other cases of conversion.
1. The People On Pentecost (Acts 2). This chapter records the preaching of the first gospel sermon, just fifty days following the death of Jesus. After explaining that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 2:14-21), Peter began his sermon, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up . . . ." (2:22-24). Then follow several proofs cited by Peter to substantiate the fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand from which place He would reign until the last enemy was made subject to Him. He concluded his sermon, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (2:36).
The audience in attendance that day comprehended and understood what Peter had said. They spoke up, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (2:37). Peter gave them the answer to their question in one simple sentence: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (2:38-39). He continued to exhort them to obey God's word saying, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation."
On that day, three thousand souls who had heard only one sermon comprehended it, believed in Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, and were baptized (Acts 2:41). Having done this, the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47).
2. The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). This passage relates the conversion of the Queen's treasurer who was taught the truth in one simple sermon by Philip, the evangelist. When Philip found the eunuch reading the prophet Isaiah (chapter 53), he began at that text and preached unto him Jesus (8:35). That Messianic prophesy describes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It relates how the Messiah gave His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind.
After hearing the message while riding with Philip in the chariot, as they approached water the eunuch said, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him" (8:36-38).
After hearing one sermon, this man comprehended the gospel sufficiently to believe in Jesus, repent of his sins, confess his faith, and be immersed in water. He did not have to undergo six months of catechism. He did not have to demonstrate his faith by attending church for a few weeks. He did not have to study through The Truth That Leads To Eternal Life. He simply heard the gospel, believed it, and obeyed it! This all transpired within a matter of a few hours.
3. The Philippian Jailor (Acts 16.25-34). The conversion of the Philippian jailor occurred after Paul and Silas had been beaten and put in prison. About midnight, they lifted their voices in praise to God. An earthquake occurred which loosed the bonds of the prisoners and opened the prison doors. The jailor, supposing that the prisoners had escaped, drew his sword and was ready to kill himself when Paul shouted, "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here" (16:28). He brought a light, came to Paul and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (16:31). This jailor did not know Jesus from anyone else. Consequently, Paul had to preach to him. "And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (16:32-33).
This infidel learned the truth, believed it, repented of his sins, and was baptized in one night, within a few short hours. The gospel was simple enough for him to grasp and easy enough for him to obey that in less than twelve hours he could learn enough to become a Christian.
Brethren, let us be careful not to lose sight of the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. I am afraid that some of us have become so enamored with education and so concerned with impressing others with how much we know that we have left the impression that the gospel of Christ is complicated. Some brethren who have studied the Scriptures have reached some peculiar position on some subject which is so complicated and full of intricate details that the common man cannot possibly understand it. Most college educated preachers who have given a life-time to the study of the Scriptures have trouble following the course of argumentation being used. Brethren, if the common man must know this in order to be saved, the common man has no hope of being saved. If the common man can be saved without knowing and believing it, these peculiar ideas are not the gospel because one cannot be saved without believing the gospel (Mk. 16:16).
Sometimes we preachers become so wrapped up in giving the definition of Hebrew and Greek words, analyzing the syntax of a Greek sentence, giving a detailed exposition of some archaeological artifact located in some obscure place, and encouraging brethren to have a positive mental attitude, that we have forgotten to preach the simple Jerusalem gospel.
Brethren, let us go back to the Bible. Let us take the gospel to lost men and women "not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God" (1 Cor. 2:1). Let us determine "not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Men can comprehend that God sent His Son to die on Calvary's cross for the remission of our sins. They can love Him enough to believe in Him and obey Him. Souls will be won to Jesus Christ, the church will grow, and God will be praised.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 18, pp. 546, 550-552