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A Different Gospel or the Gospel that is Different?

The gospel is unique. In an age when people are looking for something different, that should get their attention.

The message of the cross has always been unique. It began that way. In the first century Gentile world, men served all kinds of deities. Athens was so full of idols that people came from all over to hear the latest view of religion (Acts 17:16-21). A person could belong to as many cults as he wished. But Christianity was different. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia observed that “all other religions of the empire admitted compromise and eclecticism” and “were willing to dwell rather on the points of contact with their neighbors than on the contrast. But Christianity “admitted no compromise” and “was intolerant to all other systems. It “demanded complete separation” (“Roman Empire,” vol. 4, p. 2604).

The church was definitely unique in Jewish culture. The Jews’ religion was divided into Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Essenes. Their rabbis found common ground on little else than the fact that they were Jews. On any other question there were about as many opinions as there were rabbis. It is no surprise that ordinary Jews listened to Jesus more than these “experts.” “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). “The common people heard Him gladly” because they could understand Him (Mark 12:37). His teaching was open for all. The Lord said one of the signs that He was the One was the fact that “the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).

The call to repentance and the atoning death of Jesus were unique both to Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament. The scribes and Pharisees judged people for their sins, but they failed to teach that real reformation begins in the heart. Jesus said that was a big difference between what He taught and what they said (Matt. 5:21-48). John the Baptist’s preaching and Jesus’ preaching began with the word “Repent” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). The Gentile world certainly had not heard this message. They were in moral darkness and completely mixed up about right and wrong. But according to Romans 2:14-15, they still had a conscience. That led many of them to obey the gospel when they heard the message of repentance and remission of sins.

Jews had animal sacrifices, but any thoughtful Jew could see that the blood of these offerings could never take away sin (Heb. 10:1-4). They had not thought of these sacrifices as types of something better to come. The gospel tied all of these ceremonies together with promises and prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Jewish rabbis could never have seen this on their own. That is why they resented Jesus and His disciples. The gospel had the unique solution to questions they had been unable to answer for centuries.

Gentiles in the first century certainly had no concept equal to the sacrificial death of the Son of God. Many of them worshipped idols and had no hope of life beyond the grave. Their gods frolicked and partied and lived in celestial pleasure, but Christ humbled Himself as a servant and gave His life to save sinners.There was no concern for redemption in pagan thinking or any real concept of it. But when the Word of God was preached, thousands in this culture were pierced in their conscience. They accepted the offer of salvation by being baptized for the remission of their sins.

Not all Jews and Gentiles thought the gospel was unique. Resentful Jews called it a sect (Acts 24:5). Arrogant Gentiles said it was a “new doctrine” that contained “some strange things” (Acts 17:20). To them the church was a passing annoyance if not a serious threat.

Many today try to make the gospel unique in wrong ways for wrong reasons. They ignore Bible doctrine and preach what pleases the masses because to them it’s all about having a megachurch. They brazenly defy what the Bible says about sin, repentance, and hell to draw crowds. They wear “unique” names and have novel worship with the best lights, sound, and seats in town. They hire a trendy preacher who knows almost nothing about the Bible. They have all kinds of shows and celebrations in the name of religion just to be different from other churches. Eventually they all follow the same pattern. By trying to be different they end up being like all the others.

The gospel is unique because it is the only saving truth from God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Paul warns us to “teach no other doctrine” (I Tim. 1:3). Peter told the proud Sanhedrin, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The gospel is unique not simply because it is different but because it is the only one that is true.

Kerry

West End church of Christ bulletin article January 14, 2024

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