You may have grown up in the Church or you may have come to faith later in your life. You heard the message of forgiveness of sin, the love and acceptance of God, eternal life in a new relationship with Him, and your heart was pierced by the Holy Spirit as you responded to what God had already done for you. You knew without any doubt that God was real. He was powerful. He was your gracious, loving heavenly Father. You were filled with joy and everyone around you knew it.
Then maybe you were taught, or it was implied, that if you wanted to go on from there – if you wanted to be a first-class Christian and really see the blessings of God, then you needed to start adding disciplines to your life and very soon these disciplines became standards or rules by which you judged yourself and others. You were told that Jesus is the only way to the Father, but then you need to do your bit. Now if you don’t think you were exposed to that kind of teaching, praise God! But I can assure you that millions of others were and many of them are no longer with us in this journey and they need us to bring them back to the true gospel message of ‘Jesus + nothing!’
Let me make it clear right at the outset – if you hear ‘Jesus plus something’ you are not hearing an improvement on the gospel; you are not hearing a new version of the gospel; you are not even hearing a distortion of the gospel; you are hearing the absolute destruction of the gospel, along with its integrity and its power. When, by the revelation and power of the Holy Spirit, we have all those ‘extras’ removed as requirements, then the beauty, purity and power of the gospel will return to our hearts and lives.
That is the whole focus of all my teaching. That is God’s calling on my life. That’s why I do what I do, more than any other reason: to speak the truth of the Gospel into a needy Church and a needy world. This is what all those brothers and sisters who have walked away from the Church and God desperately need to hear: the true gospel.
When it comes to our basic understanding of God and our relationship with Him, most of us don’t need to hear something new, we just need to believe what we heard the first time.
Jesus + nothing is our salvation and our life.
We need to experience afresh the life of God that is already in us, that never left us and will continue to hold us fast and bring repentance, holiness and godly fruit. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel contains God’s power to effect radical and lifelong change. As I have said many times over the years, I don’t have confidence in my ability to communicate these truths, or in your ability to discern them – but I do have absolute confidence in the Holy Spirit within all believers to energise God’s Word and produce the changed lives that we all want. The grace of God will have its own effect – of that I am sure. That is why the true gospel MUST be preached over and over and over again. Many years ago the Apostle Paul wrote a scathing letter to the Galatian believers after he learned that they had accepted this ‘Jesus plus’ teaching. This is some of what he wrote:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)
Paul can’t believe the report he’s heard. These brothers and sisters, whose lives were changed through his preaching of the gospel of God’s amazing grace, have thrown their freedom away and accepted something so much less than the full and free life they received through Christ. Paul is wondering whether he completely wasted his time with them! The Galatians had allowed well-meaning teachers to come amongst them and cut the heart and soul out of the message of Jesus Christ.
The message was simple: ‘God loves you and has saved you in Jesus Christ, and He gives you an on-going relationship at His expense, with His power – and it’s all free to you upon your believing.’ Why does that simple, beautiful message upset anyone? Well it only upsets those who have been taken captive by religion. It is a breath of fresh air to everyone else! Jesus and Paul taught that the people who struggle with sin but keep looking to God for forgiveness and relationship, depending on Him to put them right, are closer to the power of the Kingdom of God than those who appear to have it all together. The person filled with the Spirit of God looks to Him for mercy and always finds it. Then God throws in His empowering presence, spiritual gifts and all the blessings of heaven as a bonus!
Whereas the person who seems strong and says: ‘Thanks for giving me a start, God. I was lost without You, but I can take it from here. I am going to get my act together, I’m going to memorise the New Testament, and really pay my way. I’ll earn my status in the Kingdom of Heaven, so You won’t be ashamed of me …’ That person has shifted their focus to their own performance and their heart is full of pride. They have fallen away from grace. The awful thing is that as their life begins to dry up, they will work harder and harder to please God and the more they perform to please God, the more they will suppress the life of Christ within them. Just like the Galatians, they ‘have turned to a different Gospel, which is really no Gospel at all.’