The Real Gospel
By Hal Lindsey
People love to add their own thoughts to the end of viral emails. Those thoughts can undermine the message of the original writer. One such email started going around several years ago — at least as far back as 2007. In addition to its life as an email, it has been featured in several devotional books and websites.
Somewhere along the way, someone tacked on the phrase, “That's the whole Gospel message, simply stated.” One book, written by a Baptist minister, concluded with a slight variation — “That is the whole Gospel Message, simply told.”
It’s the story of an old man whose good attitude causes a young thug to change his ways. It’s inspirational. But many of the people putting it on their websites, in their books, and in their emails, include the line saying it is the “whole Gospel message, simply stated.”
That’s quite an astounding claim for a story that never mentions Jesus, never speaks of God, and doesn’t mention the cross. I have no problem with inspirational stories. But when someone calls it “the whole Gospel Message, simply told,” it concerns me deeply.
It reminded me of something we ran on The Hal Lindsey Report in February of 2016. I told about Mother Teresa’s decades-long battle with a dark and unrelenting depression, and what I think helped cause it. Here is a portion of that story.
Mother Teresa is officially known as “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.” She will soon be given the title, “Saint.” Few people in history did good deeds with more fervor than this woman. She deserved the Nobel Peace Prize and the other honors she received, but her life is also a picture of tragedy.
After she died, we learned that the harder Mother Teresa worked, the emptier she felt. She wrote, “Where is my faith? Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness.… If there be God — please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.”
Her confessor suggested that she write a letter to God. So, to the One who promised never to leave us nor forsake us, she wrote, “Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me?” Later she wrote, “I have no Faith.”
This wasn’t simply a rough patch. This was her life for 50 years. At the time of Pope Pius XII’s death in 1958, she felt a renewed spark of faith. But it lasted only a few weeks. Soon she returned to what she called, “the long darkness.” The torment, emptiness, pain, and guilt she expressed in her letters are enough to make any feeling person want to weep for her.
I don’t point these things out to condemn her, but because we can learn from her sorrow. Paul and Silas sat in prison, their backs ripped apart by flogging, their wounds not cleansed and still bleeding. It was one of those times that Paul would later describe with the phrase, “in stripes above measure.” (2 Corinthians 11:23 KJV) Yet in that moment of pain, these men sang joyful praise in voices loud enough to be heard by the whole prison. Acts 16:25 says, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (NASB) God then opened the prison doors with an earthquake.
To me, the singing is an even greater miracle than the earthquake. That’s what God wants for each of us. He allows us to go through times of spiritual gloom, but He doesn’t want us to live there. He wants us to live in His joy.
Why was Mother Teresa so miserable and Paul so joyous? I think the key to Mother Teresa’s misery can be found in something she said in 1989 to a group of political and business leaders gathered to honor her at Blair House in Washington.
(At this point, I showed a video clip of her speaking at that event. She said, “We read in the Gospel… ‘Whatever you do to the least, my brethren, you did it to.…” Then she held up her hand and pointed to a finger for each word as she continued. “‘You did it to Me.’ Five fingers. The whole Gospel is in five fingers.”)
As great as that verse is, it is not “the whole Gospel.” That verse exposes our hypocrisy when we say we love Jesus, but don’t care for the people He died to save. To say that we find in that verse “the whole Gospel” misses the point of the Gospel. It misses Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins. To say that’s “the whole Gospel” negates the cross by making salvation something we earn — not something Jesus earned for us.
Increasing numbers of people today are falling into the trap of the Social Gospel — of believing that we are saved by our works as opposed to salvation by the work of Christ on our behalf. Mother Teresa could not earn God’s pleasure no matter how hard she worked. No wonder she was miserable. We must have confidence in the atoning work of Christ, or we will be miserable, too.
Paul and Silas understood the Source of their salvation. In Romans 11, Paul wrote, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:5-6 NKJV)
We’re either saved by grace or works. It cannot be both. If you make it both, then, according to God’s word, “it is no longer grace.” And without grace, it is all up to you, and you can expect to be miserable.
The real Gospel is infinitely greater than the social gospel. Romans 1:16 says, “The gospel of Christ… is the power of God unto salvation.”