The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at the Preface to the Anniversary Edition:
- Thirty years ago (in January of 1978) I began preaching through the gospel of Matthew verse by verse. That series lasted seven and a half years, comprising some 226 sermons — and Grace Community Church was dramatically changed in the process. The series took us through a rich study of biblical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).
- A few years after finishing that series in Matthew, I wrote this book to distill my observations about how Jesus proclaimed His own gospel and to take a hard look at the truths He included in the gospel message. I knew the book would be controversial, of course, because I wrote it partly as a response to an already-existing controversy.
- But I did not anticipate what a large and far-reaching debate it would spark. For the next couple of years, the subjects dealt with in this book seemed to dominate the evangelical discussion – and then to a lesser degree, the debate has continued ever since.
- People have been trying to domesticate Jesus’ message for many years. Long before The Gospel According to Jesus was first published, it was popular in certain circles to exclude any mention of Jesus’ lordship from the gospel message.
- The idea, apparently, was that declaring Jesus’ lordship was tantamount to preaching works — because lordship implicitly demands obedience, and obedience per se was automatically portrayed as a work.
- Some argued that even to encourage an attitude of obedience (like the simple, submissive heart of the thief on the cross or Zaccheus’s intention to make restitution), was to preach a works-based religion. Ostensibly trying to keep the gospel as untainted as possible from works-religion, some evangelical leaders became insistent that no gospel appeal to unbelievers ever ought to include the truth that Jesus is Lord of all. Unconverted sinners were not to be urged to repent. The cost of discipleship; the need to hate one’s own sin; Christ’s call to self-denial; His command to follow Him; and (especially) every mention of submission to Him as Lord were systematically expunged from the message Christians proclaimed to unbelievers. Sanctification became wholly optional. A whole new category — “carnal Christians” — was invented to explain how someone could be converted to Christ and given eternal life but left totally unchanged in heart and lifestyle by such a transaction.
- In the minds and methodologies of most evangelicals, the entire gospel was finally reduced to one easy idea: that Jesus is a kind Savior who patiently waits for sinners to “accept” Him (or invite Him into their hearts), and that He offers eternal life – no strings attached – in exchange for anyone’s decision to do so.
- The faith He called sinners to was a repentant, submissive surrender to the truth — including the truth of His lordship. That message is still valid today — and as a whole new generation discovers the so-called “lordship controversy” and seeks biblical answers to the issues that debate has raised, this book still expresses what I believe Jesus said about the gospel in the best way I know how to summarize it.
- My prayer with this edition is that a whole new generation will understand the gospel through the lens of Jesus’ own ministry and be committed to following our Lord both in how they live and how they proclaim the good news to a confused and dying world.