ONE of the gospel's main characteristics is its personal nature. "What shall we do?" ask the multitudes. The apostle's answer is likewise personal: "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."
Emphasis on Lost Condition of Man
"Every one of you," says the text. As we analyze the gospel preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, we discover the emphasis is on man's lost condition. This is shown in Jesus' teachings concerning the man who fell among robbers on the road to Jericho; the woman who was a sinner in the house of Simon; Zacchaeus, who climbed into the sycamore tree. It is seen in the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son; in that of the publican in the Temple, the man with the withered hand in the synagogue, the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, the blind man by the wayside, the dead man whose soul had crossed the boundaries of life, the thief who died on a cross. Each case reveals man's lost condition, his spiritual ruin, and separation from God. Jesus the Christ, this greatest preacher, not only spoke as no man had ever spoken, but He did so with such power and so winningly that multitudes followed Him for days, forgetting even to eat. It is He, this Son of God, who is willing to spend hours with Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, the blind man of Jerusalem, with Lazarus and Martha and Mary. It is He who after His resurrection personally looks for Peter and Thomas and Mary Magdalene. Not one was overlooked or lost; for each one Christ died on the cross and shed His blood. He would have gone to the cross for just one soul.
Coming as Judge
Thus, after pointing out man's ruined state, the gospel preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven indicates that God's day of judgment will come to pass in which the supreme judge and inflexible arbiter will be none other than He who was once judged unjustly, betrayed, slandered by false witnesses, beaten without compassion. He who appeared before the mob and was condemned to die on a cross will be judge. At the great white throne He will judge the dead for their words, their deeds, their failure to use their privileges and opportunities. Those whose names are not written in the book of life, says God's Word, will be cast into the lake of fire; this is the second death.
Moreover, the gospel preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven looks to Christ as Saviour. So complete is this message that it contains not only the solution for all present ills and sins through God's gracious salvation bestowed by faith to everyone who believes but also looks to the future. This same Jesus who died to save us, who lives to keep us, and is interested in every one of His own, is coming again. He will not come to Bethlehem in poverty, nor return to be scorned, wounded, and crucified by the world. His second and glorious coming will be in the clouds to take His church from this world to the Father's house where He is now preparing a place for each of those who believe on Him. The gospel preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven looks toward a future day when all human problems will be forever ended, sin will have been removed from the earth, and death will be no more.
The gospel, in other words, announces the definite triumph of good over evil. Heaven and earth as they now exist will give place to God's world of tomorrow, a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness will reign. This glorious order of things, this sublime ending to the story of man's miserable and sad history, will not come through the efforts of men or nation but by the will of God who said concerning that day: "Behold, I make all things new."
Desired Effect Depends on Holy Spirit
Let me emphasize that when the gospel is preached, however eloquent and complete its presentation may be from the doctrinal point of view, and however simple its appeal, it will not accomplish the desired effect unless it is accompanied by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Genuine preaching always produces effective results when it is accompanied by the power of heaven. Without the heavenly power of the glorious Spirit of God, preaching will be like sounding brass or tinkling cymbal, something merely formal and enclosed in a liturgical mold; a brilliant display of oratory may please the ear but will not reach the heart, nor speak to the conscience, nor meet an individual's spiritual needs.
The apostle Peter speaks of the gospel preached "with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven." This statement he made toward the end of his fruitful ministry, a statement illustrated by what happened on the day of Pentecost. God's seal to Peter's preaching was the Holy Spirit which came down from heaven and fell on all those who were listening to his sermon. It was not intended to create a psychological or emotional state; the power of the Holy Spirit was first displayed in deep conviction of sin by repentant hearts that suddenly, in the divine light of the gospel, saw the magnitude of their errors, the wickedness of their conduct toward Jesus, the seriousness of their sins, and the punishment they deserved. This same power of the Holy Spirit created the faith which when placed in Jesus for salvation brought pardon and peace as fruits of Calvary. Thus empty and sad hearts were filled with joy. Baptism followed as a sign of obedience and identification with Him who died, was buried, and rose again.
Fruits of Righteousness
Once the new Christians were incorporated into the new church they were not satisfied with mere membership and participation in all the activities, privileges, and blessings of their new spiritual state. Faith had to manifest itself in a changed life full of good works, the fruits of righteousness. The eyes of the world that for thirty-three years had observed the most admirable and perfect life, that of the Lord Jesus, were now fixed on them. They had to live Christ, or rather, Christ lived in them and made Himself manifest to the world through them.
Unbiblical Preaching Dangerous
Among the many dangers which at present threaten the Christian pulpit are two that are particularly common. One danger is that of presenting a gospel without a biblical basis, without the cross of Christ. Such a message pretends to be modern by adapting itself to the spirit of the times, to a mentality that has departed from the divine purpose both in language and in spirit; although pretending to fill a present need, it has lost authority and spiritual power, influence, and impact on lives and hearts. It is an empty, hollow message, the product of a sophisticated age; while professing to be relevant, it cannot be, because the deep problems, the acute crises, the incurable ills and desperate spiritual state of humanity cry out for and require the true Word of the gospel.
"Only Believe" Not Just a Slogan
Another serious danger today is a gospel which, though rich in Bible quotations, presents the way of salvation as something very easy and asks that one only believe. It is true, of course, that the Scriptures say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." "Only believe" is not merely a slogan, but a blessed reality. The grace of God has made it possible for a sinner to receive eternal life, the gift of God, by means of personal faith. But we must not forget that the same Scriptures underline the fact so often illustrated in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles that genuine faith is followed by a life of works, by a profound change, an undeniable transformation. The sinner becomes a saint, the miser a generous man, the cruel becomes gentle, the proud humble.
This is what happened to those who heard and heeded the first Pentecost sermon. They believed in Jesus Christ.
"Something More Than a Creed"
The closing part of Acts 2 tells of those blessed days of heaven on earth. While divine power accompanied the apostles, those who believed had something more than a creed. They had brotherly love; they showed a spirit of self-sacrifice and generosity. Their hearts abounded with works of mercy, with faithfulness to doctrine, perseverance in worship, fullness of joy. They were simple and sincere. Their lives were lives of continuous praise to the God they called their heavenly Father. Furthermore, they were very well thought of by the public. Meanwhile, God gave an astounding but normal growth to the mystical body of Christ, His church.
Not an Impossible Utopia
While this pattern is many centuries old, it is not an impossible utopia. What God did then He can do now. God has not changed. His gospel has not lost its efficacy nor its power. The Holy Spirit of God is still in the world convicting of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Human need has grown immensely. There have never been so many destroyed homes, so many broken hearts, so many young people drifting as slaves to vice and sin, so much corruption, crime, and hate, so much international unrest, so many social problems. There is no peace and even less hope. Only the gospel has the solution for so much evil, the answer to so many questions, for only the Lord Jesus Christ, the Desire of all nations, can put an end to this tragic state of affairs. While, generally speaking, the gospel is still being preached, and there is still popular interest in hearing it, in most churches of the world nothing extraordinary is happening and we must admit that the message lacks the spiritual power to reach hearts. There should be deep heart searching in all of us who preach the gospel. Of what worth is the best sermon if the Holy Spirit does not confirm it in the heart? Is it necessary to insist that every preacher aspire to be filled with the Holy Ghost? That every message be received from God and delivered with fresh unction?
Choose Death Rather Than a Ministry Without Power and Fruit
Nothing effective can come of a message that has lost spiritual sensitivity, that lacks the life of rivers of living water. We preachers need continually to come to the Fountain which is Christ, to feel His compassion and agony of soul toward those that perish, to know a love which consumes us to the point where we would give our lives for them; we must reach the point of preferring to die rather than to have a ministry without fruit and without power.
It is time to make a sincere and profound self-analysis before God. Many preachers continue to occupy the pulpit without realizing the tragedy of their own souls, without realizing that God has departed with His blessing, that they are living on past glories. Our ministry is supernatural; to fulfill it we need supernatural power every day, at every opportunity. May God grant that in this critical hour of great decisions we may make our own personal decision, namely, not to be satisfied with ourselves or with our audiences or with our results. May the Holy Spirit of God awaken in us a living spiritual perception, a deep thirst for God Himself that will lead us brokenhearted to His feet where, emptied of ourselves, He may cleanse us, fill us, and use us for His glory.
Let us preach the gospel and nothing else, and may our lives, totally surrendered to the Holy Spirit, demonstrate what we preach. Then the Spirit will accompany the Word of God with His power. And only then will the world hear what it needs: The voice of God and not of man.