Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Gospel clarification question

Envision two scenarios:

First scenario
A man calls you. He is 98 years old, in the last stages of cancer. His doctor has told him likely that increasing pain medication will shortly mean a reduction of consciousness, and then he will slip into his final coma. The time left him is measured in days, or even hours.

He has led a godless life of immorality and selfishness. He is afraid to die. He has heard about you, and he only has one question:

"What must I do to be saved?"

What do you tell him?

Second scenario
A man calls you. He is 18 years old, in perfect health, from a long-lived family. He may well have another 80 years ahead of him.

He has led a godless life of immorality and selfishness. He is afraid to die. He has heard about you, and he only has one question:

"What must I do to be saved?"

What do you tell him?

Applying the cattle prod
If you give either one a fundamentally different answer, then you are preaching a false Gospel to at least one of those people.


Mike Riccardi said...

"Fundamentally" is the key word.

Repentance will manifest itself differently for tax collectors than it will for soldiers (Lk 3:12-14), as it was different for the thief on the cross and the woman caught in adultery.

But at the heart, it's the same. Own your unrighteousness before God, and trust and treasure the person and finished work of Christ on your behalf for the forgiveness of your sins and the provision of the righteousness you need to be found acceptable in God's sight.

Good thought-provoker.

Nauvoo Pastor said...

Amen. The Gospel will be and should be offensive to both, yet it is the only way that God has provided by which men MUST be saved.

Stefan said...

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, yet came into this world to save sinners like you and me.

He bore the penalty for our sins upon the Cross, rose again to eternal life, and will return to judge the living and the dead.

Repent for your sins and trust in Him as your Lord and Saviour, and in Him you will find forgiveness, fellowship with God, and eternal life.

Halcyon said...

Well obviously the older gentlemen has very little time, so cliffnote versions of Your Best Life Now and The Purpose Driven Life will need to be administered in power-point format...preferably with some kind of muzak playing in the back ground.

The younger man is a bit tricky, but whatever we say, it needs to be relevant and eye-catching or else we'll lose him. I suggest the Nicene Creed contextualized into either a rock ballad melody or an interpretive dance. If all else fails, we can always do a skit with the dialogue pulled right out of The Message.

I find your attempt to set up a false dichotomy between "the" legitimate gospel and "false" gospels offensive to my right to make this up as I go.

Okay, now that the sarcasm's out of my system, the answer to both their questions is still the same yesterday, today, and forever: Acts 16:31.

William Dicks said...

Well said Dan! In our day of relativism, it is so easy for these false gospel types to change the gospel as they go along.

Keep up the good work!

The Squirrel said...

Absolutly right, Dan. There's no guarantee that the 18-year-old will outlive the 98-year-old. Both need to be told that they are sinners in need of repentance, and of Jesus and His death, burial, resurrection, and the judgement to come.


Stefan said...


Love your answer, but Acts 16:31 in context!!! (Unless you're some kind of hyper-covenantal Presbyterian.)

DJP said...

All good responses, but - and it may be because I'm a bit rushed - I don't think anyone's exactly caught my point yet.

It actually arose from reflecting on the question myself a bit tangentially, first.

Stefan said...

We should call you Tricky Dan.

Is the key in the phrase "fundamentally different answer"?

Andrew said...

Dan I've read and re-read your post and can't guess where the other answers have missed your point. The only thing I can come up with is another question:

Has it anything to do with the cattle prod?

Because assaulting an elderly cancer patient with such an implement is cruel,unhelpful and most likely illegal. Poking a peak condition, long-living 18 year old is suicidal.

Should the cattle prod be removed in both cases to maximise one's freedom and longevity as an evangelist?

Have I hit the tangent?

DJP said...

No, I'm sorry. That was a really good try - I just mean "cattle-prod" in the sense of "to our own thinking."

Logan Paschke said...

Both are afraid of death.
Both have sinned.

1. God is good
2. You are bad
3. God will judge
4. God may save you from the judgment through Christ.
5. Believe in Christ.
6. Now, deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow Him.

Andrew said...

You're very gracious, Dan, in giving such a gracious and impeccably straight-faced response to my silliness!

Now for my serious attempt to connect with what you write here. Is it the emphasis on eternity that is needed in both cases? The Gospel deals in the deepest issues of life, death and eternal destiny. To market the lifestyle element to either men is to enervate the Gospel of its true power and purpose.

Just my tuppence worth.

Thanks again for provoking thought, and for answering/not answering a fool according to his folly!

Mike Riccardi said...

Did my comment get moderated out?


DJP said...

Yeah, Mike, it kinda sucked. Too Pipery.

Actually, I think it's stuck in Blogger. I'll go look.

Al said...


If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved.


cubs34 said...

Does it have to do with "what must I do to be saved?" It is not a matter of his (old/young man)doing, salvation belongs to the Lord. Our mandate is to go make disciples, in other words to share the "good news" in its entirety.

jmb said...

I think that the word "fundamentally" is beside the point. The answer should be exactly the same for both.

cubs34 said...

Luke 18:18-27

Rabbit said...

Dan, are you perhaps going after the perceived urgency of the two situations? Knowing the old man has precious little time, we might treat his situation as far more dire, pleading with him to repent before his soul is lost. Knowing the young man is ... young ... we assume we've got time. We might try the old relational approach, schmoozing him with relevant, contextual overtures of friendship. OR, we might add to the Gospel, suggesting to him that his repentance is only genuine if he's [in our Bible study/reading Spurgeon every morning/studying the Institutes/attending 6am men's prayer breakfast].

But both men are in equal peril, and deserve the unadulterated, unadorned Gospel, delivered with equal urgency.

DJP said...

You kids have fun; I'll probably give what my point was tomorrow.

CR said...

Well I'm on an iPhone so I can't type much but I would explain to him the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. The book of Romans is a good summary. The gospel has much to do about God and what He has done and very little about us.

It doesn't matter whether you lived an immoral life or a moral life both groups are under condemnation. So would start with creation and what God created us for and talk about man's rebellion and launch into the gospel to what God has done in Christ. If this good news is the most wonderful news he has ever asked, he'll ask me again what must I do to be saved. I'll tell him he must trust in Jesus and repent. I would explain to him what faith and repentance entails. If it isn't the most wonderful news he's ever heard he'll say I'm sorry I ever asked.

Logan Paschke said...

Dan, I wouldn't want you as my professor.

"The answer is..."

*looks at watch*

"Class over! See you tomorrow!"

DJP said...

Sounds as if you already had me.



love God... said...

Well I can see where the majority of the "evan-jellyfish" church today would give the young man the "your best life" "kingdom now" gospel. He still has time to think positively about himself and go out and do a bunch of good works to get him into heaven. Wouldn't work for the older gentleman because his life will clearly not be getting any better and he doesn't have the health to work his way into heaven so they would have to adjust their "gospel presentation" for the two gentlemen.

DJP said...


I'm not grading anyone, and y'all are giving great thoughts.

But just remember: I am saying that

1. Each asks the same question
2. If we give one a fundamentally different answer than the other, one of those is a false Gospel

That's a hint. I'm sure you'll all be deeply disappointed when I unveil the shocking blah blah blah, and will indignantly demand a full refund. But there it is.


CR said...

I'm not going to try to get into's djp's head. But this scenario is interesting in that both men say they are afraid to die. I would ask them why? They might say well I have lived (in the case of the 18 yr.old am living) an immoral life. I would respond by saying, well the moralist is going to die also so what is it that you are afraid of what's going to happen to you if you died. They might say, I'm afraid of going to Hell because of the immoral life (or immoral life I'm living). That's where I could say, well people don't go to Hell because they lived an immoral life. People go to Hell because of their ungodliness - they do not love God with all their heart, mind and soul every day all the time. they might respond, well, gosh, how do I do that CR. I mean do you have this perfect love for God all the time every single day?! I would say nope. Then again launch into the gospel.

DJP said...

Oh, and meant to mention:

I didn't ask what anyone would tell them.

But of course, that's fine, too. Just wasn't my point.

Gov98 said...

I'm kind of lost myself with this post. But I'll give my thoughts, they both need to know that they stand condemned before God, that they would be Guilty at the judgment seat, that Christ paid the penalty for their sin, if they repent and believe in Christ for their souls salvation.

For the younger, I probably bring up the story of the Tower of Siloam to point out that none of us are guaranteed another day, and in fact death comes unexpectedly frequently so that he knows that Today is the acceptable time of salvation, of course, I'd go to that too if they elderly man didn't understand the urgency of his situation.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Dan, you did ask what would you tell them. Twice.

You tell them the same thing.

Praise God, their fear of death is a step in the right direction. Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.

And proceed with the rest of the Gospel.

Unless (reflecting on Andrew's 1:52 post) you decided to go all Todd Bentley and use the cattle prod.

Patrick said...

Interesting post. This is the exact question I asked a Catholic friend of mine and certainly there were two different answers.

DJP said...

Patrick, that is interesting.

Julie - legalist.


The Squirrel said...

"Unless (reflecting on Andrew's 1:52 post) you decided to go all Todd Bentley and use the cattle prod."

I'll be laughing about that until I fall asleep tonight!


Gilbert said...

I just went into Dan's head. Sin,
pizza recipes, and you can't believe the number of Proverbs littering the floor! I closed him up and have no desire to do THAT again.


The point is both need exactly the same thing, presented the same way. When Dan walks out of his house, he is Dan. When he gets into his car, he is Dan. When he posts on Pyro, he is Dan. When he was still in his mother's womb, he was Dan.

A drowning man or woman, irregardless of age, needs a rope with maybe a knot on the end. Now, that rope can be thin or thick, white or pink colored, but it must be a rope with someone strong enough to save you, lest you get pulled into the depths.

We focus on the color of the rope, the length of the rope, the thickness. All we need is a doggone rope! It's up to the person on the other end whether or not he/she grabs onto it. And it doesn't depend at all whether or not you are strong enough to pull the person in. Throwing out the rope is your job; pulling the sinner in is God's job, regardless of the age (or anything else) of the one to be rescued. He threw it out for you. Now Jesus says, "Go and do likewise". It's the same thing, no matter who you are, and who you throw the rope to.

Having said all that, I probably missed the point by a mile.
I blame global warming. ;-)

Rachael Starke said...

What you tell them first is the same - repent and believe the gospel.

But what you tell them next might be different. For the older man, it's "Today you will be with Me in paradise." For the yoot, it's "go into all the world and make disciples."

David said...

Yeah, but what would you tell me?

JackW said...

DJP must be feeling a little like John Houseman right now. “You teach yourself the Word and I’ll teach you to think like a Christian!”

I got his point, but choose not to reveal it, though I do wish he would wear a hat to cover it up.

Frank Turk said...

I'd tell David Paul Regier that he's too far gone -- he cannot be saved. K-thanks-bye.

But to Dan's point, why would you not say to both, "my friend: repent of your sin, and believe in Christ who died to save sinners like me, and like you?"

I have this fear that someone would, but I can't for the life of me see why.

Daniel said...

If the imminent death of the old fellow drives me with urgency and passion to strive with all my heart to make the certainty of both damnation without Christ, and reconciliation through Christ known, and I lack that same urgency and passion with the younger fellow, then I am missing something fundamental in my gospel presentation to the younger fellow.

DJP said...

Well, I find a new problem. Some blogs are being blocked at my work, including this one and Pyro. So that will be a complicating factor.

My point in the post was to provoke myself (and you) to reflect. In presenting the Gospel, would consideration of how much time the person has left be a consideration? Carson said it was a question Luke this that brought NT Wright to a dead halt.

So my point was that time remaining makes NO difference to the Biblical Gospel, as it leaves us with nothing whatever to contribute to our salvation.

I might be more verbose if I weren't iPhoning.

DJP said...

Question LIKE this

Stefan said...


Face it.

You're just a big old meanie.

You ask, "What is 2 + 2?"

Several people (like, at least a dozen) answer "4."

And you reply: "No, it's 4 because of the properties of the additive operation in arithmetic."

I mean, gee willikers!

In fact, a number of people (this humble sinner excluded) explicitly pointed out that not only is the Gospel message the same, but that age has nothing to do with it, for none of us knows our appointed hour.

Stan McCullars said...

A question about the gospel brought NT Wright to a dead halt?

Say it ain't so!

Andrew said...

Dan you should get the iVerbosity app for your phone. It takes simple plain prose and turns it into wordy, flabby statements which circle round but never land on the point.

I know a couple of preachers who must be using it, and have seen it applied with great effect on some blog comments.

Stefan said...

I think Dan is a secret Hemingway fan, paring it all down to the bone—actually marrow, more like it.

rebecca said...

Carson said it was a question [like] this that brought NT Wright to a dead halt.

I'm curious about this statement and I want to know more.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "If you give either one a fundamentally different answer, then you are preaching a false Gospel to at least one of those people."

Mike Riccardi: "Fundamentally" is the key word."

Mike Riccardi is spot-on.

Key Question: Would Jesus present the Gospel EXACTLY the same in both of these situations?

Susan said...

Like this post a lot. The answer is so obvious once you set up the juxtaposition like that.

(BTW, that 18 year old "dude" looks like the actor who played Prince Caspian in the Narnia movie!)

Joshua Seevers said...

I recently have stumbled onto your blog and Pyro.

It has gotten quite heated lately in my life with my Christian friends when I came onto realization that "being called" or "following God's will for your life" or "has God laid it on your heart" is not biblical.

I really like the question you have posed to your readers but I want to make sure I got this right.

Were you expecting people to say to the 80 year old that if you believe that Jesus Christ has died for your sins then he will forgive you and you will have eternal life? Only to leave it at that because his time is limited.

Where as with the 18 year old you would say the say thing but as soon as they accepted Jesus you would say something like:

"Awesome, now that you are a Christian let me read to you the fine print. You now have to do this, this and this. Oops... Did you just sin again? Make sure you ask for forgiveness because even though you are saved and the bible says that God takes away all of your sins you have to ask for forgiveness or there are grave consequences! Are you not right with God? To not be right with God is to be in sin so if you are "feeling" this way then you must have done something wrong. Maybe you should reflect on your life and lock yourself in the closet so that you can spend quiet time with God and you can hear his voice and what he saying to you. Oh what is that you say? He is calling you to ministry? Great, How do you know? Well... You see... You just will know! Don't question his calling, who are you to question God? Go to seminary because if you deny the calling then you are in sin."

Is this along the line of what you are talking about or am I completely off base?

DJP said...

I was getting at the fact that loading anything that we can, should, or will do into the preaching of the Gospel as a constituent part of getting right with God makes it a false Gospel.

Whether I've five decades of life left or five seconds, I'll never be able, expected, or required to add one penny to what Jesus accomplished for His people on the cross.

Now, as to discipleship, as to the results and fruit of salvation — that is a distinct issue.

Halcyon said...


Presbyterian? Yes.

Hyper-covenantal? Goodness, no!

I actually meant just the first part of the verse: "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ...." Discussions on the latter part of it usually leave my head swimming and (as my word verification says) "bleding".

Stefan said...


Yeah...I was thinking of the exact same (half-)verse as a reply, then got all grammatico-historical on myself and ditched it.