This blog is about the number-one issue in finding a church. At the same time, it is about the number-one issue every person must resolve: what is the gospel? The word gospel means “good news,” and I will show you why it is the greatest news ever and what exactly that news is!
Why is this the number-one issue for every person? Because, as you will see, the Bible itself makes this the number-one issue for you to understand. Second, biblical logic dictates that it is the number-one issue.
First, the Bible clearly makes this a top priority. Bible teachers often cite 1 Corinthians 15:1‒4 as one of the best gospel summaries in Scripture, and I believe they are correct. In this text, the Apostle Paul tells the church at Corinth about the gospel. He says that he delivered the gospel to them as of “first importance.” He then goes on to summarize the key topics of the gospel.
Note that Paul says in verse 3 that the gospel is of “first importance.” This means it is of top priority. To miss this would be not just one of the worst mistakes you could ever make in life, but THE worst. I cannot overemphasize it. I do not want to sound like an overeager salesman. But I do want to bring a heightened awareness that if you miss out on the true gospel, you lose everything.
Again, this warning is scriptural; even in the great passage John 3:16, often put forth as a key gospel passage, Jesus says that “whoever believes in Him [Jesus] should not perish, but have eternal life.” The word “perish” means not just to disappear, but “to lose all that is valuable.” To not believe in the true gospel is to lose all that is valuable in life.
The gospel’s priority not only is a clear declaration from Scripture, but also fits well with a systematic theology. In putting together a systematic theology of the Bible and what I know of life, I would conclude this: knowing the true gospel is of the gravest priority. Here is why:
First, you are destined to hell if you do not believe the true gospel. Listen to what Jesus said about whom to fear: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). Hell is real. In passages like this and many others, the Bible speaks about hell being a tangible, literal place. Hell is a bad place to be, whereas the gospel shows one how to get to the place called heaven. A church that teaches a false gospel will send its followers to hell. It does not matter how sincere the followers are. Sincerity is not a substitute for truth.
Second, you cannot know God and understand His ways if you do not know the gospel. Knowing God means you have a relationship with Him that puts Him on your side. Logic alone should dictate why you would want God as a friend. But with a false gospel, you do not know how to become a friend of God. The directions of the true gospel are the only way to know God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6). A person cannot understand God without the true gospel. Hence, a church teaching the wrong gospel will keep you from knowing God. False teachers will also teach many other erroneous doctrines that will confuse you about God. To attend a church with a false gospel will place you under this type of leadership, where you do not know God.
Third, a church without the true gospel will harden you to the true gospel. The more you are immersed in false teaching, the harder it will become to reverse your thinking. This is the essence of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees’ false teaching—they made their students “twice as much a son of hell.” (Matthew 23:15). How is that possible? Well, the person listening to the false teaching was already destined for hell. But they became committed to this form of false teaching so much so that they would view belief in the true gospel as a violation of their core beliefs. Hence, when you listen to a false gospel at a false church, you dig yourself into a deeper hole!
So, understand: in selecting a church, you have to be sure that the church proclaims the gospel correctly. This is of top priority in selecting a church to attend. All other criteria are subservient to this one! Yes, things such as leadership structure, for example, are important, but not as important as the gospel. Therefore you should want to attend a church where the gospel is properly taught. Anything else would be foolish.
From 1 Corinthians 15:1‒4, I believe we can pull out five truths of the gospel, and we make these clear at Christian Fellowship Church. Note how each is addressed in 1 Corinthians 15:1‒4. Also note how each of these topics is elaborated on throughout all the Scriptures. Each topic is worthy of an endless study. But for the purpose of this blog, only key additional verses are given.
I put forth that this is the core of the gospel:
- Man’s sin. Man is a sinner. Paul says in verse 3 that “Christ died for our sins.” Every person is born into sin. Sin is the problem that causes man to end up in hell. Sin cannot be repaid or fixed with good works, good intentions, money, or a simple request of dismissal. The penalty for sin is death, which includes both a physical and spiritual dynamic (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; also Gen. 3; Psalm 51; Rom. 5:8, 10).
- Jesus’ person. Jesus is both God and man. Paul references the Savior as “Christ” in verse 3 and then “He” in verse 4. Paul notes “Christ” all through the chapter and then makes clear that he is speaking of Jesus in verse 57. Jesus is the only solution to man’s sin problem. Hence He is the Christ. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but a title meaning “Anointed One,” the One whom God the Father promised to send the Jewish people to help man in the dilemma of sin. Jesus was and is sinless. He is the solution because He is God come in the flesh. He is fully God and fully human. To teach that Jesus became God would be an error. He was and is always God, even at birth. The very nature of God is that God is eternal. Jesus is an eternal being who took on humanity when He was placed in the womb of His human mother, Mary. One must understand Jesus is God and man (Matt. 1:18‒25; 1 Tim. 2:5; John 1:1; 10:30; 14:6; Acts 4:12).
- Jesus Christ’s death. Jesus died for sin. In verse 3, Paul notes that, “Christ died for our sins.” Jesus Christ paid the price for sin. He was buried as proof of His death, as verse 4 states. The Bible is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This payment needs to be preached to the world. I believe this payment was made not to Satan but to God the Father, the universal judge (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:15; Heb. 7:27).
- Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, as verse 4 states. His resurrection proved that God the Father accepted His payment. His resurrection needs to preached as the first-fruits of the gospel (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:4, 20).
- Faith alone. Salvation is by faith alone. Paul references the Corinthians’ belief in verse 2. The work of Jesus is credited to a believer’s life only through faith. Both words “faith” and “alone” must be stressed. Many false cults proclaim the necessity of faith but stop short of saying faith alone. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of this unseen” (Heb. 11:1)—that is the channel God uses to transform a person with salvation. Faith is the means by which man obtains the application of Christ’s death. No work by man is added to the work of Jesus; hence the truth that faith is alone the means of salvation. One does not add money, do good works, or get baptized to obtain salvation. Faith alone obtains the work of Jesus. A saved person will not work to obtain their forgiveness, but after believing that person will display works (Heb. 11:1; John 3:16; Eph. 2:8‒9; Titus 3:5).
Memorize these five points of the true gospel. Know at least two verses to support each point. When you do, you will be able to give the gospel in a very clear and concise way. Also, it will become clear to you whether a gospel presentation includes or omits these points.
Knowing all five points will keep you from presenting the gospel as just John 3:16! And it will keep you from forgetting to tell people about the resurrection hope (which, sadly, happens all too often!). It is critical that a person understands these topics of the gospel.
I know that each of these topics can have volumes written on them. I know there are intricacies that even Bible teachers divide on, as you dig deeper into each topic. But I truly believe this is the essence of the gospel, and these topics as presented must be believed for a person to be saved.
So to be clear: when deciding upon a church to attend, the number-one factor should be the gospel that the church proclaims. Any church or teacher that deviates from the above preaches a false gospel. To think that you can attend a church and help change it to a true gospel is just foolish. You need to be in a church where the true gospel is proclaimed. Even Paul tells us that God wants us to get out of false churches in (2 Cor. 6:17). And when we do, and believe in the right gospel, we have a relationship with the true God, as He says:
“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me.” (2 Cor. 6:18a)
Now, should we not make getting to know God a top priority? Then find a church where the gospel is taught for you, your loved ones, your children, your friends, your neighbors, and all whom you come across. Only the true gospel saves, so believe it and proclaim it until Jesus returns or you are called home to heaven.