If you don’t know the truth, you will be deceived by a lie. Lies always have varying degrees of truth in them; if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be so quick to fall for them. One of the biggest lies in the Church today is the “gospel issue” message. Every cultural issue has suddenly become a gospel issue; the only problem is, upon examination, we find that it is another gospel.
In 1988 John MacArthur released the first in a series on the gospel, the second and third being published in 1993 and 2017. In the first book, The Gospel According to Jesus, Dr. MacArthur took on the prevalent easy-believism of the day and made a Biblical case for what critics called Lordship salvation. In the book and the subsequent books, he dealt with seeker-sensitive methods and the problem of not preaching on sin.
In The Gospel According to the Apostles, he dealt with the necessity of preaching repentance and the problem of cheap grace. Cheap grace is the easy-believism from the first book. The teaching that you don’t have to submit to Jesus as Lord, only accept Him as your Savior. He also dealt with the struggle with sin and the ongoing sanctification in the life of the believer.
The Gospel According to Paul is a refutation of the new perspectives teaching made Popular by N.T. Wright. Dr. MacArthur once again defended cardinal Christian doctrines, particularly penal substitutionary atonement, the belief that Jesus died in our place to satisfy the wrath of God against sin.
Even though the first book came out in 1988, the message is still relevant in our day. There are still those who teach that all we need to do is believe and that belief isn’t necessarily followed with obedience. Some teach that because Jesus is Lord, we can’t make Him Lord. That’s an excellent game of wordplay, but the fact of the matter is, if you’re not submitting to Jesus as Lord, you do not belong to Him. Some like to say any level of obedience is legalism or trying to earn your salvation by works, but that is not biblical.
Jesus said in John 14:15 ESV, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Paul said in Ephesians 2:10 ESV “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are saved by grace alone unto good works. We will make it to heaven by grace, but we will be judged according to our works (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
We are saved by grace and called to a life of holiness and obedience, and that understanding is well defended in Dr. MacArthur’s first book. He followed that up by proving in two subsequent books that the twelve Apostles and the Apostle Paul preached the same gospel of grace that was followed by obedience in the life of the believer.
One of the most helpful things about all three books is that Dr. MacArthur interacts with popular books that present false teaching and dismantle the arguments with the Scripture. The gospel message is the virgin birth, sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything added to that or taken from that is another gospel.
Many “gospel-centered issues” are presented to us today, but I submit to you that they are another gospel. They are dividing the body by race; others declare they have received new insight to the Scriptures; others claim third heaven experiences and the necessity to pray in the “courts of heaven.” All of this is another gospel. All of these will slowly lead you away from the truth. I cannot recommend Dr. John MacArthur’s Gospel trilogy highly enough to help you gain a solid and thoroughly biblical understanding of the gospel presented throughout the New Testament. Read through them slowly with a pen in hand, read them one after the other, and you will have been through thorough teaching in the gospels, the book of Acts, and Paul’s letters.
This will be an encouraging journey for you, and you will know and be able to share the gospel and explain why you believe it once you have finished the last book. I can think of no better investment in the days in which we live than to read these three books, learn their content, and boldly defend the gospel that sadly isn’t so much “in style” anymore.
As a bonus, I would also recommend Dr. MacArthur’s book, Ashamed of the Gospel, which details why the church has abandoned the gospel presented in the other three books. You can read my thoughts on that book here.