While I’m using the name of an annual conference with both an exclamation and question mark, this article isn’t addressed to the organizers, speakers, or participants of Together for the Gospel.
Rather, it’s much broader in nature. It addresses each Christian and in particular one’s attitude toward those who are in the faith—those who are part of God’s family—who don’t necessarily fit within your theological persuasion.
In today’s social media, there are many attitudes and actions that seem to be more so dividing than uniting believers in Jesus Christ. Many communicate “the truth” without seemingly much if any sense of love, respect, or desire to have fellowship with the ones they address.
Lately, the church in Laodicea has been convicting me, not so much their lukewarmness, but the fact that Jesus desired to have genuine, personal fellowship with these believers in this Christ-less church.
Yes, He strongly reproved and disciplined them, but it was out of deep love that longed to have fellowship with them. He sought them out, which is an expression of His grace.
Obviously, there’s nothing new under the sun and “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done” (Eccl. 1:9), including current churches where Jesus Christ isn’t truly the focus at all—where He stands at their door and knocks to come in.
While I’m not advocating any togetherness for the gospel without definite gospel boundaries—embracing the historic tenets of the Christian faith—I am advocating that Christians, including myself, should examine their heart and assess if there’s genuine love for each of God’s children, especially toward those who don’t fit within our theological framework?
Paul wrote: “Let love be genuine” (Rom. 12:9). He also wrote that if there’s no such love toward God’s children, whatever our correct understanding of doctrine, we’re like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). We may then be like the one who “looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:24).
What is the gospel?
Sometimes, we have to take a few steps back in order to move forward. As such, let’s start with the very basics. The apostle Paul gave us a classic definition:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
At the core, “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) is Jesus’ righteous life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection for those who don’t deserve anything from God. Additionally, we can add His victorious ascension, effectual intercession, and consummating second coming, which are also an essential part of His saving work.
Since the person and work of Jesus Christ is the whole of our salvation, we have perfect common ground in Christ with every other Christian, including giving one another “the right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). As long as anyone has received Jesus by faith as God’s inexpressible gift, we are united with every other Christian, whatever one’s nationality, religious or secular background, societal position, or any particular theological distinctive.
Paul’s words are always true, no matter what the secondary issues are: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). It’s certainly much easier to believe in the doctrines of grace, for example, than to express such graciousness to those who don’t hold to them. It’s much easier to be right in doctrine than right in love, right?
Who Is a Christian?
If a person has been born from above, whether one holds to faith preceding spiritual birth or spiritual birth preceding faith, he or she is a brother and sister in Christ and should be treated as such. The apostle John made an undeniable statement: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
Undoubtedly, John didn’t refer to “the brothers” as those who exactly hold to the same theological convictions. He referred to everyone who has been born again. Before anything, you should ask yourself this question: is he or she a brother or sister in Christ?
If so, any other distinctive is secondary to that reality. If God has brought someone forth “by the word of truth” (James 1:18), that’s a decisive, irreversible, eternal reality that outweighs everything else, including theological differences.
What about the Distinctives?
There are almost as many distinctives as there are Christians. While that’s an exaggeration, it does address the main point. It’s foolish to deny these differences—there are too many to list. Should we just ignore them? Should we make them less important than we believe they are?
We should be diligent students of God’s word: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Yet, we must do so with absolute graciousness, realizing that any correct understanding of God’s word is a gracious gift. A few verses later, Paul wrote: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24).
As an authoritative apostle, God called Paul to write many admonishing and correcting statements. Yet, the root of everything he communicated was his realization of God’s grace toward him: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). His awareness of God’s grace to him was so deep that he referred to himself as “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8).
For a Christian, God’s grace is the sole root of anything that’s pleasing in our lives, effectually worked within us through Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:20-21). It cuts off any self-exaltation, looking down on others. We don’t have any boast except in His grace, which is the only fertile ground for humility. How we refer and relate to other believers is a strong indicator in what measure we live in the nature and reality of His grace toward us.
While Paul specifically addressed the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome, it’s applicable to every Christian: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Christ’s welcome of you was, is, and will be entirely based on His grace, which is for the glory of God. Even so, we must “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.”
To be passionate about the glory of God is synonymous with embracing every other believer with genuine love and sincere graciousness that doesn’t ignore secondary issues, but that primarily relates to one as having been born from above—as one having been welcomed by Jesus Christ Himself, “for the glory of God.”
Jan Blonk was born and raised in the Netherlands (“yawn” is the Dutch equivalent for John). He permanently moved to the U.S. in 2001 and is the author of It’s All about Jesus: The Bible’s Grand Testimony, a one-year devotional about the person and work of Jesus Christ. All his books are used as a fundraiser for the spread of the gospel through reputable ministries: www.thecauseofchrist.com