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The Limited Gospel

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest, most powerful message ever given to mankind.  The apostle Paul said of it, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).  Paul knew this power very well, for his salvation was a wonderful demonstration of that power.  Paul considered himself as the foremost of sinners, and yet the power of Christ’s gospel saved even him (1Tim. 1:12-16).  If the gospel is powerful enough to have saved Paul, then it is powerful enough to save anyone.

However, even though the gospel is tremendously powerful, it is limited in what it can do.  As wonderful as the gospel is, it is only effective for salvation under the conditions given within the gospel.  Those who choose to remain outside of those conditions will not be saved by Christ’s gospel.  The gospel is also limited in its effects on temporal matters.  It is not an instant cure-all for the world’s ills, nor is it an eraser to eliminate the consequences of deeds already done.  Understanding these things concerning the spiritual nature and power of the gospel and its temporal limitations is important when learning about salvation.

Consider some specific limitations of the gospel.  The primary limitation is implied in Romans 1:16 (quoted above), which is that the gospel’s power for salvation is only for those who believe its message regarding Christ.  Indeed, the Lord Jesus said Himself, "…unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  This limitation of unbelief may stem from another limitation, which is that the gospel cannot save those who do not hear it.  Salvation by belief, or faith, is impossible without first hearing, for "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17, see 14-17 for context).  So then, are we to believe that all those who do not hear the gospel are doomed to die in their sins?  Certainly, it is God’s prerogative to save whom He chooses to save (Rom. 9:14-18), but the message of the gospel is this: "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Of course, not all hearers of the gospel become believers of it, for many have heard and refused to believe because they do not love the truth (2Thess. 2:10-12).  The power of the gospel is limited in their case also.

One of the greatest limitations of the gospel is in the case of those who refuse to repent of their sins.  The gospel declares the truth about sin so that all who hear its message may understand.  It reveals that sin is such an appalling offense against God that only the sacrifice of God’s Son could make atonement.  Truly, there is no greater symbol of sin’s darkness that that of Christ’s cross.  Not only does the gospel reveal sin’s dark nature, but it also reveals the enslaving power of sin (John 8:34; 2Tim. 2:26; Heb. 2:14-15; 2Pet. 2:19).  This exposure of the truth about sin by the gospel should provoke any sinner to godly sorrow and repentance (2Cor. 7:10), and yet many refuse.  Sin has such a hold on them, and they love sin so much, that they will not change their ways even if it means giving up their only hope of salvation.  For these souls, the gospel is limited to the point of total ineffectiveness, for Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

The gospel of Christ even has limitations for those who do believe it and faithfully obey it.  The gospel is not an instant solution for all life’s temporal problems of life.  Certainly, God promises to provide for those who seek His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), but He does not promise a trouble-free life in this world.  In fact, obedience to the gospel can lead to even more temporal problems (consider 2Tim. 3:12 – "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”).  Also, the gospel does not remove the existing, temporal consequences of past sins for those who become Christians.  It is vital for Christians to understand the difference between taking away the eternal, spiritual consequences of sin through forgiveness and taking away the temporal consequences.  Even after God forgives them, Christians will still have to atone for any harm they may have done to others when they were in sin.  Another limitation of the gospel for Christians is that it will not save one who falls away from the faith (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2Pet. 2:20-22).  For any Christian who sins, he must repent his sins, confess his sins to God, and once again "walk in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1John 1:5-10).  Otherwise, the gospel will not save a Christian who lives in sin.

Let it be understood that God’s power is unlimited, and the gospel’s power in spiritual terms is unlimited for those who conform to the conditions of God’s word.  The gospel of Christ is more than sufficient, and the grace of our Lord is more than abundant (1Tim. 1:14), so that every soul on earth can be saved through Jesus Christ.  However, God has given us the ability to accept or reject His salvation by the terms He has given.  For those who accept it, God’s power to save them is unlimited.  For those who reject it, they choose to limit the power of gospel for themselves.  Therefore, let us obey the gospel of Christ and accept the power of God for salvation so that we may know "what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19).

Stacey E. Durham



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