As much as we might not like it (and even try to fight it) judgment is a reality of life. We make judgments, and we are judged, daily – often without even realizing it. One of the most well known, and often misquoted, verses in the Bible is Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
What so many people fail to understand is that not all judgment is bad. Judgment can bring (among other things) improvement, progress, even salvation (as we see most explicitly in the gospel). In fact, one of the most vital questions one needs to address when sharing the gospel is, “From what are we saved?” You water down the gospel if you tip-toe around this question or refuse to address it altogether.
This past week I spent some time in Florida visiting my father. Now, I would consider myself to be a very alert individual. I know who is around me and, in general, what they are doing. So you can imagine my irritation (being the every gracious and patient one that I am) when suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, a gentleman appeared in front of me, blocking my forward progress. He looked me in the eye and asked directly, "Are you saved?"
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this intrusion. I uttered in response the first thought that came into my mind, "Saved from what?" All right, I'll be honest, that was my second thought. What I was first thinking, but did have the grace not to say, was, "Who the heck are you?" But when I responded, "Saved from what?" I think the man who stopped me was as surprised by my question as I had been by his. He began to stammer and stutter. Obviously, he wasn’t quite sure how to respond and was ill-prepared to listen and have a conversation. And one might even assume he just wanted to preach at me.
After stuttering for a moment, the man seemed to catch his breath enough to say, "Well, you know what I mean. You know, do you know Jesus?" Then he tried to give me a brief summary of the gospel.
This unexpected encounter left an impression on me that made its way into my thoughts periodically throughout my trip. I was torn about what to think because, on the one hand, I was delighted in my soul that someone cared enough about me, even though I was a stranger, to stop me and ask about my salvation; but, on the other hand, it was clear that, though this man had a zeal for salvation, he had little understanding of what salvation is. He was using Christian jargon. He was throwing Christian clichés at me - and the words fell from his lips without being processed by his mind. As a result, his words were empty of content. Clearly, the man had a love for Jesus and a concern for people. Few Christians have the courage to engage perfect strangers in evangelistic discussion. But sadly, he had little understanding of what he was so zealously trying to communicate.
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes a very, very good children's book called – The Prince's Poison Cup. In it, Dr. Sproul clearly and brilliantly helps us see we cannot have the cup of God's fellowship without Christ first drinking the cup of God's wrath for us. The basic upshot of Dr. Sproul's book is - We are saved by God, for God, from God.
• Could a statement be more aggressive – We are saved by God…
• Could statement be more gracious and reconciling – We are saved by God, for God…
• Could a statement be more merciful – We are saved by God, for God, from God.
This what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10 – “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This is something I try to keep my eye on when hearing gospel presentations. How is the problem being described – because there is a problem. In fact, there's an enormously gigantic problem and it isn’t just “broken shalom” - it also includes the judgment and wrath of God.
Gospel means good news – it's the good news of Jesus Christ. However, understand the news can't be good if there isn’t first, or if it's not addressing, bad news. The bad news is our depravity. It's the judgment of God under which we fall. The bad news is that our rebellion has led us to an eternity of God's fury being poured out on our heads. It's the cup we're served. If you can't, first, be honest about the problem, the bad news that dooms us, then the good news really isn’t good – it's nonsense.
So as we (personally) dive deeper into the depths of the gospel, and as we (personally and corporately) bring the gospel to the world to which we're called, let's always keep the bad news, the reality into which we are born, as the prelude to the good news. When discussing and explaining the gospel, we must answer the question, “From what are we saved?” It's then, and only then, that the gospel is truly good and Christ is exalted to His rightful place in our lives.