If we are merely wayward, we only need direction; merely sick, we need medicine; merely weak, we need strength. Radical grace, on the other hand, answers to radical sinfulness—not simply moral mistakes, lack of zeal, or spiritual lethargy, but to the condition that the Bible defines as nothing less than condemned, “children of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1,3). (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, 61–62.)
We don’t want a cheap gospel that fails to deliver on the stuff that matters. We want a robust gospel, and the best way to keep the gospel robust is to realize that our felt needs usually bear witness to deeper issues. These are the issues in your life that God wants to deal with.
1. The gospel we need saves us from sin, death, and hell.
The Bible teaches that sin makes us liable to judgement and hell:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:22)
The gospel saves us from this deep need, a need we sometimes forget, a need that is easy to ignore. Sin is our desires, twisted and confused. Sin shows itself in hate, lust, and pride. Sin results in acts such as theft, murder, adultery, and false worship. The punishment for sin is death, death that never ends, what the Bible calls hell.
Hell is the final destination for those who rebel against God and the punishment we all deserve, but the gospel brings life. It frees us from the condemnation of hell. It saves us from our sin. It promises life after death. This is a gospel worth believing.
2. The gospel we need saves us from ourselves, our best efforts, and our wisest ideas.
Human beings are religious creatures. We can’t help it. The biggest atheists are some of the most superstitious people I have ever met. We need saving from that too. We need saving from our religious impulses gone bad:
Why…do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:21–23)
Here Paul shows that our religious ideas and practices won’t save us. We need a gospel to save us from our cheap, man-made religious ideas. Yes, they seem wise, can make us feel holy and righteous, and give us bragging rights among our friends, but our religious ideas are worthless if they don’t come from God.
3. The gospel we need calls us to trust in Christ alone for our salvation.
We need a gospel that calls us to trust in Jesus alone. Adding to God’s gospel is a trick. It draws us away from what matters and leads us down the road of cheap man-made religion or worse— toward sin, death, and hell. Paul speaks to this very issue in Galatians 1. There he deals with Christians adding Jewish law and their own ideas to the gospel of Christ. Paul responds by warning them that they are in danger of losing the gospel entirely. The gospel of Jesus Christ trusts in Christ alone for salvation. Jesus himself said it this way:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
We need a gospel that keeps us trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Anything else is a distraction and danger to our spiritual well-being.