In 1974 over two-thousand Christians from around the world gathered at Lausanne, Switzerland, for a meeting to discuss the mission of the church. Out of that meeting came a movement, the goals of which are expressed in The Lausanne Covenant. Article 6 of that covenant, “The Church and Evangelism,” says something very interesting: “World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.”
That is a powerful phrase indeed: “the whole Church [taking] the whole gospel to the whole world.” British Old Testament scholar Christopher J.H. Wright has commented on the phrase thus:
The phrase suggests there may be some versions of the gospel that are less than whole—that are partial, deficient, less than fully biblical…As gospel people we must believe, live and communicate all that makes the gospel the staggeringly comprehensive good news that it is.
Wright is right! There are deficient gospels and the church must shun them for the true gospel, the whole gospel. This emphasis on the whole gospel, the whole counsel of God, is extremely important. A partial gospel will not do! A halfway gospel will not do! No, the Lausanne Covenant is correct: we must embrace the whole counsel of God, the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. For this reason, the concluding statement of the second section of our church covenant expresses that very belief.
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another,
considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by
studying God’s Word faithfully,
learning the gospel together in family worship,
giving ear only to sound doctrine,
living out the gospel in our lives,
embracing the whole counsel of God.
Why have we included this? Why does it matter that we embrace the whole gospel, the whole counsel of God?
If we neglect any aspect of the whole counsel of God we will have a stunted understanding of both God and ourselves.
We will approach this truth from a consideration of Paul’s beautiful words of farewell to the Ephesian elders who he summoned to Miletus so that he could tell them goodbye. In these amazing words, recorded in Acts 20, Paul summarizes the nature and character of his ministry among the Ephesian Christians. In the midst of his remarks, Paul says this:
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
We first see that the gospel had become more valuable to Paul than his own life. He had banked everything on the truthfulness, the beauty, and the saving power of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. It, the gospel, had set the parameters for his life and ministry and he saw his calling in the way that we should all see our calling: to spend ourselves publicizing the good news of Jesus to everybody in the world. In verse 25, Paul makes the heartbreaking statement that he knows that he and the Ephesian elders will not see each other again until glory. You can feel the emotion in his voice and Luke will tell us that after these words these men wept and embraced each other.
In verses 26-27, Paul explains why he has peace of mind and heart: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” In other words, Paul’s life, Paul’s ministry, and Paul’s peace of mind and heart were all bound up in these two truths: the gospel is true and he, Paul, “did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul preached and loved and defended the whole counsel of God, the whole gospel. All of it!Paul had embraced the whole counsel of God!
The gospel is comprised of truths, each and every one of them vitally important. To embrace a part of the truth is to embrace a stunted understanding of both God and ourselves. What are the components of the gospel that we must embrace and proclaim in their totality?
- the holiness and love of God
- the value but sinfulness of man
- the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
- repentance and faith
- the promise of glory
I would propose to you that if we abandon any part of this we are embracing less than the whole counsel of God. T.S. Eliot once said this of heresy, of false doctrine:
Heresy is often defined as an insistence upon one half of the truth; it can also be an attempt to simplify the truth, by reducing it to limits of our ordinary understanding, instead of enlarging our reason to the apprehension of truth.
That is well said. We must reject half-truths and embrace the truth in its totality. Let me ask you a question: are you holding firmly to each of these elements of the gospel? Each is true in its own right but that does not mean that holding to one or a few of them to the neglect of the others adds up to a true gospel. If you reject any element of the gospel and of biblical truth you will fall into error. You will understand neither God nor yourself as you should. Consider:
If you embrace the holiness of God without the love of God you will end up with a God before whom you tremble but from whom you have no hope of receiving forgiveness.
If you embrace the love of God without the holiness of God you will end up redefining “love” as sentimentality and end up with a God who does not call you away from your sins.
If you embrace the love of God but not the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus you will live in perpetual guilt and shame by not being able to see how God’s love could ever reach across the chasm separating you from Him because of your sins. Divine love detached from the cross of Christ will lapse into human despair.
If you embrace the holiness of God but not the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus you will consider yourself doomed and either be bound in misery or depression or break beneath the load of hopelessness and become a defiant heathen or hedonist.
If you embrace the value of man but not the sinfulness of man you will end up with an overly optimistic view of human nature and not see the need for repentance.
If you embrace the sinfulness of man but not the value of man you will end up hating mankind because of its wickedness and see man as less than he is: valuable and created in the image of God.
If you embrace the life of Jesus but not the death and resurrection of Jesus you will end up with a wise sage or prophet, but not with a Savior.
If you embrace the death of Jesus but not the resurrection of Jesus then, in the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
If you embrace repentance but not faith you will end up with works-righteousness and a doomed-to-fail effort to work your way into Heaven.
If you embrace faith but not repentance you will not see the need for Jesus to change who you actually are.
If you believe in glory without repentance then you will see your relationship with Jesus as an entitlement and simply one more commodity that you deserve.
On and on we could go! There is no end to the problems that a partial gospel creates! Have you not seen it in your own life? Have you not seen how in those times when you were strong in one area of the faith but weak in another that your faith was imbalanced and that that imbalance worked itself out in your life?
Paul “did not shrink” from proclaiming the whole counsel of God, the whole Gospel! That fact that he “did not shrink” from it suggests, at least in part, that the devil had at least tempted him to do so. But no! Paul refused. He would embrace the whole counsel of God, stake his life on it, and proclaim nothing but it!
If we neglect any aspect of the whole counsel of God we will steer others astray when we speak of God.
Another reason why Paul did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God was because he knew what was at stake. In verse 26 of our text he makes a startling statement.
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
What can this mean, “I am innocent of the blood of all”? Had somebody falsely accused Paul of being a murderer? Of whose blood was he innocent? The answer is found in verse 27. Paul was “innocent of the blood of all” foror becausehe “did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Let us play that backwards to help us understand it even more: ifPaul had shrunk from declaring the whole counsel of God Paul would havebeen guilty of the blood of all!
It is obvious that Paul is not speaking of physical blood. Rather, he is talking about spiritual death, the spiritual ruin that partial and false gospels—and not declaring the whole counsel of God—brings! In other words, much is at stake in whether or not we embrace and whether or not we proclaim the whole gospel!
To preach an incomplete gospel is to kill. It is to push the hearer further from Jesus instead of drawing him or her closer to Jesus. If “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23a) then the failure to declare a complete gospel that shows lost men and women how to move out of that death and into the life that Christ alone brings is an insidious act of violence.
Church, we must proclaim the whole gospel, the whole counsel of God! We must be nourished on the whole gospel! We must be stewards of the whole gospel!
Paul then goes on to say that there will be those who come in among God’s people who preach a partial gospel, a distorted gospel, a perverted gospel. For that reason, he calls the Ephesian elders to great diligence and care in their stewardship of the gospel.
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Pay attention! Why? Because “fierce wolves” are coming. They will not “spare the flock.” And how will they attack the flock? Listen: by “speaking twisted things,” speaking a partial gospel, by not proclaiming the whole counsel of God. Instead, these wolves will proclaim a message that will get themselves followers as opposed to getting Jesus followers. The greatest threat to the church will always be a partial gospel, a twisted gospel! For this reason, we must “be alert.”
Are you holding to the whole gospel? Have you embraced the whole counsel of God? Or have you whittled it down to look just like you? Have you taken the hard edges off the gospel so that it will not offend you? Do you have a partial gospel? If you do, abandon it immediately and run to the feet of Jesus! Learn there, and learn from His Word the gospel in its totality: God and his holiness and love, man and his dignity and sinfulness, Christ and his life, death, and resurrection, salvation by grace through faith, and the promise of glory.
The whole gospel! Hold to all of it! Proclaim all of it! Do not neglect any part of it!
J.C. Ryle once wrote that “a religion to be really ‘Evangelical’ and really good, must be the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel, as Christ prescribed it and expounded it to the Apostles; the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; the terms, the whole terms, and nothing but the terms,—in all their fulness, all their freeness, all their simplicity, all their presentness.”
The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world!
Let the church say Amen!
T.S. Eliot. Christianity and Culture. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1977), p.41.