The Foolishness of the Gospel Message
Some time back, I preached for a couple of hours on the telephone to a dear friend from my childhood and youth. It is very rare to have a captive audience, who really wants you to preach to them. Of course, I was sitting at a picnic table with other people around me, so my friend was not the only person I was proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to in reality. Although my friend was gladly receiving what I was saying via the telephone, I could see the perplexed faces of some of those within earshot of my voice. They could not believe what I was explaining to my friend. It was foolishness to them.
This should be no surprise to the preacher. The apostle Paul explained this phenomenon to the church at Corinth. The word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). The other category of people in the world consists of those who are being saved (v. 18b). These folks recognize they were saved by a “foolish” message from God. The Gospel was designed by God. It was designed to be a foolish message, and God does not hide His reasoning for making the message one of foolishness.
Humanity is so ready to save itself. One must consider all the religion and all the religious people in the world. They are everywhere. I told my friend, “The last people in the world I would trust with my salvation are religious people.” He was surprised by my statement. I explained how atheists were more consistent with their belief than religious people were with their belief. Whereas the atheist denies his need for salvation, religious people acknowledge their need. Religious people, however, are happy to save themselves through their good works. God rejects this method of salvation.
If God permitted a person to be a participant in her salvation, she would surely steal glory from God. For this reason, God has brought forth the foolish message preached by fools for Christ. All of this is to ensure one hundred percent of the glory for salvation will be ascribed to God. God delights in displaying His power to save using foolish means. His way is utterly exclusive, which denies anyone else’s contribution. Every category of would-be helper is rejected.
God is very purposeful in this matter, saying, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside (1 Cor 1:19).” I emphasized to my friend this is the reason why educated people have such a difficult time receiving Jesus Christ. The same is true for the rich. It is obviously true for the beautiful and popular people, too. People are idolaters. They love what gives them power to achieve, and achievement is what gives people glory. When people do not give glory to God, they steal it from Him. Stealing is a sin that separates men from God.
There is a reason why unbelievers do not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul inquired where the wise man, the scribe, and the debater of this age were in this matter. Why do people not gladly jump on board with us in the preaching of Christ and Him crucified? The reason is clear: people do not want to appear to be fools. Jesus said, “Unless you become like a child…” The preacher of the Gospel is uninhibited. He must get over himself and the peer pressure that so easily entangles him. It is a test for the preacher. The Christian preacher and the crazy loco are the only ones willing to appear this way in public. These two groups are sometimes confused by those gazing in disbelief.
The wisdom of God, in all of its foolishness, has been saving people from their sins for over two thousand years. This is a grand display of the power of God in the demonstration of the Spirit. The fool for Christ speaks the foolish message, and God transforms the heart of some people by converting them through repentance and faith. Another fool is born again, and in this, God is greatly glorified.
Who actually believes our report when we preach to people on the phone or on the street? I am not sure there is one word which best describes the ready to believe recipient of the message, but “desperate” and “frustrated” come to mind. It is helpful when someone is in a bad spot in life. They have tried everything under the sun to better their existence. They have failed to achieve their dreams, or maybe they achieved their dreams, only to find them empty. Desperation eventually emerges in either case.
Some case examples in the Bible include: the woman of Samaria; the Gerasene demoniac; the woman of Tyre; the Philippian jailer; etc. Exasperated people are the best candidates to stop striving to save themselves. This is the prerequisite for trusting Christ. Repentance is turning from idols to the living God. Faith is the full embrace of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life.
People beaten down by the world are ready to be picked up by Christ Jesus. The person drowning in the ocean, who fights her rescuer is far more likely to drown than the one who lets her rescuer do his job of saving. So, it is with Jesus. One must fully release herself to Him.
Jesus Christ is the unexpected Savior of the world. The preacher declares Jesus as the one and only rescuer. Preachers are people shouting from the shore. We are not saviors. Jesus has come to save, and He has sent His Spirit to those drowning in a sea of sin and unbelief. People who are drowning fight and fight and fight for their salvation. They grasp and grope but there is nothing there. It is a terrifying death…frustrating…desperate.
God is well-pleased with His method of salvation (1 Cor 1:21). He is pleased with the means of salvation. He refuses any other way. Paul claimed he was not ashamed of the Gospel. He had a high view of God and a low view of man, including himself. People are not good, and they cannot achieve their salvation by doing anything.
When the Holy Spirit sneaks up behind the drowning sinner and headlocks the needy soul to drag them safely to Christ, then the swimmer stops her fight. She recognizes she is safe in the arms of her Savior. She does not resist Him. She gives herself to Him. She has been made willing to let her Savior do His work. He is able. She believes this truth. She begins to rejoice in the knowledge of her ongoing salvation. He assures her, “We are almost to shore, almost there.” She cannot lose her salvation and drown in the sea of sin because her Savior is never letting go of her.
The analogy of the drowning swimmer, as a dying sinner, is important. No one questions a lifeguard rushing to the aid of one who has been rendered helpless by her drowning predicament, but imagine people on the beach hindering the lifeguard from doing his job. This is part of the insanity of those working against a person’s salvation. The preacher knows people are drowning, and he is called to proclaim the work of the Savior. Are you a party to hindering the preacher?
The preacher must explain to the people drowning in the sea of sin that when the Savior comes for them, they must stop their thrashing resistance to Him. This is the hardest part of salvation. A person must release every notion of doing something to help the process.
In one sense, the person must commit to dying. The drowning swimmer thrashes to stay alive but eventually stops in utter exhaustion. This is the best time for the lifeguard to engage the desperate person. Friend, if you are drowning in your existence, my encouragement to you is to stop fighting.
Listen to the voice of the One who has come to rescue you. Jesus’ instructions are simple, “Stop striving and trust me fully.” Everything in you screams, “Nooooooo!” Here is the war of the soul. Clearly, a person drowning cannot save himself at all. Sinners cannot save themselves, either. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prv 3:5).
God has sent you salvation. Christ has done everything necessary to achieve your salvation, and He has actually saved you, if you were chosen by God for salvation. How do you know whether you were chosen by God for salvation? Simple, you believe the Gospel message. It is the unbeliever who fights salvation from God. The believer rests in the everlasting arms of his Savior.
God has never saved anyone in any other way. He will not share His glory with another. No one who has contributed one iota to their salvation has been saved. Our report is clear and simple: God has chosen some for salvation. Christ died on the Cross to save these elect ones. The Holy Spirit comes to each of these souls and opens their eyes to see the salvation of the Lord. Their hearts are opened, and they respond with glad adoration to the One who has come to save them (Acts 16:14). Jesus said, “and they will never taste death (Jn 8:52).” The preacher, well, he proclaims what God in Christ is doing. That is it.
As the Spirit of Christ drags me to the solid ground, it may appear to you that I am in an awkward head lock, but with my voice I declare to you how great a salvation I am experiencing. I have stopped striving with Christ. I have ceased from trying to save myself. I am trusting Christ, who assures me with His Words, “almost there.” “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” is also helpful.
What I have written here should impact you in one way or another. If you can relate to what I have written, it is because it is your experience of being saved, too. If, however, you cannot relate to these words of explanation, you are probably still drowning in the sea of sin.
I will proclaim it to you again, “Cease striving and know the God of your salvation is at hand.” He is mighty to save, regardless of what people think is foolishness. It has been, and always will be, the power of God unto salvation for those of us who are being saved. If you feel the urge to do something, I recommend Peter’s drowning prayer, “Lord, save me.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 5, 2021