LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Great confusion exists, both inside and outside the church, about what the gospel message is, said David Dockery.
“For 20 centuries there have been dogs eating around the edges of the church, not just cults or groups outside the church, but theologians, preachers and evangelists inside the church,” said Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Oct. 5 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Asking a group of seminarians what the gospel is may seem to be a redundant question, Dockery said, but the gospel is a puzzle to many people today.
Preaching from Ephesians 2:1-10, Dockery said the confusion comes from a failure to understand the severity of the problem of sin.
The passage presents man in “a desperate condition,” he said. “We are helpless, we are powerless, we are ungodly, we are enemies of God, we are sinners, each and every one of us.
“This includes our powerless, passive inability to please God, but it also includes our active, ungodly hostility, our rebellion toward him, and unless we realize our desperate condition, we don’t see our need for the gospel.”
Churches concentrate too much on therapy and not enough on man’s condition, Dockery said. “I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for counseling or therapy, but I am concerned that it not override the theological, the moral or the ethical, for how else can we understand that we are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory?” he asked.
Everyone falls short of God’s glory in two ways, Dockery explained — active commission and passive omission.
“Each and every one of us have failed to love God wholeheartedly,” he said. “It’s a desperate condition, but the good news is that’s not the end of the story, but unless we understand that condition we do not understand our need for the gospel and do not understand what the gospel is.”
After discussing man’s desperate condition in Ephesians 2, Dockery said the Apostle Paul proceeds to exalt God’s divine compassion.
“God has given us new life, a new life not only made possible by him, but in verse 5 it says it is shared with him,” Dockery said. God’s love is not based on man’s actions, he said, but on God’s grace that “came to us while we were dead in our trespasses and our sins.”
“Because of God’s divine compassion in sending the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been shielded from the nightmarish prospect of his divine wrath,” Dockery said. “He has become our substitute, bearing our sin and our guilt and all of the Father’s wrath has fallen upon him, all because of his marvelous grace.”
God shows this divine compassion “in order to display his grace and his glory to all the ages to come,” Dockery said.
Salvation is not a transaction where “God does his part and then we come along and do our part. It’s not a 50-50 deal,” Dockery said. Rather, “It is all a gift — grace through faith,” he said. “Faith is not our part of the deal. Faith is the empty-handed instrument that brings us to God.”
The result of faith is transformed lives that are God’s workmanship, Dockery said.
“These changes are the fruit of God’s marvelous grace at work in our lives, not the cause of it,” he said. “It is all because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, by grace alone, through faith alone, for his glory alone. That is the good news of the gospel.”
Rector is a newswriter for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.