Is Offense a Measure of whether the Gospel is Authentically Preached?

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

On a recent Unbelievable Podcast, Justin Brierley posed the question: is the gospel really being preached if no one is being offended?

That question might seem odd out of context, so I should quickly add that the question was posed in the context of the “Asbury Revival”. Many Christians are advocating caution. They are expressing concern about calling the happening at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY a “revival”. Some are questioning whether God was involved at all.

The claims people are making include, among other things, that there is no preaching going on, that the Gospel is not being preached, and that no one is being offended by the message. The latter statement prompted the question.

Is that the measure of whether the gospel is being preached? That some people are offended? Do we really think that it isn’t really the Gospel unless some people are offended?

Because some people were offended that no one seemed offended, does that count as people being offended?

As food for thought, it seems that everyone was offended during the Super Bowl by the two commercials paid for by a Christian group (with a lot of money) conveying the message that “God gets us”. It seems that everyone was offended by those ads, both the secular world and the Christian world. Does the offense mean that the Gospel was preached?

Perhaps, but only if the right people are offended? What if Christians are offended? What if progressive Christians are offended? What do we mean by “progressive”?

Again, is that really the measure of whether the Gospel was preached? Is that really the right question? Isn’t the Gospel the Gospel? Isn’t the Gospel the Gospel, whether some people are offended or not?

What is the Gospel?

We all know that “gospel” means good news, right? But, what is it? What is the good news?

Paul defines the Gospel to the Corinthians when he says, “I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you….” (1 Cor. 15:2) He adds, “ By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:3) Then, he says that the gospel message, which is “of first importance”, is as follows:

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

When disagreements arose among the Corinthians, and some were lining up behind Paul, and others were lining up behind Apollos, Paul was perplexed by their disunity. He implored them “that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Cor. 1:10)

Paul was perplexed that some were touting him above Apollos, and the other way around. “Is Christ divided”, he asked rhetorically. (1 Cor. 1:13) The obvious answer is no! And the obvious implication is that we should not be divided either.

The problem with the Corinthians was that they were quarreling with each other over their allegiances to Paul and to Apollos. They were disagreeing and quarreling over peripheral things. Thus, Paul says he only came “to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor. 1:17)

Emptied of its power? What did Paul mean? Paul said,

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Paul didn’t emphasize his preaching. He didn’t come with “wise and persuasive words”. He emphasized the “demonstration of the Spirit’s power”. The demonstration of the Spirit’s power is usually what we associate with a revival or an awakening. It isn’t the preaching; there is always preaching, but we don’t always get a demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”. (1 Cor. 1:18) Certainly, some people take offense at the message of cross, because it seems foolish to them. The Greeks, who valued philosophy, thought the simple message of Jesus dying, and then rising, was just foolishness.

The Jews, on other hand, demanded signs. Paul says, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor. 1:23) The Jews took offense at the cross because “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree”. (Deut. 23:21)

It isn’t that Jesus didn’t perform any signs. In fact, God affirmed the Gospel Jesus preached by signs and wonders! (Hebrews 2:4) It’s just that those signs and wonders didn’t come in the theological packages the religious leaders expected or were willing to accept. It didn’t fit their theology.

Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. “He wasn’t supposed to be working on the Sabbath”, they thought. He was from Nazareth, and “nothing good comes from Nazareth”, so they thought.

They were more skeptical and “discerning” than they should have been. If they had proceeded more cautiously with their skepticism, they would have learned that he actually had roots in Bethlehem. If they had kept an open mind, they would not have rushed to judgment, and maybe they would not have missed God who became flesh and walked among them!

The religious leaders took offense at the Gospel Jesus preached, but they were on the wrong side of that fence. Their offense was in opposition to God.

More importantly, whether anyone takes offense is not the measure of whether the Gospel was preached. Jesus gave sermons to crowds in which there was no evidence of any offense taken. He also preached messages to crowds in which some people did take offense. Most of the people who took offense, however, were the religious people.

Interestingly, we don’t see evidence of Romans taking offense at what Jesus preached. In fact, Pontius Pilate found no offense at all in what Jesus was saying, and he had difficulty understanding why the religious leaders wanted to crucify him. It was “God’s people” who demanded his crucifixion.

What conclusions can we draw from that? Perhaps, no conclusions, and that is my point.

The disciples were concerned at one point that certain non-followers of Jesus were casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and they brought it to his attention.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Luke 9:49-50

The response Jesus gave them is instructive to us. He wasn’t concerned. He didn’t raise an objection. He didn’t criticize them. Rather, he said, “Do not stop him!” Whoever is not against you is for you!”

That implies that whoever is against the preaching of the Gospel is against you. Think about that. When Christians criticize others who are preaching the Gospel, they are against you.

Again, we have to ask: What is the Gospel?

We only have to read Paul to find that the Gospel is simply that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and he was raised from the dead. Do you believe that? That’s the Gospel in its most basic form.

Paul mentioned people preaching Jesus out of envy and to to stir up trouble against him, but he took the same attitude as Jesus. Paul said,

“But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”

Philippians 1:18

I understand the need for discernment. Paul urges us to test everything, but he tells us in the same breath to hold onto what is good. (1 Thess. 5:21)

I am more concerned that we miss the Holy Spirit and we miss what God is saying and doing in our time. We can dissect these things after the fact. We can disciple the people who are saved in the process, and we can make sure they get a good foundation and grow up on sound doctrine. We can (and should) always do that, but when God’s Holy Spirit is moving, we need to get involved or get out of the way!

Only a dead body is dissected You can’t dissect a living person. While the Holy Spirit is moving is not the time to start with the dissection.

In the moment, we need to be careful not to quench the Spirit. We need to be careful to embrace what God is doing. We don’t have to know how it will shake out. We just need to be for what God is doing, and not against it.

We may find, afterward, that some things were not of God, or at least responses to it were not godly responses. We may find some questionable motives among the people involved or some false doctrine. We can work on that after the fact.

After people get saved, repent of their sin and give their hearts and lives to Christ is when our work begins. Until then, we need to let the Holy Spirit do His work! If you can’t get in line with what the Holy Spirit is doing, get out of the way!

If Jesus is being lifted up – Christ and him crucified – let the Holy Spirit do His work. For me, I am going to err on the side of embracing a movement that focuses on the crucified and risen Jesus. I am going to embrace it and rejoice in it and go with the flow!

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) When people are getting saved, repenting of their sins, and professing Jesus as their Lord and Savior, we rejoice with the angels in heaven!

I watched the new movie, the Jesus Revolution, about Lonnie Frisbee, Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie. They were involved in the start of the Jesus People movement that began in California and spread across the country. Lonnie Frisbee by lead hundreds, maybe thousands, of people to Christ.

In the movie, we see that he began to get a big head, to think more highly of himself than he ought to have, and he wanted to focus on the sensational aspects of what was happening – the healings and casting out demons. Chuck Smith confronted him about it. When he didn’t back off, Chuck Smith called him on it, and Lonnie Frisbee left.

The movie didn’t follow Lonnie Frisbee’s life, because that wasn’t the focus of the movie., but we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey might say. Lonnie Frisbee got divorced; he fell away; he fell into sexual sin; and he died of AIDs.

That may be a bit shocking, but it’s the truth. He may (or may not) have repented and come back to Christ before his death, but that doesn’t matter to the point I want to make.

He led hundreds and probably more like thousands to the Lord directly by his sharing the Gospel and preaching. The Jesus People movement resulted in hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of people becoming believers. What happened to him doesn’t change any of that.

God in His sovereignty used Lonnie Frisbee, and Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie, and a bunch of Jesus-loving hippies in Southern California to spark a revival that spread across the country. There was a lot of emotionalism, no doubt, but so what! I joined a church born out of the Jesus People movement over a decade later, all the way across the country in New Hampshire, and it was full of Christ followers.

Only time will tell whether the Asbury happening over the last couple of weeks might be legitimately classified as a revival, awakening, or whatever we might call it. We will view it through a historical lens some day, and the fruit of it will be its legacy, whatever that is. For the people who found God, healing, or freedom from sin, it will be a life-changing event. History will decide the rest.

There is much more that can (and should) be said about the fate of Lonnie Frisbee and the need to disciple new believers, the need for new believers to plug into faithful, local church communities, the dangers of emotionalism, and the problems with the cult of personality in the church, among other things. At the same time, we don’t get to pick and choose how God moves or who He uses.

Whether people were or were not offended, or maybe should have been offended according to someone’s opinion, is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant – the only thing that is important – is that Jesus was lifted up. Christ and him crucified, raised from the dead, and exalted.

It seems exceedingly odd to me that we should even think to ask: why was no one offended? It seems that we are focusing on the wrong things when we are asking questions like that.

5 thoughts on “Is Offense a Measure of whether the Gospel is Authentically Preached?

  1. My head was exploding trying to follow people’s logic of offense. Then you wrapped it up beautifully with “It seems that we are focusing on the wrong things when we are asking questions like that.” Life is complicated enough to take offense at every little thing. I can see the by product of that by just turning on the news. It is craziness! I mean just today a woman waving a gun at the employee at the drive up window because she didn’t get her free cookie! Really? Okay, now my head is exploding!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am pressed by how much Paul expressed concern for unity among God’s people in his letters, and by how there is a strain within the church that seems always to be finding fault and quarreling. If people believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, then all else must be held less firmly and humility and unity must prevail… if indeed we are to be the church, the body of Christ that Paul urged us to be.


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