Lately, I have been hearing a lot about this so-called, dangerous, “feel-good” gospel. I have heard well-known preachers accuse other well-known preachers of preaching a “feel-good gospel.” They make the claim that those preaching such messages never mention God's wrath, repentance, sin, law a.k.a. the Ten Commandments. Therefore, because these major issues are left out of their so-called gospel message, they say the gospel they preach is a false one, only intended to make people feel good, while still in their sins.
I have always admired the Bereans. I have also felt we should follow their example by checking out the facts when it comes to hearing what someone preaches or teaches. In the book of Acts, we learn that the Bereans heard Paul preach, but they decided to search God's Word for themselves to see if what he was saying was true. Paul quoted the Old Testament prophets many times in his proclamation of the gospel, and the Bereans could easily look them up to see if what Paul had said was true and accurate.
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
Today, many believers seem to lack that same sense of study and fact-checking when it comes to verifying the biblical accuracy of what some preachers declare to be the truth from God's Word. Instead, they just parrot what they have heard, assuming that it is all 100% biblical. I wasn’t raised like that. I was blessed to have had a wonderful man of God as a mentor who always challenged me to see what the Word of God said. He would often tell us, “Don’t believe what I say. Go check it out in God's Word.” He modeled what the Bereans practiced. That man is with Jesus today, but I have never forgotten his powerful lessons and insights.
Let's take a closer look at the claim that unless the gospel message contains warnings of God's wrath, a rebuke for sin, the demand for repentance of sin, and the use of God's laws, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments, it has not been properly preached. Let’s examine if leaving out any or all of these major points would constitute a false gospel – one that is said to be a “feel-good message.”
Let's take a stroll through the book of Acts to see what the apostles and Philip the evangelist preached. Let's see if they preached the wrath of God, rebuke for sin, the need to repent of all sin, and if they used the law of God to convict people of their sins. In my opinion, if anyone knew what the pure gospel was, it would be the apostles and Philip. Thus, we should seek to learn what they preached to discover the parameters of the gospel. What did they say to the lost they were trying to reach with the gospel?
There are 19 sermons in the book of Acts. These sermons provide plenty of material for research in order to discover if all the above major points were covered, and how they were addressed to the masses of their day. Over the years, I have shaped many of my evangelistic messages around what Paul, Peter, and Philip preached in the book of Acts. No reason to reinvent the wheel, as I see it. If it worked for them 2000-plus years ago, why not follow their example and preach what they did, today?
Let's see how they preached the wrath of God in the book of Acts. Remember, the claim is that if this is not mentioned in preaching the gospel, what is being preached is a “feel-good” message or a “watered-down” gospel.
Here is an interesting discovery I made: the word “wrath” is not mentioned once in the book of Acts. So the apostles and Philip never preached on God's wrath at all. When I point this fact out to these “feel-good” critics, they often come back with Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:35, where he said, “Until I make my enemies my footstool.” They assume that this is a reference to God crushing or having wrath against those who reject the gospel, a.k.a. unbelievers. But is that what this verse is saying? The apostle Paul seems to have a different perspective on it.
In 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, Paul says that the last enemy to be put underfoot is “death.” Let's not forget that in Luke 6, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies because God loves them. So it is highly unlikely that Peter was talking about God’s wrath on people. Even if you want to assume that Peter was talking about God's wrath, then why is it only mentioned in one out of nineteen sermons? That means the other 18 sermons fall into the “feel-good” category, since wrath is never mentioned in them.
Think about this logically for a minute. Is the gospel a fire insurance policy? Is that why some feel the need to mention God's wrath as a motivator for getting someone saved? 1 John 4:19 says that we love God because God loved us first. In Romans 2, Paul says that it is God's goodness that leads people to a place of repentance. Paul also tells us in Galatians that faith works by love. It is knowing God's love that enables a person to trust or have faith in God. Paul didn’t say that it is knowing or fearing God's wrath that would produce faith, but that His love would.
The apostles and Philip seemed to understand this principle and used it to draw people into a relationship with God. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, Paul says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses (a.k.a. sins) to them and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. This might explain why the apostles didn’t preach against sin as some suppose, but instead, preached that people’s sins were forgiven. The apostles didn’t preach the problem; they preached the cure for the problem. We'll cover this more a little later.
Let's look at “repentance.” I have often heard it said by the “feel-good” critics that the apostles always mentioned the need for repentance in their preaching. If that is true, it will be very easy to prove.
Houston, we have a problem! In the 19 sermons in the book of Acts, the word “repentance” is only found 11 times. Well, if the apostles “always” mentioned repentance or to repent, we should see the mention of the word, at least, 19 times. But we don’t.
When we take a closer look at how the word “repentance or repent” is used in these sermons, we find an even more surprising discovery. They used the word in referencing John the Baptist's ministry as a “baptism of repentance” in a historical context. It is used to describe how God granted Israel or the Gentiles repentance.
The word “repent” is used by Peter when he rebukes Simon the sorcerer. Peter tells him he needs to repent of his wickedness. It is true that a few times, people were told to repent in sermons preached by the apostles. However, they used the word “repent” to mean “turn to God,” not from their sins. We don’t see the apostles tell people to repent of their sins. They only used the word a few times in the19 sermons; that isn’t “always.” This means that “repentance” and “repent” were never mentioned in the vast majority of the apostles’ sermons. Again, most of these sermons fall into the “feel-good” category.
We make another fascinating and interesting discovery when we see how the word “sin” is used in preaching the gospel in the book of Acts. The word “sin” or “sins” is only used eight times in the book of Acts and seven times in the preaching context that, “Your sins have already been forgiven.” It wasn’t used as a rebuke to people to stop their sinning – or else. Again, it would seem that the apostles’ and Philip the evangelist’s gospel falls into the “watered-down” or “feel-good” category.
Finally, we come to the claim that “the law” or the Ten Commandments are necessary to go along with the preaching of the gospel. Otherwise, it is just another “feel-good” or “watered-down” false gospel.
Some make the claim that “The law must precede the gospel. The law must come first and kill the person so that the gospel can make him alive. The law must convict people of their sins so they will want salvation. It is simple. You preach the law first, then the gospel. You must make people thirsty for the water of life before they will want to drink. The law makes them thirsty.”
If this were true, then we should have no problem seeing the apostles use “the law” in their preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts.
Houston, we have another problem! In examining every instance of “evangelism” in Scripture, I failed to find a single instance that starts with the law. Let’s take a look at a few:
Peter starts with God and His promise
Acts 2:17-40 – Commonly addressed as “Peter’s First Sermon.”
Peter starts with this idea, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Peter starts with God Himself
Acts 3:11-26 – Commonly referred to as “Peter's Second Sermon.” Again, Peter starts this way, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus.”
This evangelistic message, again, starts with God and His promise.
Acts 7 – Stephen’s famous speech to the Sanhedrin.
Stephen starts in this manner, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.”
Philip started by declaring Jesus
Acts 8:26-40 - Philip and the Ethiopian
The Ethiopian was reading about Jesus and Philip started by declaring who Jesus is. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
Immediately after Paul’s conversion, he began to evangelize in the synagogues by starting with, “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
Paul starts with God
In Acts 17, Paul’s famous encounter on the Areopagus starts with, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
In each of these cases, the evangelistic encounters start with who God is, His promises, and His Son Jesus. None of these evangelistic encounters start with the law.
Is it correct to make disciples using the law of Moses or are we to make disciples by teaching people to obey all that Christ commanded?
In John 15:26, Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.” Jesus is the Savior of the world, not the condemner. As He treated people in Bible days, He still treats them today because He is still the same (Hebrews 13:8).
In conclusion, we can easily see that the apostles and Philip the evangelist didn’t preach a gospel that warned or threatened people with God's wrath or a gospel that rebuked them for their sins. Rather, the gospel preached declared their sins had already been forgiven. Their focus wasn’t about turning from sin but turning to a loving, kind, and forgiving God who would set them free from sin. Finally, the use of the law, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments was non-existent in their preaching, yet, sinners came to Christ. Entire cities were filled with joy at hearing the gospel preached.
Is it a crime to make someone feel good? According to some preachers, it is. Let’s look at Jesus for a moment. Did blind Bartimaeus “feel good” when he regained his sight? Did the woman who was caught in adultery “feel good” after finding out she wouldn’t be stoned or that Jesus Himself didn’t condemn her? Did the thief on the cross “feel good” to know that he would be with Jesus in paradise? It feels good to know that God loves me, that heaven is my home, and that God also makes His home in me. It feels good to know that nothing can separate me from God's love. It feels good to know that in Christ, I am more than an overcomer, and I have all things that pertain to life and godliness.
It is a wonderful feeling to experience the kingdom of God, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love and in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
If others treat me like that, I feel good. If I treat others like that, they feel good. So the fruit of the Spirit does make people feel good. Maybe the Holy Spirit doesn’t know that it is a crime to make people feel good. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “another” Comforter, meaning He is a Comforter, as well. If a person offers “comfort,” it sounds like they are trying to make you “feel good.”
I could go on and on with these examples, but I think you see my point. Jesus had no problem helping people “feel good” and neither did the apostles who followed His example of ministry.
It appears that those who are accusing others of preaching a “feel-good” or a “watered-down” gospel are, in fact, guilty of watering down the gospel themselves. They have added “law” to the gospel, which Paul told the Galatians was a false gospel. They are replacing faith with works and emotions and would rather have people turning from sin, instead of turning to God who is able to set them free from sin and change their hearts, as well. Their measure of true faith isn't sorrow and guilt, but joy and peace, which comes by being made the righteousness of God in Christ.
The critics of the “feel-good” gospel would rather have you focus on your sins and failings, than on God and His promises to you. They want you to remember and confess all your sins to God, even though the apostles told people that God had already forgiven their sins and that He no longer remembers them. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would only convict the sinner of ONE sin – unbelief.
The gospel is a message that brings relief to sinners. At the same time, it angers the self-righteous. Jesus was called a blasphemer, demon-possessed, a glutton, an alcoholic and insane by the religious leaders of His day. So, if we are called “feel-good preachers” or if we are accused of “watering-down the gospel,” then we are in excellent company.
Yes, I am guilty of being a “feel-good” gospel preacher, and I am not ashamed to say so!
I hope this message makes you feel good!
~ Ed Elliott
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