Do People Truly Understand the Gospel?

As a biblical counselor in private practice in the Bible belt, I have the privilege of extolling to individuals, couples, families, and teenagers every day the beauty of the gospel of Christ and its profound, life changing implications for their lives. And, sadly, what I am learning is that a lot of people don’t “get” the gospel and how it applies to their lives on an ongoing basis.

For example, a client might tell me that they were “saved” when they were 9 at children’s camp or when they were 14 at a youth event because, to avoid going to hell, they said that they believed that Jesus is the son of God, and that He rose from the dead. Yet, these are facts to which the Scriptures attest, “even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). Or, they might say that they understand that they were saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and that they still feel that they “just aren’t good enough for God.” A Christian parent might say something like, “I just want my child to be well-behaved and make good grades so that he can get into a good college.” To which the Apostle Paul might respond, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).

All of these statements reflect fundamental misunderstandings about what the gospel is and what the gospel does. The gospel simply cannot be assumed or implied in your family, your circle of friends, or your church. The gospel that saves us and sanctifies us is an explicit gospel that must be explicitly known, shared, and remembered—and that is why Matt Chandler wrote The Explicit Gospel.

If you have ever heard Chandler preach, you know that his approach is very direct and, well, explicit. You can expect the same approach in The Explicit Gospel. Organized in three sections, Chandler explains “The Gospel on the Ground” in Part 1, “The Gospel in the Air” in Part 2, and “Implications and Applications” in Part 3.

The Gospel on the Ground

“The Gospel on the Ground” is explained in-depth in Part 1: Chapters 1-4. This is a perspective on the gospel that simply refers to the way you may have heard the gospel explained personally and individually, the way that God works in an individual’s life to save them from their sin: God, Man, Christ, Response.

Ephesians 2:1-10 explains this perspective on the gospel in 10 verses. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 lays out “the gospel on the ground” in one verse: “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The Gospel in the Air

Chandler describes “The Gospel in the Air” in Part 2: Chapters 5-8. This is the 30,000 foot flyover of the gospel, so to speak: Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation. This is the gospel as it applies to the big picture of what God is doing globally to reconcile humanity to Himself throughout the redemptive history that encompasses the entire Bible. This is the aspect of the gospel that addresses things like racism, genocide, natural disasters, etc.

When Paul writes in Romans 8:18-22 that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” that the creation “was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,” and that the creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption,” he is referring to God’s redemptive activity that Chandler calls the gospel in the air. The Explicit Gospel is both the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air. They are complementary—two views of the same redemptive plan. To focus too long on either one, to the exclusion of the other, is dangerous to our soul and has significant implications for how we live out the Christian life.

Implications and Applications

In Part 3: Chapters 9-11, Chandler warns the reader about these dangers and points out the implications for our potential misunderstanding and misapplication of the gospel that can result. For example, when our view of the gospel stays on the ground too long, we risk missing out on God’s much grander vision for creation as a whole and we tend to make the gospel all about me.

Chandler says all the time at The Village Church that our Christian faith is personal, but should never be private. Seeing the gospel too long as a personal matter is a step towards making it so private that our lives have no kingdom influence at all in the world around us.

But there are also dangers in keeping our gospel in the air too long. Chandler writes, “If being on the ground too long leads us to withdrawal from the world and disengage from mission, then being in the air too long almost always leads the church to look indistinguishable from the world.” In this danger, we are tempted to change the gospel to make it more palatable to the world, turn our culture into an idol, and abandon evangelism in pursuit of a social gospel agenda.

Chandler concludes The Explicit Gospel with a discussion of our tendency to pursue a religion of moralism instead of a gospel of grace. Using D.A. Carson’s idea of “grace-driven effort,” he attacks the idea that our growth in grace has anything to do with our pursuit of it through our religious performance, but rather through Christ’s saving performance on our behalf. This idea of the gospel being based on moral performance is pervasive in our culture, as exemplified in the examples I gave earlier from my own biblical counseling practice.

I was glad to see Chandler conclude The Explicit Gospel on this sweet chord of God’s redeeming and amazing grace. Matt is my pastor. I literally have heard the beautiful truths in this book preached over and over again, weekend service after weekend service, and they never, ever get old, tired, or redundant. I am praying that The Explicit Gospel will be used to turn the affections of many to the God who loves them and gave Himself up for them.

This review was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog. Check it out here.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: Crossway sent me a free review copy of this book. I was not asked to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]