The Gospel Is Not a Philosophy

I was listening to this sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Romans 1:16 today entitled “Not Ashamed of the Gospel” and I wanted, first of all, to post it as an encouragement to others.

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There are many points worth considering from the message but one that struck me in particular is when Lloyd-Jones declares that “the gospel is not a philosophy.” He says:

(17:00) And the world, of course, scoffs at it and ridicules it in its heart. Because we assert that this self-same person is the Savior of the world and the Son of God. To the Jews it was a stumbling block and to the Greeks it was foolishness. So the very character of the message tends to produce this ridicule. And, I say, man by nature doesn’t like being ridiculed so he’s ashamed of his gospel. That’s the temptation.

Or, to put it in another way: the gospel is not a philosophy. It’s a statement of a number of facts. Now the world never ridicules philosophy. It likes philosophy. It’s very learned. It’s very wonderful. You put up the Bible views and you discuss them in a detached manner. Now the world likes that, but this isn’t a philosophy. There’s no great philosophical argument here. Four gospels with an account of this person. Then this account of his death. Then the extraordinary claims that were made by very ignorant and simple people for him. And then statements made as they’re made in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles. It’s not a philosophy! It doesn’t follow the method of philosophy. It isn’t a system of philosophy. And there again is something that tends to make the world ridicule this. And the apostle knew that full well. (18:28)

This, it seems to me, strikes at the heart of so much that tries to pass as Reformed preaching these days. The mere construction of a certain philosophy. I lamented to a friend once about how often it seems that I hear men use “the gospel” as an adjective more often then I hear “the gospel” declared or expounded. I hear about…
Gospel ministry.
Gospel life.
Gospel attitude.
Gospel words.
Gospel thoughts.
Gospel responses.
Gospel issues.
Gospel church.
Gospel atmosphere.
Gospel culture.

I’ve heard all these phrases at different places and from different people over the years. It is the phrase du jour of the TGC/T4G crowd. It is everywhere in the PCA.

Generally speaking, I know what someone is trying to communicate through it. Yet, at the same time, it feels off. It sounds hollow. Has the actual gospel message been cheapened down to a mere philosophy at this point? Has the eternal gospel of God that is declared to be “the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” become merely a marketing point, some cheap language of “gospel-centered” branding?

I even think of common phrases like “living out the gospel” which, likewise, may communicate a certain good attitude or response to the truth of God yet, at the same time, miscommunicates by making it sound like the gospel is something we do when it is something that has happened quite apart from us. We declare it. We point back to it. We live upon the truth of it. But is it right to say the gospel is something we do?

It seems that this cheapened or softened language about the gospel has led to the way TGC evangelicals can speak of everything from racial justice to hospitality to Covid vaccines to being aware of food allergies as being a “gospel issue.” You even have Scott Sauls saying, “Last I checked, ‘love your neighbor’ is part of the gospel.”

Furthermore, when we talk about “living out the gospel,” are we getting where Paul gets in Romans 6 when he says:

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

The gospel isn’t a vibe. It isn’t a mood. It isn’t a system or a philosophy of life. And the inference within the Lloyd-Jones sermon by his statement is that the attempts to make it such is from a certain shame men feel toward the gospel. They hate ridicule and want to find a more pleasing way of presenting it. Is that right or fair to say? I think it is but I hesitate for some reason. Do they want something that feels different or works different or sounds different?

I would love to hear from some of the pastors in here. Am I off on this? Is this suspicion and burden I’m feeling justified?